Visions of Paradise

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Metallic Muse

I cannot recall having read any stories by Lloyd Biggle, Jr., although his name is certainly a familiar one. When I was in high school, he was one of the founding members of the SFWA, and he has a reputation for writing sf about music. So when I saw a copy of his 1972 collection The Metallic Muse available at Paperback Swap, I quickly claimed it.

The book contains 3 novelettes and 4 short stories originally published in IF, Fantastic, Galaxy (2 stories each) and F&SF (1 story). The opening story “Tunesmith” was, according to Biggle’s introduction, based on the supposition of commercials growing so important that television shows vanished entirely, and people watched exclusively commercials. The protagonist of the story is a songwriter who, because of the disappearance of any music other than in commercials, writes jingles for a living. But the commercials are not really the focus of the story. Its real concern is how much more difficult it is for a true artist to succeed in a world dominated by mediocre hacks. The story is fast-paced with characters painted as black-and-white with few subtleties, and the ending kind of takes a left turn into an almost completely different story. But its scenes about the protagonist artist becoming a cultish performer are worth the entire story.

Two other stories in The Metallic Muse have some relationship to music. “Spare the Rod’ is concerned with a robot which has replaced a violin teacher as its methods enable students to play near-flawless violin almost instantly. This is mostly a trick story showing how the violin teacher foils the robot.

“Orphan of the Void” is a meatier novelette concerned with the aftereffects of the government’s systematically stealing all the young children of a primitive race to put them up for adoption for the richer residents of Earth. The main character is Thomas Jefferson Sandler, one of those “space orphans” who becomes obsessed with finding his true home and his original parents. The role music plays in this story is a relatively minor one, as a song concerning the search for one’s true home sweeps the galaxy, sparking a drastic reaction by the government which has a major impact on Sandler’s search.

The longest story is the concluding novelette which is mostly a problem-solving story about an invasion of predatory “rugs” from Venus which eats people and seemingly has no weakness. Of course, the hero discovers a weakness after several failed attempts. It’s an interesting story, but not as good as when Biggle is writing about his beloved music. Overall, this book is light reading of the 1950s prozine type. A pleasant change of pace between more “serious” books.


  • I have not tried Biggle's short fiction yet. Recently I read his novel "Monument". It was a good novel that deals with a primitive race on an alien planet that is led by an Earthman. The Earthman prepares them for the day when mankind finds their paradise planet and tries to exploit it. In some ways it is part of the same legacy as the "Fuzzy" books by H. Beam Piper (and recently rebooted by John Scalzi).

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 6:59 PM  

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