A science fiction classic from Orson Scott Card, the bestselling author of Ender's Game
Kidnapped at an early age, the young singer Ansset has been raised in isolation at the mystical retreat called the Songhouse. His life has been filled with music, and having only songs for companions, he develops a voice that is unlike any heard before. Ansset's voice is both a blessing and a curse, for the young Songbird can reflect all the hopes and fears his audience feels and, by magnifying their emotions, use his voice to heal--or to destroy. When it is discovered that his is the voice that the Emperor has waited decades for, Ansset is summoned to the Imperial Palace on Old Earth. Many fates rest in Ansset's hands, and his songs will soon be put to the test: either to salve the troubled conscience of a conqueror, or drive him, and the universe, into mad chaos.
Songmaster is a haunting story of power and love--the tale of the man who would destroy everything he loves to preserve humanity's peace, and the boy who might just sing the world away.
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About the Author
Orson Scott Card is best known for his science fiction novel Ender's Game and its many sequels that expand the Ender Universe into the far future and the near past. Those books are organized into the Ender Quintet, the five books that chronicle the life of Ender Wiggin; the Shadow Series, that follows on the novel Ender's Shadow and are set on Earth; and the Formic Wars series, written with co-author Aaron Johnston, that tells of the terrible first contact between humans and the alien "Buggers." Card has been a working writer since the 1970s. Beginning with dozens of plays and musical comedies produced in the 1960s and 70s, Card's first published fiction appeared in 1977--the short story "Gert Fram" in the July issue of The Ensign, and the novelette version of "Ender's Game" in the August issue of Analog. The novel-length version of Ender's Game, published in 1984 and continuously in print since then, became the basis of the 2013 film, starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, and Abigail Breslin.
Card was born in Washington state, and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he runs occasional writers' workshops and directs plays. He frequently teaches writing and literature courses at Southern Virginia University.
He is the author many science fiction and fantasy novels, including the American frontier fantasy series "The Tales of Alvin Maker" (beginning with Seventh Son), and stand-alone novels like Pastwatch and Hart's Hope. He has collaborated with his daughter Emily Card on a manga series, Laddertop. He has also written contemporary thrillers like Empire and historical novels like the monumental Saints and the religious novels Sarah and Rachel and Leah. Card's work also includes the Mithermages books (Lost Gate, Gate Thief), contemporary magical fantasy for readers both young and old.
Card lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card. He and Kristine are the parents of five children and several grandchildren.
Hometown:Greensboro, North Carolina
Date of Birth:August 24, 1951
Place of Birth:Richland, Washington
Education:B.A. in theater, Brigham Young University, 1975; M.A. in English, University of Utah, 1981
Read an Excerpt
By Orson Scott Card
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1987 Orson Scott Card
All rights reserved.
There were many ways a child could turn up in the baby market of Doblay-Me. Many children, of course, were genuine orphans, though now that wars had ended with Mikal's Peace orphanhood was a social position much less often achieved. Others had been sold by desperate parents who had to have money — or who had to have a child out of their way and hadn't the heart for murder. More were bastards from worlds and nations where religion or custom forbade birth control. And others slipped in through the cracks.
Ansset was one of these when a seeker from the Songhouse found him. He had been kidnapped and the kidnappers had panicked, opting for the quick profit from the baby trade instead of the much riskier business of arranging for ransom and exchange. Who were his parents? They were probably wealthy, or their child wouldn't have been worth kidnapping. They were white, because Ansset was extremely fair-skinned and blond. But there were trillions of people answering to that description, and no government agency was quite so foolish as to assume the responsibility of returning him to his family.
So Ansset, whose age was unknowable but who couldn't be more than three years old, was one of a batch of a dozen children that the seeker brought back to Tew. All the children had responded well to few simple tests — pitch recognition, melody repetition, and emotional response. Well enough, in fact, to be considered potential musical prodigies. And the Songhouse had bought — no, no, people are not bought in the baby market — the Songhouse had adopted them all. Whether they became Songbirds or mere singers, masters or teachers, or even if they did not work out musically at all, the Songhouse raised them, provided for them, cared about them for life. In loco parentis, said the law. The Songhouse was mother, father, nurse, siblings, offspring, and, until the children reached a certain level of sophistication, God.
