Book Review: Crystal Singer

Book Name: Crystal Singer
Author: Anne McCaffrey
First Published: 1982

Anne McCaffrey was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The only daughter of three siblings and the middle child, she grew up on the east coast of the United States. Eventually, she graduated cum laude from College where she gained a degree in Slavonic Languages and Literature. In 1950 she married Horace Johnson and they had three children: Alec, Todd and Gigi. The family lived in Wilmington, Delaware for around a decade and then moved to Sea Cliff, Long Island in 1965 where they remained until 1970. During this time, Anne McCaffrey began to work full time as a writer and served a term as the secretary-treasurer of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Her duties not only included the publishing of two monthly newsletters for the guild, but she also handcrafted the Nebula Award trophies.

In 1970, McCaffrey divorced her husband and weeks later took her children to live in Ireland. During the 1970s, Ireland offered artists to live exempted from income taxes and Anne McCaffrey, being of Irish descent, emigrated to Ireland to take advantage of this opportunity. Anne’s mother soon joined the family where they lived in Dublin. McCaffrey’s books about the dragons that lived in a symbiotic relationship with the human settlers of the planet Pern became bestsellers and classics of science fiction. They paid for her cottage in Ireland that she called “Dragonhold” in honor of the dragons that supported herself and her children. She lived there until her death at the age of eighty five.

The roots of the Crystal Singer series begins while Anne McCaffery was a student studying voice. She performed as a singer, directed a play and was employed by the record label, Liberty Music Shop. Despite these successes, it was during her later years of study that she was informed that there was a flaw in her voice that would limit her in achieving in the field of music. McCaffery was devastated by this experience and used it in the Crystal Singer series to shape her main character Killashandra Ree.

The book first began as a series of shorts that were published in Continuum Magazine.

    “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)

In the short stories, Killashandra Ree dies, but when McCaffery decided to combine all the short stories into a single novel, she revised all the shorts heavily to not only blend them into a single story, but changed the main character’s ultimate fate. The name of the crystal singer was inspired by a small town in north central Ireland called Killeshandra.

“There’s nothing wrong in doubting. It sometimes leads to greater faith.”
― Anne McCaffrey

Crystal Singer begins when a young vocal student named Killashandra Ree is finishing ten years of study in order to become a vocal soloist of a futuristic civilization known as the Federated Sentient Planets. She anticipates becoming a “rock star” of interstellar proportions. During her final exams, it is discovered that she has a fatal flaw in her voice that will forever prevent her from singing lead roles, despite her perfect pitch and performing talents. Killashandra is heartbroken and plans to leave both the school and her home world in private disgrace.

At the spaceport she meets an older man who uses his musical skills to identify an arriving space shuttle that is about to explode to the authorities, averting the disaster. The two hit it off and he treats her to a whirlwind romance on her home world while he is on vacation. She grows curious about her new lover and his profession of “crystal singer”. It is a occupation of people with perfect musical pitch that use their voices to control devices in which to mine a very rare crystalline mineral on the planet of Ballybran. These crystals are used in most of the complex systems that power interstellar communications and power much of the machinery of her civilization. It is a dangerous profession, but one that earns high credits and has a select and small membership. Although she is warned away repeatedly, Killashandra is drawn to the mysterious Heptite Guild and becomes determined to become a crystal singer herself.

Travel to Ballybran is forbidden to all but its residents. On the moon of Ballybran, Killashandra learns the reason why. Anyone that ventures onto the planet is infected by a symbiotic life form that invades the human body and causes genetic mutations. Many people simply die. Others only gain a partial adaptation that allows them to live, but with reduced hearing or eyesight. They are forever confined to the planet, unable to leave because if they do the symbiont dies and they along with it. Those few that get a full adaption to the symbiont become the crystal singers who gain increased vision and hearing, rapid healing and a long life. It makes them sterile and in the end they suffer memory loss, paranoia and dementia, but only after hundreds of years of life. They also can depart Ballybran for short periods of time without their symbiont dying.

Headstrong and stubborn, Killashandra journeys to Ballybran along with thirty other inductees. The novel follows her and her classmates during their education while they wait for the invading infection. One by one, they fall to the symbiont until all have been converted. During this time she gains the attention of the head of the guild, a man named Lanzecki. He offers her a job that she can’t refuse, one that not only allows her to use her new skills as a crystal singer, but one that might allow her to present a public performance that would put her back in the spotlight she trained all those years for.

