A Canticle for Leibowitz (St. Leibowitz, #1) By Walter M. Miller Jr.

Odd as it sounds, this is hot toddy, warm blanket comfort food for me. Admittedly, that’s not the typical description of this cynical, bleak-themed, post-apocalyptic SF classic. However, the easy, breezy style with which Miller explores his melancholy material manages to pluck smiles from me whenever I pick it up. This go around, I listened to the audio version which was recently released it was as mood brightening an experience as my previous read through.

Despite dealing with dark, somber subject matter and ultimately ending on a tragic crescendo of “humanity is stupid, savage and screwed,” the journey of the novel is so filled with engaging characters and genuine humor that the surrounding depression and moroseness of the narrative theme just can’t seem to grab hold of you. At least, it never laid an accusing finger on me.

Canticle is broken up into 3 Sections, each taking place approximately 6 centuries apart. Beginning in the 26th century, 600 years after the Flame Deluge when nuclear buffoonery laid waste to civilization, the central focus of the story is a Roman Catholic monastery founded by a Jewish weapons engineer for the purpose of safeguarding and preserving human knowledge.

Shortly after the geniuses of the 20th Century decided to light up the globe like Hell's own 4th of July, the surviving residents of Planet “radiation burn” decided that brains and books were overrated and followed up the Flame Deluge with the Simplification, whereby they roasted all of the books (along with any person smart enough to read or write one).

Isaac Leibowitz, after being part of the military machinery that microwaved the planet, made it his mission in life to try and preserve knowledge for the future. Thus the Albertian Order of Leibowitz was founded.

The first third of the book introduces us to the post apocalyptic world and gives a back-story on the Flame Deluge and the mission of the Order of Leibowitz. Located in what was the Southwestern United States, the Order tracks down and smuggles 20th century “memorabilia” into the abbey (a process known as “booklegging”) while trying to avoid being killed (and possibly eaten) by the self-described “Simpletons” roaming the wastelands.

The next section of the book takes place in the 32nd Century and shows humanity finally emerging out of the dark ages of the Simplification and beginning to once again embrace the knowledge. This section focuses primarily on the growing feud between the resurgent secular scientists and the Church over the control and distribution of technology. Similar to our own renaissance period, the story describes science and natural law going toe-to-toe with the info hoarding monks as powerful city-states run by warlords play both sides for advantage.

Finally, in the 38th Century, the last section of the book shows humanity once again in the full flower of its technological brilliance and historical stupidity ready to give the Earth another nuclear facial (Note:I was going to use atomic facial, but the Urban Dictionary makes that term very inappropriate here). War is coming and the forces of history are once again driving humanity like cattle towards the abattoir.

Thus we see the overarching theme of Miller’s masterpiece; the cyclical nature of history. Miller’s moral: as a species we are too stupid not to truly learn from our past blunders and are doomed to continue to screw the pooch and the planet with our giant, atomic phalluses. I know, not exactly a cheery, pump it up pep talk. However, the tone and the narrative style are anything but dreary.

Miller does a wonderful job creating a world that is large and mysterious and yet instantly recognizable and relatable. His characters are flawed, genuine and mostly decent and live through their times with a sense of purpose and optimism that belies the smothering embrace of history as it squeezes events into an all too familiar pattern.

Miller’s ability to write brightly of such bleakness is truly extraordinary. The story is dark, fatalistic and filled with pessimism yet the prose is light, hopeful and filled with optimism. The word bitter never comes to mind.

In addition to the overriding theme of history’s wheel-like pattern, Miller touches on other serious issues such as euthanasia and the right to life, the place of art in society and the nature of war itself. This is a towering science fiction work, but Miller’s messages are deftly delivered behind a humorous, engaging future history.

In sum, this book is a light touch of morale outrage. It’s a cozy warning of man’s stupidity. It’s a warm, comforting “blankie” for our inner cynic to snuggle with while we wait for the shoe/anvil to drop.


Winner: Hugo Award Best Science Fiction Novel (1961) 0060892994 Brilliant.

A centuries old story following the evolving world after an apocalypse and centered on the monks of St. Leibowitz, somewhere in the American southwest.

