The Infinity Concerto

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The Infinity Concerto
Author Greg Bear
Country United States
Language English
Series Songs of Earth and Power
Genre Fiction novel
Set in Modern
Published 1984
Media type Print
Followed by Serpent Mage

The Infinity Concerto (ISBN 0712616721) is a 1984 fantasy novel written by Greg Bear. The plot centers around teenager Michael Perrin's search for what is a Song of Power and why some think he can create such a thing. Transported to another realm, he discovers beings known as "the "Sidhe" intervened in Coleridge's incomplete poem, "Kubla Khan". They have stopped others from creating Songs of Power and now they are looking at him.[1]

The Infinity Concerto was followed in 1986 by The Serpent Mage.

Synopsis[edit]

In 1939, a composer named Arno Waltiri premiered his latest work, Concerto Opus 45: "Infinity". After the concert, another composer, who had been in the audience, filed a lawsuit against Waltiri, claiming that he was no longer able to properly hear or compose music after hearing Waltiri's work. Over the next several months, dozens of people simply disappeared, and the only thing they had in common with one another was that they had been in the audience at that same performance. Waltiri had been inspired to write the concerto by several conversations with a mysterious man named David Clarkham. The Concerto turns out to have been a "Song of Power", Songs of Power, if properly applied by those who understand them, have the power to literally remake the world. Songs of Power can exist in many artistic forms, including music, poetry, dance, art, architecture, and some less obvious creative fields. Clarkham had disappeared after the performance too, but he had left Waltiri a book and the key to his house, which Waltiri had never used.

The book's present story follows the experiences of a young man named Michael Perrin, a would be poet, who meets Waltiri two months before his death, and to whom Waltiri gives the book and the key. Following the instructions on a piece of paper he found inserted in the book, Perrin enters Clarkham's house, which has been vacant for decades, and soon finds himself in Sidhedark, a world inhabited by a powerful race of beings calling themselves the Sidhe (pronounced "shee"). He appears at what he learns is the house of someone called the "Isomage", who disappeared years ago, and meets a huge, strange woman named Lamia, who lives there. Michael is already in danger, because by treaty there is only one town where humans are safe from being hunted and killed by the Sidhe: Euterpe, where Lamia hastily sends Michael before anyone finds him.

Humans occasionally find their way to Sidhedark, and those who have survived all live in Euterpe, a town in the Pact Lands, which is the only place humans are permitted in Sidhedark, following an ancient war between Sidhe and the powerful ancient Humans. There Michael is befriended by a former teacher, Savarin.

He returns to the Isomage's house to talk to Lamia, asking her how he can get home, and she said that he will need training in order to make his way back to Earth. She orders him to go see the Crane Women, who are a trio of "Breeds" (part human, part Sidhe), who live on the outskirts of another town populated by other Breeds called Halftown. They train him with exercises that seem pointless and incomprehensible. During his training he returns periodically to Euterpe, telling Savarin about things that he has seen and learned.

One night a number of creatures called Riverines and Umbrals raid Halftown and kidnap three of the Breeds who lived there, taking them to serve Adonna, a sort of god of the Sidhe, by bleeding them of magic. They attack Michael, but he survives and makes his way back to the Crane Women. They tell him that he did something they call "out-seeing" to escape the Umbrals, throwing a "shadow" of himself as an illusion that deceived them long enough for him to escape.

The Crane Women take him with them on a journey across a desolate area known as "the Blasted Plain", which surrounds the Pact Lands. In the main part of the Sidhe world, where he meets Biri, a young Sidhe who has been sent to the Crane Women for training. He and Michael share some knowledge about each other's worlds. Meanwhile, Michael reads Clarkham's book that Waltiri gave to him, which is a book of poetry, and tries to write some of his own in the dirt. Sometimes, though, it seems as if he is writing words that aren't his own; he likens this experience to being "tuned into Death's Radio", giving a name to this strange contact, which comes and goes.

Michael finds himself attracted to Helena, a human woman who, prior to his arrival, was the most recent arrival from Earth. He learns that it is dangerous for humans to have sex in Sidhedark, however, because if the woman conceives, she will give birth to a monster. He also learns that the humans of Euterpe are working on a plan to rebel and escape from the Pact Lands into the rest of Sidhedark, where they hope to find a place to live free of Sidhe control. Meanwhile, a Breed woman named Eleuth is attracted to Michael, and it doesn't bother her that he is in love with Helena, because Sidhe men apparently don't fall in love, although the women do.

