So I said that one of the things I wanted to do as part of the Sci-fi Experience was read more science fiction by women, and when I wrote that Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang was one of the books I had in mind.
To my shame I knew very little about Kate Wilhelm but she is a multi-award winning writer, instrumental in setting up and teaching at the Clarion Workshops which have been very influential in the sci-fi world. And this novel seems to be considered amongst her very best work.
So this is a book about cloning, not just about the idea of it but the successful application of it in an isolated community which has set itself up in the Appalachian Mountains in preparation for the world catastrophe that is clearly coming; not just famine, disease and war but the rapidly developing sterility of the human and animal populations. The community is made up largely of one wealthy family who use their money and expertise to clone and breed themselves in order to survive.
The novel is in three sections, each one told through the eyes of a particular character (David, Molly and Mark) who follow the evolution of the clone society over a period of time. And that’s what’s really fascinating about this novel; the cloning technology is a given, but what the author is really exploring is the kind of a society that would develop, how the original, naturally born people would be regarded by the clones,and how (if and when the time comes) they would venture out of their self-sufficient world.
I was really very impressed with this novel; it’s a moving story, and although my sympathies lay in a particular direction I could really understand the opposite point of view. The structure works really well as it provides a means of watching this society evolve. It’s beautifully written and one that will definitely be on my re-read pile.