Saturday, 8 March 2008

Review: "Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang" by Kate WIlhelm

I'm continuing to work my way through the Gollancz SF Masterworks series, which is just chock full of great stuff. I found a reasonably complete list of the scheduled and published works, it looks like I've read almost exactly half of the works on the list thus far. Many of the books on the list have been favorites for years, some I'm finding through this series. The latest that I've finished is "Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang" by Kate Wilhelm.

The novel is about cloning, but more importantly, it's a well-crafted exploration of the tensions between the individual and society, and what it means to be an individual at all.

The story begins in a community made up of close-knit but extended family living in rural Virginia. Even the closest knit family would and does seem chaotic when compared to the clone society that arises through the course of the story, in which a clone is born part of a community and never quite comes to realize their own individuality or even see themselves as anything other than a part of a seamless whole. The clones exist only in relation to the rest of their pack. Rarely, individual personalities do arise, and it is by comparison with these individuals that the ultimate flaws in a perfectly communal society are highlighted. There is no value in being different, and so there is no innovation, no improvisation, no creativity.

The territory has been explored somewhat with the two clone species in "Forever War" and "Forever Free", the clones in "Appleseed", and many other works, but never in quite so loving a way. It's a great book with the same type of crossover appeal that "Gattaca" had when dealing with similar themes a few years ago, and is strongly recommended.

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