November Books 12) Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm

This is a rather unusual Hugo winner. It’s a curious amalgam of the great post-holocaust novels Earth Abides and After London on the one hand, and the suspicion of clones latent in Brave New World on the other. The depiction of sexual politics as humanity tries to reinvent itself is core to the narrative: the clones’ society turns out to be intellectually and biologically sterile, and their sequestration of fertile women to drug-addled maternity is pretty appalling. I felt that Wilhelm was asking some pretty serious questions here, if not necessarily providing the answers; in any case, as an author rather than a politician, the former rather than the latter is her responsibility.

For once I have actually read all of the other Hugo nominees that year – Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman, Children of Dune by Frank Herbert, Man Plus by Frederik Pohl and Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg. I must say I would have found this a difficult choice: all of them are somewhat difficult and disturbing books, none of them obvious classics but all memorable in a certain way. In the end I would probably have voted for Mindbridge since the sex scenes are more entertaining than those in Shadrach in the Furnace (though of course in the counterfactual situation where I actually had a vote that year I would have been 10, so that particular factor would not have mattered so much to me). I think this was one of those rare years where the Hugo went to a somewhat unlikely candidate, and was all the stronger for it.

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1 Response to November Books 12) Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm

  1. moseleyjules says:

    I’ll admit I skim past entries like these so for a second I thought you were writing about the Martin Lewis of fame – oops!

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