Monday, 22 November 2010
I've finished Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, and I liked it quite a lot. Ostensibly a post-apocalyptic novel about cloning, it's basically a meditation on the role of individuality and our relationship with nature as defining elements of being human. Kate Wilhelm suggests that our grounding in our own sense of individualism and our feeling of kinship with nature are powerful components of humanity that we would not do well to outgrow.
The genetic holocaust that overtakes her near-future world is not particularly deeply explored or explained as it is in books like Brunner's The Sheep Look Up where the nature of the apocalypse itself is a large part of the theme of the story, and while the consequences of cloning form a large part of the plot machinery, the real emphasis here is not on a rigorous thought-exploration of the pros and cons and possible results of cloning, either. Instead, Wilhelm charts the gradual dilution of human nature into a sort of insectile collectivism through repeated cloning from the same limited gene bank and the resilient resurgence of the undiluted human spirit. Wilhelm's story states that it is better to forgo all the benefits of years of progress and technology and revert to a primitive form of life if it means preserving the diverse range of personalities and the instinctual elements of human nature.
It also touches on the importance of creativity, storytelling and myth-making to humanity, with the first truly human beings in several generations turning to artistic self-expression and the telling of just-so tales.
All this is framed in a narrative that, even if it is low on tech-talk and action, conveys a vivid sense of character and place. A very satisfying reading experience all in all, even if I'm just a little uncomfortable with the bucolic patriarchy established in the end - which is probably a reflection of how comfortable I am with the trappings of our decadent world civilization. Where the novel fell short for me is that none of the underlying points of the story were new, and probably weren't even at the time - paeans to individuality are not rare in American SF and the virtues of feral humanity as opposed to synthetic clones were explored in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
I am going to like this book :)
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