The monks keep ancient artifacts of science and technology. Funny, sad, brutal, irreverent at times, but doggedly hopeful in its underlying themes, this is a science fiction gem but really transcends the genre to make a greater statement.

Scholars and critics have explored the many themes encompassed in the novel, frequently focusing on its motifs of religion, recurrence, and church versus state. Miller also uses some recurring elements to help bind the stories together, demonstrating exceptional imagination and virtuosity.

Miller has crafted a very good book, enjoyable for any science fiction fan and a well written work of fiction besides.

0060892994 I'm not a Christian, but I live in a Christian society, and it's all around me. Reviewing on Goodreads brings home how many authors can be classified as some kind of Christian apologist. I have very different reactions to them. At one end, I can't stand most of C.S. Lewis - I feel he's there with his foot in the door trying to sell me something, and I'm just hoping that I can get him to take his foot away without being openly rude. At the opposite end, I think Dante is a genius, and that The Divine Comedy is one of the greatest books ever written.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is towards the positive end of this spectrum. It's a post World War III novel, where most of the US is a radioactive wasteland, and civilization has more or less collapsed. The only people who still keep any of the lost heritage of the past are a few scattered monasteries. The book tracks the history of one of these monasteries over the course of several hundred years. It's low-key, moving, and often surprisingly funny. Everything is informed by the simple, unquestioning faith shown by the monks. They don't know why they're doing what they are doing, other than that it must be God's will.

The author shows you the ridiculous aspects of the story - I particularly liked the illuminated parchments of circuit diagrams decorated with vines and cherubim. And yet he is totally on the monks' side, and after a while the reader is as well. They're doing something important, even though they don't know what it is, and it makes their lives deep and meaningful. Even when they die horrible deaths (several of them do), they do it with dignity, knowing that it's the price that needs to be paid.

If Christianity were always like this, I guess I'd be a Christian too. It's a lovely book, that will leave you feeling better about people.
0060892994 Quid enim mirabilius quam monachi in Apocalypse! I don’t know why, but there is something way cool about Monks in the Apocalypse. “A Canticle for Leibowitz” was published in 1959 and Walter M. Miller Jr. won the Hugo in 1961. It was a mainstream bestseller and, I believe, has remained continuously in print ever since. It’s not only considered a science-fiction classic, but also a literary masterpiece.

In 1959 the Cold War was heating up as Russia and the U.S. maneuvered for influence in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In 1954 the U.S. had completed the Castle Bravo test on Bikini Atoll with a hydrogen bomb that yielded 14.8 megatons. The Soviets followed in 1955 with a 1.6 megaton test. The capability for full mutual destruction wasn’t in place by 1959, but the two superpowers were racing towards it. Meanwhile, earlier during World War II, Walter M. Miller, Jr. flew on a bomber that helped demolish a 6th century Christian monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy, clearly a catalyst for the story.

This was a novel that grew over time. Miller first authored a short story, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” around 1954 which evolved into “Fiat Homo” and was published in 1955. He then published the second section in 1956 and wrote and published the third, “The Last Canticle” in 1957. The growth of the novel allowed Miller to develop a layered, intricate tale that is rich in theme.

The plot begins with Brother Francis on a vigil in the desert. The world has fallen into a new Dark Age. With the help of a mysterious Wanderer, he discovered a fallout shelter with preserved ancient documents from before the “Flame Deluge.” Some of the documents appear to be written by his order’s founder, Leibowitz. Brother Francis and his order attempt to have Leibowitz canonized due to establishment of the Order and his preservation of pre-war knowledge. The second part of the novel sees the ending of the Dark Ages and a Renaissance begins. In the backdrop of warring city states, the Order continues to preserve and study the Leibowitz knowledge and one Brother Kornhoer, develops a treadmill-powered electrical generator. In the third section, we jump forward in time significantly (around 600 years?) and mankind now has starships and colonies on distant worlds as well as nuclear weapons. A city-level nuclear attack occurs and much of the third section deals with the Order both sheltering refugees and preparing for potential nuclear annihilation. I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers.

