Please note this review is for the novella Nightflyers, not the collection which also bears the name.
Wreathed in psi powers, zombies, and deep, dark space, George R.R. Martin’s 1980 novella Nightflyers is a page-turning horror/suspense/mystery. The title is the name of the ship contracted to carry a crew of nine scientists to rendezvous with a legendary alien species called the volcryn said to be migrating in random arcs across the universe. The captain a recluse, he never emerges from his cabin, yet keeps eye and ear on all of the crew as they go about their business on the flight to the next point the volcryn are supposed to appear. Some of the crew possessing psi powers, trouble appears when one psionics starts to break down mentally. Claiming an alien presence draws closer, the crew inject him with drugs in an attempt to enhance his ability to see the presence, something which all have felt but none have seen. But the unexpected happens, and the crew’s mission begins to fade as things start to spiral out ofcontrol. Getting to the bottom of the mystery takes all they have, and maybe just their lives.
Nightflyers plays to Martin’s strengths. The balance between dialogue, exposition, and the slow peeling back of the layers to the mystery are perfectly presented. In fact, the story picks up speed to the point the reader can’t wait to get to the end, each scene stopping the next. The ship, the reclusive captain, and the curious crew have a ride they never dreamed through the black of space. And the volcryn, well, the reader will have to read for themselves.
Nightflyers is a horror story in space that is an entertaining read and may, just may, possess an additional layer if one spins the wheel the right way. Given the effective usage of horror tropes, however, it’s more likely the reader will be caught up in the plot. Whether or not one chooses to spin the wheel, this is a lazy day read that requires no engagement and possesses little sophistication save the quality reveal, but delivers from a storytelling perspective in spades. For a story with similar premise but more intelligent substance try Peter Watts' Blindsight...