Nightflyers, George R. R. Martin’s best-known collection, is both an individual achievement and representative of trends in science fiction during the 1970’s. Like many fantasy stories and novels, which enjoyed a revival during the decade, these stories feature unusual names and vividly described worlds entirely divorced from contemporary experience. Influenced in part by the social movements of the 1960’s and by the New Wave as well as by earlier science fiction, the stories often deal with antiestablishment themes, relaxed sexual mores, and extrasensory perception and quasi-occult phenomena; in addition, they frequently include women and minorities as strong characters.
The stories are also significant in displaying Martin’s skills as a writer in creating a convincing, interesting, and diverse future history linking all the stories except “Weekend in a War Zone.” Without seeming to burden readers with description, he adroitly sketches a variety of settings containing imaginative science-fiction creations such as sentient spacecraft, neural links between humans and computers a full decade before such an idea became prominent in cyberpunk novels such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), genetically enhanced human beings, and artificial space-warp devices. He is also successful in presenting a wide range of characters who are both recognizably human and shaped by their different circumstances. Martin’s social units also are realistic.
In addition, Martin does a good job of inventing situations that compel the reader to discover what happens next. “Nightflyers,” for example, is a science-fiction story, a murder mystery, and a horror story rolled into one; “Override” and “Weekend in a War Zone” both place their...
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