This book is chocked full of themes and philosophy. It explores mankind’s tendency to rise and fall, the value and danger of scientific knowledge, the tension of Church and State, and other religious conflicts. Its use of a strange title, religious terminology, and extensive Latin passages throughout the book, help to give it solemnity and gravity. However, the novel also has its humorous moments and its most interesting characters are often comical and odd. Miller also dances around mysticism and outright miracles, leaving just enough ambiguity to allow the reader to interpret the incidents.

If this book has faults, they are subtle. As far as I can recall, there are only two significant female character in the book. Even if we allow that the Order is male only, there are no female characters discussed during the ‘palace intrigue’ of State leaders or in the nomadic tribes. It certainly doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. I also found it, despite being in the backdrop of nuclear apocalypse, somewhat emotionally stunted. Most dialog focused on the intellectual aspects of the themes and very rarely on the feelings of the characters. Finally, since characters do not continue on between sections, we need to reengage with new characters in each section. The backdrop, history, and setting are the same, but it’s a little problematic to trade in characters with each section. For me, this lack of feeling and character changeover made it difficult to engage emotionally with the story. However, it didn’t limit my ability to appreciate the witty dialog and intellectual arguments. Not that it’s anywhere near the first apocalyptic novel, but I do appreciate the realistic portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world, complete with the corresponding ignorance, politics, and horror of a fallen modern civilization.

An important, intricate, if detached, exploration of a post-nuclear-war world, seen though the eyes of an eclectic order of monks told over more than a thousand years. 0060892994

Captivating post-apocalyptic tale set in the Southwestern United States centuries following massive nuclear war that plunged the civilized world into a new dark age comparable to Europe's Early Middle Ages where nearly the entire population is illiterate and scattered in rustic tribes. And similar to those chaotic medieval years, Christian monks keep the flame of learning alive by copying and memorizing the contents of books.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is counted among the classic works of science fiction, the only novel by author Walter M. Miller, Jr. to be published during his lifetime, a decidedly philosophical tale well worth the read. So as not to reveal too much respecting plot, I'll make a reviewer's sideways shuffle and highlight a number of themes and topics I found especially provocative:

The Simplification
Following worldwide nuclear war, the Flame Deluge, where cities were reduced to puddles of glass, following the fallout and plagues, there arose The Simplification where the mass of survivors held educated persons responsible for the catastrophe and formed into simpleton packs that would burn books and kill anyone who was literate. Such action reminded me of the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as well as what the boy and his papa encountered in Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Books and Learning
A certain group of monks honor the memory of Isaac Leibowitz who was martyred for his safeguarding scientific knowledge in the era of all those simpletons, honor him by becoming bookleggers (smuggling books into their monastery) or memorizers (committing to rote memory entire volumes of history, sacred texts, literature and science). In this way I recall those women and men who committed great works of literature to memory in Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451.

Comedy of Errors
Walter M. Miller, Jr. injects a bit of humor throughout his book, most notably when young Francis is out in the desert and encounters an old man and then accidentally discovers a 1950s style Fallout Shelter that Leibowitz used. Leibowitz's memos, racing form, grocery list and blueprint are taken for important, even sacred, documents which just goes to show how low the level of insight and understanding dipped down in these dark, futuristic times.

Physical Beatings
When Francis reports to his abbot following the hubbub he created over his discovery of those documents in the Fallout Shelter and his encountering an old man that might have been a vision of Leibowitz, he's on the receiving end of repeated whacks from the abbot's stick. Such cruelty and stupidity! Does this monastery really count for the light of learning in the age of darkness? I was wondering if author Walter M. Miller, Jr. was making a statement about the human tendency, even within a spiritual community, for violence and inflicting pain.

At the time Miller wrote his novel the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made a powerful impression on the national psyche and there was a general horror at the prospect of genetic deformities resulting from nuclear fallout. In one of his 1950s novels, Philip K. Dick details a carnival sideshow of such human monstrosities with feathers, scales, tails, wings or without eyes or faces. Likewise, journeying to New Rome, Francis passes The Valley of the Misborn, a leperlike colony peopled by warped and crawling things that sought refuge from the world.

