The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The reader's Nightfall, the author's dawn

I am a longstanding fan of Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall"; I compare all his fiction to that. I don't write fiction myself, but in my nonfiction that title "Nightfall on the Qur'an" is an homage (whatever the merits of that particular essay).

"Nightfall" certainly wasn't Asimov's first story, nor his first story submitted; and it wasn't his first published. "Nightfall" was not even the first of his published stories which was good - that would be "Marooned Off Vesta". We can debate whether "Nightfall" was his best, but we do know it wasn't the one Asimov liked best: that self-accolade went to "The Last Question". "Nightfall" was the story which TIME deemed worthy of mention in Asimov's obituary, to herald his career.

For TIME, then, "Nightfall" was that story which proved Asimov a great writer. It all takes place in a single room, but invokes into that room a whole world and ecosystem, constructed around a single philosophical question. I don't know how many writers have a "Nightfall" in them, or if so if they died before writing it. Preferably the "Nightfall" should come early in the writer's career - Asimov was twenty-one years old, I understand. The critic would probably have to read most of the author's work before declaring "ah! Nightfall!" upon a single example.

Since by now I have read most Clark Ashton Smith, I would mark as his Nightfall "City of the Singing Flame". Smith had already come up with some fine stories, including "Abominations of Yondo" - but that one, let's face it, is a trifle, his "Marooned Off Vesta". And he would go on to pen "Empire of the Necromancers" and other superior work; but by then his mark had been made.

I am tempted to call "Omnilingual" the H Beam Piper Nightfall. For HP Lovecraft: although "Cats of Ulthar" and "The Doom that Came to Sarnath" are earlier and well-written, and "Colour Out Of Space" later and better, what I think started to mark Lovecraft as a writer was "The Rats in the Walls". Or maybe "From Beyond". I'll have to re-read both and look up what the editors, readers, and critics said at the time. [5/21 - "From Beyond" although HPL wrote it 1920 was published in 1934, so had no effect on his career.]

For Robert Howard, we'll need a pre-Conan story. But I haven't read enough of these. I do hear some fine things about "Worms of the Earth".

STEPHEN KING, 7:10 PM - Carrie, which is, yes, a full novel. When I looked through King's early short-stories, the first one I could even remember without clicking the link was "Children of the Corn". Which is a Nightfall-tier classic... if he'd thought of it and published it before 1974. Before that I suppose "The Mangler" and "Trucks" are good, but they're not great.

MORON HORDE, 7:20 PM - We have a consensus for Arthur C Clarke's "Rescue Party" and a vote for Michael Shaara, "All the Way Back". And oops, I forgot Alastair Reynolds, "Galactic North".

UPDATE 2/19/2018: I wrote this essay without citing of Vinz Clortho's rant, which may or may not have been directly inspired by the Cultist's rant in "Nightfall". Apparently "Nightfall" was on my mind over 25-30 April. Interesting how the subconscious works.

posted by Zimri on 17:55 | link | 0 comments

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