Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sci-fi book cover: "Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang"

  • Title: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
  • Author: Kate Wilhelm (1928-2018)
  • Cover artist: Ed Soyka (per
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (80912)
  • Cover price: $1.75
  • Publication date: January 1977
  • Pages: 207
  • Format: Paperback
  • Provenance: This used copy appears to have gone unread and unmarked for more than four decades. I intend to rectify that.
  • Accolades: The Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1977, the Locus Award for best novel in 1977, and the Jupiter Award in 1977.
  • Back-cover excerpt: "When the first warm breeze of Doomsday came wafting over the Shenandoah Valley, the Sumners were ready."
  • First sentence: "What David always hated most about the Sumner family dinners was the way everyone talked about him as if he were not there."
  • Last sentence: "Because all the children were different."
  • Random sentence from middle: "He learned to walk and talk early; he began to read when he was four, and for long periods he would curl up near the fireplace with one of the brittle books from the downstairs library."
  • Goodreads rating: 3.87 stars (out of 5.0)
  • Goodreads review excerpt (non-spoiler): In 2010, Sandi wrote: "I found Wilhelm's prose to be beautiful. Her descriptions of the Shenandoah Valley are richly detailed. She brings each season to life in the imagination with words. The problems I had with the story were mainly with the SF details."
  • Amazon rating: 4.2 stars (out of 5.0)
  • Amazon review excerpt (non-spoiler): In 2002, Patrick Shepherd wrote: "This book took the 1977 Hugo Award, and as well told exposition of one the major philosophical battles that man faces today and in the future, it deserved it. But it is a definite 'thinking' book, not one of action, grand drama, or deep psychology. Expect to do some internal reflection when you finish this book, and see how you stack up as an individual versus your place in and responsibilities to your surrounding society."
  • Amazon review regarding women writing science fiction: In 2016, Martyn Wheeler wrote: "For those who think there were no significant female authors in SF in the 20th Century — and I have actually read articles that essentially say that female-written SF is a New Thing in the 2010s — you should explore Kate Wilhelm (and C.J. Cherryh, Ursula Le Guin, and one of my personal favorites, James Tiptree Jr. (a.k.a Alice Sheldon). [Wilhelm's] Hugo Award-winning Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is a good place to start. Themes and technologies that ring as true today as in the 70s, a logical progression of viewpoint characters, and an epic of whether humanity can survive what we're doing to the world. Brilliant."
  • Notes: The title is from one of William Shakespeare's sonnets. ... Wilhelm (pictured at right), who died a little less than seven months ago, was a prolific author of science fiction, mystery, and suspense fiction. According to Wikipedia, "Katie Gertrude Meredith was born in Toledo, Ohio, daughter of Jesse and Ann Meredith. She graduated from high school in Louisville, Kentucky, and worked as a model, telephone operator, sales clerk, switchboard operator, and underwriter for an insurance company." Now that she's gone, it probably won't be long before her final website becomes a Lost Corner of the Internet, so here's an excerpt from one of her notes to readers, on October 23, 2011:
    "I'm surfacing from a deep sea of concentration, trying to finish up a new Barbara Holloway novel. I'm grateful to all of you for your posts over the past weeks. I'm also sorry that I couldn't bring to this site the various posts that accumulated in a previous website. To get to some of the questions raised here: Heaven is High was set in about 1982. I wrote it recently but it was on my mind for a long time and I finally yielded to the impulse to fill in that blank, how Barbara met Martin and Binnie and why the enduring friendship developed. It also amused me to think that my readers will know something that Frank will never know. It was strange to write of a time before cellphones and modern computers. Such a short time ago and such big changes. I also wanted to write about Belize before it became a destination point for diving and such."
    ... Fellow science-fiction author Spider Robinson once said that Wilhelm "is one of the best practitioners of the short story in or out of SF." Two of her collections I'm hoping to come across some day are The Infinity Box and The Downstairs Room. ... Changing gears, there wasn't much to find about the cover illustrator, Ed (or Edward) Soyka, and I wasn't the first one to go looking. On the website Reprehensible Digest, self-described as the "official media center for eccentric illustrator Blacktooth," this has been written about Soyka:
    "Internet searches have revealed little information in regards to this obscure illustrator, but he was clearly an active force during the 1970s. Soyka's first known published works emerged in 1969, after which he became a regular hand in the science fiction and horror genre. ... Despite his lack of commercial appeal, Soyka was one of the true masters of relentless psychotic imagery. His frightening illustrations were unsettling in nature and often featured grotesque characters drained of humanity — as if their very souls were pickled in formaldehyde. The children were creepy. The landscapes felt ugly and stark. Even his best attempts at playing nice resulted in disjointed dry nightmares."
    Interestingly, I don't think much of that applies to Soyka's imagery for this cover of Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.

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