Culture and Renaissance
The second section of Canticle takes place some five hundred years after the time of Francis. One of the monks rediscovers electricity. But this Catholic monastery is hardly Castalia from Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game - there remains a raging conflict of religion versus science: for example, one old monk claims such scientific experimentation and discoveries should be avoided as the work of the Devil. At another point this same old monk regales a visiting scientific scholar as Sir, Philosopher in a mocking, condescending tone, giving little doubt that asking questions and probing into nature is to be shunned.

There's a sequence out among one of the rustic tribes where the leader, one Mad Bear, relates that insanity is prized by his shaman as the most intense of supernatural visitations. Not unlike most writers back in the 1950s unless they were cultural anthropologists, author Miller's ideas surrounding shamanism is little more than a cartoon image. Too bad such traditions were unappreciated by the tale's futuristic monks and scientists, they might have learned something!

Remember that old man Francis encountered? He's still around! Hundreds of years later old Benjamin the Jew is still living out in the desert as a hermit. Has the old man transcended the boundaries of individuality and becomes all of Israel? What could the abbot and monks learn from old Benjamin? Would they even listen?

The Poet
One of the more intriguing parts of the novel is the inclusion of a surly poet staying at the monastery who can remove one of his eyes. There's a long-standing joke among the monks that the removal of the poet's eye signifies what it means to remove one's inner conscience.

Cycle of Destruction
The novel's third part is some six hundred years further into the future. There are nuclear weapons capable of ending human life on earth. Although there are also some other technological advances offering escape to some degree, the sense is Miller is making observations about the cyclical nature of creation and destruction in our all too human experience. To discover more details, I encourage you to read this classic for yourself.

“To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.”
― Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

American science fiction writer Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1923 - 1996) was a tail gunner flying more than 50 bombing missions over Italy during World War II, one mission the bombing and destruction of the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino, a traumatic experience for the author. 0060892994

Walter M. Miller Jr. ↠ 1 READ & DOWNLOAD

In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes. A Canticle for Leibowitz (St. Leibowitz, #1)

What did the buzzards of Eden eat? If there even were buzzards in Eden. At least there will be no buzzards in Alpha Centauri. Unless the colonists bring buzzards with them ~ as Memento Mori. But it probably wouldn’t make a difference. After all, it didn’t the first time and it didn’t the second time. Should we be so naive as to think that there won’t be a third? That the colonists to other worlds will not repeat the mistakes of, not one past, but two?

Hope is a virtue whose meaning confounds me, but A Canticle for Leibowitz offers a kind of hope that I can understand: the preservation of knowledge. Both in history and in Walter Miller’s fantasy, the Catholic Church is a bastion of knowledge. This is something I can comprehend. Spiritual hope is something I can only admire from the sidelines, maybe reach out my hand and let some holy vestment brush against my straining fingers. But the preservation of knowledge, literacy, books! This I feel at the deepest level of my being.

Each of the three stories that comprise A Canticle for Leibowitz takes place at the Abbey of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz located in the American Southwest. Times change. Centuries pass. But the abbey stays the same. There are new monks of course and new buildings, new occupations and new problems, but the abbey does not change because the Church does not change. She is a force of stability and continuity in a chaotic world.

The monks in “Fiat Homo” preserve the Memorabilia of one failed civilization for the sake of the civilization to come. And they risk their lives to do so. In a world that has descended into barbarism, it is the Catholic Church that keeps the flame of civilization alive.

The monks in “Fiat Lux” are at the forefront of science and technology, yet they humbly recognize that the Church’s role as preserver of knowledge is coming to an end. The time has come to pass the torch, to unseal the Memorabilia so that scholars can study it.

The monks in “Fiat Voluntas Tua” make the greatest sacrifice of all, for they see the darkness about to fall—again. And again, they must keep the flame of civilization alive. They must preserve the Memorabilia as many times as the world calls for them to do so.

This book is beautiful in so many ways. There are the vivid descriptions of the desert landscape, the finely drawn portraits of the monks, abbots, and priests, and the eloquence and humor with which Miller infuses his narrative. But most of all, there is the beauty of Miller’s love for the Catholic Church. It radiates from every page.

