The Nightingale was the most advanced craft in the entire fleet of Mercy ships belonging to the Gentle Order of St Francis Dionysos. On its maiden voyage, its life bays packed with refugees, the Nightingale disappeared. Despite strenuous efforts no trace of it could be found.
Then, a year later, a distress signal was heard and the Nightingale reappeared. It was damaged in ways that meant its survival in space was a miracle. But of its previous cargo of life-forms there was no sign. Only one creature remained alive within the ship, and that was its captain, Jon Wilberfoss.
Wulfsyarn is the story of the Nightingale, and of Jon Wilberfoss. It is told by Wulf, an autoscribe who has the task of observing Wilberfoss in the aftermath of his return. For the captain of the Nightingale is a condemned man: condemned by the Gentle Order, and self-condemned by a burden of guilt so intense his mind refuses to acknowledge it. Over the long period of Wilberfoss' tortured convalescence in a peaceful monastery garden on the planet Tallin, Wulf watches and waits, recording the mosaic of Wilberfoss' life: his childhood and adolescence, his entry into the Gentle Order, his marriage (to a native Tallin woman), and the great moment when he was chosen as captain of the Nightingale.
But can Wulf bring Wilberfoss to finally face the truth of what happened on the Nightingale's fatal first and last journey?
This ambitious novel from the New Zealand-based author of Pioneers offers strong support for the definition of science fiction as a literature of ideas. The story appears to be a biography of a starship captain named John Wilberfoss, as written by an artificial intelligence called Wulf the Autoscribe. But Wilberfoss's life is only one small aspect of this immensely complex book, in which Mann unfolds his conception of the future. Mann envisions a universe where contact with aliens is commonplace, Christianity and paganism have been merged into a new religion, and the monks of St. Francis Dionysos are attempting to restore order to the galaxy after two devastating wars. There is a diverse and well-developed cast of characters--human, alien and artificial--but their main purpose is to serve as mouthpieces and illustrations for Mann's ideas about art, religion, science, war and human nature in general. This makes for occasionally slow reading as Mann interrupts the plot for long, tangential discussions. But the richness of the ideas ensures that the tale never gets boring.