Against the Fall of Night
Dust-jacket of the first edition
|Author||Arthur C. Clarke|
|Cover artist||Frank Kelly Freas|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Followed by||The City and the Stars|
Against the Fall of Night is a science fiction novel by British writer Arthur C. Clarke. Originally appearing as a novella in the November, 1948 issue of the magazine Startling Stories, it was revised and expanded in 1951 and published in book form in 1953 by Gnome Press. It was later expanded and revised again and published in 1956 as The City and the Stars. A later edition includes another of Clarke's early works and is entitled The Lion of Comarre and Against the Fall of Night. In 1990, with Clarke's approval, Gregory Benford wrote a sequel titled Beyond the Fall of Night which continues the story arc of the 1953 novel. It is generally printed with the original novel as a single volume.
The title is from the poem "Smooth Between Sea And Land" by A. E. Housman, published in More Poems. Clarke explains: "I was also to discover the lines of A. E. Housman that not only described the locale perfectly, but also gave me the title of my first novel: 'Here on the level sand, between the sea and land, what shall I do or write against the fall of night?'". Clarke would also quote Housman in 3001: The Final Odyssey.
Comparison with The City and the Stars
Diaspar is a seemingly ageless city in the year 10 billion AD; the last child, Alvin, was born seventeen years ago. Alvin is a child curious about the outside world, which, according to the earliest histories, was destroyed by the Invaders, leaving only Diaspar. Alvin's desire to see the outside world is considered an eccentricity. When Alvin wanders into a tower to watch a sunset, he finds a rock with the inscription: "There is a better way. Give my greetings to the Keeper of the Records. Alaine of Lyndar".
Alvin takes the message to Rorden, the Keeper of the Records, who has access to "all the knowledge of Humanity." Rorden finds the record of the message but does not believe Alvin is ready to understand it.
Three years later, Rorden discloses that not only has he been waiting for Alvin to age, but he has also been trying to find out how people in the past went outside. He and Alvin find a way out and Alvin finds a destination called Lys.
Expecting an abandoned city, Alvin is shocked when he finds a thriving place. The inhabitants are different from his own people, living short but full lives and having telepathic abilities. They know about Diaspar but they like their natural setting. Alvin is prevented from going home as the citizens do not want him to reveal Lys to the people of Diaspar. They contact Rorden, who already knew of Lys, and tell him that Alvin will stay three days to allow the council of Lys time to decide his fate.
Alvin makes a friend called Theon, who has a pet giant insect (Krif). While Theon shows Alvin the woods, the boys realize they both know about the legend of Shalmirane, a fortress mentioned in the earliest human history; a fortress which defended against the invaders and signified the end of Man's conquest of space. The boys decide to find the fortress, only a day's travel away. At the fortress they discover that a large wall that defended the building survived, though its rocks were destroyed over time. When they venture into the fortress they find an old man with whom they share a meal and a story of his origins; he was a follower of the Master. This Master came from space during the recovery following the invasion, attracting followers with his powers and machines. When he was dying, he spoke of the "Great Ones" returning. His followers made this into a religion. The religion has been dying, and the old man is one of the few remaining followers; he also has a few of the Master's machines.
Alvin asks to borrow one of the old man's robots so he can bring it to Rorden. The boys return to Lys, and Alvin is told to either stay in Lys forever, or return to Diaspar without his memories. Alvin agrees to the mind wipe, but programs the robot to grab him before his mind is wiped and take him to the transit station. He returns home, where he finds Rorden, and they look under the city, where robots are made and repaired by other robots. A repair robot tells them it cannot fix Alvin's robot, but duplicates it. The council questions Alvin and threatens to seal the path to Lys.
Alvin shows Rorden a ship, buried under the sands outside the city, that was the Master's ship. Alvin decides to take the ship and go to Lys to return the robot. He meets Theon and speaks with Lys' Council, telling them that Diaspar knows about Lys. Lys realizes that through the appearance of the ship, both of their cultures will be forced to interact. Alvin travels to Shalmirane to return the robot, only to find the Old Man dead, with his robots left to forever guard him.
Alvin takes his ship into space, towards an abnormal set of stars. He arrives at the middle star and meets an alien being that is no more than a child but has memories going back further than any human. The alien being, Vanamonde, is convinced that Alvin is the creator it has been waiting for. It follows Alvin home, where people from Lys and Diaspar meet to study it, each using their strengths to learn more about their history. They learn that the history they have known is false. Man only reached Persephone when space came to them, and they found species far greater than Man. They learned from them and decided to grow themselves as humanity before exploring space. They spent half a billion years perfecting the ability to live for infinite amount of time, like Diaspar, or with telepathic abilities, like those in Lys. After improving themselves, they tried to create a pure mentality, a being that was free from physical limitations. They succeeded in creating a pure being, but it was insane. The Mentality, called the Mad Mind, almost destroyed the galaxy, and is now locked up, waiting for the time when its bonds break again. After that they created Vanamonde who is destined to meet (and fight) the Mad Mind at the end of time.
The book makes a distinction between the city life of Diaspar, and the life in Lys. Diaspar reflects the values of a city, in which technology cares for mundane tasks (robots, streets, food), so people can pursue pleasures such as music and knowledge. The opposite is true in Lys, which has a rural style where everything comes from nature. When Alvin re-introduced the two, they found that one still needed the other, and that their cultures had become stifled. The Council from Diaspar had become old and weary, and did not want to deal with the exuberance of youth, while Lys, feeling that it was young, did not want the city culture to interfere with its natural way of life. When the two cultures met, they found out that they complemented each other: Diaspar with infinite life and technology, and Lys with quick minds and telepathy.
Groff Conklin described the original edition of the novel as "a light, simple, fast-moving and often richly imaginative fantasy." Boucher and McComas praised "this brief but intense book" as "beautiful", describing it as "poetry and awe and wonder" and characterizing Clarke as "the visionary poet of a future so far distant that its most prosaic science passes our technical understanding." P. Schuyler Miller reported that because the narrative "is so well told, the story becomes convincing, and its magic spreads over the reader as well as the people of the plot." In 1969, Alexei Panshin wrote that "the story is largely undeveloped -- too much is asserted, too little is examined."
The work opens with a story fragment, apparently written in isolation in 1935, in which all Diaspar has fallen silent and Alvin is called outside by his father to see something in the sky. It is a cloud. This scene dramatizes the "desert at the end of time" setting.
- "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1953, p.80
- "Recommended Reading," The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 1953, p. 96.
- "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, November 1953, pp.150
- "Books", F&SF, November 1969, p. 49
- Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd. p. 302.
- Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 101. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.