Crystal Singer

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The Crystal Singer
Crystal Singer.jpg
AuthorAnne McCaffrey
Cover artist
  • Rob Burt (first)
  • and others[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesCrystal Singer series
GenreYoung adult science fiction
PublisherSevern House
Publication date
February 1982
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
LC ClassCPB Box no. 1723 vol. 20 (Copyright Paperback Collection)[2]
Followed byKillashandra 

The Crystal Singer, or Crystal Singer in the U.S., is a young adult, science fiction novel by Anne McCaffrey, first published by Severn House in 1982. It features the transition by Killashandra Ree, a young woman who has failed as an operatic soloist, to the occupation of "crystal singer" on the fictional planet Ballybran. The novel is based on short stories written in 1974 and is the first book McCaffrey set in her "Crystal universe".[3]

Alternatively, Crystal Singer is a trilogy completed in 1992 and named for its first book.[3]

Doubleday and Del Rey published U.S. book club and paperback editions within a few months of the first edition in 1982.[2][3] WorldCat participating libraries report holding editions in French, Polish, and Hebrew languages, published in the 1990s.[4]


While a schoolgirl, Anne McCaffrey enjoyed one year of piano lessons purchased by her Aunt.[5] Later she studied voice for nine years, performed in the first music circus in 1949, once directed a play, and worked for a record label, Liberty Music Shop.[6] DuPont transferred her husband temporarily to Düsseldorf, Germany in 1962/63, where Anne resumed vocal training[7] but suffered a crisis when she was informed that a flaw in her voice would limit her in that avocation. Regarding that experience, including some emotional trauma, her fictional character Killashandra Ree is partly autobiographical.[8]

McCaffrey divorced her husband in August 1970 and emigrated to the vicinity of Dublin, Ireland in September with her second Dragonriders of Pern book nearly finished and a contract for the third. The White Dragon would complete her "original trilogy" with Ballantine Books in 1978 but for several years that work stalled.[9] The markets for children and young adults provided crucial opportunities, as when editor Roger Elwood solicited contributions of short genre fiction to anthologies. She was able to deliver "The Smallest Dragonboy" and the four-part story of Killashandra:[3][10][11]

  • "Prelude to a Crystal Song", Continuum 1 (Apr 1974)
  • "Killashandra – Crystal Singer", Continuum 2 (Aug 1974)
  • "Milekey Mountain", Continuum 3 (Dec 1974)
  • "Killashandra – Coda and Finale", Continuum 4 (Aug 1975)

McCaffrey called the 1982 novel a "considerably expanded" version of the four-part work and acknowledged "the technical assistance of Ron Massey, Langshot Stables, Surrey" for its transformation.[12]

In fact the first three sections of the novel—through Killashandra's return from her first experience cutting crystal in the field—are moderately revised and heavily revised versions of the first and third 1974 stories, "Prelude to a Crystal Song" and "Milekey Mountain". In the second and fourth original stories she is a veteran of more than 100 years in the field. Whether and how she may be able to go on as a woman on vacation (#2) and as the miner of her claim (#4) are primary themes.

Killashandra is a small town in north central Ireland, about 120 km northwest of Dublin.

Plot summary (1982 novel)[edit]

Killashandra Ree has spent ten years studying music and training to be a vocal soloist, anticipating interstellar celebrity. After a final exam she learns that a flaw in her voice will prevent her from singing lead. She dreads a life limited to choral work and supporting operatic roles so she plans to exit both school and home planet discreetly.

At the spaceport she meets a vital older man who uses perfect pitch, and his occupational experience as a "crystal singer" on Ballybran, to identify an incoming space shuttle on the verge of explosion. He treats her to a whirlwind romance and the experience of her home planet in ways entirely unknown to her, but sincerely warns her against the high-status, high-income occupation that makes such a vacation possible for him. Further, one of its occupational hazards leaves him in a coma, but Killashandra determines to accompany his return home under life support, and to investigate membership in the Heptite Guild of crystal singers for herself.

The crystalline rock of Ballybran, when skilfully cut, is essential to advanced power and communications systems at the heart of interstellar civilization. Only the Guild "singers" can mine crystal: locate it, and cut it with voice-controlled machinery. Killashandra's ability to sing perfect pitch meets one qualification, she knows, and she passes other qualifying exams in the staging area on Ballybran's moon.

Travel to Ballybran itself, however, is forbidden to all but its resident singers and supporting population, about 30,000 people. The moon-side orientation program secretly explains why: a native spore soon invades the human body and causes genetic mutations. Some newcomers will die of the initial infection and many will adapt only partly, with a mix of permanent symptoms such as vastly increased visual acuity along with complete deafness. Those who adapt fully to symbiotic life may become singers; other survivors must join the staff. The symbiont maintains its host, perhaps for hundreds of years, but only on Ballybran; only the fully adapted singers can safely depart, and only briefly.

