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Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  8,291 ratings  ·  599 reviews
The spellbinding story of an isolated post-holocaust community determined to preserve itself, through a perilous experiment in cloning. Sweeping, dramatic, rich with humanity, and rigorous in its science, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is widely regarded as a high point of both humanistic & hard SF, winning SF's Hugo Award and Locus Award on its first publication.
Hardcover, 1st, 251 pages
Published December 1st 1977 by Harper and Row (first published 1976)
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3.87  · 
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 ·  8,291 ratings  ·  599 reviews

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mark monday
David Sumner has a problem: the world as he knows it is about to end. what's a brilliant young man and his equally brilliant family to do? why, bring back members of that extended family, store supplies, circle the wagons, and build a lab which will eventually help the Sumner family to repopulate the earth, of course. sounds like a good plan to me.

there's something about the 70s that I just really dig. many things, actually. besides the wonderfully hideous clothes and the wonderfully not-hideo
1977 Hugo winner for best novel.

We've got some serious competition out here for best dystopia, but what about the old SF classics that decided to do it first, and often better, than all the modern trash out here?

Sure, there's a seriously 70's vibe here, man, with all the deep concerns for community versus individuality, but it's not like we've really outgrown the issues. You can read the novel as a deep condemnation for conformity and group-think and the logical extremes of extroversion and as a
Nandakishore Varma
(Edit to add: the review below contains what some may consider to be spoilers. But on the whole, I do not think that reading this review will spoil the enjoyment of the book for you.)

Science fiction stories usually concern the impact of the progress of science on human beings. When the science part dominates, it is called “Hard SF”: when the human part dominates, it is “Soft SF”. However, this is not a rigid categorisation as most Hard SF stories (for example, Asimov’s Foundation series) contain
Erich Franz Linner-Guzmann
"She shook her head, her eyes fixed, staring at the nightmare scene before them. Who had done this? Why? It was as if the people had converged here to destroy this place that had failed them in the end so completely."

The scene that is described here was indeed nightmarish, as was a large portion of this story. Although there were a lot of dark scenes throughout, it did have some bright and uplifting scenes to redeem its eerie disposition. I was on a roller coaster of emotions while reading this
Well, that was....interesting.... Uneven pacing, klunky writing, and boring story without even a pseudo-scientific explanation or rationale for cloning leads to hive mind. And what felt like a rather hamfisted indictment of collectivism versus individualism. I felt like Wilhelm was saying that collectivism led to zombie people who had no capacity for kindness, imagination or creativity, while individualism was better because its followers were self-reliant, creative, and forward-thinking. (I won ...more
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Most of the science in this novel is bad, but one important thing that the writer got right and presented properly is that cloning is the absolute last desperate move you can make to save a species. Just as one might expect, the story turns into a conflict between an individual and the community, with plenty of counter culture sprinkled all over (am I the only one who noticed some stylistic similarities with The Silent Spring).
Even though bits of the story are predictable, I was taken in by the
Nov 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all lovers of intelligent speculative literature
I should have read Kate Wilhelm’s stellar Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang years ago. I had it in the back of my mind as a seminal work, a must-read, for just short of forever, yet I never found myself actually diving in to that first page. Then I won a copy through the Goodreads Firstreads contest, and I knew my time with this speculative classic had finally come. I received my copy, became flush with excitement…and reverently shelved the book, as I didn’t have the time and energy to do justice ...more
Althea Ann
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Well, I definitely expected to like this book more than I did. Almost everyone I know who has read it has rated it very highly. I take a few issues with it:

1. Half the book is more of a summary, and the book is just plain too short for the story it is trying to tell. It reminded me of A Canticle for Leibowitz in that way, told in three parts, from an author whose greater strength, arguably, is in the short story. Wilhelm is well known for her decades of contributions to Orbit (see recent antholo
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel is, I suppose, a dystopia. And if one thinks about it loosely, one may be reminded of a handful of similar-seeming ones, like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Lois Lowry's The Giver, or any number of other novels in which the rigid and law-bound community controls and destroys the notion of the creative individual. But those similarities are largely cosmetic, I think. Dig a little deeper, and this becomes a novel about the stages humanity will go through, at the edge of the precipice, ...more
This book starts with an environmental apocalypse. Due to radiation and other environmental issues, humanity and animals are becoming infertile and crop failures are causing famines. The rest of the book is about how a group of survivors try to ensure humanity’s survival, and the consequences of their chosen method. Since this book is so short I hate to give away many details and spoil the discovery of reading it for oneself, but I’ll put a more tangible explanation of what the book is about wit ...more
Kirsten "Ghost Deserved Better"
I rarely give out 5 stars, but when a book is this moving and enthralling it deserves it!

