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A Canticle for Leibowitz

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2008

    Outstanding SciFi Yarn

    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, is an excellent read. Written in the late 1950s, reading Canticle brings back the every day, never-ending, twenty-four hour threat of world-ending nuclear conflict we lived with during the Cold War. And it reminds us, who were around during those times, upon reading this story, centered around a Catholic monastery and seeing text littered with Latin phrases, the days when Latin 'mother to all the Romance languages' was studied, even in public schools. I couldn't deter the smile that crept across my face, as I learned a character had lost a bet when he had come in second at the game of mumbly peg, a knife throwing contest popular during the middle of the last century prior to the discovery of 'dangerous' lead in paint, hazardous monkeybars, lifesaving seatbelts or XBox 360s. Yes, those were simpler times, when this boy of five could crawl up onto the sturdy and felt-covered shelf behind the rear seats in our four steel-doored 1951 Kaiser sedan and fall asleep bathed in the rays of the mild Arizona winter sun. 'Canticle' which means religious chant, is unabashedly Catholic, as is demonstrated when a brother fights for a natural death of a radioactive and terminally ill mother and daughter pair, rather than give in to the quick, convenient, and no charge 'Soylent Green-style' euthanasia. Canticle also meets another one of my preferred old-school moral criteria for Science Fiction, and that being that there are no sexual copulations within its covers. Canticle is not a Harry Potter 'type' happy ending book, and as Joe Bob Briggs says about good horror movies, 'Anyone can die, at anytime and anyplace.' For a book written almost fifty years ago, author Miller does an excellent job of predicting future technology. And he did not make the mistake I've seen often in mediocre SciFi books, that of centering the majority of the action on the 'predicted' technology, which, if the author has guessed wrong, and when read in later decades simply renders the book just silly. Covering a span of six hundred years on Earth, the book exposes the unrelenting greed, lust for power and pride of a few men that will forever threaten those wishing to live in peace and, if their weapons are sophisticated enough, threaten continued civilization on this planet. Canticle offers to the reader a compelling, effortless writing style that, after a few moments, other than the turning of pages, one doesn't feel like one is reading. It allowed this reader to develop affections for believable characters and presented entirely believable future technologies, while at the same time the strong moral code adhered to by the clergy of the Catholic faith, in this day of anything goes, even for this lapsed Lutheran, was quite refreshing.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Save us from the fallout...

    Not being a big fan of a.) post-apocalyptic sci-fi, and b.) the Roman Catholic church, I was surprised at how deeply and completely Walter Miller's classic "A Canticle for Liebowitz" drew me into its well-crafted world.<BR/><BR/>The novel centers on a monastic community in the American southwest which devotes itself to preserving the remaining scraps of Western knowledge following World War III. The novel is divided into three parts: "Fiat Homo," during the depth of the new dark ages, in which an old electrical diagram is found; "Fiat Lux," several centuries later, in which someone figures out how to make a working incandescent light; and "Fiat Voluntas Tua," in which technology finally catches up, and the human race finds itself on the verge of repeating history.<BR/><BR/>The characters in the first two sections are really well-written and colorful, and the amount of detail put into creating this future world is considerable. Unfortunately the third act feels a bit rushed and prone to broad comedy, whereas the first two segments had an undercurrent of wry wit about them.<BR/><BR/>Most readers will want to have a good Latin-English dictionary handy (or access to an online translation site like Babelfish), as the book -- written pre-Vatican II -- has a few lines (and one prayer at the beginning of the third act) in Latin.<BR/><BR/>This is definitely a well-written, engrossing novel, and while the threat of a wipe-out-the-earth nuclear "shooting war" may have passed with the collapse of the Iron Curtain, "Canticle" still makes for a great read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great Story-Telling Layered with Heart, Emotion and Intelligence

    "A Canticle for Leibowitz" is a book that defies standard categorization. I suppose it has enough future-world, post-apocalyptic concepts that it falls in the science fiction realm, but it's not your basic laser beam and alien fare. This story goes much deeper.

