Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Review - A Canticle for Leibowitz


I am usually considered a scifi/fantasy genre person, with a specialty in fantasy literature, but I have to admit, sadly, that I had not heard of this book until about 4 months ago, despite the fact that it is considered not only a genre classic, but the best novel about nuclear apocalypse by many scholars.

Title: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Author: Walter M. Miller, Jr.
ISBN: 0553379267
Genre: Science Fiction – Post Apocalyptic

The book is basically 3 novellas that were previously published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction before Miller re-wrote and expanded on the stories to publish it as a novel. It was published in 1960 and it won the prestigious Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 1961. It has never been out of publication, and continues to be studied by scholars and in university level courses.

The first novella takes place 600 years after our civilization has destroyed itself by a nuclear holocaust that Miller calls the Flame Deluge. It revolves around a Roman Catholic Monastery and the monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz. Liebowitz had been a survivor of the nuclear war and was involved in archiving the knowledge of the human race during a backlash against technology which was meant to destroy all knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons and even literacy. The monks of the abbey are in the process of continually archiving and preserving the surviving information as well as trying to get Leibowitz canonized.

The other 2 novellas continue the story in increments 600 years apart from each other as humanity first rediscovers technology, then finds a way to create nuclear weapons again, despite having lived through the devastation that full nuclear holocaust causes.

There are several reasons this book has moved beyond just being a “scifi” book and into the “literary” canon. There are several big issues that are being discussed including state vs. religion, euthanization and the cyclical nature of man’s history. It is also very satirical and quite amusing. Despite the seriousness of its themes, it is a page-turner and I found it very difficult to put down until I finished it.

If you have not read this masterpiece, I highly suggest it and if you have, please be sure to add your comments! I would love to hear what you thought about the book.

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