A Canticle for Leibowitz, venerated science fiction masterpiece

I recent read Walter M. Miller Jr's. deeply loved and admired A Canticle for Leibowitz. Sci-fi reviews so often reference this published in 1959 story of post-apolcalyptic mankind's struggles, that when an old tattered copy was handed to me I had no choice but to dig in. I quickly became a fan.

Miller does an amazing job of telling three tales that give you a fairly clear picture of the origins and 1200+ year history of the Albertian Order of St. Leibowitz. The first occurs as the world still struggles, several hundred years after a nuclear holocaust has left the planet a wreck and humanity stupid. A small order of monks, founded by a guy named Leibowitz, works to preserve what few books and memorabilia they can preserve from the wrecked culture and hope to see long dead Leibowitz canonized for his efforts to save the books. The second shows us a medieval-ish time, several generations later, as science and culture of the prior world start to be interesting again... Welcome back politics! The third shows humanity having surpassed our current level of technology, but still unable to stop war and conflict. Through these three stories Miller shows us both the beauty and futility of humanity.

Books one and two were an engrossing read. Book 3 brings the story to solid finish but feels a bit like Miller was just not good at writing highly technologized cultures. While I was deeply engaged with he first two stories, I struggled not to breeze through some longwinded, apparently going no place streams in the third.

I really enjoyed it and can certainly see how this book helped shaped much of the science fiction I love!

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

(Thanks, Mouse!)

Notable Replies

  1. The last story gets a bit preachy, but overall it is a good series. I've always thought this would be great for a low budget miniseries type adaptation on the Sci-Fi channel, before they were seduced by the lure of professional wrestling and ghost whispering.

  2. Miller wrote a sequel, partially completed at his death, finished from his outline by another author, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (1997). Maybe not a really necessary book, but not a bad read.

    But, if all you've read by him is A Canticle for Leibowitz, I recommend a 1951 novella he wrote, "Dark Benediction."

    It's set in a sort-of zombie apocalypse. Not really, but, an alien plague that transforms people, causing civilization to fall and the uninfected to scavenge in a post-apocalyptic world. But it leads to an unexpected conclusion for this genre.

  3. I actually have a bit of nostalgia for this book. I discovered it while in high school in the 80's (it was not on the curriculum where I went) and a huge Vonnegut fan. It was a book that I found, used in Powell's, on my own with no recommendations and enjoyed, which was a real pleasure.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

37 more replies