“Fiat Homo” is my favorite of the three stories. It begins with Brother Francis in the desert. He is the most endearing character in the novel. He is sweet and funny, simple and good, humble and patient. He endures years of injustice from Abbot Arkos, but his commitment to truth never wavers. And the end he meets, as a result of such an innocent “vanity,” makes him all the more endearing.

In the story of Brother Francis, Miller displays his knowledge of the Desert Fathers and their role in the history of Christianity and Western civilization. Indeed, the life of Brother Francis could be another Life of Antony. Or better yet, a page out of Thomas Merton’s Wisdom of the Desert. For Brother Francis is a more approachable and relatable figure than Antony the Great. Brother Francis endures, not the onslaughts of the devil, but the harangues of Abbot Arkos, the arbitrary denial of his vocation, and the ridicule of Brother Jeris who, not content with mere ridicule, commands him to put away his pet project.

Obediently, the monk wrapped his precious project in parchment, protected it with heavy boards, shelved it, and began making oilskin lampshades in his spare time. He murmured no protest, but contented himself with realizing that someday the soul of dear Brother Jeris would depart by the same road as the soul of Brother Horner, to begin that life for which this world was but a staging ground — might begin it at a rather early age, judging by the extent to which he fretted, fumed, and drove himself; and afterward, God willing, Francis might be allowed to complete his beloved document” (85-86).

Brother Francis spent seven Lents in the desert with the buzzards for his teachers. He knows how to wait. Miller’s humor here is both subtle and wise.

Humor is also the best part of “Fiat Lux.” Though there is no other character half as endearing as Brother Francis, the friendly rivalry between Dom Paulo and the hermit Benjamin is a close second. Their friendship transcends their religious and philosophical differences. The old Catholic and the old Jew have more in common with each other than with the increasingly secular world around them. They both bear ancestral burdens and on the eve of the new renaissance they share sympathy and wisecracks in the desert.

But Miller doesn’t just know his history. He also knows his moral philosophy. In “Fiat Voluntas Tua,” he takes on the subject of euthanasia. Civilization has once again advanced into the Space Age and once again it has contrived to destroy itself. People are suffering the horrors of radiation sickness and Abbot Zerchi is debating the ethics of euthanasia with the physician, Doctor Cors.

The physician says “pain is the only evil I know about” (298). He advances a form of cultural relativism that is anathema to Catholic morality: “I feel that the laws of society are what makes something a crime or not a crime” (295). But he also concedes that if he believed he had a soul, he might agree with the Abbot. At that, the Abbot corrects him, saying: “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily” (295).

Miller handles his subject matter with sensitivity. The physician means well, but his “expedient mercy” (318) is heresy.

This is not the only place in the novel where Miller voices the Catholic Church’s position on human life and the soul. The flame deluge that plunged the world into its second dark age also created mutants. Are these mutants truly human? Or are they animals that can be destroyed?

The Church’s position is that they are human. No matter how deformed, no matter how bereft of reason, they are human beings. Thus these unfortunates came to be called the “Pope’s children.” And thus another layer of irony is revealed in the death of Brother Francis for morality is not always expedient.

And what of the future? What of the colonists speeding toward Alpha Centauri as the world ends a second time? Miller knows his eschatology too.

The human race will never be satisfied with the world for the world will never be Eden.

The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they—this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that Man might hope again in wretched darkness” (287-288).

So why do the monks even bother? If the human race is going to set itself back to the dark ages every time it achieves a high level of civilization, why bother to preserve the Memorabilia? Why bother to keep the flame of civilization alive?

Perhaps it is because their hope is different from the world’s hope. The world needs darkness to hope for light. It needs ignorance to hope for knowledge. It needs pain and ugliness to hope for pleasure and beauty. And that is because the world hopes for Eden. But unlike men of the world, the monks do not hope for Eden. They hope for heaven.

The problem with the modern world is not simply that it knows something is missing and is dissatisfied with its imperfection. The problem is that the world is “no longer willing to believe or yearn.” The monks believe in God and they yearn for heaven. Their hope is spiritual hope. So they preserve the Memorabilia, they keep the flame of civilization alive, in order that they may preach the word of God and save souls with the hope of heaven.

