The Post-Apocalypse. These days, it's everybody's favorite thing. But had it not been for a few mid-20th century novels the genre as we know it wouldn't even exist. Of these, A Canticle for Leibowitz is by far the best.
But for St. Isaac's sake, it's just one of the best novels of the 20th century, regardless of genre.
It tackles every important issue known to man, including the nature of history, the role of religion in constructing civilization, more particularly the importance of Christianity, violence, and much more.
In that way, A Canticle for Leibowitz is like a Russian novel. But it's also very American, taking place as it does in the Southwestern desert following a massive nuclear war. Like the best sci fi novelists, Walter Miller gives really awesome names to things: the nuclear war that destroyed 20th century civilization is called the Flame Deluge, for instance.
The novel spans millennia, following the monks of an Albertian Order of Leibowitz monastery as they curate the remnants of man's scientific knowledge in order to re-gift it when humanity is ready. Leibowitz was a Jewish engineer who survived the Flame Deluge, converted to Roman Catholicism, and devoted himself to the preservation of knowledge.
During the following centuries, the world moves back in the direction of civilization. There is a New Rome where a pope reigns, a Medieval political structure materializes, and again humans recover violence as a means for solving problems.
Many people identify the cyclical nature of history as a major theme of the book, and that's certainly present. But as a conservative Roman Catholic, Miller isn't concerned only with the repetition of man's mistakes, but also with the original sin that prompts him toward such irrational and destructive behavior.
Powerful images dominate the novel. There are the Pope's Children, those disfigured from the effects of fallout, sub-rational and often violent; there are the symbolic vultures that hover just on the periphery; there's the familiar but altered landscape of the United States that once was. Miller is a brilliant stylist, and much of the book reads like poetry.
But it's poetry with a steel edge and no ambiguity. Epic in scope, exciting in presentation, and sobering in its implications, A Canticle for Leibowitz is a novel that will be remembered long after this century is forgotten.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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