“The Dying Night” by Isaac Asimov
Card picked: Four of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries
Thoughts: I started the year with Asimov and nearly ended it with Asimov. This anthology has been a mixed bag, but it’s going out on a high note. “The Dying Night” is an honest mystery: all the clues are in place and an observant reader should be able to solve the mystery with a bit of effort. No zigger here, thank goodness.
As I mentioned earlier in the year, much of 1950s science fiction fares rather poorly when compared to 2010s technology. In “The Dying Night,” we have human bases on the Moon, Mercury, and Ceres, but much of the mystery relies on scientists having scanner devices…that rely on film that needs to be developed. (Microcomputers are only the purview of statisticians.)
Despite the lack of tech forethought, the story is interesting for a 2016 reader in other ways (aside from being a decent mystery). Asimov highlights the differences between three astronomers, each of whom has spent substantial time one of these bases. When visiting Earth, each complains about differences in gravity and sunlight, and the utter weirdness of walking around unprotected outside. These are things to think about if we’re considering long-term settlements off of Earth. But more intriguingly, Asimov’s signature character, Wendell Urth—preeminent extraterrologist—is an Earth-bound character. He doesn’t like to travel in any way that isn’t his own two feet. All his knowledge is collected second-hand. He is the epitome of the argument for remote exploration. Not romantic, but practical.