Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang Analysis
by Kate Wilhelm

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Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang Analysis

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

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Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang won both the Jupiter Award and the Hugo Award for best novel. Wilhelm was only the second woman to win the Hugo for best novel, following Ursula K. Le Guin, who won the honor in 1970 and 1975.

Wilhelm’s novel is a credible multigeneration epic that confronts technology and conformity with art and nature. It creates empathy for both sides of the conflict.

Wilhelm convincingly imagines both the comforts and the anxieties of life as a clone. Citing research on the behavior of twins, she portrays the comfort of telepathic empathy with five siblings who unselfishly share all experiences and feelings, from physical pain to sexual excitement. Women control ritual seduction: A female clone group tags a male group for bisexual pleasure. Idolizing conformity, the clones never experience isolation, misunderstanding, or strong emotion. They resent the rare individuals who cherish their privacy because that behavior rejects the clones’ security and so appears insane.

Artists, on the other hand, require rooms of their own, as well as time and freedom to work out original ideas. Like Le Guin, Wilhelm is one of the first science-fiction writers to portray futuristic art. She envisions painting and sculpture as representational and narrative fiction as imitating the didactic folktale. Young clones, however, are incapable of critical thinking, so they cannot recognize art. To them a powerful snow sculpture, for example, is simply a pile of snow, and fiction is merely lies.

Wilhelm represents the dangers of technology, which nearly destroys human life, but she also portrays its virtues, for technology allows some human and animal life to survive. Human beings require critical intelligence to discover the appropriate technology for each task. Snowshoes and canoes are valuable technological developments, as are cloning laboratories.

Wilhelm foreshadows nature’s inevitable victory over technology with eloquent natural symbolism. As the clones grow ever colder to him, Mark discovers the grinding glacier of a new ice age. Clone groups resemble moonlight reflected in water, divided into units like ripples but united in one...

(The entire section is 505 words.)