"New," sang a hundred young children in the Common Room, as Ansset and his fellow marketed children were ushered in. Ansset did not stand out from the others. True, he was terrified — but so were the rest. And while his nordic skin and hair put him at the extreme end of the racial spectrum, such things were studiously ignored and no one ridiculed him for it, any more than they would have ridiculed an albino.
Routinely he was introduced to the other children; routinely all forgot his name as soon as they heard it; routinely they sang a welcome whose tone and melody were so confused that it did nothing to allay Ansset's fear; routinely Ansset was assigned to Rruk, a five-year-old who knew the ropes.
"You can sleep by me tonight," Rruk said, and Ansset dumbly nodded. "I'm older," Rruk said. "In maybe a few months or sometime soon anyway I get a stall." This meant nothing to Ansset. "Anyway, don't piss in your bed because we never get the same one two nights in a row."
Ansset's three-year-old pride was enough to take umbrage at this. "Don't piss in bed." But he didn't sound angry — just afraid.
"Good. Some of 'em are so scared they do."
It was near bedtime; new children were always brought in near bedtime. Ansset asked no questions. When he saw that other children were undressing, he too undressed. When he saw that they found nightgowns under their blankets, he too found a nightgown and put it on, though he was clumsy at it. Rruk tried to help him, but Ansset shrugged off the offer. Rruk looked momentarily hurt, then sang the love song to him.
I will never hurt you.
I will always help you.
If you are hungry
I'll give you my food.
If you are frightened
I am your friend.
I love you now.
And love does not end.
The words and concepts were beyond Ansset, but the tone of voice was not. Rruk's embrace on his shoulder was even more clear, and Ansset leaned on Rruk, though he still said nothing and did not cry.
"Toilet?" Rruk asked.
Ansset nodded, and Rruk led him to a large room adjoining the Common, where water ran swiftly through trenches. It was there that he learned that Rruk was a girl. "Don't stare," she said. "Nobody stares without permission." Again, Ansset did not understand the words, but the tone of voice was clear. He understood the tone of voice instinctively, as he always had; it was his greatest gift, to know emotions even better than the person feeling them.
"How come you don't talk except when you're mad?" Rruk asked him as they lay down in adjoining beds (as a hundred other children also lay down).
It was now that Ansset's control broke. He shook his head, then turned away, buried his face under the blankets, and cried himself to sleep. He did not see the other children around him who looked at him with distaste. He did not know that Rruk was humming a tune that meant, "Let be, let alone, let live."
He did know, however, when Rruk patted his back, and he knew that the gesture was kind; and this was why he never forgot his first night in the Songhouse and why he could never feel anything but love for Rruk, though he would soon far surpass her rather limited abilities.
"Why do you let Rruk hang around you so much, when she isn't even a Breeze?" asked a fellow student once, when Ansset was six. Ansset did not answer in words. He answered with a song that made the questioner break Control, much to his humiliation, and weep openly. No one else ever challenged Rruk's claim on Ansset. He had no friends, not really, but his song for Rruk was too powerful to challenge.CHAPTER 2
Ansset held on to two memories of his parents, though he did not know these dream people were his parents. They were White Lady and Giant Man, when he thought to put names to them at all. He never spoke of them to anyone, and he only thought of them when he had dreamed the dreams of them the night before.
The first memory was of the White Lady whimpering, lying on a bed with huge pillows. She was staring into nothingness, and did not see Ansset as he walked into the room. His step was unsure. He did not know if she would be angry that he had come in. But her soft, whipped cries drew him on, for it was a sound he could not resist, and he came and stood by the bed where she rested her head on her arm. He reached out and patted her arm. Even in the dream the skin felt hot and fevered. She looked at him, and her eyes were deep in tears. Ansset reached to the eyes, touched the brow, let his tiny fingers slide down, closing the eyes, caressing the lids so gently that the White Lady did not recoil. Instead she sighed, and he caressed all her face as her whimpers softened into gentle humming.