The Catholic Church is not opposed to the modern world. It is not opposed to science and technology. On the contrary, the monks in “Fiat Lux” surprise the secular scholar with their interest in science and their technological prowess. But when the scholar’s speculations run amok, they shut down their mechanical wonder ~ their artificial light ~ and they restore to the wall the crucifix that had been removed to make room for the lamp. They know that science is not salvation.

The corpus glittered with gold by candlelight” (236).

The symbolism is subtle and beautiful. That which is hidden in the bright light of the technological marvel is revealed in all its majesty in the humble light of a candle.

In A Canticle for Leibowitz, Miller offers a reminder that the business of the Catholic Church is nothing less than the salvation of souls. All souls. And even if the human race blasts itself back into the Stone Age, the Church will be there to guide it into the light and she will continue to do so until the Apocalypse. And when that happens, when Judgment Day arrives, then the buzzards will starve. 0060892994 A Canticle for Leibowitz: Are we doomed to destroy ourselves time after time?
(Listened to the audiobook since so many readers disagreed with my view. Lengthy comments at Fantasy Literature)

This 1959 Hugo-winning SF classic is certainly an odd fish in the genre. It’s central character is the Order of Saint Leibowitz that survives after the nuclear holocaust (the Flame Deluge), and the story spans over a thousand years as humanity seems determined to repeat its mistakes and destroy itself over and over, with the help of science and technology, while this small group of monks strives to preserve ancient knowledge amid the collapse of civilization.

Many readers consider this book a powerful cautionary tale warning against nuclear conflict and the dangers of science. It is certainly well-written, and there are many light-hearted moments in the monks’ lives that bely the serious moral themes of the story.

The first part of the book, “Fiat Homo” (Let There Be Man), is the best in my opinion, the story of the small abbey in the American Southwest desert dedicated to Isaac Leibowitz, an engineer who secretly preserved books and knowledge and was martyred in the backlash against science following the Flame Deluge. A young novice Brother Francis discovers an ancient fallout shelter that contains many relics that may have belonged to Leibowitz himself.

This discovery causes an uproar as it may interfere with the canonization process of Leibowitz, and results in New Rome sending investigators to examine the relics, and eventually Brother Francis himself is sent to convey these relics to New Rome and present them to the Pope. He encounters a number of setbacks along the way, but manages to make it to New Rome. He learns something of the power structure of the Church, and is tasked with returning to retrieve something that was taken by thieves, but again things don’t work out as planned. The ending of this story is both tragic and ironic.

The second part “Fiat Lux” (Let There Be Light) takes place over five centuries later, as the Albertian Order of Saint Leibowitz continues to preserve the various pre-Deluge documents, although they are poorly understood. In the 32nd century, mankind is just starting to rediscover scientific knowledge, and the story revolves around Thon Taddeo, a secular scholar who is intensely interested in the relics and other knowledge preserved by the abbey of St. Leibowitz. He asks the abbey to pass the Memorabilia to his care in the city-state of Texarkana, which is ruled by the ambitious Hannegan. The abbey refuses, insisting that Taddeo come to study them.

Reluctantly he agrees to come and meets Brother Kornhoer, who has independently developed a treadmill-powered electrical generator to power a lamp. This is one of the funniest images, of a group of sweating monks pumping away at the generator to provide enough electrical light for Thon Taddeo to study documents in the library. The clash in attitudes between the knowledge-hungry Taddeo and the innocent scientific experiments of the monks forms the main part of the narrative, but the remainder features all the political scheming of Hannegan to dominate the surrounding city-states by playing them against each other. These political machinations were tedious and distracted from the story of Taddeo and the monks.

The third part Fiat Voluntas Tua (Let Thy Will Be Done) I disliked intensely and it negatively affected my view of the whole book. Again we move forward six centuries and mankind has again developed advanced technology including spaceships, colonies on other planets, and nuclear weapons. The world is dominated by two superpowers, the Asian Coalition and the Atlantic Confederacy, who have locked in a cold war for many decades. This time our main characters are abbot Dom Zerchi, who recommends to New Rome that the Church put into motion a secret plan to send a group of priests into space to carry on the mission of the Church in case the world is destroyed again by nuclear conflict, and Brother Joshua, the man tapped to lead this mission.

