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A classic, but....

  • Feb 18, 2003
I dislike post-apocalypse stories--possibly unreasonably so--because of past experience. For every Alas Babylon, there were real dogs like The Postman or The Day After. This is the main reason why I had never read Walter M. Miller's classic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. Since it kept appearing on my Alexandria Digital Literature recommendation list, and several people had expressed amazement that I had never read it, I decided to overcome my bias, and at least give it a try. It started out bad--the main character avoiding a possible mutant in a desolate Utah setting that included a fallout shelter (and the word fallout had new meaning, describing a "scary" monster of the past). Yawn. But I persisted, and it got better.

Split into three equal sections, each covering a different main character and time period. The first section, "Fiat Homo," is the least interesting, or maybe, the most irritating, describing the young initiate Francis and the results of his Lenten fast; nuclear devastation has driven science underground, preserved by a strange order of Catholic monks. This live-close-to-nature aftermath scenario is the type so over used to be annoying, yet Miller's version, which I initially disliked, actually has something that all the imitators lacked depth. The priesthood role of preservation, initially a silly concept, is quite fleshed out by Miller until it achieves believability. Compare this with, say, Waterworld, where the groups of people and technology have no rational logic. . .

The middle section, "Fiat Lux," occurs a few centuries later, when human society is being rebuilt, as well as new scientists trying to re-work the old knowledge. The interplay here is between the monks who wish to preserve the old information until the time is right, and the new scientists, who insist that the time is now. The opening of this section, describing one of the nomad groups of the plains, reads too much like Robert Adams' interminable Horseclans novels, but Miller can be forgiven that, by not only being first, but also for having the good sense to stop after one chapter.

It is the last section, "Fiat Voluntas Tua," that really sets this novel apart from the crowd, and, in my opinion, confirms its classic status. Set in the far future, when all of society has been rebuilt, including the nuclear technology that caused the first cataclysm, the Abbot of the preserving order finds that humans did not learn from the past, and that preparations must be made for another period of darkness. As in the other sections, Miller is able to make this future scenario entirely believable.

If A Canticle for Liebowitz had been confined to just one of these sections, I would have hated it. But the three sections are basically inter-connected novellas that do manage to create the semblance of a single novel at the end. Miller did nothing to change my aversion for post-apocalyptic works, but I did gain appreciation for his take on it.

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More A Canticle for Leibowitz (Bant... reviews
Quick Tip by . February 22, 2011
posted in SF Signal
I probably read this at least 20 years ago. I honestly don't remember much about it except that it was very interesting. Its a book I would like to reread.
Quick Tip by . February 22, 2011
posted in SF Signal
Fantastic "allegory of our times" (our times if you lived through the cold war). This is a seminal post-apocalyptic tale and a book that should be on every SF reader's list.
review by . March 12, 2004
. . .with those who consider "A Canticle for Leibowitz" as the single greatest Science Fiction novel ever written.Imagine a world, devastated by nuclear holocaust. Imagine such a world further devastated by a "Simplification" in which all traces of learning are eradicated. The only vestige of civilization to survive is the Church. In the desert, a group of monks spend their entire lives trying to save, reconstruct, and restore knowledge to the world -- but to what end?Filled with humor, pathos, …
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Glen Engel-Cox ()
Glen is a forty-something communications professional living near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He grew up in Texas and has also lived inLos Angeles, Colorado, Washington State, and Washington, DC. Glen also … more
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A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American writer Walter M. Miller, Jr., first published in 1960. Based on three short stories Miller contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, it is the only novel published by the author during his lifetime. Considered one of the classics of science fiction, it has never been out of print and has seen over 25 reprints and editions. Appealing to mainstream and genre critics and readers alike, it won the 1961 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

Set in a Roman Catholic monastery in the desert of the southwestern United States after a devastating nuclear war, the story spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself. The monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz take up the mission of preserving the surviving remnants of man's scientific knowledge until the day the outside world is again ready for it.

Inspired by the author's participation in the Allied bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino during World War II, the novel is considered a masterpiece by literary critics. It has been compared favorably with the works of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Walker Percy, and its themes of religion, recurrence, and church versus state have generated a significant body of scholarly research. Miller's follow-up work, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, was published posthumously in 1997.

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ISBN-10: 0553379267
ISBN-13: 978-0553379266
Author: Walter M. Miller Jr.
Publisher: Spectra

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"A classic, but...."
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