The Clone (1965) by Theodore L. Thomas & Kate Wilhelm

TheClone1One night, beneath the streets of the city, four ingredients found their way into the same collector box in the underground sewer system. There these ingredients–muriatic acid; trisodium phosphate; a bit of meat; and a fleck of silica gel– combined in a warm, seething liquid and gave birth to a hideous, destructive force: the clone…

 

If you pay attention to any B-movie film analysis–which I don’t, so I assume it’s entered the realm of common knowledge ever since SF clickbait sites have gotten hold of it– you are likely aware that the sci-fi and horror B-movies of old have been interpreted as figurative embodiments of subconscious social fear, usually of communism, but sometimes of sex. The Blob (1958) is a classic example of this idea, where theorists have posited that the pulsating, slithering, red glob of taciturn goo from outer space is actually a metaphor for America’s uninformed terror at the spread of the Soviet state. The Blob is the embodiment of the Red Menace.
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Welcome, Chaos (1983) by Kate Wilhelm

Welcome chaos2In keeping with this month’s theme of me showing up in places I don’t belong, both physically and virtually, my review of Kate Wilhelm’s post-Sweet Birds thriller, Welcome, Chaos has posted at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations. Thanks to He Who Shall Be Called Joachim for letting me take over his site every once in a while. (I participated in the Michael Bishop series last year.)

Joachim’s author review series are an important effort to revive interest in still living authors of groundbreaking vintage works. It’s unfortunate but common that many celebrated and award-winning authors are overlooked by later generations. That new release you have in your hands right now? The one we’re all sick of hearing about? Probably not gonna be talked about much ten years from now. Yup.

And, twenty years from now, people are going to lose their shit over a similar book on a similar topic, written by some young punk. Because that young punk didn’t bother to read their classics. (Or did they? Hmmm.)

Anyway, here’s my review of Welcome, ChaosAnd remember to check out the other excellent Kate Wilhelm reviews. And then check back for more upcoming reviews this month!

And then go read Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976). Seriously.

 

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang: A Novel (1974) by Kate Wilhelm

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Great story, terrible cover.
No me gusta. (M.C. Escher)

This 1977 Hugo winner about cloning is a powerful dystopic vision that addresses common social themes, such as the constriction of society, the strength of the individual, and the power of imagination. But there is nothing common about it. And it’s not even about birds.

It’s no surprise that this novel is cherished by many SF fans. Wilhelm does it right: the story is engaging, the characters are relatable, and the science is provocative. I have no complaints. None.

The novel is broken into three parts, each about a different generational character:

  • David is the progeny of a wealthy, educated family who erect a well-stocked hospital in time for the coming apocalypse. As humanity is wiped out and sexual reproduction fails, David and his uncle decide to clone the family, but the clones seem… different. This section of the book oscillates between romantic and creepy tones.
  • Molly is a clone with astounding artistic gifts. A life-changing cartography trip down the river results in her loss of interest in her clone sisters, which upsets the clone community. Some of the more nightmarish aspects of the community are revealed in this section.
  • Mark, the product of a sexual relationship, is the only of his kind among a society of clones. He is gifted, intelligent, and willful, which means he is a powerful threat to the clone community. But they also need him for the same traits they fear. We get to explore the strained, tenuous relationship between the individual and the community.

In addition to social issues, Where Late the Sweet Bids Sang evokes popular past and present SF concepts. The societal influence brings to mind Le Guin’s The Dispossessedthe Hugo winner from two years prior. For TV lovers, the clones and their numbered monikers behave much like the cylons from Battlestar Galactica, while the references to “tree voices” resemble the disembodied “whispers” of Lost. Genre-hoppers might appreciate the creepy foreboding that edges on the brink of horror, and the unique romances that bloom within the twisted society. Wilhelm also posits an interesting theory regarding the effect of individuality on our potential for telepathy.

This story is close to perfect. If I had any criticisms, I would wish for more of each story, but I can see how that would negatively affect the overall tone and story. I also have a few questions about the transition of clone children from the nursery to care of the older clone siblings, and there are undefined chronological gaps between stories, which make it difficult to determine the duration of intervals between stories. (I kept wondering if and when the original family members had all died out). Regardless, this is all nit-picking, and the story proves its value as a must-read SF classic.