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Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang: A Novel Paperback – July 15, 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The best novel about cloning written to date.” ―Locus

“Kate Wilhelm's cautionary message comes through loud and clear.” ―The New York Times

“One of the best treatments of cloning in SF.” ―The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

About the Author

Kate Wilhelm is the author of dozens of novels and short-story collections. Among them are the science fiction classic Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, the Constance and Charlie mysteries, and The Good Children. The recipient of many honors--the Prix Apollo, the Hugo Award, three Nebula Awards, and the Kurd Lasswitz Award--Ms. Wilhelm, along with her husband, Damon Knight, received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Michigan State University in recognition of their many years as instructors for the Clarion workshop in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Born in Ohio and raised in Kentucky, Ms. Wilhelm now lives in Eugene, Oregon, her home of many years.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Orb Books; 1st edition (July 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312866151
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312866150
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Much of this world's history has been shaped by the constant attempts to shift the balance between the individual as an autonomous, self-directing, self-centered, and unique unit and the group society, where everyone's efforts go towards the general welfare, where the individual is merely a replaceable cog. This book takes this battle to the extreme, to where, via cloning, there really are no individuals, only copies, where anyone who disturbs the group is subject to extreme measures, from execution to severe behavioral/mind control to expulsion to the wilderness. True individuals come to be considered 'defective', as they cannot always accept the wishes of the group, they keep coming up with disturbingly new and different ideas, and they place themselves ahead of the group.

To bring about this society, Wilhelm starts with a fairly normal (for science fiction) scenario: due to man's constant pollution of the environment, new diseases appear, eventually either directly killing everyone (and almost all the land animal life also) or rendering them sterile. One group sees a way to save humanity by using cloning techniques, with some promise that after enough generations of cloning, some sexual reproductive capability will reappear.

From this starting point, the book is told in three distinct parts. The first section covers the period when the cloning facilities are being set up against a background of a world society in the throes of collapse. Part two is a look after several clone generations have occurred and an expedition is made to one of ruined cities to salvage needed high-tech supplies for the continuing cloning operation.
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Format: Paperback
American literature of the 60's and 70's has a distinctive flavour of individualism, partly as a product of the worship of the individual heroes (Washington, Davey Crockett, etc.) that explored and/or created the country, and partly as a reaction to the perceived "homogeneity" of communism. By definition, the theory went, a person could not possibly be happy unless he was first free. This award-winning book by Kate Wilhelm is a parable of the triumph of individualism over the collective.

This is not a new theme for science fiction - the Original Star Trek series had a number of such episodes, and the Grand Master Robert Heinlein visited this topic numerous times. "Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang" has similarities to the Classic Trek episode "The Apple" and Heinlein's "Farnham's Freehold." But mainly I was reminded of Robert Silverberg's "A Time of Changes" - in both tales a society is developed and then from within that society arises an individual who must destroy the complacency of the society to save its people. In Wilhelm's book, an ecological catastrophe (and a development of human infertility) destroys the human race except a group of scientists that propogate themselves in the only way possible - by cloning. Thus a society of clones: family groups are a batch of 6-10 identical clones raised as a unit. Wilhelm introduces the notion of genetic ESP - basically accepting the supposed (but unproven) link that twins feel for each other (e.g. when one is hurt, the other senses something is wrong). Unfortunately, by cloning the exact same genetic material over and over, subsequent generations of clones become more and more specialised (one group is doctors, one group builds barns, etc.) until no one in the society has any initiative or imagination.
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Format: Hardcover
I am not a big Kate Wilhelm fan, but she poured her heart and soul into this book.
Although the book deals with the subject of Cloning, it is really about the triumph of individualism in a clone society.
The story revolves around a little boy that was raised in secret by his rebellious mother, and the efforts of the clone society to make him fit in. Once discovered he becomes a big problem for the clone society, but the clone society also needs his unique talents. And as he grows into a man, the situation becomes worse and worse, until it comes to a head in the end.
As a book about individualism, this book is even better than Ayn Rands Anthem. Anthem will leave the reader sing praises of individualism. While this book leave the reader with a heartfelt appreciation of individualism and a deep understanding of the tension between of individualism and collectivism. It will touch your heart, your soul, and you mind.
I've read a lot of books, very few of them I'd rate as good, but this book is far better than good. Find this book, and read it today.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A small scientific community in the mountains of western Virginia survives some kind of world-wide post apocalyptic event. The story is never very clear about the PA event, but humanity seems to be pretty much wiped out by it, leaving only these scientists and their experiments (human cloning). The society that develops from this community is caste at two levels: the clones evolve as the ruling class with biologic humans as their worker bees.

This seems like a very good idea for a PA story, but nothing in this book is developed very well….I mean NOTHING! I could never clearly visualize any of the scenarios or relate to anything or anyone in the book.

The story quickly goes through several confusing generations of characters until it finally settles on a specific era (about halfway into the book). Up to that point, once you become a little familiar with a main character……he (or she) just walks off into the forest never to be heard from again.

The second half of the story centers on one biological boy and his experiences as he works his way through this society. In the end, he just walks off too. I was hoping that he would meet-up with the other characters that had walked off (like his parents and grandfather), so we could find out what had happened to them….no such luck though.

I’ve read a bunch of PA stories and this is not one of the better ones. Can’t believe it’s an award winner.
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