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This article is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

Swan-Songs: the novels of Scott R. Sanders Patrick Parrinder

The fable that the swan sings beautifully just before it dies is 'very ancient, but baseless', according to Brewer's Dictionary. The only swan which comes close to singing is the whistling swan, olor columbianus. Can this be why whistling swans feature so prominently in 'The Audubon Effect', a science-fiction story which Scott R. Sanders published some years ago in Omni magazine? In 'The Audubon Effect' two biologists crouching in a salt-marsh on the planet Aton-17 are thrilled by the sight and sound of a species of swan which (like most other wild birds) has long been extinct on Earth. How have the swans come to be on the wrong planet, a planet with the wrong history, and how can they ever return? Science-fictional convention demands that Sanders should provide an explanation for these things, and so (with due acknowledgement to the Lunatic Journal of the great naturalist John James Audubon) he does. The point of the story, however, is the sense of hope and transferred wonder that it arouses - an emotion recalling Yeats's lines about the Coole Park swans:


Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?


The difference is that Yeats does not question that the swans are a permanent element in the cycle of nature: like Keats's nightingale, they can be relied upon to outlive the individual ...


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