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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The One Against the Many
Much of this world's history has been shaped by the constant attempts to shift the balance between the individual as an autonomous, self-directing, self-centered, and unique unit and the group society, where everyone's efforts go towards the general welfare, where the individual is merely a replaceable cog. This book takes this battle to the extreme, to where, via...
Published on 5 Nov 2003 by Patrick Shepherd

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2.0 out of 5 stars some good ideas; but what a boring read!
I bought this on the strength of the good reviews and there are some good ideas concerning the fate of a cloned society, but this has to be one of the most boring books that I have ever read. The story starts off slow and builds up various characters which is common enough with many books, but it never seems to grab the attention and plods along to a predictable ending...
Published 5 months ago by Peter Bailey


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The One Against the Many, 5 Nov 2003
By 
Patrick Shepherd "hyperpat" (San Jose, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Much of this world's history has been shaped by the constant attempts to shift the balance between the individual as an autonomous, self-directing, self-centered, and unique unit and the group society, where everyone's efforts go towards the general welfare, where the individual is merely a replaceable cog. This book takes this battle to the extreme, to where, via cloning, there really are no individuals, only copies, where anyone who disturbs the group is subject to extreme measures, from execution to severe behavioral/mind control to expulsion to the wilderness. True individuals come to be considered 'defective', as they cannot always accept the wishes of the group, they keep coming up with disturbingly new and different ideas, and they place themselves ahead of the group.

From this starting point, the book is told in three distinct parts. The first section covers the period when the cloning facilities are being set up against a background of a world society in the throes of collapse. Part two is a look after several clone generations have occurred and an expedition is made to one of ruined cities to salvage needed high-tech supplies for the continuing cloning operation. The expedition exposes both the strength and the weakness of the clone groups, as they find it almost impossible to remain sane when separated from their clone 'brothers' and 'sisters'. One expedition member, Molly, grows so far away from her sisters under the stress that she really becomes an individual. Part three covers the final battle between clones and individuals, as Molly's son Mark grows up as the only 'single' in the group.

Thematically, this book is tautly conceived and executed. The later generations of the clones exemplify the problems of extreme homogeneity, as they find themselves, though extremely intelligent and quick learners, incapable of creative thought and independent action. The down sides of the individual are also exposed, showing the limitations on what one person can do when separated from the group. All of this is displayed pretty much by the character's actions, though there is some exposition via council meetings that are more philosophical statements than planning sessions.

Character development is reasonable, given that most of the clones must remain essentially 'faceless' and the time span covered means that no character lasts more than a third of the book. But this also means that no character is explored in extreme depth, which makes it hard for the reader to become emotionally attached to anyone.

Scientifically, there are problems with this book. An ecology is an extremely complex intertwined entity. When all the land animals die off (including, by specific mention, bees), there will be large affects on the plant population. Many plants can't reproduce at all without the help of certain animal species. The grasses, without a large group of herbivores to keep them in check, would very likely choke out many other plant species. Pollination becomes extremely problematic without bees. Wilhelm attempts to get around this by stating that function is taken over by ants, which would be at best much less efficient than that which occurs with bees. But Wilhelm shows none of these foreseeable affects - the forests and grain fields continue to grow apparently undisturbed. None of these problems directly affects the theme of this book, but it bothered my suspension of disbelief, especially as it was only necessary to kill off all the people, she could have left the animals alone, to get the situation she needed.

This book took the 1977 Hugo Award, and as well told exposition of one the major philosophical battles that man faces today and in the future, it deserved it. But it is a definite 'thinking' book, not one of action, grand drama, or deep psychology. Expect to do some internal reflection when you finish this book, and see how you stack up as an individual versus your place in and responsibilities to your surrounding society.

