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A Canticle for Leibowitz Paperback – May 9, 2006
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Walter M. Miller's acclaimed SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz opens with the accidental excavation of a holy artifact: a creased, brittle memo scrawled by the hand of the blessed Saint Leibowitz, that reads: "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma." To the Brothers of Saint Leibowitz, this sacred shopping list penned by an obscure, 20th-century engineer is a symbol of hope from the distant past, from before the Simplification, the fiery atomic holocaust that plunged the earth into darkness and ignorance. As 1984 cautioned against Stalinism, so 1959's A Canticle for Leibowitz warns of the threat and implications of nuclear annihilation. Following a cloister of monks in their Utah abbey over some six or seven hundred years, the funny but bleak Canticle tackles the sociological and religious implications of the cyclical rise and fall of civilization, questioning whether humanity can hope for more than repeating its own history. Divided into three sections--Fiat Homo (Let There Be Man), Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light), and Fiat Voluntas Tua (Thy Will Be Done)--Canticle is steeped in Catholicism and Latin, exploring the fascinating, seemingly capricious process of how and why a person is canonized. --Paul Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Angry, eloquent...a terrific story. New York TIMES Prodigiously imaginative, richly comic, terrifyingly grim. CHICAGO Tribune --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Keeping track of the warring factions is a bit of a slog, perhaps moreso because their action is mostly tangential to the story. The reader is rewarded most when Miller focuses on the abbey devoted to the titular Leibowitz (which is, granted, for most of the book). He has created a harrowing but believable post-apocalyptic western US. I'm not Catholic, but I assume the author was. That isn't a criticism--I think I'd have appreciated the book more if I'd had more insight into the church. Certainly a facility with the Latin of the church will add shades of color to your enjoyment.
Considering how, today, religion has more often than not cast itself as the main adversary to science, it is interesting to think that previously it were the priesthoods who performed experiments in various hard sciences. It is in this regard that "A Canticle for Leibowitz" is much different than other contemporary science fiction novels. Whereas, most SF takes the route of disregarding religion and mysticisms, "Canticle" embraces them wholeheartedly.
The story spans nearly 1500 years of future history, and details the fall, rise, and fall of human civilization as seen through the eyes of monks holed up in an abbey in Utah. We learn of the distant past - which is essentially our present now - in which the world was laid waste in the Flame Deluge. It is from this wasteland that the story transpires, and the survival of humanity nears the edge of complete decimation.
The first section of the novel, "Fiat Homo", which originally appeared in a shorter version in "Fantasy and Science Fiction" (April 1955), deals with the discovery by a novice Francis Gerard, of a tomb which may or may not contain relics of his order's founder, the Blessed Leibowitz. Throughout this section the question of what Francis actually encountered in the desert and whether or not Leibowitz would be canonized a saint are used to demonstrate the strength of Francis's faith in the face of a variety of obstacles.
"Fiat Lux" picks up the story five centuries later. Civilization has begun to rebuild itself from the dark period when Brother Francis made his journey to New Rome. Scholars, like Thon Taddeo, are now doing research at colleges and have some understanding of the knowledge which existed before the Deluge occurred. While Fiat Homo examined the existence of faith, Fiat Lux is more concerned with the flow of history and the inaccuracies of the study of the past. Doubt is the tool used by Thon Taddeo to discover what actually happened to the great European-American civilization which once rose and fell.
There are a few weak portion within the novel and unfortunately they all occur at the same time, making the second section of the novel the most difficult to read. Although there is a vast array of things occurring within this section, it somehow oddly feels like nothing is occurring. Scenes are depicted in a boring and dull manner, effectively slowing this section down to a slow crawl.
The final section of "A Canticle for Leibowitz," "Fiat Voluntas Tua," takes place in a world, which has far surpassed our own technologically. Intrasystem spaceflight is reasonably common and the first interstellar colonies are being set up at Alpha Centauri. The section begins with a nuclear explosion and fears of another nuclear war, but Miller's main focus is on when, if ever, suicide is a viable option. The government has set up an euthanasia station near the monastery of St. Leibowitz and Abbot Zerchi comes into conflict with Dr. Cors over suicide. This segment becomes even more poignant in light of Miller's own death by suicide in January 1997.
The three sections of "A Canticle for Leibowitz" taken together give a cyclical view of history, which is extremely pessimistic. Even knowledge of the past can't save humanity from repeating the same mistakes. This cyclical view, however, also lends an optimistic feel to the novel, for it means that humanity will survive its foibles and rise from the ashes. Even as the world is destroyed by fire, hope for the continuance of the human race exists.
One of my all time favorites, and I bought this for a young friend.
Most recent customer reviews
The book came fast and was in perfect shape. Thank You.