Nightflyers contains six classic Science Fiction stories, from short story to novella-length. Most of them have a horror-bend. All of them are charmingly „soft“ Science Fiction, sometimes to the extend of reading more like fantasy. That's not meant as criticism; I prefer this kind of SF to any allusions to „hard“ science, especially if „hard“ science is limited to physics and math (I'm on board with biology, though). GRRM is less interested in hard, cold science, and concentrates more on exploring very human – and humane – questions. The stories are noticeable products of their time, the 1970s: people are almost obsessed with sex, but while women are allowed to experiment, all men are straight; everyone is very, very binary. It's just to be expected. Nevertheless, I found these stories delightful. For me, they also worked as a gentle reminder that we keep telling the same stories over and over again, sometimes dressed as myths, sometimes routed in reality, sometimes spiced with hard science: stories about love, horror, pain, connection. GRRM's stories have all of this in spades.
Nightflyers - ***
A ragtag crew of „academicians“ charter a spaceship to go looking for the volcryn, an elusive alien race, subject of many interstellar myths. But something's fishy on board the Nightflyer. The spaceship's captain refuses to show himself, the group's telepath senses a threat, and soon people start dying. --- It's a classic horror story, a haunted-house story in space. Maybe a bit too classic today. While certainly interesting, gory, and at times spooky, the story didn't really grip me. In fact I think it's the weakest offering of the bunch.
Override - ****
Why should the dead be rotting in graves? What an awful waste of resource. Dead Men are cheap work-force, and one that rarely complain. They're also a bit spooky, so it's no wonder that corpse-handlers, the people working the Dead Men, are not all that well regarded by some. So, when you go digging for gems with your Dead Men, better go prepared. --- I liked how GRRM developed the main character in this story and his scenery descriptions are a joy to read. Grotto really seems like a beautiful planet, living up to its name.
A Weekend at the War Zone - ***/*
When there a no wars left to fight, boys go play war games. --- It's exactly as ugly and predictable as it sounds. But predictable little pacifist that I am, I liked it nonetheless. Martin tells the story in a strong voice that feels all too real.
And Seven Times Never Kill a Man - ****
A trader gets caught in a war between the Steel Angels and the defenseless Jaenshi. The Steel Angels trust in the blade, the Jaenshi trust in their gods. --- A weird and oddly compelling story.
Nor the Many-Colored Fires of a Star Ring - ****
The human mind is not equipped to understand nothingness. When faced with the absolute absence of everything, it can only react with fear. And what do you do when you're afraid? What do you do to cast out the demons? Well, how about making an awful lot of noise? --- I loved this one.
A Song for Lya - *****
Well, this is such a story as can only be written by a Western man. Giving up our little individual lives for a communion of joy, the joined bliss of non-existence, is just too fucking scary for us, isn't it? We crave it, and it scares us shitless. --- A variation of a story I've read before, A Song for Lya is the most competent version of this particular theme I've found so far. It goes straight to the core, and it leaves you bleeding. It's visceral, and utterly sentimental, and oh so very human, and I liked it.
The inevitable soundtrack: Editors - Nothingness.
And now I really have to read something thematically different. And change the record, change the tune...