But the story is not about Flyers, or the Watchers who scan the universe with mentally enhancing machines looking for signs of the promised Invaders, nor even about the Dominator's rights to command material wealth and people for their own desires, but rather is almost a paean to what is best about the inner soul of man. Told from the viewpoint of one Watcher as he wanders a recognizable but very changed world from our own, from Roum to Perris to Jorslem, it is a voyage of self-discovery, of a delving into man's long past, while lust, greed, and acts of betrayal form signposts along his path towards redemption. A redemption for not just himself, but for all mankind, when it can recognize that all types of humans, including the most grossly misshapen Changelings as well as the most gorgeous Flyers, are part of man, and are all worthy.
Silverberg populates his world with some very real people. The character of the Watcher, later given the name Tomis by the Rememberers, is finely drawn, that of a man somewhat distanced from the world, an observer, who none the less has to come to grips with the realities of living, and who can find true love if he looks hard enough. The Prince of Roum is immediately recognizable if not very likable. Avluela the Flyer embodies all the traditional traits of the fragile, mysterious, inconstant female until she is revealed to have more depth and strength than is readily apparent.
There is something of a baroque and romantic feel to the style, ornate yet conveying its meaning quite directly. Silverberg went from being something of a wordsmith-for-hire in his early years as a writer to a consummate tale spinner with a near poetic drive to his language, and this work shows that talent. In this work, he reminds me somewhat of Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars, as both works deal with a very far future where mankind that has fallen from great heights, and they both have an aura of the immense pressure of millennia of history pressing on their stories.
Dominating the book is Silverberg's theme, against which his characters play and help illuminate. Normally this theme is gradually, almost imperceptibly developed, but perhaps the very last section of the book develops too much of a missionary fervor, about the only real miscue in this entire work.
With the first section of this book the winner of 1969 Hugo Award, this is a rich read, one to savor for its strangeness and yet its link to the commonplace, finely crafted to make believable the incredible, with emotional power and indelible images.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
This slim volume consists of three linked novellas that tell the story of a man who loses the woman he loves, and through one mistake, fails at his life's work and allows his world to be conquered. But ultimately, this is not a story about failure, but one about growth, renewal, love and redemption.
The story takes place on an Earth far in the future, one that has been brought to its knees by its own former arrogance. It is now a technological backwater in a large galaxy and has reverted to a medievalesque guild system. While some Watch the skies using intricate and decaying machinery, others Remember the world's history, and still others Dominate, using their position abusively where they will. The Fliers, descendants of genetically engineered humans fill the skies with beauty as they soar.
A Watcher loves the Flier with whom he has been travellling, but she loves another. He loses her in an invasion whose early signs he neglected to report. In the ensuing chaos, the Watcher becomes the unlikely custodian to a fallen Dominator and wanders the world trying to rebuild his life. He works as a Rememberer, learns the forgotten history at the heart of his world's downfall, and is ultimately purified, renewed, and given hope in the ancient city of Jorselm.
The story of "Nightwings" is simple and simply told, but it has a lyricism and beauty that make it memorable. Many of its themes resonate profoundly with contemporary concerns about cultural hubris, greed, and the growth of technology without the wisdom to regulate it properly. In the face of political devastation, personal redemption becomes intertwined with societal redemption.
"Nightwings" is a haunting and perceptive book. It made quite a splash when originally it was originally published, and the first part won a Hugo for Best Novella in 1969. It is good to have it available in paperback again.