The Singer Enigma
by Ann Maxwell

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
Popular Library: New York, 1976

189 pages

July 2011

Sensuous mentalities

Ann Maxwell opens her Singer science-fiction series with this novel, The Singer Enigma. It's a story of exotic-planet adventure and telepathic-psychological clashes and integration. The hero is an aristocrat from a not-too-pleasant world; the heroine is one of the mysterious Singers. An early novel of Maxwell's, with good qualities but also a couple of problems.

Singing, in the sense used here, is a skill or talent which operates on several levels simultaneously: audible voice, telepathic emotion, and — to a degree only suggested — energies, as the sciences define them. I necessarily oversimplify: all these are integrated, or aspects of a universal whole interpreted musically. This Singing is powerful, rather too much even for psionically capable characters (human telepathic adepts) to understand and cope with.

This is the novel's primary difficulty, because Singing is too tall and wide a process, while yet too intense and intimate an experience, to develop reasonably in a not-too-long novel set in a galactic culture. I'm not complaining that the whole series should somehow have been compressed into its first book. Rather, at the end of this first novel we glimpse some of Maxwell's truly big and entrancing picture, and we're simply not prepared for it.

Any story by Ann Maxwell is mostly about relationships, and herein is the second difficulty. The hero is interesting and likable up to about the midpoint of the book, when he turns on a dime and becomes actively hateful toward the heroine. Of course this turns out to be justified, and in fact much of the second half of the novel involves working through the mysteries to get at why the past so affects the present, and psionically working through the mental and emotional tangles of the characters. The working-out process is well-handled; but that turning on a dime is hard on the reader, who may wonder for too many pages why he's supposed to continue to care about the hero, his romance, or his high-tension challenges.

Thus my recommendation for The Singer Enigma is qualified. I wouldn't advise reading this first among the Singer series. Read one or two of the other books first: A Dead God Dancing or Name of a Shadow — much stronger novels. Then if you wish, come back to this one for its sensuous minds and beasts, and its particular view of the enigma.


© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson

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