Visions of Paradise

Friday, April 01, 2005

Nightwings

Nightwings was one of my favorite books of the 1960s, and one of the reasons that I developed a liking for the fiction of Robert Silverberg. But like so much of my seminal sf, I did not read it again for nearly 40 years. I was actually a bit apprehensive about rereading a book which meant so much to me as a late teen, but I should have let my trust in Silverberg assure me: it is an absolutely phenomenal book.

The first novella “Nightwings” tells the story of three travelers in a far-future underpopulated Earth. The aging Watcher belongs to a guild whose members study the skies four times daily seeking advance notice of an invasion from the stars. The young Flier Avluela is a delicate being whose nightwings enable her to fly only after the sun has descended. Gormon is a guildless changeling, a devil-may-care adventurer who is obviously smitten with Avluela.

Silverberg has always been fascinated by history, and his best fiction often revolves around historical explorations, both historical past to us and historical future, as well as often travelogues in format. Thus in “Nightwings” we examine the life of the city of Roum, a walled city filled with guild houses and public thinking caps which connect the users with networked brains which provide free information. We explore such wonders as the Mouth of Truth and the Prince of Roum himself.

Silverberg has always been a master plotter, but his plots are seldom, if ever, fueled by adventures and thriller events, but rather by characters seeking some type of fulfillment, usually either spiritual or philosophical. Thus his stories move slowly, but deliberately, leaving ample room for his examinations of the future and its history, as well as of the characters on whom he focuses. “Nightwings” is vintage Silverberg, as is the world he creates, so that its wonders envelop you as it does the three travelers.

The second novella, “Among the Rememberers” takes the former Watcher to Perris in company of a mysterious Pilgrim, following the climactic events at the end of “Nightwings” which resulted in the shattering of the guild of Watchers. In Perris he apprentices to the guild of Rememberers, so that this story is pure history, as the now-named Tomis studies his past–our future–and we learn about the splendors and hubris of humanity in the millennia ahead of us, and of the anticipated invasion which originally sparked the creation of the Watchers’ guild. For a lover of history, this novella is a delight. For a lover of strong emotional writing, this novella centers around two people struggling with their emotional lives, eventually progressing to a stunning and unexpected conclusion.

The final novella, “The Road to Jorslem” is a tale of redemption, as Tomas becomes a pilgrim and travels to the most ancient and holiest city of Jorslem, seeking physical renewal and spiritual redemption. This is a favorite topic of Silverberg’s, and one he handles very well. While it might not appeal to all readers, since the novel’s climax is primarily philosophical, I enjoy such conclusions as much, if not moreso, than a mere tying up of loose ends.

Rereading Nightwings after three decades reminded me so much of why Robert Silverberg was my favorite author until his second retirement in 1976. His fiction contains what I consider the ideal combination of character introspection, historical exploration, both our past and our future, travelogue amidst a world of wonders, and tight, if not overly complex, plots. Nightwings is quintessential Silverberg, and shows him at the height of his talent early in the mature phase of his career. I recommend this novel very highly indeed, enjoying it even more this second time than I did when I was younger and simpler in my tastes.

3 Comments:

  • "Silverberg has always been a master plotter, but his plots are seldom, if ever, fueled by adventures and thriller events, but rather by characters seeking some type of fulfillment, usually either spiritual or philosophical. Thus his stories move slowly, but deliberately, leaving ample room for his examinations of the future and its history, as well as of the characters on whom he focuses."

    Hmmm... I think that's the best description of Silverberg that I've ever read, one that actually convinces me to try him again. I always thought he was a bit ponderous but based on your description...

    ... thanks. ;-)

    By Blogger banzai cat, At 1:35 AM  

  • Id like to know where i can buy the two sequels. i just found out about them! and its been 5 years since i finished nightwings. and now i want to start all over knowing that there are two sequeles!!!!:D thanks.

    By Blogger Jones, At 12:52 AM  

  • Nightwings is truly a haunting and brilliant masterpiece by a master craftsman. I would call it Silverberg's best. Thank you for this review: I will certainly reread this old favorite.

    By Blogger John Wright, At 8:20 AM  

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