Escape Artists

News:

News

ATTENTION: NEW FORUM THEME Please see here for details: http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=13188.0

Author Topic: EP100: Nightfall  (Read 48842 times)

slic

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 727
  • Stephen Lumini
Reply #25 on: April 10, 2007, 05:14:10 PM
Before calling a civilization "dense" for doing things four times faster than we did, you might want to consider running a spell check.
Careful now, the poster is giving an opinion, and it's about a fictional civilization.
Quote from: Thaurismunths
...it was the stars. The sudden, crushing realization of their own insignificance in the vastness of the cosmoses[sic].
I agree.  And that is why the quote by Emerson starts the story.

I also understood this story to be about mankind's folly - happily at the centre of their universe, proud of their many accomplishment - and then stupified when they realize their true insignificance.




SFEley

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1408
    • Escape Artists, Inc.
Reply #26 on: April 10, 2007, 05:41:18 PM
And although I think Frank's post might be a little heavy handed, even Asimov's work is not beyond ridicule and debate.

Well said.  I would add only this:

There are no invalid opinions on a story.  But I would regret it if the rest of the commentary thread on "Nightfall" becomes entirely about what Dr Frankenshroom said, rather than more listeners' experiences.

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


ClintMemo

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 680
Reply #27 on: April 10, 2007, 05:59:40 PM
The only problem I had with the story was trying to visualize how the whole planet could go dark all at once.  There was an eclipse happening where the characters were, but what was happening on the other side of the planet?  Were all the other suns over there?  Was it night time?  Was it all water (so nobody lived there?)   The problem didn't occur to me until long after I finished listening to it. (I confess I've never read it - I'm so ashamed :( )

That point aside, once you accept the premise (which is no different than accepting that people can travel to other planets, build human-form robots or travel backward or forward in time) then the rest of the story made perfect sense. 

I also thought it was clever that he didn't exactly pin down the level of technology the people had. I don't remember hearing anything about cars or mass transit or electricity, though it was mentioned that they had seemingly crude cameras and telescopes, and one of the characters was a newspaper reporter.  The story could easily have been set in early Renaissance times.  Now, set the story in 16th century Europe and make the astronomer Isaac Newton (I think it was his law of gravity that is in the story).  Imagine that it has never been night time. Imagine that for centuries, the church has been teaching that one day the sun will disappear, the sky will go dark, the stars will come out and we will all go mad.  Then one day, the sun gets dark and all the stars come out.  Pandemonium!!

There are several ideas in this story we see in later works and not just by Asimov.  The idea that the psychologist could predict what the people would do is a precursor to Hari Seldon's Psychohistory from the Foundation series.  Also, the idea that knowledge can get wrapped up into religion is also explored further in the Foundation series as well as much later in Neil Stephenson's  Snowcrash   I'm sure someone more well-read than me can point out several more examples.
« Last Edit: April 10, 2007, 06:03:54 PM by ClintMemo »

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


scottjanssens

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 63
Reply #28 on: April 10, 2007, 06:35:38 PM
The only problem I had with the story was trying to visualize how the whole planet could go dark all at once.  There was an eclipse happening where the characters were, but what was happening on the other side of the planet?  Were all the other suns over there?  Was it night time?  Was it all water (so nobody lived there?)   The problem didn't occur to me until long after I finished listening to it. (I confess I've never read it - I'm so ashamed :( )

Asimov covers this but you have to pay close attention.  Asimov points out that Beta is at aphelion, meaning the planet is at it's farthest point from Beta in it's orbit and therefore at it's smallest size.  The relative size of the moon that eclipses beta is so much larger than the relative size of beta that totality lasts for many hours (I'd have to go back to see how many).  Now imagine a solar eclipse where the moon appears so much larger than the sun that not even the corona would be visible.  It would be true night over the entire hemisphere, and not like a total solar eclipse on Earth where even in the small path of totality it's not completely dark.  Totality lasts long enough that as the planet rotates enough of the surface gets enough darkness to drive the people to madness.  The story establishes that 15 minutes is enough to really start messing with these people.  And that's when they knew the darkness would come to an end.  What some posters (here and in the comments) seem to miss is that it's one thing to draw the curtains or go into a cave, when you know you can get the light back, and it's something completely different when the light goes away on it's own and you don't know if it will come back.  So you're right in that the other side of the planet has light but by the time "dawn" comes, the damage has been done.



