Nightflyers and the first song
Posted August 25, 2011on:
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.
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.