One night Eleuth tries to send Michael home to Earth, believing that she has learned enough magic to do so, but only manages to send him as far as the gateway within the Isomage's house. Michael no longer has the key, though, and cannot unlock the gate, and Lamia's monstrous sister nearly captures him, but Eleuth sacrifices her life to save him. At the same time, the humans in Euterpe stage their rebellion, and the Sidhe retaliate violently, especially a rider named Alyons. Michael rushes to try to help them, but ends up being pursued by Alyons into a dead-end canyon, where one of the Isomage's leftover magical traps goes off and kills Alyons, allowing Michael to escape.

Now that he has killed a Sidhe, the Crane Women know that they will not stop until they catch him, so they give him what they can, which is unfortunately only advice, and he crosses the Blasted Plane on foot, evading the monsters there only by means of using the training the Crane Women gave him. After he crosses, a shadow of Alyons comes to him and tells Michael that since Michael killed him, he must now accept Alyons' horse. Michael argues that he didn't kill Alyons; a trap set by the Isomage did, but it is to no avail; as a matter of honor he must accept the horse. So he does, and the horse makes his travel quicker.

He comes to a golden valley where there is a beautiful palace, inhabited by a man named Lin Piao Tai. It turns out that he is a Spryggla, neither human nor Sidhe, one of the few remaining of the many races that existed long ago, before the Human Sidhe war. The Spryggla were skilled architects. Lin Piao tells Michael a lot about the past, and how Humans were losing the war, until the Isomage was able to put up a final resistance which the Sidhe were unable to break, and thus fight them to an standstill and an uneasy, millennia-long truce. Lin Piao is very excited that he has a book containing the poem "Kubla Khan", because it is the first part of a Song of Power, and the Isomage had him build another part of the same Song architecturally. The valley that Lin Piao Tai lives in is also his prison, however, and Michael begins to suspect that he won't let him leave either. The Sidhe have crippled Lin Piao Tai's magic with a weakness: the color blue is his undoing, and a blue flower that Michael had earlier pressed into the book falls out from between the pages, setting off a magical chain reaction that destroys the Spryggla's creations and turns him to stone.

Michael travels onward and meets a human man named Nikolai, who has been living in a forest as a hunter. He was originally a dancer, and was pulled into the Sidhe world just as the Isomage's war was ending. He is welcome in the Sidhe city of Inyas Trai, however, and he takes Michael there. Michael meets the Ban of Hours, a powerful Sidhe woman who tries to protect him, but not far from the city is the Irall, the Temple of Adonna, which would certainly punish Michael for Alyons' death if they caught him. Nikolai takes Michael to see a rare phenomenon known as the Snow Faces that occurs in the nearby mountains, where he meets some other pilgrims who have also come to see it. As they are returning to Inyas Trai, some of Adona's Sidhe followers known as "the Black Order" arrive to arrest Michael and take him to the Irall. Michael is brought before the god Adonna itself, who reveals itself to be Tonn, ancient Mage of the Sidhe, though most have forgotten this and now simply worship him as the god Adonna. Tonn reveals that he is growing tired and Sidhedark, which he created, will soon crumble and die, along with all within it. The only way to save the Sidhe is for Sidhedark and Earth to be reunited, but for the followers of Adonna, who hate humans, this is a blasphemy that they would never accept, even if Adonna itself told them. So Tonn needs Michael's help, but first he must deal with the Isomage, who has been manipulating Michael from the beginning. Tonn temporarily erases most of Michael's memory of the conversation and sends him back.

Michael, Nikolai and some of the pilgrims decide to go to the Isomage's palace, but on the way, Michael meets Biri again. He says that he has failed in his training to become part of the Maln, the Black Order, and now despises them. He attempts to teach Michael more about how Sidhe do magic, taking a bitter, solipsistic approach, claiming that to do magic one must emotionally isolate oneself from all love and companionship. Biri leaves Michael to contemplate this. As the group approaches the Isomage's residence, the pilgrims reveal that they are actually retainers in the Isomage's employ, and that they are there to make sure that Michael gets there safely—and that he doesn't change his mind and go elsewhere. Reaching the palace, Michael finds that it is as Lin Piao Tai said: a beautifully-constructed copy of Kubla Khan's palace from the poem. Michael meets the Isomage, who turns out to be David Clarkham, and tells him that Tonn stole the book from him, but Clarkham doesn't care, he has many copies of the poem along with other works of human literature. Biri is also there; he says that the Isomage represents his best chance for revenge against the Maln.

