Originally published in the late 1970s Songmaster is a subtle exploration of relationships, pushing at uncomfortable boundaries and playing with some pretty outré notions. In short, Orson Scott Card is doing the job of any decent SF writer. I read this, Enders Game and Seventh Son in a headlong rush, as part of the (then) new wave of writers (Harlan Ellison, William Gibson et al), after I’d gorged on the more classic SF fare of Asimov, Clarke and Bradbury.
New Wave SF
I was led into Songmaster through Ben Bova’s Godwhale, and the elegant dedication to Bova at the beginning of Songmaster is a statement of affection and intent. Scott Card’s protagonist Ansset is raised in the isolation of a Songhouse, trained to perfect a voice that has the power to change men’s minds, to seduce, and overwhelm. But when the Emperor calls, and demands the services of a songmaster so begins the long dark journey into obligation and politics, leading us to question of our own attitudes to friendship, sex and power.
Authors and their Writing
Reading SF and Fantasy is an exercise in suspending belief. We have to accept the writer’s world as it is, and expect the writer to do his/her best to populate it effectively. Somewhere in between our imagination takes the magic of the language and weaves a third force, and that’s where SF is at its most powerful. A major factor is the need to forget who the writer is, to enjoy the book, or otherwise on its own terms.
Orson Scott Card has been highly criticised for his homophobic utterances and accused of a range of similar chauvanisms, in the run up to the release of the excellent Ender’s Game movie. It’s caused many to reassess the books they’d previously read, and now it seems impossible not to view Scott Card through this lens. I first encountered this problem with Ezra Pound whose poetry I loved until I discovered his firmly held views on fascism. It took me several years to find a way of separating the creative work from its author and admittedly, sometimes it’s just too difficult. However, when I read Songmaster as a teenager this wasn’t an issue and I loved Songmaster’s explorations of music, power and emotional turmoil, Scott Card’s rattling good storytelling and the extreme otherworldliness of his landscapes.
I’m not sure where this will sit in the final Top 100 Top SF and Fantasy Reads, but it deserves its place, where-ever that will be!
- Top 100 SF & F Books. Stranger in a Strange Land.
- Top 100 SF & F Books. The Rebel Worlds (Poul Anderson)
- Top 100 SF & F Books. The Subtle Knife.
- Clark Ashton Smith: Master of Gothic, Pulp and SF classics
- H.P. Lovecraft created some incredible monsters in space and time.
Front cover photograph by Elise Wells, 2016