I picked up this book at the library book sale when trying to build my science fiction collection. The cover art of what appeared to be a naked fairy and an old dude intrigued me, as I would generally assume fairies to be in the domain of fantasy, rather than sci-fi.
“Nightwings” originally began as a novella. The novel version is simply three novellas joined together: “Nightwings,” “Perris Way,” and “To Jorselm,” which fit together seamlessly to tell a larger story.
The story is set on Earth in a distant future. Mankind has been specialized into Guilds, which determine their occupation and function. As many of the tasks of day-to-day life have been replaced by machinery, the Guilds have different functions than one might expect. Our protagonist is a Watcher. His function is to use special instruments to look into the stars for evidence of an alien invasion. By this point, most people (including the Watcher himself) believe that the invasion is a myth, much in the way that a lot of people today don’t really believe in the Second Coming, but still give token acknowledgement to the possibility.
The Watcher is on his way to Roum, and is accompanied in his travels by Gormon, a Changeling outcast, and Avluela, a member of the Fliers Guild. Avluela is the fairy pictured on the cover, although we learn that the wings came about due to genetic experimentation in the distant past, and that they are only Nightwings, rendered incapable of flying during the day by the solar winds. Oh, and you have to fly naked, otherwise you fall down.
When the Watcher realizes that the Invasion has come, it shatters his entire conception of the world and his function in it. Losing touch with Avluela and Gormon, he embarks on a quest to find redemption.
I didn’t expect this book to be so fascinating. It had a bit of a slow start, but by the second and third novellas, I had a hard time putting it down. Silverberg’s writing is beautiful, and contains a variety of themes relating to purpose and salvation.
At the same time, I was a bit annoyed that Avluela was treated almost entirely as a sex symbol throughout the story. She doesn’t really do anything until the very end of the third novella aside from looking pretty and getting raped. I found it almost funny though, considering that the Watcher (who had an obvious crush on Avluela) was pretty much asexual. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the Watcher had a negative sex drive, especially when comparing him to every other character in the book.
Oh, and *SPOILER ALERT* – If you have a crush on a girl, I’d generally advise against inviting her rapist to be your traveling companion for the next several months, even if she’s not traveling with you at the time. I know this is fiction, but what the hell?! *END SPOILERS*
Despite the streak of misogyny in “Nightwings,” I greatly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in some vintage sci-fi.
“Nightwings” was the 1969 winner of the Hugo Award for best novella, and also a Nebula Award nominee. As such, I’ll be including it in the Award Winning Books Reading Challenge hosted by Gathering Books. It also counts for both the The 2012 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings and the Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge from The Little Red Reviewer. Oh, and let’s not forget the Speculative Fiction Challenge hosted by Baffled Books. Yup, this one double-counts for four challenges! Yay!