I am not a heavy-duty sci-fi buff. There are a few science fiction authors I enjoy—Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Stanislav Lem—and a small number of specific works that have become permanent inhabitants of my brain (The Left Hand of Darkness, Fahrenheit 451, Return from the Stars), but I’m not a person who heads straight for the sci-fi/fantasy section of bookstores, and there are a lot of books in the genre—classics, even—that I find about as luminous as mud. Still, from time to time, I find a little something that charms, and Space Opera (Daw Books) is one of them.
What made me pick this 1996 collection of short stories off the shelf of Half Priced Books in Minneapolis wasn’t the science fiction: It was the music. I’m an amateur musician—I play recorder (moderately well) and viola da gamba (barely). I sometimes think that, if writing is the fabric of my life, then music is the embroidery. So, I was immediately intrigued when I discovered that every story in this anthology edited by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is about music in one form or other.
In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “To Drive the Cold Winter Away,” a minstrel brings her lute to a dark, miserable land where music has been forbidden, and restores joy and light to its people. In Josepha Sherman’s “A Song of Strange Revenge,” the spirit of a murdered woman sings the truth to the man she loved. “Bluesberry Jam,” my favorite story in the collection, tells of an immense traffic jam that has been stuck on some nameless network of freeways for years—and of the generation that was born and has spent their entire lives there. It is music that leads the protagonist to think of breaking free, to realize the oppression that has left him and his people forgotten literally and figurately on the margins of society.
Music as medicine, music as vengeance, music as liberation, as warning, as communion, these themes resound through this collection. Space Opera isn’t a book that will stay with you forever, or one that will make you rethink your relationship to music. But it’s a entertaining read—one of those books to keep on your nightstand for the occasional sleepless evening when a pleasant diversion is exactly what you’re looking for.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...