A Canticle for Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller Jr.
General / Favorable Reviews
Lucifer is Fallen *****
This novel from the 1950's is a deserved classic among the sci-fi intelligentsia. Maybe its laborious title has kept it from being noticed by the popular masses, but this book is a hidden gem for those looking to broaden their horizons. This is probably one of the earliest stories to speculate on a post-nuclear apocalypse, and here Walter Miller created one of the most imaginative and far-reaching examples of that motif. Later nuclear winter stories would get predictable and formulaic, but not this originator. In this masterpiece of storytelling, three ages of human development pass by over the course of 1800 years, but in the end we see that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. While it's a bit dated in places, this brilliant and disturbing novel will keep you thinking for a long time after you're done reading it.
In addition to its unique take on historical processes, this book is essentially about the pros and cons of organized religion. In Part 1, humanity is stuck in the middle of several centuries of dark ages after a nuclear war, and once again the Catholic Church (or what's left of it) holds sway over a fearful and unenlightened society. Among the few records of the pre-war world that have survived are some inconsequential notes and blueprints by a minor scientist called Leibowitz. The church has made Leibowitz a saint, and here Miller appears to be commenting on the reverence of organized religion toward matters of doubtful authenticity and importance. Is religious belief built upon weak foundations? In Part 2 humanity is entering a new renaissance of knowledge, with religion being unable to adjust to the new enlightenment. In Part 3, humanity has reached a new technical age, but society is again oppressed by nuclear paranoia and mutually assured destruction. Humanity is about to destroy itself once again in this 1800-year cycle. Miller then takes us on an examination of the strength and relevance of faith in the face of such suffering and destruction. However, for the entire 1800 years and more, the disciples of Leibowitz have kept faith and hope alive. So is organized religion the curse or savior of humanity? Walter Miller contemplates these issues with great lucidity in this lost classic.
A classic, but.... ***
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.
"Glen Engel Cox
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