As tensions rise a limited nuclear exchange occurs, producing thousands of fallout victims. Many of these are taken into the abbey of Dom Zerchi, who has a heated debate on euthanasia with a secular doctor treating the refugees, who insists that it is more merciful to administer death to those suffering from fatal dosages, while Dom Zerchi refuses to go along with this, insisting that lives are sacred even when there is no hope, regardless of the physical suffering. His attitude really upset me, since I strongly sympathized with the doctor’s position and couldn’t understand the religious arguments against euthanasia.

The three sections of the novel each mirror separate stages of our own history, with “Fiat Homo” showing the Church preserving knowledge even as society falls into chaos and savagery. In “Fiat Lux” we see the rebirth of knowledge and culture, and in “Fiat Voluntas Tua” we see developments akin to our current world, with an adulation of material wealth and technology, along with a decline in spiritual belief. A Canticle of Leibowitz certainly is a skillful depiction of the cyclical nature of history, as humanity grows in knowledge and technology, only to overreach itself and destroy what has been so carefully built up.

However, despite the undeniably ingenious structure of the stories and skillful writing, I strongly disagreed with the ideas and conclusions of the author. First of all, I do not buy the image of the Catholic Church as the last protector and repository of science and knowledge as secular society crumbles around it. It’s ironic that the book lovingly describes the noble efforts of these selfless monks to preserve civilization for millenia, but is that the role played by the Church in Europe over the last dozen centuries?

When I first posted my initial review of Canticle on Fantasy Literature, I got a spirited response with a lot of dissenting opinions, specifically that I did not understand the Catholic Church’s role in the history of Europe, and I’ll be the first to admit that I am fairly ignorant in that area. While I am aware that the Church and monasteries have preserved many kinds of knowledge for centuries, is that not a very selective process in which any ideas that were opposed to Catholic ideology were expunged? Has the Church not repeatedly challenged and suppressed critics of its policies and positions? Does the author seriously suggest the Church has always been firmly on the side of wisdom and intellectual freedom, whereas science and technology have done more harm than good? Perhaps he conveniently forgot about Galileo and Copernicus, not to mention the shameful atrocities committed during the Crusades and Inquisitions, and by the Conquistadors?

Another important point raised by other readers was that I should make a distinction between the Catholic Church and Christianity in general, as although the Church may claim to be the only legitimate church of Christ, there is a whole other world of Protestants who pursue their faith in a different way, without all the sacraments, Eucharist, confessionals, and most importantly, without any Roman Papacy dictating what people should believe. I am an atheist without any attraction to religion, but I would be far more receptive to the Protestant belief in a direct relationship with God than having to go through some intermediary in order to be baptized and avoid burning in the fires of Hell. That’s just ridiculous, as far as I’m concerned.

So for me I was turned off by its anti-science, pro-Catholic agenda. Or was he contrasting individual belief with organized religion? The various monks in Canticle are depicted in a very sympathetic light, while secular governments and politicians are shown as power-hungry and destined to bring mankind to destruction amid nuclear holocaust. Does that mean we should abandon secular government in favor of religious rule? Would anyone in their right mind want either the Roman Catholic Church or any of the Islamic states to have control of our affairs? I’d rather be dead and gone before that comes to pass.

That’s what makes this book so confounding. The author seems to have a very dark and despairing view of mankind’s inability to avoid destroying itself, which was a very topical subject when it was written during the Cold War, but grafting on this story of Catholic monks valiantly protecting the flame of knowledge in a post-apocalyptic future just didn’t work for me at all.

I can agree with the author that science always presents the dangers of wielding powers that can destroy us, but it is up to ourselves (not a divine being who, even if it does exist, is obviously indifferent to our sordid affairs after that brilliant moment of initial creation) to harness science to positive use. Whether our current materialism is due to a lack of spirituality is certainly a valid debate, but for me I seek beauty in the natural world, and find much to admire in human endeavors, not the least of which are literature and art, and much to despise as well. But I choose not to seek betterment through religions. I like the approach of Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, who both have found a form of spirituality in their observations of our incredible universe and the quantum world, both of which produce an awe in me that could be viewed as spiritual.

