Nightwings is set on a far future Earth.

Robert Silverberg has been writing science fiction since he was fourteen years old, and that was a long time ago. (1949, actually.) He’s written hundreds of books and scores of short story collections and been richly rewarded for his work: four Hugo Awards, five Nebulas, and recognition as a Grand Master of Science Fiction by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. So, it’s well worthwhile for any sf fan to take a look back at some of Silverberg’s most highly regarded work. And his 1968 novel of a far future Earth, Nightwings, is a great place to start.

Try to imagine life on Earth thirty or forty thousand years in the future (assuming we don’t kill ourselves off in the next century or so). The human race is in its Third Cycle of civilization. The First Cycle, our current era, ended when humankind first encountered intelligent life on distant worlds. In the Second Cycle, humans came close to creating paradise on Earth, and then, predictably, overreached. Now, humanity nervously awaits an invasion from one of the alien species badly wronged in the planet’s past. And the Watcher is one of those who several times daily turns his amplified mind to the stars in search of signs that an enemy is on the way.

Nightwings by Robert Silverberg (1968) 272 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novella

Silverberg imagines a far future Earth

Life on Earth in the Third Cycle blends sophisticated genetic engineering and neurological enhancement with the primitive ways of Medieval Europe. And they coexist with Outworlders from dozens of other planets who have taken up residence here. The humans of this time belong to Guilds: the Watchers, Defenders, Masters, Fliers, Vendors, Clowns, and many others numbering a hundred or more. A much reduced human population lives in small towns and cities located where the much larger population centers once were found: Roum, Perris, Marsay, Stambool, Jorslem, Nayroub, and so many others. But travel from one to another is on foot for all but the Fliers, who are genetically enhanced to have grown wings that enable them to fly at night. (Hence Nightwings.)

The novel opens on the road from Agupt to Roum. The aged Watcher, a young female Flier named Avluela, and a muscular guildless traveler named Gormon have come together for the sake of convenience and security. Once they enter Roum and encounter its ruler, the Prince of Roum, their lives, and the lives of all humankind, will change. Silverberg tells the fascinating story of their experiences on this far future Earth as the Third Cycle of human history draws to a close.

For further reading

Previously, I reviewed another of Robert Silverberg’s classic science fiction novels, Across a Billion Years. I loved the book, as you can see from my review, A science fiction master imagines a uniquely advanced alien civilization. More recently, I reviewed Hawksbill Station by Robert Silverberg (A science fiction Grand Master gets it wrong about the future), which I enjoyed less.

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