Heradel

  • Bill Peters, EP Assistant
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 2938
  • Part-Time Psychopomp.
Reply #29 on: April 10, 2007, 07:05:45 PM
This was the first time I've read/heard this story (as I've stated elsewhere, young'un is me[though I am working my way through the Foundation books]), so, er, wow. It took me a little while into the story to read the info for the file and realize how long ago it was written, and to realize how different the level of technology was between now and then. Before I realized the age of the story I was wondering why they hadn't seen other point sources of X-rays or radio waves in sky surveys, or had at least discovered LED's when they were coming up with integrated circuits.

Great story, great episode, great 100. (Incidentally, it might be nice to run Charge of the Light Brigade for Episode 600 as a response to the critics [who always remind me of manunkind].)

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


SFEley

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1408
    • Escape Artists, Inc.
Reply #30 on: April 10, 2007, 07:08:36 PM
Asimov covers this but you have to pay close attention.  Asimov points out that Beta is at aphelion, meaning the planet is at it's farthest point from Beta in it's orbit and therefore at it's smallest size.  The relative size of the moon that eclipses beta is so much larger than the relative size of beta that totality lasts for many hours (I'd have to go back to see how many).

The story said "just over half a day."  So yes, every point on the planet would have at least some period of darkness.  I read this story extremely carefully in preparation for narrating it, and I only spotted one genuine logical gaffe: that Beta reaches "zenith" early in the story and apparently stays there for several hours.  That's just an aside, though, and doesn't really matter to the plot.  You could just say that Asimov was being very approximate in what he called a zenith.  >8->

The rest of the story is astronomically implausible but not impossible.  It seems unlikely that all of the suns would maintain a conjunction for such a long period of time, but we don't know the relationship of any stars to the planet except for Alpha.  (It's clear the planet is closer to Alpha than Beta is, or Beta would be a "morning" and "evening" star like Venus.)  Postulating that such a planet, with such eccentric gravitational and heat forces, would be stable and able to support life is a serious stretch -- but again, there are probably configurations where it could happen, and Asimov even flips a joke at this objection by having one of the scientists imagine an Earthlike scenario and conclude, "Of course, life couldn't possibly exist there."

The moon is the biggest stretch.  A moon of greater apparent diameter than ours, "made of bluish rock" of such a precise and uniform shade that it would be totally invisible in the atmosphere, is very hard to believe.  And one has to wonder how such a large moon would never eclipse any other suns.  It'd certainly have a huge effect on tides, though if the scientists of the world never correlated the tides to gravity they might not infer the moon's existence that way.  (And the moon itself would probably wreck any chances to note patterns between the tides and all the suns.)  

All that said, though...

...All that said, I don't think any of it matters.  This story is a thought experiment.  It really doesn't matter how likely any of this is; in a sufficiently large universe, even the most contrived astronomical configuration could happen somewhere.  What Asimov is saying is: "Imagine a world like this.  Imagine this event on that world.  Now imagine the consequences."

From that perspective, this story is science fiction of absolute purity and tremendous power.
« Last Edit: April 10, 2007, 07:10:53 PM by SFEley »

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


Jim

  • HP Lovecraft's 275,892nd biggest fan.
  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 191
Reply #31 on: April 10, 2007, 08:21:47 PM
I agree... I'm sure it's been said a million bazillion times, but the story is clearly allegorical, like much of science fiction.

It looks to me like each character is meant to be an analog to a human institution. There's the hard scientist, the soft scientist, the layman, the religious fanatic, and so on.

The way they interact in the face of a looming crisis is the key to the story, I think.

In the end, because of the utterly human failing of fear, religious zealotry wins out over reason.

And as far as "Planet of the Morons," really, are we that different here on Earth?

Considering that there are countries on Earth where publicly contradicting the established religious dogma is punishable by public torture and death, I don't think we can safely wag our fingers and cluck our tongues at the denizens of Lagash for their foibles.

My imaginary omnipotent friend is more real that your imaginary omnipotent friend.


slic

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 727
  • Stephen Lumini
Reply #32 on: April 10, 2007, 11:46:56 PM
I don't consider myself religious in anyway, but had a very similar experience to that of the main characters.  We were living in rural Nova Scotia (think Maine, in the case of the US), on an old farm - kilometres from even the nearest "town" centre.  We had been there about 2-3 months, and I was talking out the trash (the large bin was a good 12 yards from the main house).  I had left the porch light off, just lazy, and the kitchen light was muted through the curtains.  It was one of the clearest nights I had even seen (or not seen, I suppose ;)).  I lifted the lid, tossed the bags, and looked up to see the stars - they were overwhelming.  It truly felt as if they were bearing down upon me - there were not 100s or 1000s, but an immeasurable amount.  Familiar constellations and clusters were filled with shiny spots, patterns within patterns, almost in a fractal sense.  I just collaped into a seated position and couldn't tear my eyes away - my Dad calling me in because of some TV show or other broke my reverie. 

