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Does anyone know the name of a short story, maybe 100 pages, possibly German language, from the mid-late 1970s, about a futuristic civilization whose planet existed inside a dense stellar dust cloud.

The cloud was so thick that it absorbed almost all electromagnetic waves, and it only let through a few frequencies, such as visible light.

Because of this the civilization lasted for hundreds of thousand of years but had absolutely no concept of there being a wider universe beyond their home planet

They couldn't detect any stars or planets beyond their own, their night sky was completely black, and the light coming from their sun was so diffused that they didn't even know that there was a sun. The sky simply became light or dark.

As far as they knew when they looked up there were clouds and absolutely nothing beyond that. They don't even have a moon. They just know that when you get to a certain distance there isn't any more air.

Then one day a comet passes through their system, blasts a hole in the dust cloud, and they become aware of the existence of the universe and have to deal with the ramifications of this knowledge.

It's a standalone story, and isn't From Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or The Dark Side of the Sun.

EDIT: It's not Nighfall as about half of the story covers the introspective thoughts of the narrator as they're civilisation slowly becomes accustomed to the idea of there being a wider universe. Rather than the civilisation collapsing.

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  • I recall a story (book?/Short story?) Planet has 4-5 suns it orbits. There is always a sun in the sky. So they never have night. But there is going to be an very rare alignment that will put all the suns behind the planet's moon for an eclipse. A scientist propose there maybe a dozen other stars visible in the night sky. (Meanwhile archeologists are discovering their civilization has thrived and collapsed every 1000? years. Timed with the alignment) When the eclipse occurs they see millions of stars, and the people go nuts and start destroying everything. The POV is from the scientist.
    – NJohnny
    Mar 8 at 18:44
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    @NJohnny You're thinking of "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov Mar 8 at 18:44
  • @cybernetic.nomad, Not the story I'm thinking of, but now I want to read that one. Mar 8 at 19:30
  • How did the civilization deal with it ? Mar 8 at 19:36
  • @AaarghZombies You should have no problem finding "Nightfall", it's appeared in a lot of anthologies (see here). It was also expanded as a novel co-written with Robert Silverberg. As for the story you are looking for, the only one that comes to mind is Stanley Weinbaum's "The Lotus Eaters", but there are significant differences from your description. Mar 8 at 19:38

2 Answers 2

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Could it be that you're remembering Krikkit from Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams?

Due to the dust cloud, the sky above Krikkit was completely black, and thus the people of Krikkit led insular lives and never realised the existence of the Universe at large. With the population thus prepared, Hactar disintegrated but still functional, built and crashed a model spaceship onto Krikkit in order to introduce its inhabitants to the concept of the Universe. Secretly guided by Hactar, the Krikkiters built their first spaceship, Krikkit One, penetrated the dust cloud, and surveyed the Universe before them. Unbeknownst to the Krikkiters, Hactar had been subliminally conditioning their minds to the point where they could not accept a Universe into their world view, with the intention of putting them into a similar mindset to that of the Silastic Armorfiends. Sooner or later, they would require an Ultimate Weapon, and this would allow Hactar to finally complete his purpose, something he had felt considerable guilt about not doing before. Upon first witnessing the glory and splendor of the Universe, they casually, whimsically, decided to destroy it, remarking, "It'll have to go."

From the book:

“No,” said Slartibartfast, with a slight quickening of his step, “the people of Krikkit have never thought to themselves, ‘We are alone in the Universe.’? They are surrounded by a huge Dust Cloud, you see, their single sun with its single world, and they are right out on the utmost eastern edge of the Galaxy. Because of the Dust Cloud there has never been anything to see in the sky. At night it is totally blank. During the day there is the sun, but you can’t look directly at that so they don’t. They are hardly aware of the sky. It’s as if they had a blind spot that extended 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.”

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    +1 Exactly where my mind went when I read the OP's question. To be clear, the quote is not from Life, The Universe, and Everything, but from the linked synopsis of it.
    – Lexible
    Mar 8 at 15:38
  • @Lexible: Sorry, hadn't gotten the book quote just yet.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 8 at 15:39
  • It's a standalone story written form the perspective of the narrator looking back on how their civilization dealt with it. Mar 8 at 16:35
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Could it be 'Nightfall by Isaac Asimov from 1941? It was adapted into a novel in 1990 by Robert Silverberg.

From Wikipedia:

The planet Lagash ("Kalgash" in the novel) is constantly illuminated by the six suns of its multiple star system. Areas of darkness exist in enclosed areas on Lagash, such as caves, tunnels, and windowless rooms, but night never falls because at least one sun is present in the sky at any given time

Because of the perpetual daylight on Lagash, its inhabitants are unaware of the existence of stars apart from their own; Lagashian astronomers estimate that the entire universe is no more than a few light years in diameter and may hypothetically contain a small number of other suns. But Lagash is located in the center of a giant cluster and, during the eclipse, the night sky, the first that any living person on Lagash has ever seen, is filled with the dazzling light of more than 30,000 newly visible stars

Learning that the universe is far vaster and Lagash far more insignificant than they believed, coupled with the worldwide darkness produced by the eclipse, drives everyone, including the scientists, insane. Outside the observatory, in the direction of the city, the horizon begins glowing with the light of spreading fires as "the long night" returns to Lagash.

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    In the short story, the civilisation wasn't even aware of their own star Mar 9 at 11:09

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