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Crystal Singer  
Author Anne McCaffrey
Country United States
Language English
Series Crystal Singer series
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Ballantine
Publication date 26 February 1982
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 304 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-345-32786-1
OCLC Number 35297593
Followed by Killashandra

Crystal Singer (1982) is the first novel in the Crystal Singer series by Anne McCaffrey. The author's notes from Crystal Singer explain the story is based on four stories that were originally published in Roger Elwood's Continuum series. The 1982 version is expanded from these stories. Crystal Singer is about the trials and tribulations of Killashandra Ree in becoming a crystal singer on the planet Ballybran.


Plot summary


Crystal Singer

Killashandra Ree has trained all her life to become a stellar class vocal soloist. After her final exams, she is told that there is a flaw in her voice which would prevent her from singing lead roles. She does not wish to continue a life in which she will be limited to choral work and secondary operatic roles. Resigning from the music school, she meets a crystal singer, a kind of miner who uses voice controlled technology in order to mine crystals on the planet Ballybran for uses in different technologies. Ballybran crystal has unique qualities that make it a necessity for almost any of the human civilization's interstellar transportation and communications equipment.

Life as a crystal singer strikes her as attractive — high pay, travel, prestige, and near-immortality. But her former vocal teacher has a low opinion of crystal singers and warns her not to succumb to the temptation to join them. In a fit of pique, Killashandra travels to Ballybran to investigate her chances of joining the Heptite Guild and becoming a crystal singer. She meets the main qualification, perfect pitch, and believes that if she cannot be first among operatic performers, perhaps she could become first among the select group of elite Ballybran crystal miners.

However, Ballybran is not a normal world. Habitation on the planet is restricted because of the planet’s dangers, primary of which is an alien symbiont that invades the human body, causing genetic mutations, for which there is no cure. Typically, the onset of infection is accompanied by severe physical sickness, passing in one to two weeks. When (and if) the host recovers, the symbiont provides many 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.

The symbiont occasionally causes negative mutations of varying degree. In the most extreme cases the symbiont kills the host by crystallizing all bodily tissues. Sometimes there are both positive and negative mutations, such as vastly increased visual acuity along with complete deafness.

Those victims who are not functionally disabled remain on the planet and work as support staff for the Heptite Guild's facilities. The only persons allowed on the planet are the crystal singers and the support staff, and only the singers are able to travel away from the planet. Even they must return before too long in order to replenish their symbiont, or they will sicken and die.

The mining of Ballybran crystal is also a highly dangerous profession. In addition to the risks associated with any type of geological mining operation, Ballybran is regularly subject to hurricane-force storms which can cause crystal deposits to vibrate and collapse, or generate sympathetic vibrations ("sonic storms") that affect the symbiont and drive crystal singers mad.

The first part of the book describes Killashandra's efforts to cope with her mutation, and learn the craft of crystal singing. She also develops a mentor/student relationship with Lanzecki, the Guild Master (which eventually turns romantic by the story's end.) The Guild has a variety of idiosyncratic rules, customs and procedures regarding all facets of Ballybran society which she must learn, particularly dealing with an individual singer's mining claims.

Killashandra becomes a Crystal Singer of the top tier by locating and mining the rarest and most elusive form of Ballybran Crystal, Black Crystal, which can be used for instantaneous interstellar communication. She is subsequently sent offworld on assignment to install the set of crystals she mined for their contracted buyers. Lanzecki tells her she must "perform" the role of the Crystal Singer when representing the Guild in public, many of whom regard crystal singers as eccentric mutants and find them frightening, but are at the same time beholden to the highly respected and powerful Heptite Guild for the crystals that power their civilization's technology. Killashandra's performance as a mysterious member of the Heptite Guild to win over an audience of mistrusting asteroid miners who have mortgaged their futures on the badly needed black crystals is the climax of the story. Her success brings her full circle and she returns home to Ballybran to begin her new life of wealth and status.

Later stories

The story of Killashandra continued in later volumes Killashandra (1986) and Crystal Line (1992). The original Continuum stories ended with the death of Killashandra, however the novels do not follow this same path.


In this second novel of the series, Killashandra is once again sent offworld, 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....

Crystal Line

In the final novel in the Crystal Singer series, 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...


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