Clarkham finally reveals what he wants Michael there for: Michael is a poet, and Clarkham is not. He wants Michael to finish the Song of Power. Michael, however, suspects that while Clarkham seems to want to help humans, he really just wants power for himself—he wants to overthrow the Sidhe and set himself up as ruler instead. After discovering some other very unsavory things about Clarkham, he is unwilling to help him obtain ultimate power, but Clarkham threatens Michael with the death of Nikolai and with horrible magical torture for Michael himself if he doesn't cooperate. But suddenly Michael sees the form of the rest of the Song of Power and realizes that it isn't at all what Clarkham thinks it is. Michael writes a poem about the destruction of the great Khan's palace, the inevitable ending of the Song, and Clarkham's palace starts to collapse around them. As it is taking all his power to hold the palace together, Clarkham can't stop Michael and Nikolai from escaping, and Biri reveals that he did not in fact fail in his training and that he has been working for the Maln all along, helping Michael get to the Isomage to destroy him. Clarkham manages to attack Michael magically, but Michael throws a shadow consisting of all of the training that Biri had given him, which absorbs the attack and dies in his place.

Now that Michael had done what Tonn wanted, Tonn gives Michael what he wants: passage back home. Michael falls through the portal that Tonn creates and finds himself just down the street from Clarkham's house, but five years have passed on Earth in what had seemed like only about five months to Michael. His parents are happy that he is alive but upset that he hadn't told them where he'd gone, and they are astonished about how much he has changed. Michael finds a letter from Arno Waltiri's wife Golda, who had died about two weeks after her husband, leaving all of their assets to him but also giving him the responsibility of editing and publishing all of Waltiri's compositions. But meanwhile, Michael knows that Sidhedark is still collapsing and that the being who was Waltiri is most certainly not dead. He may be home, but his troubles are far from over.

Settings[edit]

The book begins and ends in the human world, in the present day (in the 1980s, when the book was published, in southern California), but most of the story takes place in the alternate world of Sidhedark.

Sidhedark[edit]

Sidhedark is another plane, world, or dimension, another place where the physical laws are different from what we know. Humans don't need to sleep there (though many do, just out of habit), and when they do, they don't dream.

Metaphysics[edit]

Unlike the book's version of Earth, in which humans are unequivocally stated to have souls that live on after death, in Sidhedark humans who die simply cease to exist. Likewise, it is quite bad for humans to give birth to children there, because there are no souls to enter their bodies, so horrible abominations take up residence in them instead.

The god Adonna, who created Sidhedark, seems not to have given its world quite as much permanence as the human world has. It is possible for beings with enough knowledge and willpower to cause temporary changes. Some call this "magic", but it is really just a consequence of Adonna's creation not being as stable as some worlds are.

Geography[edit]

No map appears in the book, but it does describe locations: a small corner of Sidhedark is known as the Pact Lands, containing the human town of Euterpe and the Breed town of Halftown, as well as the Isomage's house. The Pact Lands are separated from the rest of Sidhedark by the Blasted Plain.

The Blasted Plain itself is a desertlike landscape punctuated by poisonous pools of viscous liquids. In it dwell a number of Adonna's abortions—failed creations that live out their twisted existences in pain or madness; they were originally buried beneath the ground, but the magical war that created the Plain freed them. To cross the Plain requires either some form of talisman to repel the abortions or a Sidhe horse, fast enough to outrun them and wise enough to sense and avoid them.

The rest of the Realm contains areas such as:

  • Konhem, "the deepest, darkest forest in the Realm"
  • Nebchat Lem, "a lake, almost a sea, very deep"
  • Chebal Malen, the Black Mountains
  • The Sklassa, the fortress of the Black Order
  • The Irall, the temple of Adonna
  • The city of Inyas Trai
  • Heba Mish, the mountain where the Snow Faces appear

History[edit]

Tens of millions of years ago, there was but one world inhabited by 30 races, including the humans, the Sidhe, the Cledar, the Spryggla, and the Urges. Over time, four great leaders arose, calling themselves the Mages: Manus of the humans (sometimes called the Serpent Mage), Tonn of the Sidhe, Aum of the Cledar, and Daedal of the Spryggla. There were many lesser mages, however, and they quarreled with each other, these quarrels turning into conflicts and wars. In a world of magic, though, death wasn't forever; wounds could be magically healed and souls resurrected.

