On Wings of Song

On Wings of Song

by Thomas M. Disch

In a disturbing vision of the future, Daniel Weinreb leaves behind the repression and censorship of the Midwest to pursue a career in New York, despite the famine and poverty of the overpopulated East Coast.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Science Fiction
  • Rating: 3.76
  • Pages: 359
  • Publish Date: December 1st 1988 by Carroll & Graf Publishers
  • Isbn10: 0881844438
  • Isbn13: 9780881844436

What People Think about "On Wings of Song"

I want a nice, comfortable, safe, prosperous life, and if conformitys the price Ive got to pay, so be it. In order to fly one must skillfully sing a song so the hero starts learning music and singing But whatever he does he cant fly so he is in despair Thirty is a bad birthday when youve got nothing to show for it. A failure at thirty is likely to be a failure the rest of his life, and he knows it.

In his dystopian future US, life has been transformed by the invention of a device which, in principle, allows anyone to have a transcendental spiritual experience. You hook yourself up to the machine, and sing in a particular way. Usually, the spirit returns to its body after a few days, but some spirits never return. He starts giving concerts, where he is hooked up to a flying rig. One day, at a concert, a deranged religious fanatic shoots him while he is hooked up to the rig, and the display is showing him flying. That he finally managed to fly for real, and that's exactly when he was killed? That no one except him ever knew whether he was faking as usual during his last performance, or whether he did have the experience he'd been seeking all his life?

Disch (Original Review, 1980-07-27) A paperback edition of Thomas Disch's "On Wings of Song" has come out, just in time to miss the Hugo balloting deadline.

Thomas Disch's On Wings of Song is a multi-layered, interesting novel because it addresses issues of power (familial, governmental, disciplinary), the value of art, the relationship between mind (or soul) and body, and the relationship between appearance and reality. Daniel encounters abuses of power within the prison, within the government and school systems, and in the family of his girlfriend, Boadicea, as her father, a wealthy leader of the community, manipulates the world to his liking. Art: One major means to escape these abuses is art, specifically singing, and flight. In this world, there are machines that allow those hooked into them to sing their way out of their bodies and into a transcendent state of being. At first, singing is only meaningful to Daniel as a means to learn to fly. Daniel says later, "It was as Mrs. Schiff had said about music, that it must be a warbling, and willing to inhabit this instant, and then this instant, and always this instant, and not just willing, and not even desirous, but delighted: an endless, seamless inebriation of song. Finally, he chooses not to fly but instead to sing because, as he tells his brother-in-law, "When you're out of your body that long, you stop being altogether human" (355). He has made his decision to value the here and now instead of striving for something outside of his body and his self and so he will not fly, but even in this refusal he reinforces the strength and significance of his singing by acting the part of the man having a transcendent experience of flight. On the other hand, the mechanism of flight requires the appearance of death for the physical body, which creates a different reality altogether. For Daniel, finally, singing trumps flight because in it he is complete, both body and soul, as well as part of a larger community.

Light on the sci-fi, On Wings of Song is rather more of a "path of the artist" tale like The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather (a writer that Disch has expressed admiration for) set in a near-future 21st-Century America where the midwestern states are idyllic yet repressive religious-right strongholds that consider the relatively uninhibited eastern cities immoral, decadent, ruinous hellholes.

Teenage Daniel has a paper route, but in Iowa this particular newspaper turns out to be obscene and seditious and he is sent to prison. After his release from prison (the Supreme Court has overruled Iowa's seditious newspaper law), Daniel marries a wealthy young woman named Boadicea. What real life minister was pastor of Marble Collegiate Church for 52 years? Donald Trump has had a longstanding history with Marble Collegiate Church, where his parents were for years active members and one of his children was baptized. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking was my pastor, Mr. Trump said Tuesday. Thats how great he was at Marble Collegiate Church.

Disch's best known work, though, is The Brave Little Toaster, a reworking of the Brothers Grimm's "Town Musicians of Bremen" featuring wornout domestic appliances -- what was written as a satire on sentimentality became a successful children's animated musical.