This book is disaster, science fiction, dystopian - and also an expose of what it means to be human.

What if man was not just a social animal, but part of society closer to what bees and ants have? What would happen? Would we still be human?

That's what this book sets forth. There is some disaster that one highly educated family sees coming and tries to hedge their bets with cloning. It explores this with 3 i
I think that Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang really needed to be longer. The scope of the novel is much too large for for its short length. (The audio version is about 11 minutes shy of 8 hours.) The story covers several "generations" and many decades.

I found Wilhelm's prose to be beautiful. Her descriptions of the Shenandoah Valley are richly detailed. She brings each season to life in the imagination with words. The problems I had with the story were mainly with the SF details.
Jul 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to have to think a little
Shelves: reread, 2010, 9, sf
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
For Valerie, Kriss and Leslie,
with love
Description: The spellbinding story of an isolated post-holocaust community determined to preserve itself, through a perilous experiment in cloning. Sweeping, dramatic, rich with humanity, and rigorous in its science, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is widely regarded as a high point of both humanistic & hard SF, winning SF's Hugo Award and Locus Award on its first publication.

Opening: What David always hated most about the Sumner family dinners was the
This book starts in a direction I hadn't anticipated, as it's heralded as one of the first scifi works to deal with the ethics of human cloning ... and won a Hugo, it starts with a full dose of incest rage. Not just incest but how we should feel the frustration of our main character as he learns he can in fact not mate with his beautiful beloved first cousin.

The setup for the background of the story, the slow environmental and biological collapse of the modern world, felt a little off so far as
WHERE LATE THE SWEET BIRDS SANG was an apocalyptic sci-fi window into the 1970s when the story was first published. The main topic covered was cloning and what would happen, if the world as we knew it, was coming to an end?

I figured the title to the story had to come from somewhere; it did. It was a line from William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 73': how a person was affected by seeing someone they love age. In the book, both men and women, and also animals, had become sterile. The few people that sur
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, sf-masterworks
For me, this was one of those books you come to having heard starkly contrasting opinions about it, that leaves you with confused expectations and wondering what could be so divisive. But now, having finished it, I have to say I didn't find it divisive at all and am left wondering whether the book's harshest critics were even reading the same book.

This was great, well written, thought-provoking SF that explores one of the more interesting themes in SF; how important is individuality and how shou
Erik Graff
Jun 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sf
I'm so lucky to have grown up when the science fiction genre was being invaded by women like Kate Wilhem and Ursula K. LeGuin. While a few male writers like Theodore Sturgeon could construct believable characters, the women who made it in the field all seemed gifted with psychological insight and the ability to instantiate it. Furthermore, some of them extended the predicate of the genre to include sciences like ecology, psychology and anthropology in addition to the traditional engineering, che ...more
Nov 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
3 and 1/2 stars. To survive an environmental apocalypse, an extended family with money and resources moves onto their farm land and builds a research facility. They find that cloning is the only means for survival of the human race. The human clones develop deep psychological connections within their genetic groups, acting like a group consciousness. Those who want to develop their own individuality are seen as mentally ill and detrimental to the survival of their group.

In this setting, the aut
I picked this one up as I wanted to try reading some older SF recently and I had heard next to nothing about this author or this book. It turns out that this book is actually one of the defining books to discuss cloning and the effects of cloning the human population, and I found it fascinating to think about, even though it spans a long period of time.

