the Little Red Reviewer

Nightflyers and the first song

Posted on: August 25, 2011

sorry for the crappy photo. . .

Nightflyers (short story collection) by George R R Martin

published in 1985 (stories written from 1973-1980)

why I read it: cuz I lurves me some Martin

where I got it: have no idea, it’s been on the bookshelf for a while.

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Thanks to HBO and a rather infamous 5th book,  just about everyone knows who George R R Martin is.   I’m not ashamed to admit it, Game of Thrones was my first Martin, and before I read it (this was maybe 5 years ago?), I’d never heard of him.  Many people know him as “that epic fantasy guy”.

what if I told you he wrote tons and tons of stuff before Game of Thrones was ever a twinkle in his eye? That he’d been writing short stories since the early 70’s?  Dreamsongs volumes one and two were released a few years back, and are known as the Martin short story collections. Containing everything from essays to short stories and novellas, to tv scripts to his thoughts on different parts of his life,  when it comes to page count they are just as epic as his fantasies.  However, if you’re looking for a smaller dose of early Martin, allow me to recommend a skinny little short story collection called Nightflyers. It’s unfortunate this little gem is out of print, it’s well worth the search on Amazon or ABE or e-bay, or you favorite local used bookstore.   Along with the novella Nightflyers, written in 1980, it includes 5 more short stories written during the 70s.   no dice? no worries, all the stories in Nightflyers are also in the Dreamsongs collection.

Another thing I’m not ashamed to admit is that I don’t read a lot of short story collections or anthologies. Just personal preference, I typically want something novella length or longer. Well, Martin and his Dreamsongs turned me into a short story fan, or at least a fan of his short stories.  And you know what?  I like his earlier science fiction based short works better than A Song of Ice and Fire, and Nightflyers is part of the reason why.

All of the stories in Nightflyers take place somewhere and somewhen in The Thousand Worlds, a space opera sandbox of worlds colonized by humans and aliens.  It’s fun to read one story and a character mentions a bunch of planets, and in another story, we’re on one of them!

Here are my thoughts on some of the short stories:

Nightflyers  (1980) 1981 Hugo novella nominee – Scientist Karoly d’Branin is desperate to visit the far reaches of known space to investigate a mysterious and ancient space faring race known as the Volcryn.  So desperate in fact, that he charters the cheapest starship that doesn’t seem interested in asking too many questions.  Karoly and his research assistants (and odd bunch unto themselves) find themselves aboard the Nightflyer, captained by Royd Eris, a man that no one ever sees.  Royd visits his passengers via hologram, and spies on them via hidden camera.  One of Karoly’s assistants is a  telepath, and instantly picks up that something is very, very, horribly wrong. Why won’t Royd show himself? is he even human? is the Nightflyer being captained by a very smart and very friendly AI?  There’s something wrong here, and it’s got nothing to do with a shy captain’s lack of antibodies.  Nightflyers starts out a rather traditional exploration story, and quickly turns into a sharply twisted scifi horror thriller.

Weekend in a War Zone (1977)- Just because wars are no longer fought on Earth, that doesn’t mean humanity has lost our warring-ness.  And businesses exist to give people what they want, right?  In this future, businesses run the wars. Customers interested in playing at war pay for weekends, learn how to use a gun, and a chopper drops them into a zone. when the weekend is over, they got home, feeling patriotic and strong and macho.  Andy would rather play tennis. He thinks it’s stupid that he’s got to play at war for a weekend just to impress his boss. And Andy could never, ever bring himself to hurt someone, let along shoot them. He’s not that kind of guy.  Until the moment when everything changes.

Nor the Many Colored Fires of a Star Ring (1976) – Anomalies were discovered in space that we were able to stretch into “star rings”, basically jump gate type things that take you to different stars.  There are about a dozen of them, and scientists can’t agree if they take you someplace else in the galaxy, some when else in the galaxy, or to some parallel galaxy. All the theories are mutually exclusive. And then there’s the Nowhere Star Ring.  Where’s Nowhere? exactly.  there are no Stars, no planets, no nothing.  Probes sent out years ago never found a single atom of anything. All there is is the sustained explosion of the star ring anomaly. And when the explosion is no longer sustained? Then what?

A Song for Lya (1974) 1975 Hugo Award for best Novella – there’s a reason I called this post “Nightflyers and The First Song”.  The main characters of this story are Lyanna and Robb.  The names struck a chord in my mind, even though this story has less than nothing to do with another famous story those names pop up in.  Anyways,  Lyanna and Robb are trained, licenced telepaths, sent to the human colony on Shkeen to talk to the Shkeen and the humans. Their job is to find out why humans have started to convert to the Shkeen religion.  There’s no law against humans converting to alien religions, but the Shkeen faith is more than a religion. If I say any more I will spoil one of the most beautiful, most emotional stories I have ever read in my life.  I’ve read this story four or five times, and even though I know what’s happening, what’s going to happen, how it ends, I cry every time I read it.  It’s something you’ve just got to experience.

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19 Responses to "Nightflyers and the first song"

I’ve read three of the stories from this collection. I have a larger trade version with the same cover image. Oddly enough it is a book I picked up after seeing a trading card image of the girl on front. Other than a more curvaceous figure she is the spitting image of a very lovely woman that I used to work with and it made me want to seek out the book that the illustration was from.

I read the title story several years ago after stumbling across the movie adaptation on a local station over the weekend. I don’t remember much about it now.

