A Canticle for Leibowitz A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Publisher: Bantam
Year: 1959/1997
Pages: 368

I suppose that it’s technically science fiction. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz definitely of the post-apocalyptic genre, but it’s about as similar to Mad Max as Beloved is to Big Momma’s House. It’s also one of the most interesting takes that I’ve seen so far.

The book is broken up into three parts. The first, Fiat Homo1, takes place in the semi-immediate aftermath of global nuclear destruction. Amazingly, the Catholic Church still survives, and a monastic order founded by a Jewish engineer safeguards any and all written information against the violent anti-intellectualism that rampages across the inhabitable regions of the continent. Introduced in this section is the recurring “Wandering Jew,” an apocryphal figure from the crucifixion who mocked Jesus and was told to “go on until I return.” Through the Jew, the reader is able to maintain a sort of thread throughout the long-spanning parts.

Second is Fiat Lux2, 600 years later, which is sort of a combination of late 19th-century industrialization with Enlightenment-era philosophy. Too, we see the cruel machinations of politics as the disparate factions of the continent feud for control.

Finally, there is Fiat Voluntas Tua3, another 6 centuries later, which is another space age, replete with large nuclear arsenals. I bet you can guess what happens.

It’s a very cynical look at humanity when you take the book as a whole, but what is really fascinating is the nuance: Miller really researched his Catholic doctrine and liturgy: the text is full of Latin and monastic jargon, and often wonders into areas of philosophy/theology. Much of this is played out by means of the Order of Leibowitz’s abbot, who is the central figure in the book’s look at the clash between the secular and the religious. There are scads of allusions (the Wandering Jew being but one); in short, it’s a book that will benefits from further study.

I’d been putting off reading this one for years; I really shouldn’t have.

  1. “Let there be man[]
  2. “Let there be light”[]
  3. “Thy Will Be Done”[]
§1075 · April 1, 2006 · Tags: ·

7 Comments to “A Canticle for Leibowitz”

  1. Rusty says:

    I’ve recently become interested in science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, even though I’ve barely read any yet (Dune lies in wait on my shelf though). I’m quite torn on whether to give this a go. It sounds like whether I’d love it or hate it would be 50/50. I do like that front cover though…

  2. That definitely sounds like an interesting concept, and I, too, agree with the idea of deterministic, and periodic, ways in which our civilization has evolved, and keeps evolving, which seems to be the basis of the book from what you described.

  3. adam says:

    I read it in my early teens and liked it, now I’m thinking I must have missed a fair bit and I should read it again (hey, there it is over there on the shelf).

  4. Rusty says:

    I ordered this from Amazon today, based solely on this blog entry. Wish me luck.

  5. Ben says:

    Ah damn, and here I am, not an Amazon Affiliate.

  6. Rusty says:

    I keep forgetting all about that. I keep meaning to make Amazon orders using Rob’s Amazon Associates ID as a token ta-for-the-plugins gesture, but always get too excited and rush ahead.

  7. Rusty says:

    And, in case you’re interested, the quick verdict is: pretty good, but I didn’t particularly feel compelled to read it all the time. It was much more of a “read one chapter most days” rather than a “stay up until 2 in the morning” job. Delightfully cynical though, and I’m glad I read it.

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