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The End of Humanity in Campbell’s Twilight, Asimov’s Nightfall, and Well’s Time Machine
According to Campbell’s “Twilight,” Wells’ The Time Machine, and Asimov’s “Nightfall,” T.S. Eliot is right. In “Twilight,” the whimper is the quietest. People are not in direct danger, like in The Time Machine, nor is there any mass panic, like in “Nightfall.” It is simply a long, slow process that involves the eventual extinction of a species -- in this case, the human race. According to Campbell, the lack of need leads to a lack of curiosity, which in turn leads to entropy. People stop to exist without any real fanfare because there is no more fanfare -- people have forgotten that, along with their natural curiosity.
The Time Machine prefers to see evolution, as opposed to extinction, as the eventual downfall of humanity. Wells posits that the human race will split into two different and distinct species, one that is subterranean and one that lives only on the planet’s surface. Unlike “Twilight,” which assumes natural progression, with The Time Machine, we cannot be sure that this is not fallout from a war or a natural catastrophe. The final end of the world in The Time Machine comes about slowly as one race destroys another in order to survive. There is no big push, only a slow sinking. There is no real fight, just surrender.
“Nightfall,” unlike The Time Machine, has a fight. Unfortunately, it is one between its human species and themselves. The end of the world is heralded by an eclipse. For the first time in recorded history -- since historical records keep stopping because of the eclipse -- darkness comes. Most people only know of darkness in stories and legend. It doesn’t exist for them because they live in a world that has six suns. When it finally comes, there is a complete breakdown. If anyone had listened to the scientists, then it might have gone a bit better, but because people didn’t want to accept it, the world comes to a grinding halt. (Although in this story, there are people that stay in an underground vault, so they have survived, and their “humanity” may begin again with a little big of help.) The only bang that appears in this end of the world story occurs when nightfall finally falls and the people panic and attack each other. It was done, or so it seems, as a mass mob, and the reason for it was fear. They were trying to create light. It is the most violent of all ends of the three, but even then it is not a bang, just a simple whimper of the final sun slipping behind another body.
I’m not sure if I believe that the world will end with a whisper, but these three stories definitely try to show that is how it will happen.