I can completely understand the overawe the Lagashites(?) felt, and considering they never, ever saw a night sky before, it's no surprise the breakdowns that occured.  And Steve made mention of another excellent point - they had no idea the suns were coming back - sure their rational brain told them the other suns would eventually "return", but enough of us have been scared sh!tless and know that the rational brain isn't always in control.

I don't think the story is just about how fear can rule a mob, but also the idea of being immediately confronted with ones own insignificance.  Here Mr. Asimov using "night", but imagine if a large alien civilization showed up tomorrow.  I don't mean they kidnap some people, or a small scout ship makes First Contact - I mean an armada of a 100 alien races with 1000s of ships, far superior to us in all ways imaginable.  They don't attack, they just sit there - half the human population would have gone nuts inside of a few hours.



Josh

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 28
Reply #33 on: April 10, 2007, 11:58:31 PM
Before calling a civilization "dense" for doing things four times faster than we did, you might want to consider running a spell check.
Careful now, the poster is giving an opinion, and it's about a fictional civilization.


I'm sorry, I have no problem with the criticism of a work, especially good work. What angers me is when someone criticizes something without knowing all the facts, that's all. I think that if Dr Frankenshroom were to have worded it a little differently, I could understand exactly where he was coming from.



slic

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 727
  • Stephen Lumini
Reply #34 on: April 11, 2007, 02:48:01 AM
No worries.  I agree that a simple rewording/rephrasing can make a huge difference - just ask Nikita Khrushchev.

My way of handling stuff like this is to remember that everyone reading the boards is pretty smart - if you see a hole in an arguement then show the hole - we all know who posted what.



jrw

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Reply #35 on: April 11, 2007, 03:51:56 AM
GREAT! number 100    Its been many years since I read "Nightfall" and had forgotten the beauty of the story especally the ending. I think there was a follow up story many years later that really was only a B- compared with the A++ of "Nigthfall"  Thanks for a great read!



Simon Painter

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 105
Reply #36 on: April 11, 2007, 09:17:06 AM
This has to be the best episode of Escape Pod ever   ;D Twice as long as a normal episode, but I didn't notice in the slightest.

Is there any chance we could start incrementing the episode numbers in hundreds, so we can have a special episode every week?

Many, many thanks,

Simon Painter
Shropshire, UK

"Save the Squonk!"


sirana

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 409
Reply #37 on: April 11, 2007, 11:17:43 AM
First of all, WUHUUUU EP100 !!!!!!!!1111!!!ONE!!!1
Congratulation Steven for making this the single best podcast on the net.
Lets see what EP1000 has to offer ;-)

I liked the story very much (didn't know it before *look ashamed*), but I have my problems with the main premise.
The psychology seems a bit too mechanistic.
IF Darkness THEN Madness is too simplistic for me, even in a civilisation that doesn't know a night.
Just because they don't know night doesn't mean the concept of darkness escapes them. They have caves and they know what happenes when you pull down the curtain. I just have a difficulty to believe that the darkness would drive (nearly) every person mad.

And if isn't the darkness that drives them mad, but the stars, I don't see why that would be the case and I don't feel it is explained sufficiently in the story. Furthermore, while I get that they would light everything on fire if the darkness was the cause of the madness, this doesn't make sense if the stars are really the reason for them going mad.

Also the unfamiliarity with any artificial lightsources isn't really believable to me. They never tried to expore these caves? They don't have cellars, or rooms without windows that have to be lit with other means than sunlight?

And one final nitpick. The sentence: "Not Earth's feeble 36 hundred stars... " does break the scene of an universe that doesn't know anything about Earth or the possibility of its existence and makes it a story that is too directly aimed at a audience that does know of it.



slic

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 727
  • Stephen Lumini
Reply #38 on: April 11, 2007, 11:32:44 AM
Quote from: sirana
Furthermore, while I get that they would light everything on fire if the darkness was the cause of the madness, this doesn't make sense if the stars are really the reason for them going mad.
It's because DARKNESS = STARS.  Until the full "darkness" there were no stars (from their POV), so remove the darkness and the stars will go away.