At one point the humans defeated the Sidhe, and Manus, the Serpent Mage of the humans, used his magic to take away the Sidhe's souls. Every other race lived on metaphysically after the death of their bodies, but the Sidhe would no longer do so. However, in the end the Sidhe won, and Tonn, the Mage of the Sidhe, took vengeance upon each of the other races by transforming them into animals: the humans became tiny shrews (apparently their original form was somewhat dragonlike), the Cledar became birds, the Spryggla became whales and dolphins, and the Urges became roaches. Only the humans have recovered from this to any extent, evolving into primates and developing a civilization, and it has taken them tens of millions of years. The Sidhe then moved to a world that Tonn created for them.

Tonn's daughter Elme fell in love with a human named Akse, bearing many children with him, the first Breeds, but most Sidhe hated humans for what they had done to the Sidhe. During the development of human civilization, Tonn tried to keep the humans from rediscovering magic and acquiring a Song of Power, pretending to be various gods including Yahweh and Baal, discouraging creativity and change. Elme, however, formed the Council of Eleu to try to help the humans improve and become a race the Sidhe could accept as equals. Tonn's wife sided with their daughter, but in a fit of anger he transformed her into a monster. The conflict between the two factions continued.

Then, decades ago, there was a war between the Sidhe and a powerful Breed sorcerer known as the Isomage, burning a large portion of Sidhedark and creating an area now known as the Blasted Plain; the upheavals also released some of Adonna's unwanted creations that it had hidden underground. Occasionally humans accidentally find their way into Sidhedark and, unable to leave, must make the best of things. Some survive, others don't, and those who do end up in the town of Euterpe, near the Isomage's old house. The war ended in a ceasefire, but the Isomage still had enough power to force a treaty with the Sidhe; he seems to have been on the humans' side and made them agree to allow the humans to live in peace, with the condition that the Isomage go into exile.

The Sidhe[edit]

The Sidhe are a varied people, consisting of many different types:

  • The Faer are humanoid and can even interbreed with humans; the offspring of such a union are called Halfbreeds, or just Breed.
  • Meteorals are creatures of air and the elements.
  • Umbrals live in shadows. They are some of Adonna's most devout worshippers.
  • Riverines live in rivers. They are also some of Adonna's most devout worshippers.
  • Arborals live in forests.
  • Pelagals live in the oceans.
  • Amorphals live in caves and can take many forms.

Characters[edit]

Michael Perrin[edit]

Perrin is a teenager, 16 years old, still living with his parents, who seem to be fairly well-off; his father is a carpenter with a clientele that includes several wealthy and famous people. Michael tries to write poetry, but even he considers his efforts unimpressive; what he writes he himself barely understands. He is a fan of classic films and their scores. But he has hidden depths that even he doesn't know of. When a mysterious key and book fall on his lap, he follows up on it out of curiosity but ends up persevering through trials beyond anything he could have imagined.

Arno Waltiri[edit]

Waltiri is a composer who has written the scores for several classic films over the years but also wrote his own music. In 1939, after several conversations with the mysterious David Clarkham, Waltiri wrote a concerto, titled Opus 45: "Infinity", that had a strange effect on everyone who heard its first and only performance. When Michael Perrin meets him, Waltiri is an old man; he dies two weeks later. We later discover that Waltiri was in fact never human; he was in reality Aum, the Mage of the Cledar, and not even Clarkham knew this at the time.

