Reading,  Review

Book Review: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

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Part of my quest to read all of the Hugo Award novel winners. This book won in 1977.

Dystopias are making a comeback in the last few. So are end of the world stories. Neither is a new story, and if some of the modern ones give an interesting twist here and there, most of them are more or less walking over the same ground, sometimes with new technology or slightly more inclusive casts.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is an end of the world as we know, staring across the edge of human extinction, dystopic, far side of the apocalypse story.

Actually, it’s three of them.

And it mixes other things in besides. Like predicting ecological disaster, human cloning, and what it means to be human.

Three very connected novellas here. The first is a tale of the collapse of society, as seen by a close-knit group of survivalists who didn’t start out that way. A strong extended family and its friends who somehow are able to see what’s coming and do everything they can to prepare their small town for it.

The second picks up decades later, where some of the clones go on a mission to find things their small society needs, digging through the refuse of the world nearby, a world bereft of humanity. The longer they stay separated, the more they change and have a hard time maintaining who they are. For some, that difficulty doesn’t go away when they finally return.

The last is the story of the natural-born son of one of the clones who went on that mission, the pain in the ass he is to the tiny society, and the myriad ways in which he helps it, or tries to, before the inevitable collapse and disappearance.

But the last story does leave you with a little hope.

Overall rating: 3 stars. Why only 3? The story didn’t give me enough of the things I really wanted from it. I wanted a deeper explanation of what made the clones a different kind of human and how they wrapped their tiny society around the differences. I wanted to know something about what happened to the rest of society. I got a taste of each of these, but not nearly enough.

It’s a good story, and I’d probably stand it against the vast majority of modern dystopic or post-apocalyptic stories, but I wanted more.

One interesting little note, Ms. Wilhelm predicts what Star Trek will call “replicative fading” about a decade later. The idea being that a copy of a copy of a copy will eventually be less viable, less hardy, and less able to be human than the original, possibly to the point of non-survivability.

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