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Literature / Nightflyers

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Nightflyers is a 1980 sci-fi/horror novella by George R. R. Martin.

In the distant future, the mysterious volcryn are passing within a few light years of Earth. Eager to study them, a crew of xenologists led by Karoly D'Branin charter the cargo ship Nightflyer to take them to the volcryn. However, someone or something doesn't want them to reach their destination. Their elusive host, Royd Eris, seems to know more than he lets on, but he remains sequestered in his own cabin, and every time someone tries to tease out his secrets, they meet with a horrible fate. Enhanced human Melantha Jhirl must figure out who's attacking her crewmates before their mission is completely compromised.

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Later adapted into a 1989 movie and a 2018 miniseries by Syfy.


This story contains examples of:

  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Most aliens evolved on Earthlike planets and breath oxygen. It's noted that humans started ignoring gas giants after faster than light travel was invented and would just fly to the next system to find a habitable planet.
  • Bi the Way: Melantha Jhirl pursues relationships with most of her crewmates, including two of the other women.
  • Brain Uploading: Cynthia Eris uploaded her consciousness into the Nightflyer before her death so that she could live on forever. In the end, Royd follows suit, in order to stop his mother from killing Melantha.
  • Bubble Boy: Royd Eris is confined to his own quarters, because he was born in space and has almost no immune system to speak of, and thus can't safely mingle with the others.
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  • Dysfunction Junction: Melantha's sleeping her way through the crew, Rojan's a drunk, Thale is half-insane, Alys is a slob, Lommie spends most of her time hooked to the computers, Agatha's a hypochondriac, and Dannel and Lindran swing back and forth between Sickening Sweethearts and bitter hatred. And meanwhile, D'Branin's head is so far up his own ass that he doesn't realize what a mess his crew is. When things start falling apart, the team completely fails to pull together.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The stardrive.
  • Free-Love Future: The crew often have casual sex even if they're already in relationships.
  • Hates Being Touched: Lommie keeps to herself, the better to avoid others touching her.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: The Nightflyer has two psychics onboard.
  • Insufficiently Advanced Alien: The Volcryn are notable for not having faster than light travel.
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  • Lightworlder: Royd can barely survive in gravity.
  • Masochism Tango: Dannel and Lindran constantly argue, but they keep going back to each other.
  • My Beloved Smother: Cynthia Eris took this to whole new levels, having raised her son Royd to continue her work after her death. He has little choice in the matter, as his immune system is nonexistent and his muscles are too atrophied, so he can't ever leave the Nightflyer.
  • The Pigpen: Alys Northwind eats frequently, bathes seldom, and only takes off her clothes for sex.
  • Power Crystal: The Nightflyer's computer core.
  • Projected Man: Royd mostly only appears as a hologram.
  • Really Gets Around: Melantha has sex with nearly every other member of the crew.
  • Sealed Evil in a Duel: [[Spoiler:Royd and his Mother battle constantly for control of the ship by the end]].
  • Solar Sail: Human ships before faster than light travel was invented. The Volcryn are theorised to be the propelled by a laser variant.
  • Starfish Alien: The volcryn. It's actually just one massive organism that is barely even sentient, having to use all of its brainpower to keep its component parts together.
    • Alys theorises that Royd could be a methane breather from Jupiter.
  • Telepathic Spacemen: A lot of the aliens in the setting have more powerful telepaths than humans to the point where they could explode heads.
  • Terms of Endangerment: An unintentional example; Karoly compulsively calls everyone "my friend" even as his extremely skewed priorities keep getting everyone killed.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Melantha is black and bisexual.
  • Your Cheating Heart: As Royd Eris notes, Dannel and Lindran have lots of sex, but not with each other.
  • Your Head Asplode: Thale's head explodes when Agatha injects him with esperon in an attempt to boost his psychic abilities.
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