It was then that the dream went awry, ending in odd ways. Always Giant Man came in, but what he did was a mystery of rumbling voice, embraces, shouts. Sometimes he also lay on the bed with White Lady. Sometimes he picked Ansset up and took him on strange adventures that ended in waking. Sometimes the White Lady kissed him good-bye. Sometimes she did not notice him once the Giant Man came into the room. But the dream always began the same, and the part that never changed was memory.
The other memory was of the moment of kidnapping. Ansset was in a very large place with a distant roof that was painted with strange animals and distorted people. Loud music came from a lighted place where everyone was always moving. Then there was a deafening noise and the place became all light and noise and conversation, and White Lady and Giant Man walked among the crowd. There was pushing and jostling, and someone stepped between White Lady and Ansset, breaking their handhold. White Lady turned to the stranger, but at the same moment Ansset felt a powerful hand grip his. He was pulled away, bumping harshly through the crowd. Then the hand pulled him up, hurting his arm, and for a moment, lifted above the heads of the crowd, Ansset saw White Lady and Giant Man for the last time, both of them pushing through the crowd, their faces fearful, their mouths open to cry out. But Ansset could never remember hearing them. For a blast of hot air struck him, and a door closed, and he was outside in a blazing hot night, and then he always, always woke up, trembling but not crying, because he could hear a voice saying Quiet, Quiet, Quiet in tones that meant fear and falling and fire and shame.
"You do not cry," said the teacher, a man with a voice that was more comforting than sunlight.
Ansset shook his head. "Sometimes," he said.
"Before," answered the teacher. "But now you will learn Control. When you cry you waste your songs. You burn up your songs. You drown your songs."
"Songs?" asked Ansset.
"You are a little pot full of songs," said the teacher, "and when you cry, the pot breaks and all the songs spill out ugly. Control means keeping the songs in the pot, and letting them out one at a time."
Ansset knew pots. Food came from a pot. He thought of songs as food, then, besides knowing they were music.
"Do you know any songs?" asked the teacher.
Ansset shook his head.
"Not any? Not any songs at all?"
Ansset looked down.
"Ansset, songs. Not words. Just a song that has no words but you just sing, like this, Ah —" and the teacher sang a short stretch of melody that spoke to Ansset and said, Trust, Trust, Trust.
Ansset smiled. He sang the same melody back to the teacher. For a moment the teacher smiled, then looked startled, then reached out with wondering eyes and touched Ansset's hair. The gesture was kind. And so Ansset sang the love song to the teacher. Not the words, because he had no memory for words yet. But he sang the melody as Rruk had sung it to him, and the teacher wept. It was Ansset's first lesson on his first day at the Songhouse, and the teacher wept. He did not understand until later that this meant that the teacher had lost Control and would be ashamed for weeks until Ansset's gifts were more fully appreciated. He only knew that when he sang the love song, he was understood.CHAPTER 3
"Cull, you're beyond this," said Esste, with grief and sympathy and reproach. "You're a good teacher, and that's why we trusted you with the new ones.
"I know," Cull said. "But, Esste —"
"You wept for minutes. Minutes before you regained Control. Cull, have you been ill?"
"Are you unhappy?"
"I wasn't, not until after — after. I wasn't weeping for grief, Mother Esste, I was weeping for —"
Esste hummed exasperation and noncomprehension.
"The child, Esste, the child."
"Ansset, yes? The blond one?"
"Yes. I sang him trust, and he sang it back to me."
"He shows promise then, and you broke Control in front of him."
"You are impatient."
Esste bowed her head. "I am." Her posture said shame. Her voice said she was still impatient and only a little ashamed after all. She could not lie to a teacher.
"Listen to me," pleaded Cull.
I'm listening, said Esste's reassuring sigh.
"Ansset sang my trust back to me note for note, perfectly. Nearly a minute, and it wasn't easy. And he didn't sing just the melody. He sang pitch. He sang nuance. He sang every emotion I had said to him, except that it was stronger. It was like singing into a long hall and having the sound come back at you louder than you sang it."
Do you exaggerate? asked Esste's hum.
"I was shocked. And yet delighted. Because I knew in that instant that here we had a true prodigy. Someone who might become a Songbird —"
Careful, careful, said the hiss from Esste's mouth.
