Fantasy books with a music as an element
December 18, 2014 12:28 PM   Subscribe

My uncle is interested in reading science fiction or futuristic fantasy books that involve music as a strong narrative element. He has read some Anne McCaffrey that did this, as well as Patrick Rothfuss, but was hoping to find other options, and I drew a blank. Can you guys think of any more music-tinged works?
posted by graventy to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Peter and Max by Bill Willingham

Peter is a very good piper and the inciting incident involves a family heirloom flute being passed to one brother and not the other.
posted by edbles at 12:31 PM on December 18, 2014

The short story "Unaccompanied Sonata" by Orson Scott Card comes to mind.
posted by jbickers at 12:34 PM on December 18, 2014

Not something in book form, but, there is a Japanese anime called RahXephon that combines science fiction elements and music.
posted by Hanuman1960 at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2014

Iain M. Banks' last novel, The Hydrogen Sonata, has a strong musical plot thread.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:38 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

A Work of Art, by James Blish
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:52 PM on December 18, 2014

Bedlam's Bard, by Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon.
posted by Shmuel510 at 12:54 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett.
posted by Shmuel510 at 12:56 PM on December 18, 2014

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell.
posted by metasarah at 12:56 PM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

The best parts of the Samaria novels by Sharon Shinn are the lyrical and evocative descriptions of the singing of the genetically engineered angels. Definitely futuristic fantasy.
posted by drdanger at 12:58 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Borribles is 70's semi-urban fantasy fiction that has great, long, Tolkien-esq songs throughout (which is the only thing I didn't like about it, but fantasy/music people did). It's available as brick with all three books. Also nice use of cockney slang and actual locations in and around London. Not sure if that fits what you are looking for, but they are a pretty good read.
posted by palindromeisnotapalindrome at 12:58 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Margaret Atwood prefers the term speculative fiction for her MaddAddam trilogy. Year of the Flood is my favorite of the set and there is an album using the lyrics/hymns she wrote for the book.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:06 PM on December 18, 2014

Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster
posted by bartonlong at 1:19 PM on December 18, 2014

Songmaster by Orson Scott Card fits that bill, along with the previous mentioned Unaccompanied Sonata.
posted by foxfirefey at 1:22 PM on December 18, 2014

The novel you are looking for is Robert Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.

Among other things, the title refers to a piece of music one of the characters writes as part of the plot.

If your Dad downloads the movie's soundtrack, he should be delighted to know the song Cloud Atlas, along with the rest of the soundtrack, was written by one the movie's directors.
posted by jbenben at 1:23 PM on December 18, 2014

Mercedes Lackey's Bardic series which starts with The Lark and the Wren.

Patricia Brigg's Raven Duology has a main character that can sing and it becomes important in the second book.

Those are both high fantasy novels, not really sci-fi. Upon closer reading, you may not be interested in those at all. Sorry.
posted by ethidda at 1:24 PM on December 18, 2014

A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay, has a lot of music-related plot points.

So does Tigana, by the same Guy.
posted by lmindful at 1:27 PM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ancillary Justice. The main character is known for loving music, and this love of music plays an important role throughout the novel.
posted by middlethird at 1:30 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Emma Bull's War for the Oaks is set in the Minneapolis rock scene in the mid-1980s. The climactic battle is a concert.

Gaul Baudino wrote an urban fantasy about rock and roll and elves, but I can't remember the name.

IIRC, there's a lot of music in the Borderlands story series edited by Terri Windling (among others).
posted by suelac at 1:32 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

A correction only: Cloud Atlas was written by David Mitchell, not Robert, but I second that book strongly. Not the British comic by the same name, because that would be too much talent for one man.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2014

The Gael Baudino novel is called "Gossamer Axe." 17-year-old me loved it but I'm not sure it holds up.
posted by rednikki at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well if singing counts, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings have songs in them. They were my least favorite part but they're in there. Maybe not a strong element, but present.

Wishsong of Shannara is centered around a magical song. But if he's going to read that, he should read Sword of Shannara and Elfstones of Shannara first, the other two in the trilogy.
posted by Askr at 1:52 PM on December 18, 2014

Diamond Star by Catherine Asaro concerns a prince of the Skolian Empire who would rather rock out on Earth than rule an interstellar empire.
posted by starbreaker at 2:21 PM on December 18, 2014

I see that Mercedes Lackey's Bardic book are already listed above, but actually all of her Valdamar books also have a strong musical element. She was (maybe still is) really involved in the science fiction folk music scene. She's written dozens of songs to go with her books. Firebird Arts and Music is a small record label that deals in science fiction/fantasy music.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:35 PM on December 18, 2014

If your Uncle is also interested in science fiction television, the new Battlestar Gallactica series has a pretty strong musical plot device.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:37 PM on December 18, 2014

Changeling, by Roger Zelazny.

