Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang Analysis

Kate Wilhelm

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Kate Wilhelm’s futuristic plot exaggerates the familiar conflict between an individual and the community by supplanting the nuclear family with sterile clans of six to ten physically identical, intuitively connected clones. With increasing force in each of three episodes, highly individualistic protagonists struggle first to understand their separateness and then to save the community.

In the first episode, as radiation pollution spreads blight, sterility, and epidemics throughout the world, young David Sumner pursues secret cloning research in his wealthy family’s isolated Virginia compound. Following an environmental holocaust, generations of Sumners, bonding in groups of six codependent, identical clones, create a happy, peaceful, and prolific community in a wholesome natural environment. They reject the original plan to return to sexual reproduction and nuclear families. David, in his old age, attempts to sabotage his whole cloning operation. When he fails, the clones sentence him to permanent exile, which is their version of capital punishment.

Years pass, and the expanded clone community sends six unrelated persons downriver to ravaged, uninhabited Washington, D.C., to map changed terrain and gather technical equipment. Separation from their clone groups individualizes members of the reconnaissance party, making them leaders or driving them mad. Molly, the sole woman, is the mapmaker. She is initially terrified without her sisters,...

(The entire section is 434 words.)