Hugo Book Review: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

I have not had good luck reading science fiction stories that have titles from Shakespeare. The problem is that they tend to take themselves far too seriously and the author is trying to impress people rather than tell a good story. When I began Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang it felt like that was going to be that way and for roughly the first third it felt a bit slow, but by the end I had turned around completely.

The basic idea of this story is that due to pollution and disease the human race has lost the ability to have children.  This is a bit of a stretch, but I try my best to accept the basic premises of stories because it is after all science fiction.  In order for humans to survive they decide that their only chance is cloning and that after four ge

progenitors.  In the second third of the book they have had generations of clones and their machinery has began to wear down so they send out a group to find more. This fails in part because being separated from the other clones of themselves is very difficult, almost impossible for them, except one that becomes an individual and discovers she likes it.

The third part is the part of the book that was most interesting to me. It focuses on the son of one of the women who went on that trip. He was raised as an individual and so cannot fit into their society. This also shows all the problems in their society because there is someone who really sees it. Except that not everything in their society is wrong. In many ways they are happy, but they are also willing to clone people just to build roads and afraid the forest.

While there is a lot going on in this book it is at its most basic a book about individuality. How it is easier to be the same as everyone else, but when you are different you are lonely. No one is ever left behind when they are part of the crowd, but they never excel either.  

I almost want to reread the beginning of this book because I really liked the end and the first part felt slow.  The desire of the author to show how this culture that she was exploring came to exist taking a bit too long, but because of how much I liked the rest of the story it makes me think I just missed something. I can certainly recommend this book, though perhaps not the first section.