What Jenny's Reading

{April 14, 2015}   Review: Nightfall, Pt. 1

This is a short story by Isaac Asimov, expanded into book length by Robert Silverberg. To lay a couple of rules: the story centers mainly around four different main characters: Sheerin 501, a psychologist; Beenay 25, an astronomer; Siferra 89, an archeologist; and Theremon 762, a journalist. This is a planet called Kalgash, where there are six suns and it is never night.

I LOVE the forward, by the way. “We’re using regular Earth terms so you can get what everybody’s talking about, but that’s not really what they mean when they say stuff.”

Our story opens with Sheerin, who has been called to an exhibition fair because of a mass psychological breakdown. They’re at a hospital to interview those who suffered from the breakdown, which turns out to have been prolonged exposure to complete darkness.

One thing I really like about the story: it provides exposition, but it doesn’t explain anything. You know it’s taking place on an alien planet, so it’s different from Earth. But they never sit down and go, Okay, so people’s names end with numbers because it’s their “family code,” like a last name, or “godlight” for “nightlight.” They let you figure out the differentness of this planet and their customs without spoon-feeding. I like that.

Jonglor appears to be the largest city in this world, and to celebrate their five hundredth year, they had a big exhibition and a “Tunnel of Mystery,” a ride that let people experience complete darkness for fifteen minutes. Sounds pretty boring to you or me, but I guess interesting and intriguing if you live in a world of constant daylight. They specifically mention, too, that people sleep with a godlight, the aforementioned nightlight.

I find it kind of difficult to believe that people never have darkness, but okay. That’s the basic idea of this planet.

Sheerin is a larger guy, and his specialty is Darkness-related disorders of the mind. The hospital’s doctor and the exhibition’s lawyer take him to see one of the patients. It’s been a few weeks, mind you, since all of this happened. Three people died. The Tunnel was still super popular, though. Yeah, I could see that happening on Earth too.

I shouldn’t skip the talky parts, but they’re not all that interesting. Suffice to say that the exposure to Darkness caused most of them to have a complete psychological break, and they will likely need to be hospitalized for the remainder of their lives. They started with claustrophobia, which proceeded to the opposite, and they refuse to go outside, because even though they can see the suns, they still think it’s dark. Some of them can’t even talk at all.

Oh, and the insurance company lawyer is a douche, which I was going to take umbrage with, but honestly, lots of lawyers are douches. I guess that’s just a (literally) universal truth.

Sheerin puffs himself up and says he will take a ride in the Tunnel, to see what the fuss is about. They all tell him he doesn’t have to, but he decides to, because even though he tells us he doesn’t care what others think of him, he clearly does. He makes it through, but only barely, and then demands that they shut the ride down because it’s far too dangerous, and the liability for the insurance company would be too expensive.

Next up is Siferra. She’s a young-ish archeologist, on a dig site near a city called Beklimot, which is the oldest city on the planet. It’s about two thousand years old! She’s supervising a long-term dig and runs into trouble because of a giant sandstorm that she failed to properly prepare for. She gets the luckiest break ever, though, because the sandstorm is so fucking violent and windy that all it does is scour down the digsite and expose a huge rip in the side of the Thrombo hill. She and one of the other archeologists, Balik, climb up the hill and rip it open to discover several other townsites, dating back many, many years. It’s the biggest find ever! BUT WHAT COULD IT POSSIBLY MEAN?????

See, this shit isn’t funny at all, is it? The writing, while not perfect, is too good to mock, and so far nobody’s done anything especially stupid that I can make fun of. Maybe later on, when Siferra hooks up with Theremon (uh, spoiler?) and Balik starts hitting on her in embarrassing fashion.

Okay, so I have no idea how to explain this archeology stuff, where she’s climbing a hill and uncovering evidence of towns upon towns sitting on top of each other. I have no idea what that is supposed to look like. A tall hill structure? Like, just sitting in the middle of flat land? How does that make sense? I guess it must be pretty wide, if it’s a whole freaking town.

Beenay’s turn. He’s trying to get to work at the university observatory (the same university where Siferra works) so he can talk to some grad students about some calculation issues he was having. His contractmate, Raissta (also Sheerin’s niece, just to keep all this stuff straight), wants him to stay in for some sexytimes, but he turns her down, because the smartiepants astronomer gets off on his calculations more than his sexy ladyfriend. He promises he’ll be back soon, but that’s a BIG FAT LIE, as we will see shortly.