Earlier this year I read Override and A Song for Lya and was very impressed with both of them. About A Song for Lya I wrote:

““A Song for Lya” is a powerful story that churned a great deal of turmoil in me as I read it, a feeling echoed in both characters, although I found myself identifying more with Robb, mostly because of the male connection. Through characters both human and alien George R.R. Martin examines love and culture and religion; he examines ideas of God and of acceptance and connection. At the same time I believe he points a light on selfishness and fear and the cost of life decisions, for the person making the decision and also for the person(s) affected by their decisions.”

I remember really wanting to discuss it with someone who had read it, I said so at the time, but now I cannot recall exactly how it all ended. Which, frankly, is fun because then I can read it again and enjoy it all over again.

I really liked Overrride for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it reminded me (for some reason I can no longer recall) of the Martin, Dozois, Abraham collaborative novel, Hunter’s Run. If you have not read it I highly recommend you give it a try. In Hunter’s Run the trio made me care for a character who is not naturally likeable. In Override Martin made me care for a character that I had precious little time to get to know. He is definitely a talented author.

Short stories are my thing. I love ‘em. There is something so amazing when you read a great short story, and even merely good ones stir my imagination and make me want to read more.

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Carl, A Song for Lya really packs a punch, doesn’t it? Reading Nightflyers and bits and pieces from Dreamsongs, gives me the impression that Martin is a sensitive, fragile man. Sometimes I wish that came through more in SoIaF.

I’m trying to read more short fiction, but it’s slow going. it sounds silly, but when I look at the physical object of an anthology, my brain sees it as a book with chapters that all have to be read in order, like a normal book. And then when the stories really aren’t related, my brain gets very confused. I need to just read ONE story and put the thing down for a few days!

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These stories sound quite good. As a recent convert to the Martin fandom, I shall have to seek them out. :)

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Welcome to the fandom! :D
his short stuff is really just incredible. I don’t know if Nightflyers is in print anymore, but the larger short story collections, Dreamsongs I and II came out about 5 years ago and should be floating around used bookstores or the library.

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Thanks for the tip. I’ve liked Fire & Ice (though the duration between the last couple of books has made me decide until I know the end is in sight to finish them).

I like short story collections, though I don’t like to read too many at one time as they can tend to run together — a lot of times I will have an active book of short stories that I’m reading and will read one or two between “normal” length books that I read. They act as a great little mental palette cleanser that way.

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Me too. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve read ALL the stories in any collection at once. I love buying anthologies, but just can’t ever seem to finish ‘em for some dumb reason.

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i own a handful of anthologies, but like I have a tough time getting through them. Next time I’m going to go the stevebetz route and not worry about reading the stories in order, and read one or two in between longer books.

and steve, I think one of the reasons I like Martin’s short works so much is they are typically self contained. No waiting decades to see what happens next, that is just SO frustrating for me!!

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I don’t know why I haven’t checked this book out yet — I always loved “Sand Kings”.

I already told Andrea and I’ll pass to the rest, if you like horror and vamps, then ya gotsta check out Martin’s Fevre Dream, set on the Mississippi River in the 1860s (or thereabouts). This great book, which includes New Orleans vamps, actually came out the same year as that “Interview” book everyone knows — but thses ain’t no wimpy Tom Cruise vampires here!

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i have got to get my hands on a copy of Fevre Dream, it’s supposed to be a masterpeice, and I’m a little embarrassed that i haven’t read it! It really came out the same year as the Rice? that’s actually kinda funny! no wimpy Cruises, and hopefully no sparkly vamps either.

Sandkings is wonderful, I’ve got it in Dreamsongs. There’s talk that Martin had hoped to write more with the Shade & Wo characters from Sandkings but never got around to it. too bad.

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There’s only one sparkly vamp, but he’s a good guy. A vamp with vizion, who sees us regular humans as something more than “the Cattle” as most vamps view us.

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P.S. But he can kick some ase if he needs to…

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hmmm, you’re talking about Bill Compton, right? ;)

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I see George Martin books around all the time, but I wanted to read his series first. I only finally read book 1 this year, so hopefully I can get to more from him soon!

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Who knows if he’s ever going to finish Game of Thrones series at this rate? once you’re caught up, and rabidly waiting for the next book, I think maybe you’ll join the rest of us crazed fans and go for the short stuff!

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I pretty much always read short story collections in order unless I am picking one up to specifically read a recommended story, like I did with Override and A Song for Lya.

I’ve only read A Game of Thrones and it was a really excellent book, but when I read books like The Name of the Wind or The Way of Kings I realize that I like that take on fantasy a bit more. I don’t mind reading books with dark things happening, but Martin can get a bit too dark at times.

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Yep. I am pretty sure I know what my next download is going to be. Good post.

I’ve read all of the Song of Ice and Fire series, and The Hedge Knight. Does his Sci Fi have the same relaxed tone that does such a good job of drawing you in?

Thanks very much for the info.

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I’ve been in need of some good space opera reads as (I’m ashamed to say) I’ve never really delved into this sub-genre of sf before. Perhaps I will start with some of these short stories.

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[...] J.W. and I have a Nice Little Chat  (<– click that) about George R R Martin, specifically Nightflyers and Fevre Dream, two lovely non-epic-fantasy books he wrote “before he was famous”. (btw, you can read my longer article on Martin’s Nightflyers here) [...]

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[...] you’ve never read Martin and want to, I’m happy to recommend some wonderful stuff he’s written. But I don’t suggest starting with Fevre [...]

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