I got this novella when I first started watching the SyFy TV series Nightflyers. Like the series, the book is about an expedition to meet the mysterious Volkren. The Nightflyer is commanded by the reclusive Royd Eris, whose mother designed the ship. The expedition is headed up by a Professor D’Brannin, but it’s not the youngish Karl D’Brannin of the series. Lommie, Agatha, and Melantha are all here, but that’s where the similarities end.
Martin’s original work is set in the distant future where Earth is a memory. And the characters are all not very likeable. But whereas we meet Eris’s uploaded mother and learn very quickly why she is so malevolent in the TV series (by Episode 4), this is a George RR Martin story. With no crew as with the series, you have six academics and Eris, who are picked off by what is clearly something that does not want them aboard the ship. The “ghost in the machine,” so to speak, is as uninterested in the Volkren as the alien presence is in the Nightflyer. The TV series is equal parts psychological thriller and cyberpunk. Martin’s novella is a straight-up ghost story with the ghost literally in the machine. If anything, the novella is gorier than the TV show. Whereas Thale, the resident telepath, is something of a tortured man with a likely case of Aspbergers, the telepath in this novella is a bit whiny and is killed spectacularly when the ship makes his head explode. Think Scanners, only with no warning before that scene.
Of all the characters on the ship, only Melantha has survived somewhat intact from the original. As in the series, she is sexually voracious and omnivorous, but she also is the most self-assured character and quite taken with Captain Eris. Even when she learns his true nature (which looks nothing like David Ajala on the show), she is drawn to him in a way she is not to the others. And she is the calm center of the storm, clearly the one destined to survive in ways that have little to do with her being “the improved model,” a line that gets stale quickly, but then becomes a means of flirtation for her with Eris.
The story ends with simultaneous notes of hope and futility. Melantha is left in a love triangle with Eris and the Nightflyer, destined to carry on D’Brannin’s work until her life ends. But in the end, Melantha is the strongest one of them all, perhaps a more worthy ghost in the machine that is the Nightflyer.