Crystal Singer Book CoverI have always loved the Crystal Singer series by Anne McCaffery. I first read the book when it was first released in the early 80’s and felt a strong identification with the main character, Killashandra Ree. She is a complex character, a combination of confidence that borders on arrogance and yet inside she is shy and vulnerable. Many artists have this sort of personality and I liked that she was a strong woman that was willing to take control of her own life in the face of failure. She felt like a real and likable woman to me.

The Federated Sentient Planets that Killashandra lives in is powered not by manufactured technology, such as ours is, but by natural forming crystals that can be sung into service. I love the concept of human art meeting function in this way. It is quite unique and the world of Ballybran and the Heptite Guild society is an interesting concept. The visual of the crystal singer serenading a mountain side and it singing back to her is powerful and one that you will not soon forget. Of all the series set in the universe, I feel that this one is the most clerical in nature. You need a card for everything and the machines monitor all the details. It reminds me of our current way of life.

There are some outdated qualities to the book. During the late 70s and early 80s, sexual freedom was thought to be women sleeping around much as single men of the time period did. Killashandra has several lovers in this fashion. The sex is free and easy, completely consensual, but without long term attachments. There are no steamy sex scenes in the book, but in my view the easy going relationships don’t quite mesh with what we might think of feminism now.

The men in the book were also somewhat paternalistic toward the female main character. Again, this was a common attitude during this decade and it has carried over into the culture of this interstellar society. It is not as bad as in some books and for the most part I felt that Killashandra was treated as an equal by peers, even when they could not stand her for her “perfection”.

While Crystal Singer is not a Nebula or Hugo award winner, it does have staying power and I believe that it would most appeal to high school or college aged readers. It can be a little difficult to find at the local library due to its age, but you should be able to find it on the online outlet of your choice. Go and find the books. If you love classic science fiction and enjoy reading females authors in this genre, Crystal Singer is a great choice.

Crystal Singer Series

Crystal Singer 1982
Killashandra 1986
Crystal Line 1992

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

writers-linksWelcome back to another Monday of writer’s links here on No Wasted Ink. This week I was in a blogging mood and several of the articles relate to this subject. As always, there are plenty of general writing tips to take a peek at. Enjoy!

What Are Pinch Points? And How Can They Make Your Book Easier to Write?


Does anyone read short stories?

Are You Over Your Blog? When to Ditch and When to Continue

Kids and the Decline of Reading, Part 2: What We Can Do As Authors

The Secret Recipe for Writing a Perfect Pitch

How to Speak Your Blogged Book

Revision I: Where to Begin

My Growth as a Writer

How Do I Sell My Book? 6 Tips for New Authors

Guest Post: An Interesting State of Mind by A. Garnet

Fantasy Woman

Being an author is an interesting state of mind. As I give talks or meet people, I am asked the same questions. Where I get my ideas? How do I write a whole book? How did I get my books published? There are none who ask the important question. What are the technicalities in writing a book?


Being a published author I can say with a big sigh that the whole process is a learning business, a learning business that never ends. Let’s start with the easier questions.

Where Do I Get My Ideas?

I treat this as a serious question so I give a serious answer. I get ideas from the very people who ask me that question. I have a wild imagination. I am one of those people that look up at clouds and see rabbits that change into dragons. The guy sitting next to me just sees the clouds.

For me, to be an author or to write a full book, you have to take an idea such as a storm planet and then not only put people on it, but decide how those people would have survived as indigenous natives in such a harsh environment that led me to wonder what kind of plant and animal life would also cling to this harsh world. There it is folks, one idea leads to another idea and then to a whole book full of ideas.

My thought and what I share with my listeners is that if you can’t take a single cloud and see several shapes you are going to have a hard time taking an idea and finish a book. Now remember I am talking about fiction not reality topics.

How do I write a whole book?

This was partially covered in the paragraph above. You need to expand on your idea and take your characters into situations that you enjoy writing about. Did I mention that you had to enjoy writing?

You need to look forward to getting your fingers on a keyboard, to add to those ideas. If you get tired or bored, you need to talk to someone else, to see what is the problem with your writing ability.

Books come in all sizes from all authors with only a few exceptions. I do know of one who only writes very short novellas. We all know of a couple like Hemingway who only wrote very long books. Still most authors write both sort and long stories.

How did I get my books published?

Here is where I wish I had a fairy godmother. I can tell you that a small author like me and a big time author like Stephen King had the same problem, that very nice refusal letter.

