A Canticle for Leibowitz

This is a book I would have really loved in high school. That’s not a criticism per se, but, damn, I wish I’d read this when I was younger. A Canticle for Leibowitz is the kind of genre fiction that reaches beyond genre -it’s very much still anchored by the tropes and conventions of good science fiction, but it’s reaching beyond the boundary that even very good genre fiction is closed in by.

Central to this book is the ideal of the preservation of knowledge. Set in a post-nuclear holocaust, Miller’s book, published in 1960, follows the return of civilization through the preservation efforts of an abbey dedicated to that work. Miller’s role in the bombing of a cathedral in WWII played a large part in his obsession with both religious orders and the preservation of knowledge, and this fixation found its best completion in A Canticle for Leibowitz. The book makes heavy use of Latin phrases and cyclical motifs in its narrative, giving it both a strong Christian structure and content. The heroes here are all monastic, and their faith is central to their work, but the focus isn’t primarily doctrinal, but historical.

This is a solid book, well deserving of its cult classic status. There’s a lot of looking down on genre fiction in literary circles -especially with sci-fi and fantasy stuff. While there’s often good reason for that, it’s best not to throw out the wheat with the chaff. There’s plenty good in genre. A Canticle for Leibowitz brings together the best of that with religious and mythological themes, a cyclical narrative structure, good prose, and very good story telling.

Recommendation: Give it a read. Quick, before Trump gets elected and we all perish in a nuclear maelstrom!


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