Review: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

when-late-the-sweet-bird-sangWhere Late the Sweet Birds Sang
by Kate Wilhelm
Narrated by Anna Fields
Series: None
Genre: Science Fiction (Distopia)
Setting: Shenandoah Valley, United States
Published by Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2006 (original publication 1974)
Audiobook, purchased
251 pages
7 hours, 48 minutes
Grade: B
Narrator grade: B+
Synopsis: The spellbinding story of an isolated post-holocaust community determined to preserve itself, through a perilous experiment in cloning. 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 & hard SF, winning SF’s Hugo Award and Locus Award on its first publication.


  • I’m surprised this book was written in 1974. It seems very apropos for today.
  • A good narrator. I’ve listened to a few others Anna Fields narrated and I’ve liked them, too.
  • This book was kind of hard to finish even though it ends on an optimistic note–but I’m not sure I believe the optimism.
  • It is interesting how the people of the Valley ready themselves for the world disasters they see coming. However, the disasters are even worse than they anticipated.
  • When the family isn’t having children they decide they have to start cloning humans. They’ve already cloned their animals so it’s not too big a step.
  • The differences Kate Wilhelm shows between the people cloned and those not cloned is also very interesting. She speculates they are almost a different race of beings since there are so many of the same clone and they’ve formed a sort of telepathy.
  • The book takes place over a long time period and many things happen to the community in the Shenandoah Valley. Many decisions must be made through the years. And Ms. Wilhelm shows what happens with groupthink in a small society.
  • Whether the book is very realistic or not it still is a well-written and interesting story and comes from a time period we were very worried about nuclear war plus the effects of pesticides and other chemicals. A number of distopian books and movies came from this time period.


  • The family in the Shenandoah Valley never sees or finds any other survivors. If they managed to survive I think there would have been other pockets of people or animals. And maybe there are. They couldn’t go too far to search.
  • If the family are the only people left there wouldn’t be enough genetic diversity.

And a few thoughts . . .

  • I read several of Kate Wilhelm’s books years ago so when I saw this book I was really interested to read it.
  • I’m glad I listened to the audiobook. I think it was easier to listen to than it would have been to read a paper book. The book made me cry sometimes. 😦


  • Hugo Award for Best Novel (1977)
  • Locus Award for Best Novel (1977)
  • Jupiter Award for Best Novel (1977)
  • Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1976)
  • John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (1977)

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • Kate Wilhelm’s first novel was a mystery, published in 1963. She has recently returned to writing mysteries with her Barbara Holloway novels. Over the span of her career, her writing has crossed over the genres of Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, fantasy and magical realism; psychological suspense, mimetic, comic, and family sagas, a multimedia stage production, and radio plays. Her works have been adapted for television and movies in the United States, England, and Germany. Wilhelm’s novels and stories have been translated to more than a dozen languages.
  • Kate Wilhelm currently lives in Eugene, Oregon. In her spare time she likes to garden.

Reading Challenges

Author: Jan

I love to read--especially mysteries, science fiction and fantasy. I also love blogging, photography, gardening, playing Mah Jonng, reading with a cat on my lap, throwing a ball for a dog, creating cards to send to family and friends, reading book blogs, using my computer.

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