You are never going to be published until you have written a book, edited it, re-edited it, asked for help on editing it and then submitted it. Like all the rest of us you will submit it to every publisher you can find on the Internet, through Google and by reading the NY Times or Reviewers in California. You will get the same nice refusal letter back. I got enough to cover the walls in my bathroom, that is where I began to hang mine. Not as regret, but to remind me to keep trying.

So can we believe some of the words in those refusal letters? This leads to the boring last question.

What are the technicalities in writing a book?

Good English learned in Lit. 101. When we write, most of us are using the English language where there are rules. We can break those rules when our characters talk slang, but when we are describing plants clinging to a storm chased planet, we must use proper English.

We also have to very careful how we use proper names or refer to brands. A number of those refusal letters were because the editor that looked at the first Chapter found so many errors in punctuation, quoting, numbers, and most important POV (Point of View).

Writing the story with your idea was fun, it was for all of us. Then reality hit us all as we went back to school to write our books correctly, so we could get past that editor who kicked out the first Chapter.

Get your story down and then find some help on the editing before you go back and re-submit it to all the same publishers. You might have a surprise, I did.

Author A. GarnetAfter raising a daughter, running an International Business, traveling the world and only finding time to write a few minutes in any twenty-four hour period, I now am retired in Florida and can write all day and all night, which I often do. Under the pen name of M. Garnet (Muriel Garnet Yantiss) I use all the experiences I gained and without any hesitation draw information from my long list of friends and acquaintances worldwide.

With over 30 books published through two active publishers and a couple of independent books (indies) at Amazon I love the email that the Internet brings me from all over the world.

I write SciFi, Fantasy and Contemporary Mystery. But I like my stories to end happy ever after.

A fan wrote me about liking a planet I wrote about in TWIN’S SLAVE so I dedicated the second story about the planet AN ASSASSIN FOR THE SLAVE to her. I have had others writing me about this storm planet and am now working on my third novel about the water and caves and intrigue that tempest brings to the planet of GigasVenee.

Just to make sure I am really busy, my other publisher has put in a request for a contemporary story with the same type of turmoil but between two people. I just can’t resist a challenge. Visit my web site at to see other books I’ve written.

Author Interview: Barb Caffery

One of the aspects of being a writer is that we are in tune with that inner voice inside us, what the ancients called “a muse” and we now know to be our sub-conscious. When I asked Barb why she became a writer she replied, “I write because I must; the stories won’t wait.” I think that this writer is definitely courting her muse. Please welcome author Barb Caffery to No Wasted Ink.

Author Barb CafferyMy name is Barb Caffrey, and I’m a writer, editor, and musician from the Midwest. I’m the widow of writer/editor Michael B. Caffrey, and am continuing to do my best for his stories as well as my own — this is one of the driving purposes of my life. I believe in the values of persistence and hard work, I read voraciously in just about every subject under the sun, and I love sports.

When and why did you begin writing?

Originally I started to write because I had stories in my head that I needed to tell, much the same as other writers. I remember a story I wrote at age 11 about a young girl being a ballgirl at old Milwaukee County Stadium (this was before there were any ballgirls, the people who pick up the baseballs when they’re hit foul — only boys did that job when I was 11). My young pre-teen girl was given her own bathroom to change in and otherwise tried to make friends among the ballboys. Eventually she changed at least one boy’s mind…at any rate, I anticipated that market by about fifteen years, so I wish I still had the story today to put up at Amazon!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I’ve considered myself a writer since at least age 11, if not before. But I did put it aside for a while in college due to needing to work on my music career. Eventually I found a way to bring the two together in harmony (I just couldn’t help but make that comparison), and actually have a transgender urban fantasy/romance coming in 2015 called CHANGING FACES that’s about two classical musicians (they both play the clarinet, and music is extremely important to them).

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is the first half of the ELFY duology, and is about Bruno the Elfy, a young, short being from a parallel Earth known as the Elfy Realm. He’s sent to Knightsville, California on our Earth by the Elfy High Council and told to watch for unusual magic, but before he can start to do any of that, he’s captured by two enigmatic humans — the parents of his love interest, Sarah. Both Bruno and Sarah think they’re younger than they actually are (they’re both teens, roughly); Bruno also thinks he’s far less powerful than he is, and that he has no enemies. He’s are wrong on all counts, and must make common cause with Sarah against first her parents, then a Dark Elf who’s trying to corrupt the local humans for the Elf’s own, nefarious purposes and has started first with Bruno’s mentor, Roberto the Wise. How will these two youngsters try to rescue Roberto? Why was Bruno sent to California at all? And what will falling in love mean for them both?

