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Publisher's Summary

When the first warm breeze of Doomsday came wafting over the Shenandoah Valley, the Sumners were ready. Using their enormous wealth, the family had forged an isolated post-holocaust citadel. Their descendants would have everything they needed to raise food and do the scientific research necessary for survival. But the family was soon plagued by sterility, and the creation of clones offered the only answer. And then that final pocket of human civilization lost the very human spirit it was meant to preserve as man and mannequin turned on one another.

Sweeping, dramatic, rich with humanity and rigorous in its science, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is widely regarded as a high point of both humanistic and hard science fiction. It won science fiction's Hugo Award and Locus Award on its first publication and is as compelling today as it was then.

©1976 Kate Wilhelm; (P)2006 Blackstone Audio Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • Hugo Award winner, Best Novel, 1977

"The best novel about cloning written to date." (Locus)
"One of the best treatments of cloning in SF." (New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction)
"Kate Wilhelm's cautionary message comes through loud and clear." (New York Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

Great read!

I loved this book. Kate Wilhelm writes a very readable book and Anna Fields (aka Kate Fleming, recently deceased and a great loss to audio) does a great job narrating. Considering the story won a Hugo back in the mid-70s, the theme (human caused environmental disaster and cloning) is current and relevant. If you're looking for a good story to get lost in for a few hours and you like sci fi, this book is worth your time.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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As Relevant As Ever

It's a testament to the strength of Kate Wilhelm's grasp of "hard" science and the subtlety of her grasp of human nature that this 1977 science fiction novel (winner of the Hugo Award) is as relevant today as when she wrote it. It easily could have been published yesterday.

The novel follows an extended family as they retreat from society to survive a global meltdown (economic, environmental, topped off by a nuclear holocaust). Led by far-sighted leaders and gifted scientists, they seek to preserve their line through an extended experiment in cloning. The result is more Village of the Damned than Paradise, as a new "breed" of people -- intelligent but unimaginative, forming brother and sister groups that share a common mind and experience -- inherit (or take over?) the community. The story follows several generations, ending with the struggle of the lone individual against the dystopian community, with the stakes being both the survival and the very nature of the human species.

The premise of this novel and its execution are fascinating, and I was most interested to see how the generational struggles would resolve themselves. For some reason I can't quite pin down, I never felt fully emotionally engaged with most of the characters, and the one who evoked my empathy most had a truncated role in the novel. In other words, this novel always had my mind, but it never quite captured my heart completely, as well. Despite being held somewhat at arm's length from the characters (which may indeed be intentional, given the nature of the characters themselves), I highly recommend it, and I'm glad I read it. It's considered a classic for good reason, and I'm richer for having encountered it.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Painful reader

I wanted to like this book, because I liked the topic, but the reader was actually painful to listen to. The way she read the male characters was a kind of painful burlesque. I think I did finish the book, and actually liked quite a bit of it in the end, but the audible reader was such a mismatch for the book for me that I gave it a very low ranking.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


Post-apocalyptic dystopia is one of my favorite subjects and this book is definitely in the genre. Unfortunately it was really a fairly dull listen although there were some portions that were well done. The book was OK, but the audio rendition was pretty rough. Particularly the male voices which were laughable. If you enjoy this genre, listen to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It is a masterpiece of literature and audible performance.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Pretty Average

While the story does manage to avoid a lot of the "dated-ness" common in late 70's science fiction, isn't overly moralistic and didn't swing into detailed gratuitous "sexual liberation"... (it is there, just not excessively graphic as it might have been) it's really just an average story with no big surprises, a bit slow in places, okay in others.

The reader does a fair/ok job - it does sound odd having a woman try to speak like a man but it's not so bad that the story becomes unlistenable. Most of the time you can just ignore how silly it sounds when the narrator deepens her voice. (There have been other audiobooks where the narration was so bad that I couldn't finish the story, this is not the case here.)

All in all - it's nothing to write home about, but it's an okay listen if you've got nothing better to listen to, or you want to hear an okay science fiction/post-holocaust story.

(And, as an aside, while the topics are the same, "The Road", as suggested by an earlier reviewer, is VERY different from this story...)

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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classic that still works

this is an acknowledged classic and deservedly so. it is very well written, full of prescient ideas concerning global warming and environmental and disease problems that were only beginning to be thought about seriously, but more important are themes developing out of a potential cloned society, the isolation of the society and the loss of individuality and humanity. a very thought provoking novel with some nice symbolism to tie together and deepen the themes. excellent. narrator was good, not stellar, could have been a little more animated and dynamic, but still book is solid.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kristi
  • Winder, GA, United States
  • 06-04-08

Thoroughly Unimpressed

I was thoroughly unimpressed, though I suspect much of the problem was the reader. She just wasn't a good fit for the story, particularly as most of the main characters are male, and she does NOT do good male voices. It WAS an interesting perspective on the possible consequences of cloning, and maybe it is much more compelling when read in print, but the audio selection just never grabbed me. The pace was slow, the characters were hard to relate to, and the bit of genetics education that I've had made it hard even to enjoy the sci-fi aspect of the story-- in the end, they live happily ever after, all set to rebuild humanity with a few dozen already related people, and no mention whatsoever of the hazards of genetic "bottlenecks" and the perils of interbreeding.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Still fresh after four decades

It may - in fact - be more relevant today than in 1976. It is a vivid post-apocalyptic tale, gently told through a long arc by successive central characters. Brilliantly crafted.

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Stands the test of time

One of my favorite sci fi novels that stands the test of time and 3 re-reads over 3 decades. The story still feels original after all these years, which says something. I love science fiction but so much these days is super derivative or so bizarre (structure and/or storyline), that I can’t relate.

Had to get used to the audio narrator (not my favorite) who gives a pretty straight reading, but once I did, I enjoyed the book on audio as much as reading it.

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  • Liga
  • Basye, VA, United States
  • 04-30-12

Intriguing read!

Would you listen to Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang again? Why?

I would listen to this again -- I think its one of those books where you hear more of the story and understand more about the complex situation the more you listen to it.

What other book might you compare Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang to and why?

Perhaps books like "1984" or "Farenheit 451" in that the futuristic premise is just a framework for exploring a more relevant (and very current) social issue.

What about Anna Fields’s performance did you like?

Her performance enhanced the book, didn't detract from it.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

When Molly (I think) has to leave her son behind, instructs him on how to survive on his own even though he is ostracized from the main society.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful