Oct 7, 2008

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

A Canticle for Leibowitz

A little humor, a little adventure, some church politics, a lot of warning - Canticle goes a long way without bogging down. The life of a Catholic monk isn't something I know much about but wanting to preserve what knowledge can be held onto in times of darkness is always worth respecting, and I enjoyed the interplay this led to regarding spiritual and secular truths.

I found it interesting to start at, basically, the beginning of the rebirth of human culture and work our way through to the end of an age, all through the eyes of one small group. The people changed, but the larger identity did not. And how about The Wanderer? The same man, a mystic figure, or one in a line of men carrying the same traditional burdens?

Miller did a good job, I think, of presenting the followers of a scientific God. Thon Taddeo expects the monks to be horrified or offended by certain facts, but it's the brothers who have topped him (both in their practical applications, creating the generator and lightbulb, and in certain individuals' ideas about evolution).

Of course, they are still Catholics, preaching that survivors give their pain to Jesus and turn away from the sin of suicide even when faced with miserable, hideous death from radiation poisoning. Frankly, I'm with the doctors on that one - there is nothing to be gained by forcing someone to suffer needlessly.

final thought: The Catholic Church has been such a force in this world, both for good and for violent evil. That they would remain so in a post-nuclear future strikes me as very likely.


B.E. Earl said...

Wow! I read this one about 25 years ago when I was a teenager and I never realized that it was Miller's only novel.

I don't think a religion like Catholicism could survive an event like nuclear (nu-ku-ler) annihilation. Certainly not the way the Church exists today. I certainly don't think they would turn to science as portrayed in the novel to a degree. In fact, I think that the Church's reaction to a nuclear war would be the opposite.

downtown guy said...

See, and I agree with you - that would be what I would expect as well. But there's always the "maybe not" that's worth exploring. And with a writer like Miller, very worth reading.

John M. said...

I really enjoyed this book. I think his future is viable. Certain groups of Catholic monks would be well equipped to survive, but I would tend agree with b.e. earl that as an entity, the Church probably wouldn't survive.

But it could. That's what makes speculative fiction so fascinating.

I find interesting parallels between Leibowitz and Dan Simmons's Hyperion Cantos, as far as their treatment of the Catholic Church is concerned.

downtown guy said...

I haven't read that. Maybe after this whole thing.

B.E. Earl said...

Hyperion and all of it's sequels are extremely worth reading if you ever get the chance.

I've read the first two books 4 or 5 times now and I finally read Endymion and Rise of Endymion last year and it brought me right back.

They can be ponderous, at times, but very well-written.