Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm

The Sumner family can read the signs: the droughts and floods, the blighted crops, the shortages, the rampant diseases and plagues and, above all, the increasing sterility all point to one thing.

Their isolated farm in the Appalachian Mountains gives them the ideal place to survive the coming breakdown and their wealth and know – how gives them the means. Men and women must clone themselves for humanity to survive. But what then?

Although she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003, and won the Solstice Award for her lifetime contribution to the field in 2009, Kate Wilhelm has never received the level of acclaim, or wider readership, that she deserves.

One reason was suggested by John Clute, in his entry about the author in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: arguing that her finest work was to be found in the shorter fiction she produced since the late 1960s, and that she was less happy writing novels than she was ‘at the commercially unpopular novella length,’ he suggested this ‘made her career an object lesson in the costs and benefits of the market.’ Novels, of course, always sell better than short story collections.

However, although she has continued to write short stories (appreciated by the discerning but shrinking band of folks who still read SF magazines), since the early 1990s Kate Wilhelm has become better known for her mystery and suspense novels, particularly the Barbara Holloway series, and is now more likely to be associated with that genre, especially with her backlist of thoughtful and original speculative fiction out of print.

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