Hilariously enough, he first rationalizes skipping his date because his work on the planet’s orbit is so important, but later admits to Theremon that he was doing all this experiments because he wanted to play with the new computer.

What happens is, Beenay meets with his grad students and finds out that they got the same calculations he did, when he used the university’s new computer. He’s upset, because this means there’s a flaw in the Law of Universal Gravitation, which is like Einstein’s Law of Gravity except possibly more complex, what with the six suns and all. His mentor, Athor, conceptualized the Law, so he’s very upset that he may have disproven it.

So instead of going back and drowning his sorrow with his lady, he meets his friend Theremon for drinks and chatting. Well, that’s not exactly fair. He ran into Theremon outside the university, where Theremon was looking for a quote from a rational scientist about some rantings of a religious group called the Apostles of Flame. They sound very Catholic, honestly, and that’s not me trying to dig on Catholics. That’s just what they sound like, with the robes and abstinence and hatred of alcohol.

Beenay and Theremon and totes besties, even though they’re really different. Beenay is an astronomer in a committed relationship, and Theremon…well, let’s just say Theremon is quite the man-about-town, to use a very current colloquialism (the teens still say that, right?). He likes the ladies, so to speak.

Translation: he’s good looking and charming and arrogant, and probably pretty great in bed. Just picture your average grown up frattie type who managed to mature a bit but probably still pops the collar on his leather jacket and wears aviator sunglasses.

So Theremon is a regular at this bar, and I would make a joke about journalists all being alcoholics, but I can’t make that joke since I don’t actually know if that’s a stereotype. Also, Theremon doesn’t actually appear to be an alcoholic. Anyway, Beenay starts drinking, which alarms his friend, since Beenay is a teetotaler. They have a rather amusing conversation where Theremon thinks he’s going to get a big story about the new expensive university computer being a pile of garbage, but instead finds out that the Law of Universal Gravitation itself might be a pile of garbage. Which to me is the more interesting story, but whatever. Theremon is the journalist, not me, so I guess he knows better what people want to read about.

Oh, and when Beenay was talking to Raissta, it was the Theory of Universal Gravitation. Now, suddenly, it’s a Law. Which is it? I’m no scientist, but it seems there’s a big difference between the two.

Anyway. So Theremon figures out that Beenay is upset about disgracing his mentor, Athor, who came up with the Theory/Law. Theremon suggests that maybe the Lhoery (yeah I won’t keep that up I can already tell) is correct, but there’s something Beenay’s missing, something that’s causing his calculations to go off but that doesn’t disprove it. Beenay shrugs that off. On this world, they’re essentially pre-Renaissance (or pre-Galileo maybe) and believe that they and their six suns are all there is to the universe. So Beenay thinks it’s a “dragon in the sky” and says you can’t just account for possible variables because then you have infinite possibilities. But he at least agrees to speak to Athor about the problem.

They also talk about the Apostles of Flame, because Theremon originally wanted to ask Beenay for a quote for an article. Mondior, the Apostles’ leader, has decided that the world is going to end the next year, on “Theptar nineteenth.” I keep thinking Theptar is supposed to be September, but there’s no basis for that. The end of the world thing is their climax to the “Year of Godliness” which is two thousand forty-nine years long, where humanity has the chance to stop sinning and be better people, but they don’t, so they’re destroyed by fire. Well, destroyed by “Stars,” which no one knows what they are, but fire essentially.

So Beenay’s like, yeah, sure, they’re whackjobs, but he says it way more science-y than that.

The next day he goes to see Athor about his calculations. They chat about the problems and Athor is pissed, because Beenay might not have come to him with the issue. See, Beenay? All that fucking drama for nothing.

Ha, Athor’s like, OMGSTFU with your babbling, boy! And Beenay’s falling all over himself, trying to make it seem like he didn’t want to discover this issue, when we know that any astronomer worth his snuff would be creaming himself to make this discovery.

So Athor orders Beenay away to think, and decides that the Law of Universal Gravitation is way too awesome to be disproven. So, he decides to work on different ways this could possibly still be good. Beenay finds this hilarious, considering that Theremon was the one who suggested he find an anomaly that explains everything. Athor is pissed that Beenay tattled to a journalist, but Beenay promises that Theremon is trustworthy.

