Mikal the Terrible, pacifier of the galaxy, has learned of the extraordinary singing children ("Songbirds") who are trained in the Songhouse on the planet of Tew and then sent to a few deserving hosts for six-year sojourns before returning to the austere Songhouse as instructors. It is decades before his request for a Songbird is answered with the supremely gifted Ansset--who, however, is kidnapped from the emperor's court. . . and returns as an unconsciously conditioned killer destined to play an unwitting part in a plot to depose Mikal. Then, under this new regime, Ansset becomes planetary "manager" of Earth--but, by now bereft of his singing voice, he longs for home and brings suffering on himself and on homosexual Josif (husband of his closest adviser Kyaren); and eventually Kyaren and Ansset rule the empire together until aged Ansset is able to satisfy his lifelong homesickness for the Songhouse. This slender plot might have been the basis of a pretty fable in the hands of a more stylish and disciplined storyteller; or it might have been provided with some sort of substantial counterpoint by a serious sf writer. As it is, the writing is flaccid and the political-technological background is practically nonexistent. Something like a promising first draft of a nice though syrupy idea.