The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

From childhood, Daniel Weinreb longs to fly, but in the police state of Iowa flying is illegal. Whirling fans trap the disembodied “fairies” who have left their material forms behind, hooked to life-supporting apparatuses. Fairies achieve escape velocity by singing, so in Iowa all music except simple hymns is suspect. Radio broadcasts and newspapers from outside are forbidden because they trumpet the joys of flying and advertise the means for doing so. Daniel eventually makes his way to New York City with his bride. They register at a flying emporium, and she takes off, leaving Daniel grounded and hiding out from his father-in-law. Try as he might, he cannot fly. For fifteen years, Daniel survives on the illicit fringes of New York, scraping together enough money to pay for his wife’s life support and hoping someday to fly.

At the novel’s opening, Daniel arrives in Iowa with his father, a dentist, following his parents’ divorce. Iowa is a good place to raise a boy because of its fairly reliable food supply. After his mother returns, having failed in her quest to fly, the family settles into a semblance of middle-class security. Daniel has a paper route, but when the Des Moines Register folds and Daniel begins carrying the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a paper forbidden because it comes from outside the state, he puts himself in jeopardy.

At the age of fourteen, when he and his best friend Eugene Mueller sneak off to Minneapolis for a holiday, Eugene disappears from the theater where he and Daniel have seen a movie about flying. Eugene’s father is powerful...

(The entire section is 658 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

On Wings of Song uses science-fiction elements, but seems to discuss contemporary society, and uses medieval fantasy and the structure...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The novel's satirical elements offer an obvious place to begin discussion. Disch lampoons the fine arts, artists, and art lovers; he needles...

(The entire section is 187 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Disch's satirical wit gives his writing a biting flavor that sometimes seems out of place or heavy-handed, but makes his style distinctive....

(The entire section is 231 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

On Wings of Song belongs to an important literary tradition: the bildingsroman. Notable members of the tradition are Jane...

(The entire section is 154 words.)