In Neil Anderson's new novel, "Singing Man," isolated cases of people suddenly unable to speak without singing their words shock the world. Two of the afflicted, an American physics professor named Elliot and a French news broadcaster named Claudine, meet and discover that when they're together their "singtalking" increases to "machine-gun" speed -- unless they hum:

One rainy Monday, Claudine felt especially happy to be with Elliot. All morning, before he had arrived, she'd thought about being alone again. Somehow the madness had been too much on her own . . .

But now, with Elliot smoking his pipe by the fireplace waiting for her to pour the coffee, everything seemed in its proper place, even if the machine guns were close to firing.

"AH, ELLIOT," she sang as she handed him the cup, "DO YOU KNOW WHERE THEY WOULD HAVE PUT US IN THE OLD DAYS?"

Elliot shook his head.

"ON A SHIP. THAT IS WHERE THEY PUT THE MAD PEOPLE. SHIPS OF FOOLS, THEY WERE CALLED."

Elliot smiled. "I'VE ALWAYS LIKED SHIPS. IT DOESN'T SOUND SO BAD TO ME."

He was singing so quickly, that Claudine had hardly been able to catch his words. Still, she did not want to give up the talking yet.

"THESE SHIPS WOULD VISIT CITIES ALL OVER EUROPE," sang Claudine, not succeeding very well in her attempt to slow down the words. "THEY WOULD LOOK FOR A HAVEN . . ."

"WHAT A WONDERFUL IDEA," Elliot laughed as his words crushed into each other. "WE COULD BE THE SINGING FOOLS, CLAUDINE AND ELLIOT -- THE SINGING FOOMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . ." Elliot was humming now. One long note.

"Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm." Claudine was humming along with him. On the same note.

After a minute or so, they stopped -- both of them feeling as if they'd just returned to the room.

"What was that," asked Claudine, her words coming out quite slowly now.

"I don't know. All of a sudden, this humming came out. I didn't intend to hum. It just happened." He too was singing at a far more leisurely pace . . .

. . . Gradually they allowed themselves to feel the calmness deep inside, almost as if they'd just woken up and the afternoon had just begun.

Finally Claudine decided to speak. "What a strange feeling. I am relaxed now . . ."

"I could almost swear that I was not humming," sang Elliot, "But that the humming was humming itself. Does that make any sense, Claudine?"

" . . . I do not understand it, but perhaps we will use it when it gets too hysterical, eh?" said Claudine.

From "Singing Man" by Neil Anderson. Tiburon, Calif.: H J Kramer Inc., 1984. Excerpts reprinted with permission.