This story takes place in a world where chaos is starting to take over the weather and crops are failing so the world is starting to fail. We se
Post-apocalyptic, told in three parts, each separated by an unstated amount of time and involving a change of narrator, with some amount of rebuilding in evidence after they blew it up, those maniacs, but with the rebuilders ultimately consumed anyway, with some small survival thereafter. That level of generality makes it sound like A Canticle for Leibowitz. It does not appear to be derivative of Miller, though; Wilhelm hints at nuclear war through the presence of lethal radioactivity, but the d ...more
Jun 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone!
After a mysterious blight literally wipes out global populations, one economically/socially/intellectually prominent family manages to survive and perpetuate life on their farm by cloning themselves.

The exploration of sexuality, individuality, and institutionalism is so deliciously concieved and executed in this book.

Better yet, it is beautifully written, which is rare in a sci-fi work of this depth and scope.

Wilhelm has given the world a truly relevant and insightful piece of work.
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
A Post-Apocalyptic story about an isolated group of clones in their Appalachian hideout, their history and future.
The story itself wasn't that great - simple, predictable, diffuse. Only the ending was emotionally adequate.

Main strengths were the nature centric, poetical language which you don't find very often in SF. Sometimes, it read like a description from Colonial North America with native Americans fishing and talking to the trees. Rivers flooding on dam bursts, nature growing as humanity
Mar 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

from a sonnet by Shakespeare

Wilhelm's choice of title for her 'end of the world as we know it' novel conjures up a whistful rememberance of things past. in the brave new world she describes there is peace and unity and harmony, but there is no Shakespeare. no Van Gogh, a Keats, Mozart or Kid Rock. nor will there ev
Megan Baxter
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up at long last as part of my read of all the Hugo nominees. Kate Wilhelm's book won the year I was born, so I tend to figure it was a very good year. And on the whole, this is a very good book. It's chock full of ideas, and raises interesting questions about what subtle things might be lost if we fundamentally changed our ways of interacting with each other.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read wh
3.5 stars. Well-written, well thought out post-apocalyptic science fiction story exploring the nature of individuality and what it means to be human. Worth reading.

Winner: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction novel
Winner: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction novel
Nominee: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction novel
Rebecca McNutt
Jun 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Well-written and incredibly interesting, this book is filled with a wide array of characters and an eye-opening, thought-provoking plot. It's definitely worth reading and really different.
"I’m going to dissect your every thought, your every wish, every dream. I’m going to find out what happened to you, what made you separate yourself from your sisters, what made you decide to become an individual, and when I find out we’ll know how never to allow it to happen again.” (p.122)

The story begins as civilization is on the verge of collapse. The causes, pollution, disease and climate change, are briefly touched on by the author but she keeps them in the background. Instead, her focus fa
Re-read after 40 years. Still holds up reasonably well.

The collapse of world civilization is rather abrupt and loosely defined: a perfect storm of pollution, crop failure, overpopulation, and disease, plus some nuclear war at the end: all Four Horsemen. If published today I assume there'd be something for Global Warming, too. As it is, I think Wilhelm went with Nuclear Winter instead. Anyway, that's just the premise as one (apparently very wealthy) family anticipates the problem and establishes
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Kate Wilhelm’s first short story, “The Pint-Sized Genie” was published in Fantastic Stories in 1956. Her first novel, MORE BITTER THAN DEATH, a mystery, was published in 1963. Over the span of her career, her writing has crossed over the genres of science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy and magical realism, psychological suspense, mimetic, comic, and family sagas, a multimedia stage producti ...more
“He looked at the sky once more. Men had gone out there, he thought in wonder, and couldn't think why. Singly and in small groups they had gone into strange lands, across wide seas, had climbed mountains where no human foot had ever trod. And he couldn't think why they had done these things. What impulse had driven them from their own kind to perish alone, or among strangers.” 2 likes
“Molly watched the pale water, changing, always changing, and always the same, and she could feel him near, not touching, not speaking. Thin clouds chased across the face of the swelling moon. Soon it would be full, the harvest moon, the end of Indian summer. The moon was so cleanly outlined, so unambiguous, she thought. A misshapen bowl, like an artifact made by inexpert hands that would improve with practice.” 2 likes
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