The protagonist, Pol, is a musician and sometimes uses his music as part of his magic.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:54 PM on December 18, 2014

All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis is a nice short story with music as a theme throughout.
posted by damayanti at 4:48 PM on December 18, 2014

The best answer I could think of has already been mentioned (Card's Unaccompanied Sonata) but these have some 'musical content' to them:

M. John Harrison's The Centauri Device - 'space opera' and one of the characters has a 400 year old Stratocaster.

Mick Farren's The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys - one of the characters is a musician, and the book features occasional song lyrics.

Michael Moorcock's The Time of the Hawklords - does your uncle like the band Hawkwind?

Iain M Banks' The Player of Games - not really about music, but there is a notable macabre musical interlude about halfway through. Also - there's something about the way Banks writes about playing games without going into endless details that is reminiscent of how a good writer would write about playing music.

Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow has numerous funny and odd little songs buried within it.
posted by doctor tough love at 4:51 PM on December 18, 2014

In Jack Vance's The Moon Moth everyone communicates by singing along to one of a plethora of small instruments hanging from their belts. It's a short novel, and pretty funny. I think it was one of Jack Vance's first books.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:32 PM on December 18, 2014

Probably dated now, as it was 80s cyberpunk, but Norman's Spinrad's Little Heroes is about a music company trying to replace their musicians with computer generated performers.
posted by fings at 6:24 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:56 PM on December 18, 2014

Poul Anderson "The Avatar" has a bard, Caitlin Mulryan, as a main character. I'm not overly fond of the a bit too long book, but some of my friends liked it a lot.
posted by francesca too at 7:00 PM on December 18, 2014

China Mieville's King Rat is a modern retelling of the Pied Piper story with a DJ as the main character and drum 'n bass as a major plot element.
posted by starvingartist at 7:41 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Alison Croggon's Pellinor series, the mystic-philosopher-artist-magicians known as the Bards train the sibling protagonists who have magical musical abilities.
posted by Sheep Who Must Not Be Named at 8:09 PM on December 18, 2014

I should add that Pellinor is more traditional fantasy. No elves, etc., though.
posted by Sheep Who Must Not Be Named at 8:16 PM on December 18, 2014

Several of the books by Jack Vance like "Showboat World" "The Moon Moth" (the people in this story accompany all speech with instruments) and the Alastor series my the same author.
posted by boilermonster at 10:28 PM on December 18, 2014

in the YA vein, I'd recommend The New Policeman. Takes place in both the land of faerie and in present-day Ireland; each chapter is named after an Irish traditional tune, and ends with the sheet music or, in the audio-book, the tune being played.

Also look into the writing of Charles de Lint.
posted by aimedwander at 6:55 AM on December 19, 2014

Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home a fictional anthropolgical study of a future Native-American-esque people living in California. It includes "academic" descriptions of their rituals and culture, and also things like reproductions of their theater, myths, and songs. It was originally distributed with a cassette tape of the music, but while the book itself is still in print, I don't know where you can find the tape. It's a fascinating book.
posted by natabat at 11:20 AM on December 19, 2014

L.E. Modesitt's Spellsong Cycle is about a world where music discharges immense magical power. There's no way to suppress this effect, so musical skill and knowledge are hard to come by - you can't practice scales or experiment with chords without risking death by dropped note. Enter the impossibly powerful heroine: a middle-aged music instructor from Ames, Iowa.
posted by Iridic at 2:01 PM on December 19, 2014

Tanya Huff has a novel sequence (The Four Quarters) that involves singing magic.
posted by suelac at 2:08 PM on December 19, 2014

Not so much 'a strong narrative element' but more of 'a powerful vignette that's stayed with me for forty-some years', Robert Silverberg's The World Inside has a well-written scene set in a musical concert in a far-future dystopia.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 3:59 PM on December 19, 2014

After Long Silence by Sheri S. Tepper, published in the UK as The Enigma Score, might appeal. It's set on a colony world littered with immense crystalline entities, the Presences. Attempting to pass a Presence without using the appropriate melody is ill-advised; travel parties need to be accompanied by Tripsingers for this purpose. The Enigma of the British title is an entity for which the correct tune has never been discovered.

One of the reviews on Goodreads suggests that this reads as an interesting counterpoint to Anne McCaffrey's "Crystal Singer", which I'm mentioning in case that was one of the McCaffreys your uncle found.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:40 AM on December 20, 2014

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