--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but beware, 23 May 1999
By A Customer
Great book, and everyone else who's reviewing here is right. However, the reader should be warned: This book does not delve into characters very well. Many are introduced, very few are explored. In hindsight, that was part of the whole point, that individuality is lost, but while reading, it was a little hard to get into. Still, I raced through the book and found it really wonderful once I got past the unusual technique.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and deeply moving novel, 27 April 2006
This review is from: Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
This novel is a masterpiece and clearly a deserving winner of the Hugo award (the most renowned of all genre awards). It works on two levels - on one hand it is a cautionary tale about the dangers of human cloning, on the other a philosophical meditation on what it is to be human. The writing is very well paced and accessible. Characterisation is well developed beautifully realised. I found myself caring deeply about the characters of Molly and Mark in particular. Wilhelm also skillfully evokes sympathy for the seemingly inhuman clones(the character Barry especially). This is a great novel regardless of its genre.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking!!, 27 Mar 1999
By A Customer
I went into the reading of this book as a dreaded high school assignment some time ago, and came away with a haunting image of a society losing individuality and imagination. I was infuriated by the idea that the loss of the characteristics which make us unique was acceptable, expected, and desired. It made me think of what my own ideas of cloning really were, at a time when the subject was just becoming feasible. Have you ever pondered what a society of, say, ten people created over and over into hundreds would be like? This book gives just one view of that situation. As limited as that view may seem, it really opened my mind, and helped me to understand where I want to be in this issue. I HIGHLY suggest reading it, especially if you have followed any of the latest developments in regards to the subject of cloning.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best post-human Earth novels EVER!, 16 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
I've been reading science fiction for almost 40 years now and though I first read this first only 7 years ago, it's one that still comes fondly to mind often.
It is not a character driven novel, which I generally look for so it's all the more impressive how this hauntingly beautiful novel has remained with me.this is also why the first part of the book is perhaps not so captivating.
It is the gentle elegiac latter part of the novel which is its triumph. This is a haunting tale of the last people where the earth is reasserting itself. The age of man is over but it is a beautiful depiction of Nature flourishing, more wistful than sad.
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2.0 out of 5 stars some good ideas; but what a boring read!, 12 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
I bought this on the strength of the good reviews and there are some good ideas concerning the fate of a cloned society, but this has to be one of the most boring books that I have ever read. The story starts off slow and builds up various characters which is common enough with many books, but it never seems to grab the attention and plods along to a predictable ending. Perhaps it was alot more enjoyable for readers back when it was first issued?
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic novel, 4 Oct 2012
By 
Robin White (Ashcott) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
I'm afraid I can't comment too specifically on the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the science, but I can say that I tore through the book at a ridiculous pace, once I'd started I couldn't put it down. It's a highly evocative tale of mankind attempting to cling to its individuality amid a world-shattering chaos, in which clones have been bred to ensure the survival of the human race. The anonymity of many of the characters, who themselves are supposed to be mirror images of each other, was clever and it's a book I imagine I'll enjoy even more on a second reading. My girlfriend, who's not the sci-fi nerd I am, enjoyed it very much also, so I wouldn't be put off by the genre!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and intellectually effervescent, 23 Aug 2012
By 
Runmentionable "Why Be A Raisin When You Can ... (Exiled Mackem) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
It's a long time since I sat up into the small hours to finish a book in one sitting. I certainly didn't expect this to be the one, but that proved to be be the case. Wilhelm's gripping story about the fate of a small community of human clones in a post-catastrophic USA is an exemplary illustration of the qualities the "New Wave" brought to SF. Though it eschews some of the more obvious New Wave tropes (the prose style, though lucid and accomplished, doesn't go in for experimental fireworks, and though there are some very disturbing moments, it avoids shock tactics), its focus on character and intellectual speculation place it at the forefront of New Wave enterprise. In keeping with 1970s SF, it also has feminist and environmentalist subtexts, which are understated to the extent that even fans of macho space opera probably wouldn't find their blood boiling should they turn to this for a change of scenery.

Other reviewers have noted that the book is about the individual versus conformity. That's true as far as it goes, and it certainly boils the plot down to its bare essence, but it doesn't go far enough. The book is also about nature versus nurture, the pressures of family life, the generation gap, the abuse of power by elites, and how we relate to the environment. Intriguingly, the "individualist" theme isn't pursued from a right-wing perspective, as it so (too) often is in SF. It's a true novel of ideas, and it absolutely fizzes with them. It's also a novel of character (and character development): the protagonist, the non-clone Mark, is complex and cleverly portrayed, while the clone characters are portrayed with various degrees of individuation, which is exactly appropriate to the book's theme. The portrayal of the clone Barry, who isn't Mark's father but is, kinda, is particularly accomplished. What's surprising, for a novel so focused on character and ideas, is the sheer narrative power. The plot isn't exactly complex, but it proceeds briskly and clearly, becoming increasingly dramatic (and gripping) as it approaches its climax. Wilhelm's prose is taut and transparent, but also very atmospheric. Her feel for nature is very convincing, and she is superb at suggesting both the appeal and the claustrophobia of life in a small, isolated community.

It's not perfect: the opening section, which sets up the scenario (the catastrophe, and the emergence of the clones) is a bit perfunctory, and the timescale is a bit confusing (though it emerges later that's part of Wilhelm's intentions). But the middle chunk, in which the clones who become Mark's parents start to achieve individuation, is exciting, moving and has almost mythic resonance in places, and the final section, as Mark comes of age and tries to deal with the society which he both loves and rebels against, is as good a study of character and ideas as you'll find anywhere in SF.

SF is prone to becoming very dated, very quickly: this 1976 novel is as fresh as if it had been published tomorrow, and it's unreservedly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well written but I didn't really enjoy it, 16 April 2011
By 
Andy Phillips (Leicestershire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
This is a tricky book to rate for me. It's a well written story based on an interesting idea, which probably is worth five stars. However, it terms of my enjoyment I would say it's only worth three stars. Hence, I have given it four stars overall.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part describes the breakdown of society and the attempts of an extended family to survive a more-or-less unspecified collection of disasters in their ranch in an isolated valley. They set up a hospital there in order to carry out their own research into the problems facing the world, and it is found that cloning is the only way that the human race can avoid extinction. A small proportion of the population remains fertile, but not enough to survive. However, the clones are sterile and after three of four generations of a particular line none of them survive. The fertile women are therefore used to produce as many children as possible in order to introduce new individuals into the gene pool. The second and third parts of the book follow later generations of the group as larger and larger groups of each particular clone are produced. There is an increased necessity to forage for supplies in the long dead cities, but the clones struggle when separated from the collective 'hive mind' and hence such expeditions are very dangerous.

An interesting examination of the effects of removing individuality from a society, but not exactly action packed. It wasn't my favourite of the SF Masterworks series, but it's a good book and definitely worth a look if you like thought provoking sci-fi with a basis in reality.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars shows what can happpen due to reliance on technology, 14 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Brillaint book especially when you consider when it was written. A great indicator of what can happen to society as the result of its dependence on technology. We should all use this book as a warning - use it to set up preventative plans in the event we are faced with something similar. I couldn't put the book down until I had finished reading it. Excellent.
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Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang (S.F. MASTERWORKS) by Kate Wilhelm (Paperback - 12 Oct 2006)
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