Year of a Hundred books – #25 Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang

Where Late The Sweet Birds SangWhere Late The Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm


As with The Teleportation Accident, I picked up this books because it was featured on a display table in my local Blackwells’. This time, it was a collection of the SF Masterworks series. What stuck out most about the book was the fact it was written by a female author, something that I’ve found disappointingly lacking in Science Fiction.

At the start of the book, global society is collapsing, and humanity is on the brink of extinction, and only one (inexplicably) wealthy and scientifically knowledgeable family have the foresight to see a possibility for survival. Now, if it wasn’t for the fact the blurb and the cover gave away the twist, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to work out that it was Cloning, because they’re already quite far through the scheme before it become evident what they’re doing. It’s never referred to openly, and is introduced first as simply a way of providing food in a world where everything is becoming sterile; it could technically just be a form of IVF or any number of other things. There is a little but of moralising, but in comparison to what you might expect, it’s actually treated as being a necessity that isn’t up for debate.

What’s most exciting about the story however is the fact that the second section takes place long after the “real humans” have all died, and instead focuses on the society the clones have set up, and their own attempts at surviving. There’s a lot of outright rejection of the past, and a bit of murkiness in regard to those few people who are still “born”, but at the heart, it’s frighteningly similar to societies constructed in many other dystopian novels: no real independent thought, community over the individual, and many similar tropes.

There’s plenty more I could say about it, but I’d rather leave it at that and let people decide from themselves. What I will say is that I found the end rather disheartening. It was quite predictable, and while the specifics were interesting, it did feel much like an outright rejection of transhumanism and embracing of human nature. Is that worth criticising? Probably not, but I still felt let down, considering how much I liked the rest of the book.

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