Jen’s Library – A Canticle For Leibowitz

A Canticle For Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller Jr.

As you can perhaps deduce from the lack of wordy subtitles, I took a brief stroll into fiction-land this week with a science-fiction classic I’d never gotten around to reading.

I used to eat up science fiction like it was cheese doodles. That is to say, voraciously. I’m a bit of a nerd, what can I say. I blame my father for getting me into Star Trek (first TOS, then TNG – oh, that’s right, I’m abbreviating them because I’m so awesomely nerdy) at a young and impressionable age. I used to spend a lot of time at the sci-fi tables of book fairs, looking for novels with big-name authors or compilations of short stories. Some of my favorite stuff comes from books like “Best Sci-Fi Short Stories of 1972”, no kidding. But I’ve strayed from that genre recently, without a good excuse.

So when this book, A Canticle For Leibowitz, came up in a discussion on my favorite message board, I went to look up the general plot, and then asked my library to hold a copy for me. It came as a worn old paperback, which, in my opinion is the absolute best way to absorb sci-fi.

It’s a post-apocalyptic novel, and it follows civilization over the course of a thousand years or so after a nuclear holocaust wipes out most of the world’s population. The main characters are monks of the order of Saint Leibowitz, who is an engineer from before the darkness whose scribbled notes are preserved as relics. The book is split into three parts, or three points in time. As we go through the three parts, we see civilization rebuild from its new Dark Age, reach a new Enlightenment, and then inevitably bring itself to collapse again. The three parts all fit together perfectly and have a sameness to them, so you can see where each is going to end, and you are sad knowing that the second will end as the first did, and then the third will follow. It’s discouraging, and it’s meant to be.

It’s about religion, and war, and human nature and stupidity and arrogance and faith. It’s a very good novel and there’s probably a whole lot more to it on levels that I’m not even seeing. If I were in an English class, I’m sure I could have a field day with the imagery, but that’s for someone else to tackle now.

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