NightflyersOne might think this is the answer to the question “Why the hell is GRRM not finished with Game of Thrones when HBO is?” But it’s not. Nightflyers, a new limited-run series on Syfy, has its genesis in a George RR Martin novella of the same name from the early 1980s. I’ll review that here next week, but Martin is not directly involved in this series. It actually differs in many respects from the novella. For starters, Royd Eris (David Ajala), the Nightflyer‘s reclusive captain, is just that, a recluse, though as of Episode 4, we still don’t completely understand why.

This version, which has some input from Martin and post-episode commentary from him as well, is set on the titular colony ship maybe a century into the future. Earth is dying. There is a virus that is decimating the population. Karl D’Branin (Eoin Macken) has a plan. An alien race known as the Volcryn are passing relatively close to Earth. D’Branin takes a one-in-a-million shot to make first contact and find ways to save the human race, if only long enough for colonization to become viable. His team consists of Melantha Jirl (Jodie Turner-Smith), an enhanced human engineered to work in space, Lommie Thorne (Maya Eshet), a cyberneticist who can interface directly with the ship’s systems, Rowan (Angus Sampson), a cynical xenobiologist, Agatha Matheson (Gretchen Mol), a telepath and psychiatrist, and Thale (Sam Strike), an L1 telepath who does little to dispel the notion that L1s are dangerous. Eris is aided by Auggie (Bryan F. O’Byrne), the Nightflyer‘s chief engineer. The crew is already on edge when Thale is brought aboard. Things sour from there as malfunctions start taking out crewmembers.

I was on the fence about this one until the end of Episode 3. Eris shows up only in holograph, leading one to believe he’s probably an AI running the ship, though he has a rather intense interest in Melantha. In the novella, Eris is a stunted product of life in space. Ajala presents him in all his leading man glory in this version, and his chemistry with Jodie Turner-Smith is electric. Turner-Smith herself is quite charismatic, strong yet sexually voracious. Her appetites are downplayed here as she begins a relationship with Lommie, portrayed as an uber-introvert by Eshet.

What dragged the story was Thale’s somewhat irredeemable portrayal. Whenever Agatha defends him, you can’t help but think, “No, you silly New Age chick. He’s a sociopath!” By the end of three, Thale is calmed somewhat as it becomes obvious (to the viewer, anyway) the ship itself is the villain.

Speaking of the ship, the set is huge! And very detailed. There are 2001-like sections where it’s obvious they’re on spinning wheels while the oddities of false gravity, from rotation and acceleration, are well-done. In one early scene, an engineer is tossed around the bridge like a rag doll. As for the mysterious Volcryn (whom we have yet to see) are almost superfluous to the storyline, more D’Branin’s obsession than any real presence, at least until Episode 4. Even then, there’s no real idea what these beings are or why humans should even be interested in them. Instead, it’s more and more obvious that the ship has a literal ghost in the machine. Or maybe it is the ghost and the machine. Whatever the ultimate nature of the ship, it is indeed malevolent. And it doesn’t like D’Branin’s team very much. Nor Eris’s crew, even though most have been with him for some time before the show begins.

The show is slow to start, and half the characters are hard to like. It doesn’t help that the first scene shows Rowan stalking Agatha with an axe before she launches something out past the debris of the disintegrating ship. Starting with a spoiler (though not much of one since Rowan is actually one of the most likeable characters so far) is an odd move and has put a few viewers off. Still, once the show finds its footing and tones down the histrionics, it becomes rather engaging. I’ll be following this one all the way through.

It’s not quite Game of Thrones, but then what is? At least Martin finished this one and saw two versions of it filmed.