Let me say right off the bat, there will be spoilers in this post. This is because I have to write about this short story, or novella, or I really don’t know what this was. A complete story it was not. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
A few weeks ago, I was watching Young Sheldon and the episode centered around Sheldon and his college buddies (professors) started a book club around Isaac Asimov’s writings, and they started with the story Nightfall.
I’d never heard of this title before. Actually, I’ve had little exposure to Asimov directly, other than an ill-fated reading of Nemisis several years ago, which I thought was a little anti-climactic in and of itself.
But, I figured I would give it a go, plus I had Asimov’s Complete Works (which actually turned out to not be so complete after all).
So, let’s discuss why I thought Nightfall was a terrible read (I really hope all his works aren’t like this)….
Subject of Young Sheldon
On the Young Sheldon episode, he tried to tell everyone that Asimov had recently died, but no one care or even knew who Asimov was. He finally finds a kindred spirit in Dr. Linkletter and between them and Dr. Sturgis and a last minute addition of Sheldon’s Meemaw.
What Even Happened?
So, after finishing the episode it seemed only fitting to follow suit. I fired up my e-reader, searched for Nightfall, plus checked the online library I frequent. The first title I found actually turned out to be a full novel sequel co-authored by Asimov and someone else, claiming that this book would explain what happened after the sun rose again.
I kept digging and finally found a copy of the short story/novella Nightfall and jumped in reading what was claimed to be a great story.
The story was set on a non-earth planet (I assume), the historical timeframe compared to earth or our modern era unclear, with very little in away of background or context to guide the reader. The gist of the situation was: the people on this planet were a mix of two groups, the religious and the science or modern or intellectually superior (self-prescribed).
Apparently, the sun never sets on this planet (they actually have multiple suns) except for once every 2000 years. Once the suns do set completely, the fact that this race of people have literally no experience in darkness, the absence of light tends to drive them psychologically insane, which in turn destroys their entire society.
There’s a lot of back and forth between a reporter and one of the scientific leaders, plus there is a religious acolyte who tries to break into the installation (but is caught), though I’m not really certain I understand what he’s trying to accomplish. As the sons start to set, there’s a lot of discussion about the origin of the religious’ sacred materials, likewise they argue amongst themselves about what exactly is going to happen when the sun finally sets for good.
A riot breaks out in the neighboring city and the mob begins heading their way, so they have to fortify their defenses, lock all the doors. But, as the darkness falls, the stars become visible, driving everyone insane. Then, abruptly, the story ends with the glow in the distance as the city burns.
Not Sure I Like Science Fiction
It really seems to be a pattern with science fiction in general, at least, concerning the few titles of sci-fi that I’ve bothered to read over the years. It’s odd, because I really enjoy sci-fi movies. My all time favorites are Aliens 2, 3, and 4, followed by the Predator movies (especially the new one Predators in the game preserve planet), and the Prometheus spinoff (there are really so many I like), it’s too bad I can’t find a book or book series in sci-fi that is just as good.
My biggest complaint against Nightfall is the lack of any real ending. I guess I’m not the only one that thought this way since Asimov later produced a full length novel about what happened when the sun finally came up the next day. And, yes, I could read this novel and see what happened. But, really, I don’t know if I want to. Plus, the gushing that occurred on Young Sheldon for the short story was way overdone and I’m not sure why. If you take just the story alone, it really lacks any kind of depth or purpose. It’s an idea. But it’s really no good standing on its own. I think it would have been better if it had been adapted into a serialized trilogy of short stories, giving a whole plot line, instead of just a cutout in the middle. I guess maybe there are just too many unanswered questions and if you’ve followed my blog at all you know I hate unanswered questions.
Same Reaction to Nemesis
But there is something else missing that I can’t quite put my finger on, either. I say this because my disappointment was very much the same for Asimov’s novel, Nemesis. It just never really rose to the kind of caliber of story I wanted to read. I can still remember reading that book (not sure where I was or when it was, but I still remember reading it), and when I finally got to the end and discovered that the planet Erythro is really a conscious being or the bacterial life is a singular sentience, I remember thinking to myself, so what?
Science fiction is not the only stories that I have a hard time with. In fact, for many years I stopped reading fiction altogether because I just couldn’t find stories worth my time. I think, maybe, I’ve been spoiled by really great movies and television shows over the last 30 years, and books simply can’t compare somehow.
You’ve Reached Sam is a perfect example of an okay story that fell flat on its face at the end, leaving me with nothing to show for the hours I invested in it. It was as if the author suddenly realized he met the specs for his contract and rushed to tie up loose ends with just a few paragraphs. I wanted to see Julie fall in love again, move on, somehow utilize her relationship with Sam as a catalyst into the future in some way. None of that happened and I was left with really nothing. It was like water through my fingers. The story just drained away. This is how Nightfall was for me. When I got to the end, when I saw the last few sentences I stopped and thought maybe I had missed something. But there it was. The end. And there was nothing to show for it.
Most of the time I don’t have to reread the books I’ve written. I’ve always said that I write novels so I can have stories that I’ve always wanted to read. But, luckily for me, the characters I create, they live with me. They exist in their own reality that I have a constant window into. I can see the things they do, things that never show up in the actual books I publish. I’m privy to conversations that no one else in this world have experienced. Snapshots into their lives. And those lives play out in my mind as I’m going through my day. When I’m standing in light at the checkout (not that I really do this anymore), or when I’m sitting in my car waiting for my groceries to be brought out (that’s more fitting to this day an age), on my commute to and from work, when I’m sitting in my office during lunch and there is no one around and I’m listening to music and I just sit there watching the trees outside sway back and forth in the breeze – I’m also seeing Scott talking to his wife and Jessica trying to make a decision, and Charlotte opening the door for Jack for the first time when he comes over for dinner.
It is the struggle with so many other books that fail to provide a complete story that I made a point in In the Meadow to follow through to the end, to tie up everything for Dawn, and yet still leave you wanting more.
It’s why I won’t read book series that are not yet finished because I want to make sure there will be some kind of ending in the end (I’ve made this mistake with a Song of Fire and Ice which I don’t think we will ever get the last book in the series).
Stories for me are kind of personal. The ones I write and also the ones I read. I’m in it for the vicarious nature of books, how I can quickly become invested in their lives, in the worlds the authors create. Too often, I can see the undercariage and realize too quickly that it’s just make believe. I want stories where I forget that I’m reading and I suddenly find myself there, with those characters, living their lives, experiencing their emotions.
Our lives really don’t have endings. We just keep going from one mishap to another, collecting emotional and soulful damage along the way, and then, we just stop and life goes on without us. Before we even realize it, our entire life dims until eventually our existence is forgotten entirely (sometimes quicker for some than for others).
The best ending I’ve ever written I think would be from Ashen Monk Mountain. Unlike Nightfall, this story finds an end fitting the characters it serves. Some people don’t get the point at all (which is the nature of stories to begin with), but for me, I’ll always remember how Christopher finally finds his calling and his place in the grand scope of the world and the history of things, having responsibility and leadership thrust upon him by divine call, despite his own reservations.
I certainly can’t recommend Nightfall to anyone. It’s not really worth the time it would take to read it. I might reconsider if I ever read the full length book and have some real closure and some real depth to the story line itself. We’ll see.
For right now I think I will stick with the other books I’m reading: Koontz books are really my go-to. I’ve yet to find a novel that is as great as the hype it’s often presented with. If and when I ever do, I will certainly review it on the blog.
Until my next post….
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!