So it’s a coming of age tale with some age-appropriate, sweet romance, there’s much magic and suspense, and there’s a good amount of mystery along with all of the comedy and urban fantasy going on.

Or in other words: AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is relentlessly cross-genre. I wrote it because I had Bruno the Elfy in my head, telling me that Elfs were not like that (they don’t like to be called “Elves,” thank you, as that’s a swear word in their language), and that he, as an Elfy, was not a rhyming, blithering fool even if the rest of them wanted to be called “Elfy-welfies.” There even are ghost characters who have major roles, and a haunted house that’s almost a character in its own right.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wrote ELFY (part 1 of which being AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE) because of my late husband, Michael. When I had the idea for the story that turned into AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE (part one of the ELFY duology), he encouraged me to run with it — and he had the skills as an editor and with world-building to help me write it to my best ability.

It’s because of Michael’s faith in me and encouragement that AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE even exists, because I wouldn’t have known enough about true love before I met him to be able to write it at all, much less write it well.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m closer to a “pantser” than a “plotter,” though I have been known to write character sketches and I certainly have sketched rough outlines of books. But with both the ELFY duology (book 2 coming in 2015) and CHANGING FACES, I wrote the stories I heard, and edited them in situ…I’d read over what I had, add whatever else was needed, and then went right on. So all of that is consistent with being a “pantser,” even though most of the short stories I’ve written have been closer to plotted out than seat of the pants-type writing.

And with regards to my late husband’s work (which I’m trying to finish up for him), it’s much more a half/half mixture between “pantser” and “plotter.” I already know where he wants these stories to go, you see; I just have to add things that are faithful and consistent with his already established stories. This isn’t necessarily easy, as it’s a combination of retrofitting for action and adding in just enough character hints so it feels more like my work (and can thus do it at all), but I view it as vitally important.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

Coming up with a title for the first half of ELFY was rather interesting, actually. I wanted ELFY to be in that title, and I wanted the title to be reflective of a comic fantasy. So a number of good friends read the first half of ELFY, and one of them said, “I think the title should be AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE. Because he’s a young guy let loose in the Human Realm (our Earth), and no one knows what he’s going to do — including himself.”

I liked it, my publisher, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books, also liked it, and we both ran with it.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I’m not sure if I’m a messaging sort of writer. I think mostly I want people to believe in themselves and keep trying, even if all seems lost — that’s my own, personal message, and of course that’s reflected in Bruno’s storyline. But I also think if there is another message in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, it’s that the people you meet can be every bit as important as your family — perhaps even more important, as they understand you better and want to be around you because they like you for yourself.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

The only part of AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE that’s based on anything in real life is the romance between Bruno and Sarah. My late husband Michael and I were deeply in love, and we had to work through a good deal of misunderstandings before we got there. Michael was witty, and loved to make me laugh; the way Sarah behaves toward Bruno somewhat reflects how Michael was around me. Everything else is my own invention.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

The authors who’ve most influenced my life are: My late husband Michael, obviously, is the biggest influence of all. Andre Norton, because without her stories, I don’t think I’d have taken to the F&SF genre. Rosemary Edghill, Stephanie Osborn and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel have read my stories and given me excellent advice.

All of these writers tell stories that show people in difficult situations that use their wits and talents to get back out of them again, and become wiser, stronger and more skilled people in the doing, regardless of genre.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

I can’t choose only one mentor. I’ve actually had four — my husband Michael, Rosemary Edghill, Stephanie Osborn and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel. All of them have influenced me and my writing because they’ve given me cogent commentary (sometimes very blunt commentary, especially from my late husband and Rosemary Edghill), and their advice was always excellent.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

The cover of my book was designed by Lida Quillen, publisher of Twilight Times Books, and artist Malcolm McClinton. I did give them the idea of Bruno running across too-green grass while attempting to go through a World Gate in order to get back to Sarah (you can see Sarah in the blackness, very faintly), so I had some input. Ms. Quillen picked Mr. McClinton because his artwork seemed to match the style of Bruno’s story, and I agreed with her on all counts.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

My advice for other writers is very simple: Keep writing, and do not give up. If you do these two things, you will improve your craft and tell the stories you want and need to tell — and your audience will eventually find you.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To my readers: Thank you for being willing to take a chance on a new and mostly unknown writer. (And the second half of Bruno and Sarah’s story is coming soon…promise!)

Book Cover An Elfy On The LooseBarb Caffrey
Racine, WI



Artist: Malcolm McClinton
Publisher: Twilight Times Books


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