Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang Broché – 6 décembre 1984
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|Broché, 6 décembre 1984||
Description du produit
Présentation de l'éditeur
Quatrième de couverture
Introduction by Lisa Tuttle
The Sumner family can read the signs: the droughts and floods, the blighted crops, the shortages, the rampant diseases, and, above all, the increasing sterility of the population all point to one thing. Their isolated farm in the Appalachians gives them the ideal place to survive the coming meltdown, and their wealth gives them the means. Men and women must clone themselves for humanity to survive. But what then?
'Superb' THE ENCYLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION
'If all SF was as finely crafted as Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, we'd have great cause to rejoice' VECTOR
Kate Wilhelm (1928-)
Kate Wilhelm has won many awards for her writing, including the Hugo for Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. She has also been influential beyond her writing through the Milford Science Fiction Writers' Conference, founded by her late husband, Damon Knight.
978 0 575 07914 4
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Wilhelm barely touches on a much more realistic scenario of cloning: creating classes of humans bred for specific tasks. Plot holes and shaky logic aside, I might still have enjoyed the novel had she created engaging and nuanced characters. Unfortunately, Wilhelm's characters are so one-dimensional that only their given monikers distinguish them. It is almost as if Wilhelm wrote the novel to make one and only one point: "Clones will kill the human race because they can't solve problems."
Wilhelm's novel (a Hugo winner for that year as well as a Nebula nominee) isn't so much a look at those elements as extrapolating the concept of cloning and trying to figure out if it's a good idea or not when in the service of keeping mankind alive in one form or another. Here we have an Earth in the not-so far future where climate changes due to pollution are starting to make food very scarce, and while the government is insisting everything is a-ok even as all the McDonald's start to go out of business, a group of scientists is realizing that a lack of food and rampant infertility is going to send humanity to hang out in whatever existential waiting room holds the dinosaurs and passenger pigeons (the latter probably looking forward to the opportunity to go "See how it feels, suckers?") and the only way out is to create a bunch of clones to keep the species going. As far as long shots go, I've heard worse.
While the story touches on the environmental issues, a couple of folks have mentioned Wilhelm's choice of drama over sound ecological theory (if nothing else, the elimination of nearly all animals would send almost any ecosystem into a downward spiral of a tailspin that would take forever to recover from, if it ever did) and while it underscores the proceedings, her focus is really on the concept of cloning and how clones would develop in this new world as humanity seeks to rebuild itself. She structures the story as a three-part linked series that could almost stand as novellas on their own (the first ends in such a way that the whole book feels like a short story that she went and expanded on), with characters from the previous story taking the lead in another section as the years go on, giving the novel a slight sense of sweep, although we're not talking about hundreds of years going by, more like decades.
To that end, Wilhelm explores the evolution of a future society filled with clones and how that society would might revolve around a preference for more clones versus natural births and if society would start to stratify in the process. Her focus seems to be on whether by making tons more copies of ourselves if we would start to lose our individuality, with future people forming tight knit groups that are dependent on each other, a sense of community that come out at the expense of things like innovation or even self-preservation. Her depiction of the lengths a future society would go to keep things just the way they like it never goes as far as Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" (although one section comes close, but the aims of the two novels are quite different) but her insights into the mindset clones might have in terms of what they'd prefer make for interesting tensions, especially when pockets of individuality start to crop up and disrupt things.
She has a way of making a story that consists almost entirely of Asimovian levels of action (i.e. none) move very quickly, with the arguments keeping the story in constant motion and yet never making the story dry . . . for all the science that flies around, the story never loses its sense of humanity and the emotions at stake here, never shying away from the cost of living in a society where everyone has a best friend who looks just like them and what it means for everyone else reacting to someone who likes to do absolutely crazy things like go for walks by themselves. It winds up turning into a debate of individuality versus the good of the collective, but unfortunately she stacks the deck more than slightly, not only extrapolating the problems of the clones into lengths that sometimes come across as absurd but by making the remaining clones go to sometimes villainous lengths to keep society just the way they like it, and clearly showing the benefits of being the lone gun versus being bogged down in fiddly groupthink.
But even with those problems there's still a weight to the science (necessary when you're doing a story about humanity running out of food that doesn't involve the food being you or the raw power of Matthew McConaughey's abs saving the world) and a quiet sweep to the proceedings that borders on elegance, the feel of a world shaking off the damage that was done to it, settling down for a somber nap to heal and allowing us to finally realize how large the world truly is and how small we are faced with the expanse of it, an expanse that's humbling whether we face it with numbers in the hundreds or the millions, and a reminder that if we treat each other properly we don't stand alone even when the face next to us isn't the same as ours. If anything, it's a reason to stand ever nearer.
This seems like a very good idea for a PA story, but nothing in this book is developed very well….I mean NOTHING! I could never clearly visualize any of the scenarios or relate to anything or anyone in the book.
The story quickly goes through several confusing generations of characters until it finally settles on a specific era (about halfway into the book). Up to that point, once you become a little familiar with a main character……he (or she) just walks off into the forest never to be heard from again.
The second half of the story centers on one biological boy and his experiences as he works his way through this society. In the end, he just walks off too. I was hoping that he would meet-up with the other characters that had walked off (like his parents and grandfather), so we could find out what had happened to them….no such luck though.
I’ve read a bunch of PA stories and this is not one of the better ones. Can’t believe it’s an award winner.