    "Canticle" is made up of three stories that span thousands of years. Each story focuses on a distinct time period, looking progressively further into a post-apocalyptic future. The setting is the same abby in the American West, founded to protect and preserve the learnings of the pre-apocalyptic society. Specifically, they've developed a myth around a martyered scientist named Leibowitz.

    The first story revolves around Brother Francis who accidentally discovers certain original papers created by Leibowitz, including the blue prints for a technological device. The second story centers on a new technological awakening where future theorists come in contact with ancient (modern) technology. The sequence comes full circle in the third story as our future world is faced again with mutual mass destruction.

    Miller wrote "Canticle" in the late '50s when World War II and the atomic bomb were still visible in the world's rearview mirror and the cold war threat was very much a reality. Much of Millers discourse is on the cyclical nature of cultures and societies, the interconnectivities between religion and science, as well as death and politics. It's clear that much of the evocative emotion stems from Miller's time in the military and a youth grown up during a World War.

    The story is at times light and humourous but threaded with a very heavy and serious undertone throughout.

    The root story I found very interesting - how this future-world's archaeology is our modern world's past. I felt that the first two segments of the book were strongest and was only saddened that each couldn't have more ink themselves. In reflecting upon the discoveries of their past, and their promises of hope for the future, Millers writes, "For Man was a culture-bearer as well as a soul-bearer, but his cultures were not immortal and they could die with a race or an age, and then human reflections of meaning and human portrayals of truth receded...Truth could be crucified, but soon, perhaps a resurrection."

    The development of religion, while always founded in christianity, morphs over the course of the story and we see a mythology grow over time. This book is successful on many levels...as simply an intriguing story with attractive characters, and as literature built upon a foundation of religion and war. It's solid story telling at its best, with heart, emotion and intelligence layered on top of the tale from start to finish.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2011

    The quintessential post-apocalyptic adventure

    It's kind of depressing that only 50 people have reviewed this awesome book. I read this about 20 years ago as a teenager and it's still one of the best examples of the post-apocalyptic genre. It also has aged very well I think. Read it, you won't be disappointed.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Religion, Science, and the Depravity of Mankind

    This is some of the best post-apocalyptic science fiction I have read. The three sections of the book offer snapshots of life in a Roman Catholic monastery approximately 600, 1,200 and 1,800 years after nuclear holocaust which resulted in environmental devastation and anti-intellectual riots that virtually destroyed civilization. The brotherhood's attempts to preserve and rediscover lost history and science is a dark, occasionally humorous, mostly depressing look at religion, science, and the depravity of mankind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2011

    A Favorite

    This was required reading when I took a Literature course in college 30 years ago. At that time it was my professor's favorite. After reading it, I had to agree. I still have a copy and re-read it about once a year. I also still have my small yellow handled screw driver, the symbol of Leibowitz'z followers. Almost every electronics person I knew from the analog days believe in Leibowitz.

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  • Posted May 11, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Thought-provoking and entertaining

    I still can't believe I never read this book until now given that I have an affinity for dystopic/post-apocalyptic science fiction. Even though the book's events are inspired by the nuclear arms race of the 1950s I think it is quite applicable to the 21st century as well. The idea that the world will succumb to nuclear annihilation, entering a dark age, only to have knowledge resurrected by the Church is an interesting one and still an idea that may or may not come to fruition in the real world. The characters of "A Canticle for Liebowitz" are an intersting collection of the secular, the sacred, and the divine, right down to the omnipresent buzzards, so there are moments of humor and levity in Miller's dark world, too. I was also pleased by the construction of the storyline; I have a continual complaint regarding books that over-forshadow their own plotlines and I loved how "Canticle" didn't reveal the book's trajectory until the latter half of the third section. I only wish I could read Hebrew characters left by the wanderer/hermit character - I could type the Latin into a translator to figure out the monks' messages, etc., but I wasn't able to do so with the Hebrew.

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