As one of the world’s most prolific authors, and one of the true giants of science fiction, it can be difficult to know where to start with Asimov. As a child I read a few stories and was soon hooked, but perusing his oeuvre takes some time. For anyone interested in wetting their fingers with this master of science fiction, however, the Nightfall anthology is a great place to start.
Put together by Asimov in the late sixties, it was his attempt to address what he felt was an undue amount of attention to the short story which gives the collection its name. Nightfall was published in 1941 when Asimov was just 21 years old, but was immediately recognised by the magazine editor as being worthy of a bonus rate. Unwilling to accept that his best work was written basically at the beginning of his career, this collection is an opportunity for readers to judge for themselves, whether Nightfall deserves such high praise, and whether or not Asimov’s writing style had improved in the intervening period.
This second volume contains fifteen short stories published between 1951 and 1967 (“In a Good Cause–” (1951), “What If–” (1952), “Sally” (1953), “Flies” (1953), “Nobody Here But–” (1953), “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” (1954), “Strikebreaker” (1957), “Insert Knob A In Hole B” (1957), “The Up-To-Date Sorcerer” (1958), “Unto the Fourth Generation” (1959), “What is This Thing Called Love?” (1961), “The Machine that Won the War” (1961), “My Son, the Physicist” (1962), “Eyes Do More Than See” (1965), and “Segregationist” (1967)). In comparison to the first volume, this is much more of a mixed bag in terms of quality. Given that Asimov set out to prove that Nightfall wasn’t his only decent short story, a lot of the choices contained in this volume seem to have more in the way of anecdotal value. For instance, “What If-” was written as a bet between Asimov and his wife as to whether he could base a story around something as simple as their train journey; the two-page “Insert Knob A In Hole B” was written during a television panel discussion, when he was challenged to write a story on the spot (he admits in the preface that he had expected the challenge to come up and prepared accordingly). Similarly other stories were written at the behest of editors seeking to fulfil a particular niche, including one for Playboy.
As with the first volume, each story is prefaced by a small introduction, which partly makes up for the lower quality of the stories. The stories are obviously a lot shorter in this volume, and as a result have a much broader range of backgrounds, so there is certainly a chance that at least something will appeal to every reader. Nevertheless, there’s little denying that this volume can’t live up to the standards set by Nightfall One.