Speaking of Theremon, let’s pay him a visit! He’s going to the main worship building of the Apostles of Flame, to speak to their head guy in charge, Mondior. I guess Mondior’s been going on and on in his speeches about the end of the world and the Time of Flame and Theremon was all, Eh. Slow news day. He called them up and somehow snagged a meeting with His Super-Importantness. Except not really, because instead of the private audience he expected, he ends up chatting with a flunky called Folimun.

Well, that’s not totally fair. The guy is pretty high up in the organization and claims that anything said to him is like talking to Mondior. So he’s Metatron. Well, that’s what you get, Theremon, for thinking you could call up a busy and secretive religious organization and same day see their paranoid leader.

So they chat and Theremon thinks that the guy’s relatively sane, even if the stuff he’s saying isn’t. Folimun says that the world is going to end in fourteen months, and that it’s happened a ton of times before. Their organization has existed longer than a “Year of Godliness,” so they have records of older civilizations. People can repent and join them, but the flames are still coming, the gods are still pissed, and there’s no way to stop it. He gives Theremon their Book of Revelation, and says he should study it. He also thinks that he and Theremon will be bestest buddies and it’s destined. They are MEANT TO BE.

Theremon doesn’t even react to this blatant come on. I guess Theremon is used to being hit on. Anyway, he tries again to see Mondior, but Folimun’s still got cartoon hearts in his eyes and insists that he will be the one speaking to him, not Mondior. So Theremon takes his book and leaves.

We rejoin Sheerin as he’s coming home to Saro City, which is where all of our other main players live. He meets his longtime girlfriend and bitches about how rainy and almost dark it is. He recaps the Jonglor story, but we already know that so I won’t revisit. The important thing about this interlude is that Sheerin’s still affected by the Darkness of the Tunnel, and badly enough that he’s off eating and has lost at least ten pounds.

Siferra is back in her office at the university, also watching the rain. Her reaction to it is the opposite of Sheerin’s – she’s happy to see so much water after so long in the desert.

Balik, that guy from the dig, comes in and they talk about the tablets she found, she’s excited, blah blah, the secret’s out and all sorts of other scientists are already saying she’s full of shit and obviously wrong. Siferra’s pissed, and Balik decides this is the best possible time to ask her out.

Not even to dinner, mind you. On a vacation! He wants to take her up to Jonglor for several days and to that Exhibition, like maybe don’t proposition the girl with eternal Darkness you know? She’s horrified, and he bumbles around the proposal like a teenager who’s never talked to a girl before. I’m almost embarrassed for him, honestly.

So okay, she rejects him, because DUH, don’t fuck around with your colleagues, Balik, and then the guy who can possibly translate the tablets comes in to take a look at them. He asks to take them, and Siferra agrees, reluctantly. Then Balik bumbles about his stupid date plan AGAIN, like WTF is wrong with you CREEPER, and Siferra puts him in his place again, and then mercifully, that section is done.

Ugh, Balik. What a tool.

We leave this uncomfortable scene to go back to the Six Suns with Theremon and Beenay. Beenay is confiding in Theremon about the Law of Universal Gravitation issue again, and how happy he is that Athor didn’t beat him to a figurative pulp when he presented his findings.

Holy shit, I never realized how much everyone loves Theremon. I mean, this is crazy, you know? Beenay, Folimun, eventually Siferra (spoiler)…everybody wants to fuck him, I guess. Who should play him in the movie? Jonathan Rhys Myers, maybe? Diego Klattenhoff? The Rock?

Okay, I have no idea. I’m just naming actors I think are hot. Feel free to add some to the list!

Anyway. So Theremon and Beenay chat about the Law of Universal Gravitation and the issues, and Theremon tells Beenay about his visit with Folimun. He doesn’t mention the hitting on part, because I guess he doesn’t want to make Beenay jealous. Then Sheerin shows up!

Sheerin is weirdly jovial. Maybe he went to another bar before the Six Suns? Like, this is a bit of a personality change from what we’ve seen so far. Maybe the Darkness really did get to his brain, and we just don’t really know it yet.

So he orders a drink and mocks Beenay’s stupid posturing about making the Law of Universal Gravitation work with their findings. I really need a faster way to say “Law of Universal Gravitation,” don’t I? I’m going to be using that phrase a lot.

The upshot us, they decide the Apostles are nutso, but worry that maybe there’s something to the whole Darkness theory. Sheerin thinks that’s an excellent reason to drink his troubles away.

These guys drink a lot of alcohol. I mean, I enjoy a glass of wine or three on the regular, but…these guys drink a lot of alcohol.


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