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Winner of Hugo Award for best novella 1969. Nominated for Nebula Award for best novella, 1968.
This is a truly wonderful story. The far-future setting is full of strangeness taken for granted, with a rich diversity of life on Earth reminiscent to a modern reader of Gene Wolfe's Urth of the New Sun series. Civilization on Earth has been through several cycles of advance and decline and the planet is filled with the artifacts of the past: semi-functional fusion plants, magic-tech monuments, Roman buildings. There are apparently many planets full of humans and other races, some of whom come to Earth as tourists. The most prominent feature of human society is a rigid guild system: most people belong to a Guild which has certain duties, privileges and strictures; those without a guild live in a shadowy world, mostly subservient to the Guilded. Some Guilds seem to be based on genetically engineered abilities: Fliers are slight of build and have wings, Watchers have the ability to mentally scan the galaxy for enemies (with the aid of a device), and so on.
The story involves the journey of a Watcher who has lost faith in the necessity of Watching. Together with a Flier named Avluela (whose delicate flying appendages provide the title), and a Changeling named Gormon (a genetic mutant), he visits the ancient city of Roum. Finding themselves without a place to stay, they throw themselves on the mercy of the Prince of Roum, a member of the Guild of Dominators, who takes a liking to Avluela and invites the threesome into the palace. Then the Watcher detects a fleet of enemy ships approaching Earth and sounds the alarm, simultaneously setting in motion the defenses of the planet and rendering himself Guildless (as there is no more need of Watchers once the invasion comes). The story continues in
Among the Rememberers, but also functions magnificently on its own.
The audio version narrated by Fritz Weaver is available from Audible.com.
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