Quote from: sirana
Also the unfamiliarity with any artificial lightsources isn't really believable to me.
I agree for the most part, since most artificial heat sources generate light (wood, candles, gas, etc.). Though, it took nearly 50's after the idea for a light bulb for Edison to perfect it (and that's something clearly useful to many people) whereas spelunking gear (including lighting) for a civilization already scared of the dark was more likely way down the list.



Thaurismunths

  • High Priest of TCoRN
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1421
  • Praise N-sh, for it is right and good!
Reply #39 on: April 11, 2007, 12:00:37 PM
Perhaps these are photosynthetic people?
The quip about life not being sustainable on Earth because there isn't nearly enough light suggest that they need a lot of light for survival. That being the case, they wouldn't build structures that had dark spots. It'd be like us filling rooms with water or noxious gases: We could, but they'd be a bit of a hazard, so why bother?

How do you fight a bully that can un-make history?


SFEley

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1408
    • Escape Artists, Inc.
Reply #40 on: April 11, 2007, 02:23:59 PM
The quip about life not being sustainable on Earth because there isn't nearly enough light suggest that they need a lot of light for survival. That being the case, they wouldn't build structures that had dark spots. It'd be like us filling rooms with water or noxious gases: We could, but they'd be a bit of a hazard, so why bother?

It's an interesting theory, though I suspect probably not Asimov's intent.  (Subtlety on that order was never his style; he'd have come out and said it.)  >8-> 

I read that line a bit more simply: I think the astronomer was simply saying that, according to his common sense, a planet that was in darkness half the time would be frozen on the dark side and the temperature variations would be extreme.  (I.e., much like we think of Mercury.)  Obviously that doesn't happen on Earth because the atmosphere retains and transfers heat, but their atmospheric science would be quite different from ours and our reality simply wouldn't occur to them.

As for structures with dark rooms, I agree: the sense I get of this culture is that almost every room has a window, just because that's the obvious and natural way for them to build buildings.  (This was true for most of Earth human history as well.)  It's not that they couldn't invent other light sources, but rather, why would they bother?

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


Swamp

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 2229
    • Journey Into... podcast
Reply #41 on: April 11, 2007, 03:45:15 PM
And one final nitpick. The sentence: "Not Earth's feeble 36 hundred stars... " does break the scene of an universe that doesn't know anything about Earth or the possibility of its existence and makes it a story that is too directly aimed at a audience that does know of it.

I noticed this, too, but this was the first time I caught it.  I guess I had to hear it rather than read it.  But yeah, we have a nice third person narrative going from the newspaperman's POV, and then all of a sudden, Asimov starts talking to us, the audience.  It kind of broke me out of the story a bit, but not enough not to enjoy it.

Facehuggers don't have heads!

Come with me and Journey Into... another fun podcast


Djerrid

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 15
Reply #42 on: April 11, 2007, 07:09:01 PM
I've never read this story before and the first thing that popped into my head was Lord Byron's poem "Darkness". Here's an excerpt:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

Morn came and went - and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires - and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings - the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;

I wonder if it was Asimov's inspiration. You can read the whole thing here: http://englishhistory.net/byron/poems/darkness.html I think it would make a great Pseudopod flash piece. Lord Byron wrote it in 1816, the "Year without a Summer" when Mount Tambora's eruption darkened the skies and altered the climate for that summer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer 

Oh, and in the intro Steve mentioned the two "Nightfall" movies. I'd say "Pitch Black" was also based on the premise, inserting a little Vin Diesel action to the concept.

And I'd like to add my hearty "Congrats!" to the chorus.  The intros are as interesting and engaging as the stories themselves. Keep up the good work Steve!



Josh

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 28
Reply #43 on: April 11, 2007, 07:20:17 PM
And one final nitpick. The sentence: "Not Earth's feeble 36 hundred stars... " does break the scene of an universe that doesn't know anything about Earth or the possibility of its existence and makes it a story that is too directly aimed at a audience that does know of it.

I noticed this, too, but this was the first time I caught it.  I guess I had to hear it rather than read it.  But yeah, we have a nice third person narrative going from the newspaperman's POV, and then all of a sudden, Asimov starts talking to us, the audience.  It kind of broke me out of the story a bit, but not enough not to enjoy it.

As did I, I thought it would be kind of hard to explain, though, without this reference.



