Book Review: Nightflyers by George R. R. Martin

TL;DR – shoe string sci-fi horror about the crew of the starship Nightflyer seeking to explore the furthest regions of known space in search of an alien race.

Summary

Karoly d’Branin assembles a crew of scholars and experts on a journey to locate the Volcryn, an alien race with interstellar technology that surpasses every other race. The Volcryn’s purpose is a mystery. They pass through regions and events always moving outwards towards the fringes of known space, and they do so without any apparent desire to interact with anyone or anything. Karoly, determined to unlock this mystery, sets out on a transport ship called the Nightflyer. The starship is piloted by Royd Eris who locks himself in part of the ship where no one else can access. This results in most of the other crew wanting to find out who their enigmatic and secretive captain is and why he will not reveal himself.

When one of the scholars suddenly dies in horrific fashion, the stress of the journey, combined with the claustrophobic confines of the ship and a captain who is always watching them remotely, causes the rest of the crew to unravel. Karoly is determined to continue on and find the Volcryn, but will he ever achieve his quest or will external forces conspire against him?

Review

George R. R. Martin wrote Nightflyers prior to his critically acclaimed Game of Thrones series. In his early career, he wrote primarily sci-fi and combined them with horror elements, and Nightflyers is one of those efforts. Being a novella, Martin demonstrates he is as capable of writing epic length fantasy as he is in writing short stories. His ability to convey suspense and horror in concise, evocative language to maintain word length is exemplary.

In saying that, the story in Nightflyers won’t shock avid readers or movie watchers of the hybrid sci-fi horror genre. Books like Solaris by Stanislaw Lem or Blindsight by Peter Watts along with films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Event Horizon have themes and elements similar that run through Nightflyers.

Still, it is written in a way that will have you turning the pages even if you can see where it all leads. The reason for this is the colourful collection of crew that rides the Nightflyer starship.

Karoly d’Branin is the astrophysicist and leader of the group, who is obsessed in finding the Volcryn and study them.

Royd Eris is captain of the ship and never leaves his quarters. He communicates to the rest of the crew through speakers or a ghostly hologram.

Melantha Jhirl, a genetically engineering woman, is considered the epitome of the human species in terms of physical strength.

Lommie Thorne (cyberneticist), Alys Northwind (xenotech), Rojan Christopheris (xenobiologist), Dannel (male linguist), Lindran (female linguist), Agatha Marij-Black (psipsych) and Thale Lasamer (a frail young telepath) make up the rest of the crew.

All of the characters, except arguably Melantha, are flawed in some way (or multiple ways). By all appearances, Karoly chose his team solely on their expertise in their particular field and not on whether they can actually get along. Even Dannel and Lindran (the two linguists), who are in a romantic relationship, belittle and argue with each other all the time. It leads to conflicts on many fronts.

You will read this story because you will want to know who comes out of it alive., and in this way, the book is effective. An atmospheric novella more about the characters than the plot.

3 out of 5.

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