Review: “Nightflyers and Other Stories,” George R.R. Martin

Pros: Fascinating little nuggets of sci-fi
Cons: A seeming plot hole or two; could use more character depth
Rating: 4 out of 5

George R.R. Martin’s Nightflyers & Other Stories is a collection of a handful of science fiction stories, one of which (the eponymous Nightflyers) is getting turned into a TV series on the SyFy channel.

I’m fond of the Nightflyers story. A group of messed-up academics go out to gather some data on a mysterious and ancient race of aliens, hiring a ship piloted by a man who keeps himself wholly separate from them. There’s a strong telepath on board, and he gradually gets more and more paranoid. Or is he picking up on something strange that’s going on? The first death among the academics would seem to indicate that there’s certainly something foul afoot. Martin creates a very dysfunctional crew, with lots of ugly personalities and plenty of sex going on (no, this isn’t erotica–it’s not written to be ‘sexy’. It’s largely just a facet of the society). I enjoyed this story the most when it was a haunted ship story; toward the end, when it’s more sci-fi in nature, it lost some of its magic for me. Partly, however, that’s because it felt like it had a plot hole or two. Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want any spoilers.

SPOILER WARNING. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want any details spoiled. Most of the mysterious things happening turn out to be the result of very strong telekinesis. The telekinesis is even used to ‘animate’ dead bodies and use them to attack people. Okay, so, if telekinesis can be used for that, then why can’t it be used to just pinch off an artery in someone’s neck, or directly tear a hole in an environment suit rather than having to wield a knife to cut it? There was no explanation for why the teke was only being used in certain ways. END spoiler warning.

The stories reward paying attention: the names of alien races and certain events, for example, show up in multiple places. However, each story stands alone. There’s one in which a group of religious fanatics takes over an alien planet as a trader tries to find ways to protect the natives–who (so far) refuse to protect themselves. There’s another in which an empath and a telepath are hired to figure out why humans are starting to convert to a bizarre–and self-destructive–religion an alien planet. The world-building is interesting and the stories kept my interest. I would have liked more depth to some of the characters, but well, these are short stories.

I plan to watch Nightflyers when it comes out as a TV series, but I hope the show sticks more to the ‘haunted ship’ end of things and doesn’t lose the magic too early. So far the ads look promising.

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