Alasdair5000

  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 1022
    • My blog
Reply #44 on: April 11, 2007, 08:37:24 PM
Happy 100 episodes!

   I've, to my shame, never read Nightfall.  This will change as both versions are in the house somewhere and I'm now on my third listen to this exceptional episode.  It keeps getting better.  It's just a beautifully constructed, intricate, moving and horrifying piece of fiction.  I love it.

Random thoughts:

-Whilst I'm sure there are horrific logistical snags, the extra long format works incredibly well.  I'd love to see more at this length if it's at all possible.
-Asimov wrote this at 21?  My God...

   Thanks for 100 episodes of consistently challenging science fiction and fantasy.  You've changed the playing field and for the better and for that as well as the phenomenal body of work you've built up, everyone at Pod Towers should be extremely proud.  And put me down to buy you a drink some time too:)



mummifiedstalin

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 16
Reply #45 on: April 11, 2007, 10:45:16 PM
And one final nitpick. The sentence: "Not Earth's feeble 36 hundred stars... " does break the scene of an universe that doesn't know anything about Earth or the possibility of its existence and makes it a story that is too directly aimed at a audience that does know of it.

I noticed this, too, but this was the first time I caught it.  I guess I had to hear it rather than read it.  But yeah, we have a nice third person narrative going from the newspaperman's POV, and then all of a sudden, Asimov starts talking to us, the audience.  It kind of broke me out of the story a bit, but not enough not to enjoy it.
Since it comes right at the end (even in the last paragraph of the story? I can't recall exactly), I don't think it really destroys the suspension of disbelief that much. But I've always read this story as one that depends on being very self-conscious about the story as a kind of thought experiment rather than a truly made up world we're supposed to believe in totally. That's not to say that Asimov hasn't created a very logical and thorough world. But so much of our reactions depend on knowing that some people are obviously wrong (of course there are stars, of course the reporter is far too self-confident, of course the religious freaks are misled by their own half-truths, etc.). The reference to Earth, to me, just reinforces the relationship to the "real" world...i.e., that, in the end, maybe there's something just as terrifying to us which is completely commonplace from a different perspective.



restevenson

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Reply #46 on: April 12, 2007, 04:14:20 PM
Hi!

While I'm sure it's been said a million times, and may perhaps not bear repeating, I do just want to say this: the story was fantastic, and I loved it. I've never actually read Nightfall, but it is such a charming concept that I enjoyed every moment of it (as I have with almost every story on Escape Pod ... why it took me this long to join the forums, I'm not sure ...)

There's a reason it's a sci fi great. Thanks Escape Pod / Steve!

Wookin pa nub in all da wong paces!


MoonMan

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Reply #47 on: April 12, 2007, 06:30:12 PM
I really enjoyed Steve's reading of Nightfall.  It's a great story and Steve did it justice.  I came away feeling not as if I had heard the words, but seen the images of the story.  That's "theater of the mind" as it should be.  Two thumbs up!



clichekiller

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 58
Reply #48 on: April 13, 2007, 03:45:35 AM
Asimov is one of my favorite authors, if not the most favorite.  I read the first book by him when I was in 5th grade and was swiftly hooked.  He was a most masterful writer capable of expressing complex concepts with very few words.  Steve thank you so much for bringing us this work.  It was a pleasant surprise. 



Mfitz

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 107
    • Flying Whale Productions
Reply #49 on: April 13, 2007, 08:52:26 PM
[
The moon is the biggest stretch.  


No the biggest stretch is the complete lack of artificial lighting.

That would mean they have no buildings more than one or two rooms deep.  Sure there is always a sun, but what about basements, closets.  What about things like wells, or meat lockers that would be very hard to build with windowns?   How were they planning on developing the film without a dark room?  Didn't it ever rain on the planet?   That would dim sunlight enough to make supplementing it nice.

They have worked metal and mines, are almost all to some degree underground places that need artificial lighting. (OK maybe got everthing from open pit and strip mines but that would make getting metal way more eco damaging and labor intense.)

What about extreme sports types who would cave just because it was hard and unpleasant?  They would know about lighting.

Still, Wow what a good story.

I have not read Nightfall since grade school, when it didn't impress me. If not for your podcast I don't know that I would have read it again, and that would have been a shame.  At 47 I got a lot more from it than I did at 11.  I'm always amazed at Asimov's grasp of the little quirks that make us human and how well he uses them to make his characters people.