David Clarkham/"The Isomage"[edit]

Born on Earth in 1499 to a Sidhe mother and a human father, Clarkham is thus a Breed. In the book's backstory he came to work for the Maln, attempting to prevent humans from discovering Songs of Power. He is the "person from Porlock" who interrupts poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge as he is writing his poem "Kubla Khan", which will otherwise become such a Song. However, he begins to disagree with the Maln's policy and finally rebels, attempting instead to help humans. Over time he becomes a powerful sorcerer, but calls himself the "Isomage", not wanting to be so arrogant as to assume the title of Mage, because he knows he is nowhere near as powerful as the four great Mages of legend. Several decades before the book's story begins, he rebels openly against the Sidhe in Sidhedark, starting a magical war in an attempt to stop them from interfering with humanity on Earth. The war horribly ravages a vast swath of land, which becomes known as the Blasted Plain. He loses the war, but he is still powerful enough that the Sidhe cannot kill him, so they cede some territory to him in the cease-fire treaty and make some concessions, allowing him a personal enclave and allowing humans and Breeds to live in peace in the Pact Lands beyond the Blasted Plain. By the time the book's main story takes place, he has built his impression of the wondrous palace described in "Kubla Khan" and lives there with his concubine and a few retainers.

Lamia and her "sister"[edit]

Lamia and her unnamed "sister" are human women, once David Clarkham's wives. After Clarkham was defeated in the war he started, he abandoned both women, and the Sidhe captured them, using their magic to horribly warp their bodies. They now live at the Isomage's old house, which stands on the gateway between the human and Sidhe worlds, which they guard, on the order of the Sidhe, who threaten to do even worse to them should they fail. Some call Lamia "the Flesh Egg", because of her shape; she is bizarrely rotund. She also appears to be reptilian in a way, as she sheds her skin periodically.

Alyons and his coursers[edit]

Alyons is a Sidhe, exiled to the Pact Lands. He and his riders (coursers) patrol the Pact Lands to ensure that the humans remain where they are. Alyons was assigned this duty as punishment for stealing a horse from the Irall (Temple of Adonna), a serious crime; by the time they found out, it had imprinted upon him and would recognize no other master, so they could not take it back. Alyons is extremely bitter and longs to simply kill all the humans, but the treaty forbids this; if any Sidhe attack any of the humans without provocation, some form of terrible magical retribution will occur, due to spells prepared by the Isomage.

Humans of Euterpe[edit]

  • Brecker
  • Risky
  • Savarin
  • Helena

Crane Women[edit]

  • Nare
  • Spart
  • Coom

Breeds of Halftown[edit]

  • Eleuth
  • Lirg
  • Manann
  • Esther

Biri[edit]

Tarax and the Maln[edit]

Tarax is the leader of the Maln, the Black Order, a group of Sidhe warriors who serve Adonna. For untold millennia they have monitored the humans, whom they still hate, making sure that they never regain anything resembling magical power.

Lin Piao Tai[edit]

Lin Piao Tai is a Spryggla, one of the few whom the Sidhe allowed to retain his original form. They keep him imprisoned in a valley, although within it he may do as he wishes. He has built a beautiful palace to live in. However, the Sidhe have magically handicapped him; he has power only over objects that are yellow in color, and things that are blue are his undoing. Items of other colors have no special effect on him.

Nikolai Nikolaevich Kuprin[edit]

Ulath of the line of Wis[edit]

An attendant to the Ban of Hours, friend to Nikolai.

The Ban of Hours[edit]

The keeper of the Sidhe's records, the Ban of Hours is very powerful but is also fond of humans and of Earth. No one who sees her can remember what she looks like. She is Tonn's daughter, sister of Elme, and she "stayed by Tonn when Elme defied him", although now she covertly opposes Tarax and the Maln.

Emma Livry[edit]

A human dancer, she was just 20 years old in 1863 when David Clarkham came to her and arranged for her to dance a Song of Power. The Sidhe of the Maln arranged for her to be terribly burned in a fire to prevent this, but the Council of Eleu came, healed her, and took her with them. She lives in the city of Inyas Trai.

Tonn/Adonna[edit]

One of the four most powerful Mages, Tonn created Sidhedark millions of years ago for his people, the Sidhe, to live in when they left Earth. The world he created wasn't as well made as Earth, because it was his work alone. Now, at the time of the book's story, the rest of the Sidhe barely remember him as Tonn and worship him as Adonna, believing him to be a god. He is growing tired, though, and knows that his world will collapse sooner or later, so it will have to be reunified with Earth so the Sidhe can escape Sidehedark's destruction. Tarax and the Maln serve him, but this would be difficult for them to accept, so he does not tell them about this plan.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bear, Greg; The Infinity Concerto; Legend; New York: 1988. 342p.