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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang

Copyright 1976 by Kate Wilhelm

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Very good (4/5)

I first read this in 1980 and most recently on the 9th September 2002

The collapse is of civilisation is coming. When millions are killed by virulent plagues, when the world economy collapses, the end is close indeed.

One small community has foreseen at least some of the horrors to come, and has prepared its redoubt. They're are confident that they can weather the worst of the turmoil to ensue.

Then the worst happens: across the world, human reproduction fails, no more babies are born alive. In desperation, the community turns to cloning in a last-ditch attempt keep humankind alive, until they can find a cure for the sterility that infects humanity.

But there are some problems with cloning, and not all of these problems are immediately apparent.

This is a pretty stunning book. The issues with which it deals are more relevant today than twenty-five years ago, and the narrative, except for some throwaway computer comments, has aged well. It's a terribly, terribly sad read as the optimistic survivors struggle to maintain their small civilisation but watch it degrade with each new generation. Still there is a message of hope in there.

Wilhelm is a superb writer, her characters and her evocative descriptions of wild nature are particularly moving. And what characters: Molly and Mark, forced into painful individuality, and Ben and Barry, struggling to comprehend what that individuality means and why there's a benefit that outweighs the cost.

Cloning sadly doesn't do so well out of this novel. It's not the sort of book to pass around your friends if you're trying to convince them of the benefits of, say, therapeutic cloning.

Loaded on the 24th September 2002.
Cover of Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang
Cover art by Lauren Helpern and David Gallo

Reviews of other works by Kate Wilhelm:
Let The Fire fall
The Infinity Box
Crazy Time