Quick, name a Hugo-winning novel.

Did you say Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang ? No, of course you didn’t, because despite having won a Hugo, it doesn’t seem to be a particularly major work in the field these days. Which is both strange and understandable.

Strange because though written in 1976, this is a book that’s ripped from today’s headlines. Catastrophic climate change, cloning, post-apocalyptic survival — all very relevant themes in today’s world. (Well, okay, cloning seems to be on a bit of a decline from the glory days of Dolly the sheep, but still.)

But understandable because those topics are sort of background material these days, so whatever originality and force of novelty this book had in 1976 is evaporated thirty-odd years later. And what’s left is a competently written but not outstanding novel harmed by a couple of major flaws — a three-part structure with big time skips makes it seem like a paste-up of short stories (which for all I know is true), and its conception of clones is rather weird by modern standards.

If you’re making a point of reading Hugo winners, you won’t be irritated by this one; if you’re not, there’s no particular reason to pick it up.


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