Full adaptation brings remarkable benefits, including increased sensory perception, rapid tissue regeneration and a vastly prolonged life expectancy, but it renders all hosts sterile, and eventually causes severe memory loss, paranoia and dementia. Even after full adaptation with the symbiont, mining Ballybran crystal is a dangerous occupation. Beside the risks associated with other mining operations, there are frequent storms with high winds that may cause crystal deposits to resonate: "sonic storms" that may impair the symbiont and drive the singer mad.

The Guild provides life support for physically disabled or insane members, many aspects of the industry are highly centralized, and everyone begins with big debts. Yet singers in the field are solo adventurers who establish private claims, work them in secret, and sometimes amass great fortunes.

Killashandra and thirty others accept the personal risks and make the commitment. The story follows her and her classmates in a general education program, awaiting infection. When her own adaptation is unusually rapid and easy, she advances alone to rapid acquaintance with the rules and customs, transport and cutting equipment, emergency procedures, commercial values, and some of the planet-bound specialists. She is especially sensitive to "black crystal", the rarest and most valuable variety. Partly for that talent, the Guild Master Lanzecki becomes her mentor (but soon her lover as well). Before any of her classmates learns to fly or to cut, she is in the field. She is first to find the unknown claim of a black crystal miner recently destroyed in a crash, and she cuts some of it adequately.

Killashandra's rapid adaptation and training have isolated her from the other newcomers and her continued success has fostered jealousy, she sees even in her closest friends among the former classmates. So she accepts an assignment offered by Lanzecki, to install "her" set of crystals in a recently settled planetary system. The cost of a black crystal set is high, even on the planetary scale, which has made its acquisition politically controversial and its installation a celebrity event. Killashandra must not only complete the technical installation but also represent the Guild in a public performance not unlike her one-time aspiration. She succeeds on both counts.


McCaffrey continued the biography of Killashandra Ree in two sequels, Killashandra (1986) and Crystal Line (1992). The original Continuum stories ended with the death of Killashandra, but the trilogy follows a different path.[clarification needed]


In the second book, Killashandra is once again sent off-world, this time to the planet of Optheria. Her task is ostensibly to install new White Crystals into the manual of the planet's largest Optherian Organ, which was shattered under mysterious circumstances. ...

  • Library of Congress Classification PS3563.A255 K48 1985[13]

Crystal Line[edit]

In the third book, Killashandra Ree and Lars Dahl are sent to investigate a strange mineral discovered in a newly explored star system. It is believed that the stuff may have properties similar to Ballybran crystal, but when samples of crystal are placed in it, it creates a strange synergy that changes both the planet and Killashandra's mind.

  • Library of Congress Classification PS3563.A255 C65 1992[14]

Omnibus editions[edit]

The trilogy was published in omnibus editions The Crystal Singer Trilogy (US: Del Rey Books, 1996) and The Crystal Singer Omnibus (UK: Corgi Books, 1999).[15]

  • Library of Congress Classification: PS3563.A255 C73 1996[16]

Crystal universe[edit]

Beside the Crystal Singer trilogy, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database places in the "Crystal universe" (series) both The Coelura, a 1983 novella, and Nimisha's Ship, a 1998 novel.[3]

In turn, the Crystal universe is only one of several series that share the "Federated Sentient Planets" background; they are set in a universe governed by the FSP. Federation regulations and officials appear substantially in the Crystal Singer trilogy, in sharp contrast to the Dragonriders of Pern series among others.


The Crystal Singer placed seventh for the 1983 annual Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, voted by Locus readers. It was one of six finalists for the Balrog Award in the novel class.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Crystal Singer title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists cover artist Rob Burt for the first edition (UK) and linked cover images show the same work used on UK paperbacks. Cover artists for American editions include Dennis Meehan, first edition (Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club) and Michael Whelan, paperbacks.
  2. ^ a b "Crystal singer" (first U.S. paperback). Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 2012-11-01.
  3. ^ a b c d e The Crystal Universe series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2011-11-03. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  4. ^ "Formats and editions of The crystal singer". WorldCat. Retrieved 2012-11-01.
  5. ^ Dragonholder, p. 6.
  6. ^ "Anne's Biography". The Worlds of Anne McCaffrey. Pern Home. Retrieved 2011-07-07.
  7. ^ Dragonholder, pp. 14–15.
  8. ^ Dragonholder, pp. 37, 41, 66.
  9. ^ Dragonholder, pp. 71–101
  10. ^ Dragonholder, pp. 82–83, 95.
  11. ^ Continuum series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2011-10-27.
  12. ^ "Author's Note". Crystal Singer. Del Rey Books. August 1982.
  13. ^ "Killashandra" (first U.S. edition). LCC record. Retrieved 2012-11-01.
  14. ^ Crystal line" (first U.S. edition). LCC record. Retrieved 2012-11-01.
  15. ^ The Crystal Singer Trilogy. ISFDB.
  16. ^ "The crystal singer trilogy" (first U.S. edition). LCC record. Retrieved 2012-11-01. With publisher description of all three components.
  17. ^ "Anne McCaffrey" Archived October 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.. The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2011-10-09. From any Locus Index entry, select the award name for details of the annual result; then select "About" for general information about the award.
Citations – books