There are an infinite number of future outcomes for global civilization, but the events of Canticle do not strike me as plausible. I would highly recommend Edgar Pangborn's Davy as a counter-argument to this viewpoint. Neal Stephenson’s Anathem is also a very different take on this, with learned monks surviving many millennia into the future preserving knowledge, but with the twist of mostly being dedicated to science and mathematics rather than religion. In fact, I see an extremely interesting discussion arising from a comparison of A Canticle for Leibowitz and Anathem, which means I better read Anathem to the end and write a comparison review. That could easily become a doctoral thesis, no?

Does anyone out there really expect the current religions of the world to lead mankind to greater peace and prosperity in the coming centuries and millennia? I for one do not, though the majority of the human race still claims membership with organized religions. Science and technology are only as beneficial as those who control them, so responsibility for their use lies completely in our hands. Considering that we have managed to survive for almost 70 years since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we’ve done remarkably well despite the legitimate fears of a generation of SF writers.

Our current world faces a host of problems, including environmental destruction, overpopulation, and most tellingly continued religious conflicts (mainly involving Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), but we have certainly avoided the most egregious scenarios imagined by writers after WWII. As it stands now, the biggest threat to humanity's future is named Donald J. Trump. 0060892994 I read this immediately following another well-known 1950s apocalyptic / nuclear holocaust novel Alas, Babylon. That book, which I gave 4 stars to, was an excellent story and made no pretensions to literature; its prose was plain and transparent. The novel in question, A Canticle for Leibowitz, turned out to be one of the most irritating kinds of genre sci-fi: one with ambitions to beauty and importance that falls far short of the mark.

Now, I hate to put it that way, because I would never criticize anyone for trying. But this is one of those genre novels that somehow attained notoriety for being a step closer to literature than the typical pap, and if we're going to talk about it on that level, I have a lot to criticize it for.

The story is vague, confusing, unfocused, and seems to have some half-baked theme about religious (objective) morality versus cultural (subjective) morality. I mean, if it actually had something cogent to say, I would find it more interesting whether or not I agreed with it. But instead, this is another long-winded fiction novel that ambiguously proposes questions or moral opinions without enough plot or character to make it interesting.

The novel started off OK, and the general premise seemed interesting enough: the future history of man hundreds and thousands of years after a nuclear holocaust. I can understand the importance and relevance in a time when holocaust loomed large--and I'm not saying that threat has ceased to exist--and it's likely that the story influenced many minds on the epic horror that such a disaster would wreak on humanity. But the novel as written doesn't do justice to the scope he sets out to tackle. 0060892994 I am very cross. This is yet another book that I rated and reviewed and has disappeared from my shelves. I wonder if it happened when some librarian decided to add series information to it and thereby change the title? If it is no. 1 in a series there has to be a no. 2. There isn't. It isn't a series. According to Wikipedia,

A Canticle for Leibowitz is based on three short stories Miller contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.[1][2] It is the only novel published by the author during his lifetime..

That's pretty conclusive isn't it?

Maybe it wasn't that, maybe it is the GR monster that GR are content to let feed on our shelves.

0060892994 Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz is imaginative and thought-provoking. I enjoyed reading it and enjoyed it even more during a second go. While this work has very little in common with Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series (in terms of setting or character or even plot), I kept being reminded of Asimov's classic. Miller presents a primitive post apocalyptic world in which knowledge has been stowed away in a monastery (in what used to be Utah). This monastery might not be the far end of the universe, but in the context of the three interconnected stories which form Canticle it may as well be. This is a time, at least in the first tale, in which the earlier era of learning and much of the knowledge of the war itself is lost. Gaining understanding from this storehouse is no easy feat. Despite a number of centuries separating each of the three stories, Miller links the stories (and advancements in learning) in an interesting way; this in turn pushes the narrative forward in a sort of cyclical history. What Miller is suggesting by this repeated history is both disturbing and ambiguous; however, the increasingly dark humor he attaches to the narrative somehow also makes it quite entertaining. 4.5 Stars. 0060892994