Nightflyers by George R R Martin

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Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More; image by Sebastien Decoret from 123RF.com

Originally published back in 1980, Nightflyers is a novella-length story that was recently repackaged and turned up on the shelves at work. I wouldn’t have picked it up but for the fact that this new edition is illustrated by David Palumbo (the man responsible for those gorgeous painterly Binti novella covers *all the hearts*) and I really love his stuff. And, yeah, it’s a short, quick scifi read and my month is going to hell in a handcart so I’ve had to restack a couple of bigger tomes I intended to read. Ugh, life gets in the way sometimes, you know?

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A group of scientists have been drawn together by Karoly d’Branin, a man obsessed with the as yet unseen alien volcryn, who is determined to intercept this mythical race out in deep space and study them. For this purpose d’Branin has chartered a Nightflyer and her captain Royd Eris, an eccentric individual who will only interact with the group via his hologrammatic self. Things go south quickly. The powerful telepath d’Branin has employed is convinced that the crew are in danger from the get-go and only becomes more distressed as the journey continues …

This is a horror story in space (did you guess?). I’d have paid good money to read more of the secondary story about the mythical volcryn, but the plot mostly concerns itself with the extermination of the small academic crew aboard the Nightflyer and the mysterious Royd Eris. A couple of the deaths are pretty spectacular, but I suspect that may be all I take away from this book.

Martin certainly has a talent for writing compelling, if not necessarily likeable, characters though, and he puts it to good use here. Of the ten characters in this story, only one is anywhere near pleasant, but they are all interesting. For a future in which the “Academy of Human Knowledge” appears to be the highest power, this motley group aren’t very Star Trek and they fall prey to suspicion and paranoia in record time, (because humanity will always be its own worst enemy, I guess). That just made watching them die one by one more fun than scary, however.

It’s definitely something that would translate to the screen well (all that blood!), or so I thought while I was reading it. Then I found out that it had already been made into a TV series for the SyFy channel, and the general consensus on the interweb was that it wasn’t very good. Which is a shame because I feel that it was written very much with an eye to the visual, something Palumbo is able to take full advantage of in his gorgeous full-page illustrations. I really like Palumbo’s style anyway, but here he does a great job of creating dark, moody images that made me feel almost claustrophobic. (As an added bonus, the artist’s Instagram account was mentioned at the end of the book and there you can find an extra handful of paintings that didn’t make the cut for the book – very cool).

There were a couple of things I didn’t like so much in the story. There were some weird manners of speech that I found a bit jarring, particularly d’Branin’s oddly old-fashioned chatter and his frequent use of the term “my friend” (‘friend’, ‘love’ and ‘mate’ from people who are not any of those things to me is a pet hate of mine); and Melantha’s need to repeatedly remind everyone that she is an “improved model” also grated a bit.

And there was quite a lot that I’d have liked Martin to expand on: Royd and Melantha’s relationship was quite interesting and had either one been in the slightest bit sympathetic I’d have enjoyed more of that; Royd’s backstory, too, was fascinating and could have made a book on it’s own especially if his mother had been given a bit more room. The volcryn were awesome too (I particularly loved Palumbo’s illustration of them), and I felt they were another potentially much richer storyline given too little room. In fact, I think that may be my main complaint with Nightflyers: there were a ton of great ideas in here, enough for three books, but none of them were explored in any great depth because, in the end, only the body count really seemed to matter.

So, yeah, a bit of a mixed bag this one. With a bit more space and one or two redeeming features in the cast I think this would have been a much cooler novel. As it is, it was a fairly satisfying series of deaths and some interesting ideas. Must try harder. (which, of course, Martin did, didn’t he?!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R R Martin

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There’s almost no reason for me to say anything about A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. It is, like everything George R R Martin’s name is attached to, awesome, (not a very original point of view, I know, but what’s a girl to do? The man has a magic brain-box), and it’s not like it’s an unsung treasure people haven’t heard of.

What’s great about A Knight is that even if you haven’t bothered with the behemoth that is Game of Thrones (…???!!!) this can still be enjoyed independently, and if you’re a massive fan then this just adds even more depth and texture to the world of Westeros. It’s pretty cool to see the kingdom before House Baratheon and the Lannisters get their sticky mits all over the kingship, but also to see that it was just as messed up under the rightful, albeit inbred, Targaryens. There’s as much intrigue, back-stabbing, casual misogyny, blood, guts and gore here as there is one hundred years later in GoT, and just because we’re sleeping under hedges with Dunk and Egg doesn’t mean we’re any further removed from it all. It is much more compact though. The book is made up of three fairly short stories, each complete in itself, episodes in the life of hedge knight Duncan the Tall and his squire (and Targaryen prince) Egg: ‘The Hedge Knight’, ‘The Sworn Sword’ and ‘The Mystery Knight’.

In ‘The Hedge Knight’ we meet Dunk as he starts his knighthood, burying the man who knighted him and for whom he was squire, Ser Arlan of Pennytree. Dunk is naïve, and brave, and honourable, and very easy to like. He’s a bit dim sometimes, and definitely out of his depth amidst all the intrigue and politics going on around him when he arrives at Ashford Meadow for a tourney. Egg, on the other hand, is bright, quick, and smart-mouthed, but just a lovable as Dunk. The story quickly escalates and Dunk finds himself having to fight for his life in a trial of seven, a to-become-legendary battle that reads like something out of the tales of King Arthur. It’s a wholly satisfying story and the best introduction these two characters could possibly have.

‘The Sworn Sword’ finds Dunk working for old Ser Eustace Osgrey, a pardoned rebel from the wrong side of the battle of the Redgrass Field, (where a Targaryen heir and a Targaryen bastard fought for the throne). Dunk is involved in the petty squabble between Ser Eustace and his neighbour the Spider Widow over a stream, and has to work alongside the thoroughly objectionable Ser Bennis the Brown. Through Ser Eustace and the Widow there’s a nice exploration of how history just keeps coming back around that I found interesting, but this was my least favourite of the three stories.

Finally, ‘The Mystery Knight’ treads even closer to the still simmering tensions left over from the Redgrass Field. Here Dunk and Egg become unwittingly embroiled in treasonous plottings at the wedding of Lord Butterwell’s daughter. Whereas in the first two stories the larger events of the kingdom felt a step away, here they’re right up in Dunk and Egg’s grills, and they’re lucky to escape with their lives.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a great book to satisfy Westeros cravings while we’re all waiting for Martin’s next instalment (or the next season of the TV series if that’s your preferred medium). It’s got some lovely humour, nail-biting combat, mystery and adventure. Martin’s writing never ceases to engage and fascinate me. What’s also really awesome about these stories collected together in this one volume is the gorgeous work of Gary Gianni throughout. A huge part of my enjoyment of A Knight was down to Gianni’s images (which took him eighteen months to do); he captures the weight and struggle of combat as beautifully as the hubbub of a banquet hall and the still, sticky heat of drought and his illustrations felt like an intrinsic part of the stories for me. The only thing that could possibly top that would be if Martin had promised to write more adventures for Dunk and Egg … which he did in his post script. Huzzah!

 

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Awwww … *hearts*