A Canticle for Leibowitz
Publication Date: May 9, 2006
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Winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel and widely considered one of the most accomplished, powerful, and enduring classics of modern speculative fiction, Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz is a true landmark of twentieth-century literature -- a chilling and still-provocative look at a post-apocalyptic future.
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. Seriously funny, stunning, and tragic, eternally fresh, imaginative, and altogether remarkable, A Canticle for Leibowitz retains its ability to enthrall and amaze. It is now, as it always has been, a masterpiece.
I originally read the short story by the same title as this novel in ‘Sacred Visions’ edited by Andrew M. Greeley and Michael Cassutt many years ago. I also have read the short story version in a few different courses in university. When reading this book and about the author I cannot help but think of another favorite Catholic author of mine, J.F. Powers. There are similarities between the two. Both wrote predominantly short stories. Both were heralded for their skill as writers. Both published novels that were in reality a compilation of short stories. Powers published two novels both won the Nation book award, and Miller only published this one novel, and it is clearly the rework of three short stories into a single-story spanning thousands of years. The difference between the two men is Powers wrote contemporary fiction, and Miller Science Fiction, and Powers was a life long Catholic and Miller a convert.
I find that reading a novel like this provides both hope and despair. Hope that the monasteries will continue to be repositories and protectors of knowledge. That there will be men of faith that will stand up for truth even if it is contrary to popular opinion and causes conflict with those in worldly power. With all that is going on in the church in 2018 and 2019 I wish we have more bishops with the temperaments and fortitude of the abbots we encounter in this novel. Each time I have encountered Saint Leibowitz I have come away thinking, and that is one of the great things that this novel does. It helps us to reflect, and maybe on some things we would rather not. But that we honestly should. And this time I will read ‘Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman’ and see where Miller started to take the story next.