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Nightfall and Other Stories

by Isaac Asimov
350 pages, Science Fiction
Reviewed by Lily A.

Clever anthology of sci-fi stories, worldview mostly humanistic, some violence and sexuality.

Plot

This is a collection of short stories ranging in subject from a cult on a world which almost always lives in daylight, to a planetary mass mind, artificial intelligences, disembodied souls, religion among animals, and alien curiosity about human means of reproduction.

Morality

Morality is mixed. The preservation or protection of life tends to be a common ground with many stories, but then the question is, whose life? Are equally sentient aliens to be expendable when humans are on the line? Is it acceptable when humans are put at risk for self-aware AI?

When romance is an issue, there is often also sexual activity outside of marriage. In one story where this is not the case, it is played for laughs that everyone who is in love immediately wants to get married.

One story is somewhat heavy handed about the ends justifying any means - but the author's note before this story said that the author did not really agree with this, and it was just what it seemed natural for the characters he was writing to believe.

Spiritual Content

There is a cult which knows truth that their local scientists will not accept, but they have cloaked these truths in religious language and mystique. Their religious document is called Revelations.

A reference is made to a Bible story being true, for some definitions of truth. It's more like a hidden message to which we'd forgotten the key.

Apparently, flies (yes, as in insects) have religion.

An alien species has similar appearance to some traditional stereotypes of demons, breathes sulfer, and has been nicknamed "Diaboli."

The subject of fate is addressed when a man and wife look into a picture which shows possible pasts and futures.

There is a take-off of a musical involving a sorcerer, although in this case the mastermind is a chemist.

In one story, a Jewish man's desire to pass on a blessing to his progeny is key.

An author note references the author's grandmother having enforced "thou shalt not steal" firmly in his mind.

Violence

Sentient beings are killed by various means including guns, electrocution, deprivation of needed chemical supplements, parasitic infection, automobile "accidents," suicide (out of view, with a knife), and (it is reported) mass euthanizing before reconstructing a world's atmosphere, among other means.

There is a rather tense scene where a man attempting to re-take a captured spaceship is in imminent danger of a number of possible deaths, including freezing, burning, starving, or being crushed, if he fails.

Artificial intelligences threaten to attack humans who may harm or sabotage some of their number.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A man and woman get drunk after a stressful experience. One story revolves around a love-potion.

Sexual Content

There is an expedition where a large number of females, human and animal, are mysteriously impregnated.

A parasite may manipulate human attraction.

There is a hypothesis about humans as alien laboratory breeding experiments.

One of the stories was a parody written out of the author's irritation at an article which ran in Playboy and severely exaggerated the presence of smut in the science fiction genre. As such, it has numerous roundabout references to sex, and more direct (and sometimes exaggerated) references to the female physique, and to stripping.

A young man is lovesick.

There is a spin-off of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Sorcerer," which involves a large number of couples being created via love potion.

In the forward of a story, the author talks of his and his wife's difficulty having children. In another forward, he expresses expectation of some of his readers seeing a story through Freudian interpretation.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

D--n and "for God's sake" are used as exclamations.

Aliens unfamiliar with human methods of reproduction attempt to get humans involved in an experiment.

Conclusion

Asimov's writing here is smart, without being high flown. Many of his stories have enjoyably unexpected endings. Some of his hypothetical technology seems dated now, but some of it is coming to pass or is in the planning stages, and it can be entertaining to see what he got right.

I did enjoy a great deal of this book. I liked watching the stories develop, and the characters reveal themselves, in quick succession. I liked the sheer variety of subjects and moods in the stories. Sometimes, though, that variety can be a problem, as the rating and moral views of the stories do as much fluctuating as any of their other aspects.

"Nightfall and Other Stories" may be enjoyable for many science fiction fans, at least in places, but it definitely bears cautious reading.

Fun Score: 3.5
Values Score: 2
Written for Age: adult

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