Jul 10, 2008

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

by Kate Wilhelm

I was surprised to find that this book was written in the 70's. It feels so suited to our times. A post-apocalyptic story, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang opens with the entire world facing disaster. Pollution, radiation, new diseases and famine everywhere. Mammals, birds, even insects disappear, and there are fewer and fewer children (like that film Children of Men). Society collapsing in chaos. One rich family full of brilliant people with a variety of convenient specializations comes together to try and save humanity. To keep from going extinct while trying to figure out why everyone's sterile, they begin cloning humans. For a while this is successful, but then the clones begin to outnumber the original people. And they don't see the importance of individuality. They view uniformity and mass production as strengths, and want to do away with s-xual reproduction for good. Only a few individuals see how disastrous that would be.

This story moves very quickly, easily spanning several generations. There are three main characters: David, one of the original genius-family members; Molly, a clone who is also an artist and thus unique from her "sisters" and Mark, Molly's son- one of the last unique human beings. I don't usually enjoy books which tell what I call "a story of the whole world" instead of being focused from one character's viewpoint. But once I began reading about Molly and her son, it became really interesting. Not only because they were artists, but because of the vivid contrast between the individuals and the clones. I think anyone who has read Never Let Me Go should read this book also. They both address issues of individuality and cloning, but in very different contexts.

I discovered Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang during a visit to, of all places, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Wa. This place is all about music, so I was quite surprised to discover that it has a science fiction museum in the basement. With things like original costumes from the old Star Wars films. And an extensive display of notable sci-fi books, including brief descriptions about their key, innovative concepts. It was just before closing, so A. and I were scrambling for scraps of paper and a pen to write down titles from the exhibit before we had to leave. This is the second book I've opened from that list. The first one was the Years of Rice and Salt.

Rating: 3/5                  213 pages, 1976


Laura said...

I enjoy reading books about a post-apocalyptic world, and I have never read one that discusses cloning. It sounds quite interesting!

Susan said...

This in on my TBR pile, great review and now I want to move the book closer to the top...