Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller

Canticle is a futuristic tale about the world rebuilding itself after a nuclear world war that took place in our time. The novel is in three stages about a thousand years apart. (I've heard it described as three novellas, but I don't know if that's strictly true). After the war, people go on a killing and burning spree where they try to wipe out anything and everything that has to do with technology, including all the books. They think technology caused the problem and want to go back to the way people lived prior to the industrial age. The Catholic Church secretly disagrees, so the priests and monks covertly conduct archeological digs trying to find any books or papers or fragments that survived the war, and they store them in hidden locations. Leibowitz was an electrical engineer before and during the war. After the war, he became a monk and helped to search for books, but he was killed and became a martyr, so later an order of Monks was named after him. Little by little, as bits and pieces of books are examined, the monks and priests, along with some teachers, eventually figure out how to make an electric light using a human powered generator. By the book's final stage, it's beginning to look as though the world may finally get back to where it was before the war a few thousand years earlier. The big question becomes one of, will history repeat itself? There are many philosophical queries into morality along the way, the most significant having to do with suicide in the face of terrible suffering.

As a side note, the author himself committed suicide before finishing the book's sequel. When you learn about the author's life, his lifelong bout with depression, his WWII combat service along with the bombing of a famous European Cathedral that his own plane brought down, his conversion to Catholicism after the war, and his subsequent crises of faith—you'll soon find yourself immersed in a second real life story even more puzzling and tragic than anything you'll find in the book.

This also just happens to be one of the best written books I've ever come across. Miller knew how to write for men. There are very few wasted words and no needless descriptions.

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