Wherein night comes to Lagash for the first time in centuries. (Do I really need to recite the plot?)

OK, here we have the big “N.” Asimov was always befuddled by this story’s enormous success, and I must confess to sharing his befuddlement. It’s among his most popular stories, it’s been turned into a so-so novel (see Nightfall) and a horrible movie, it’s been satirized in a Maureen Birnbaum story, it was voted the best sf story of all time in more than one poll—but it’s far from Asimov’s best. Sure, it’s his best prior to about 1945 (which isn’t saying much), and one of his better stories of his career—but I would rate quite a bit higher—"The Mule,” “The Search by the Foundation,” “The Last Question,” "The Ugly Little Boy,” "The Dead Past,” "Evidence,” "The Bicentennial Man” to name a few off the top of my head.

The big problem here is not that the basic idea is uninteresting (it’s fascinating), that the characters are unmemorable (they’re not), or that the plot doesn’t make sense (it’s very tight). The astronomy of the story is a bit hard to swallow, to be sure—but the main problem here is that Asimov is still in the first five years of his writing career and his style is still very heavily “pulp.” That’s enough of a flaw in my estimation to seriously mar the story. And I have to admit that Asimov is write in his assessment that the insert John Campbell made towards the end of the story is glaring and unnecessary. (Not to mention the fact that the using numbers for last names has always struck me as weird and a little too "science fiction-y".)

But it is a terrific tale, definitely high in the rankings of Asimov’s writings, and (of course) a must-read for any sf fan.

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