Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Title: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Author: Kate Wilhelm

Author's web site:

Publisher: Harper & Row

Date: 1974

Length: 213 pages

Quote: “I suggest that we all still have the capability for individual ego development latent within us.”

Cloned humans, Wilhelm postulates, would be produced and reared in groups, and so they'd think and act as groups. Any independence or creativity that did develop would cause individuals to be shunned by the group. Thus this three-generation drama in which one wealthy extended family in Virginia, having discovered how to clone viable humans, become the only known survivor of a plague, start cloning humans, and almost lose humanity.

Far-fetched science fiction? Yes. How did Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang ever get written, much less published? By expressing what creative individuals really do feel, even about loving families: without regular time alone and frequent solo adventures, our personalities may become deformed.

A plausible story about how people might learn this the hard way is not the sort of spaceship-battle adventure some science fiction fans want. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang also contains adult content (gruesome details about systematic “breeding” techniques, plus some relatively tasteful scenes showing both inevitable and evitable incest, some killing; several sympathetic characters die). This is speculative, but serious, intellectual fiction written for actual scientists to read, not to be confused with fantasy or space opera. However, people in the intended audience for this book tend to say good things about Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.

Wilhelm is alive (and active in cyberspace), so this is a Fair Trade Book. We can probably continue to offer it for $5 per book, although this book is rising into the collector price range at Amazon, plus $5 per package for shipping. Of this $10, $1 goes to Wilhelm or the charity of her choice. (As of today, four copies could still be shipped for $25, of which Wilhelm or her charity would get $4.) For this book $5 is actually pretty close to what secondhand dealers who don't compensate authors seem to be getting. Payment may be sent to either of the addresses listed at the bottom of the screen.