"I know it's not my decision, but you didn't hear his answer. It's his first day, his first lesson — and anyway, that was nothing, nothing at all to what came after. Esste, he sang the love song to me. Rruk only sang it to him once yesterday. But he sang the whole thing —"
"He's only three. He sang the melody and the love, and Esste, Mother Esste, no one has ever sung such love to me. Uncontrolled, utterly open, completely giving, and I couldn't contain it. I couldn't, Esste, and you know my Control has never faltered before."
Esste heard Cull's song, and the teacher wasn't lying to protect himself. The child was remarkable. The child was powerful. Esste decided she would meet the child.
After she met him, in a brief encounter at the Galley at breakfast, she reassigned herself to be his teacher. As for Cull, the consequence of his loss of Control was much lighter than the usual, and as Esste taught Ansset day after day, she sent word for Cull to be advanced step by step until within a few weeks he was a teacher of new ones again, and Esste put the word around so that none would criticize Cull: "With this child, any teacher would have lost Control."
And there was a dancing quality to her walk and a warmth to her voice that made every teacher and master and even the Songmaster in the High Room realize that Esste at last hoped, perhaps even let herself believe, that her life's work might be within reach. "Mikal's Songbird?" another Songmaster presumed to ask her one day, though his melody told her she need not answer if she didn't want to.
She only hummed high in her head and leaned her head against the stone, and laid her hand on her cheek so that the Songmaster laughed. But he had his answer. She could clown and play to try to hide her hopes, but the very clowning and playing were message enough. Esste was happy. This was so unusual it even startled the children.CHAPTER 4
It was unheard of for a Songmaster to teach new ones. The new ones did not know it, of course, not at first, not until they had learned enough of the basics to advance, as a class, to become Groans. There were other Groans, some as old as five or six, and like all children they had their own society with its own rules, its own customs, its own legends. Ansset's class of Groans soon learned that it was safe to be pugnacious and obstinate with a Belch, but never with a Breeze; that it meant nothing where you slept, but you sat at table with your friends; that if a fellow Groan sang you a melody, you must deliberately make a mistake in singing it back to him, or he'll think you're bragging.
Ansset learned all the rules quickly, because he was bright, and made everyone in his class think of him as a friend, because he was kind. No one but Esste noticed that he did not exchange secrets in the toilet, did not join any of the inner rings that constantly grew and waned among the children. Instead, Ansset worked harder at perfecting his voice. He hummed almost constantly. He cocked his head when masters and teachers talked without words, using only melody to communicate. His focus was not on the children, who had nothing to teach him, but on the adults.
While none of the children were conscious of his separation from them, unconsciously they allowed for it. Ansset was treated with deference. The hazing by the Belches (no, not in front of the teachers — in front of the teachers they're Bells), which was usually at the level of urinating on a Groan so he had to shower again, or spilling his soup day after day so that he got in trouble with the cooks — the hazing somehow bypassed Ansset.
And he entered the mythology of the Groans very quickly. There were other legendary figures — Jaffa, who in anger at her teacher burst one day into a Chamber and sang a solo, and then, instead of being punished, was advanced to be a Breeze without ever having to be a Belch at all; Moom, who stayed a Groan until he was nine years old, and then suddenly got the hang of things and passed through Bells and Breezes in a week, entered Stalls and Chambers and was out as a singer before he turned ten; and Dway, who was gifted and ought to have become a Songbird, but who could not stop rebelling and finally escaped the Songhouse so often that she was thrust out and put with a normal boarding school and never sang another note. Ansset was not so colorful. But his name passed from class to class and from year to year so that after he had been a Groan for only a month, even singers in Stalls and Chambers knew of him, and admired him, and secretly resented him.
He will be a Songbird, said the growing myth. And this was not resented by the children his own age, because while all of them could hope to be a singer, Songbirds only came every few years, and some children passed from Common Rooms into Stalls and Chambers without ever having known someone who became a Songbird. Indeed, there was no Songbird at all in the Songhouse now — the most recent one, Wymmyss, had been placed out only a few weeks before Ansset came, so that none of his class had ever heard a Songbird sing.
Excerpted from Songmaster by Orson Scott Card. Copyright © 1987 Orson Scott Card. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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