Entry updated 9 January 2023. Tagged: Theme.
Term used by Poul Anderson in his Technic History sequence to denote the galactic Dark Ages expected after the fall of a Terran Galactic Empire already mired in Decadence, a narrative of Decline and Fall and the Darkness to come that comprises a central thread in the megatext (see SF Megatext) of the West, as exemplified in the twentieth century by Arnold J Toynbee (1889-1975) in A Study of History (1933-1961 11vols), especially Volumes V and VI (both 1939) where his depiction of "The Disintegrations of Civilizations" takes on a mythopoeic intensity whose impact on sf writers has been deep if usually inexplicit, though Toynbee is invoked by name in Charles L Harness's Flight into Yesterday (May 1949 Startling; exp 1953; vt The Paradox Men 1955 dos). Poul Anderson's main protagonists – who give their names to the Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry subseries of the Technic History – foresee this grim eventuality in implicitly Toynbeean terms, and work against it, ultimately in vain; several stories in Anderson's The Long Night (coll 1983) are set in this dark era. The term appears in the first Flandry magazine story, "Tiger by the Tail" (January 1951 Planet Stories).
Hari Seldon in Isaac Asimov's Foundation (May 1942-October 1944 Astounding; fixup 1951; cut vt The 1,000 Year Plan 1955 dos) uses Psychohistory to predict a similar dark age and lays his plans to shorten this interregnum from the expected 30,000 years to a single millennium. It should be noted that most sf Future Histories which anticipate a Dark Age to come do so in the clear (though sometimes unstated) understanding that the Long Night is precisely an interregnum: that a new civilization will emerge from the abyss, though perhaps not soon. Examples include the early John Brunner tales eventually assembled as Interstellar Empire (omni 1976), H Beam Piper's Terro-Human Future History, Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium sequence and the lengthy timeline of the game Traveller. The Long Night figures as an explanatory backstory in many novels and series set in Rimworld planets, hinterlands that – according to both Toynbee and Asimov – will eventually reinvigorate the centre. There is also a natural tendency in long-lasting Space Opera series – an instance being Jack McDevitt's Academy/Priscilla Hutchins sequence, which has continued for a quarter of a century – for their later volumes to convey a sense that the twilight is deepening. [DRL/JC]
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