Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong by K J Parker

I finished 'A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong' by KJ Parker last week.  It's a short story from the collection Academic Exercises.  It felt very much in line with Purple and Black and Blue and Gold, which is a good thing.

There's two main characters, and Parker chooses to follow the less interesting of the two; not sure if this is a twist or not but it certainly makes for some 'uphill' reading.  One is a brilliant but apathetic, musician, turned murder; the other his teacher.  As the student goes into hiding, never publishing again, for fear of immediate recognition and capture, the teacher passes off his students work as his own and watches his status soar.

It's a good story but in every way, to me at least, feels a bit like an early work newly published.  Particularly the end feels off when our bad guy--who has proven to be genius in more areas than just musical composition--just gives up and things come to a very abrupt end.

Music was my primary point of contention.  I've covered this ground with other fiction that I've reviewed, but there was horribly off commentary that made me give up on believability.  There are some topics that a writer can't casually research and then write about in any convincing way.  The story happens in a secondary world that in many ways feels like western Europe.  Since it's all made up, I guess I'm supposed to forgive everything.  But every reader brings certain knowledge to the table and I couldn't turn my mind off.  Reference to a certain page count of manuscript for a symphony made me laugh out loud, as did passages of how music was copied in this time before modern publishing.  A composer referencing their own, 'slow movement' as opposed to saying, 'the Andante, or Largo' (what any musically inclined person would have said) made me roll my eyes.

Yeah, it was a good piece of writing and a story that felt like ground work for Blue and Gold, but as I always seem to say when music and literature come together: assume you don't know what you're talking about unless you actually do…