just one long mansplanation of the apocalypse. my god it is the fact that books such as these are considered foundational science fiction that makes me write. for goodness sakes, you cannot worship a violent God and then claim yourself a martyr when violence strikes you down.
I thought I knew it, in the 70s, as merely dark, ironical, and shallow. But it's a remarkable book of ideas, a great tale, compelling characters, and good writing. And ultimately a very hopeful book.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) is a classic post-apocalypse science fiction novel. Like Edgar Pangborn's Davy (1964), it depicts human life long after nuclear war has destroyed civilization, decimated humanity, and ravaged the earth. Unlike the other two books, which are first-person narratives depicting the maturing of their narrators, Miller's is comprised of three parts occurring 600 years apart and featuring different protagonists belonging to the Catholic Abbey of the Order of Leibowitz, which is dedicated to the preservation of the Memorabilia, the remnants of scientific knowledge in the few books and documents surviving from the advanced civilization of the ancients (us).
The first part, Fiat Homo (let there be man), takes place in a dark ages North America six centuries after the fall of civilization in "the Flame Deluge," a nuclear war of Biblical proportions, and concerns the difficulties of the young novice Brother Francis to become a fully-fledged member of his Order, a process complicated by his accidental (?) discovery on a Lenten desert fast of relics belonging to the Beatus Leibowitz, the founder of the Order.
In the second part, Fiat Lux (let there be light), 600 years later on the cusp of a renaissance old Abbot Dom Paulo must deal with the incursion into the Abbey's traditions and Memorabilia of the Poet-sirrah, an irreverent gadfly with a removable conscience, and Thon Taddeo, a brilliant and irresponsible secular scholar, and the inevitable entanglement between scientific knowledge and political power.
In the last part, Fiat Voluntas Tua (thy will be done), set yet another six hundred years later as an international nuclear conflict escalates and another holocaust approaches, Abbot Zerchi must deal with an influx of irradiated refugees while deciding whether to order the departure of a spaceship full of Order members and children carrying the Memorabilia bound for Centaurus Colony.
The three parts--really novellas--make a composite novel tied together by the Abbey, a Wandering Jew, the Memorabilia, themes on knowledge, science, art, religion, responsibility, conscience, Caesar and Church, and the cyclic nature of human history (caused by our ever unsuccessful drive to recreate Paradise on earth). Miller's book casts most of the action and ideas through a Catholic lens, but it is no dogmatic screed. Each of the three protagonists, Brother Francis, Abbot Dom Paulo, and Abbot Zerchi, embodies Miller's ideal religion, which combines learning, questioning, pacifism, compassion, forgiveness, conscience, responsibility, courage, faith, and humor.
The novel possesses an appealing humor, a sympathetic irony that may be making fun of the characters or us, just like the smile on the face of a wooden statue of Leibowitz depicting the saint about to be burned after being hanged, a work of religious art whose truth informs all three parts of the novel. "It was such a small grin--sad, understanding, and, something else. Laughing at the hangman? No, laughing for the hangman. . . . In the last chalice, there could be a chuckle of triumph." Made of "a faintly dubious frown" and "laugh-wrinkles at the corners of the eyes," that Leibowitzian smile belongs as well to the Wandering Jew and to Miller himself.
Miller writes many remarkable scenes: Brother Francis dealing with bandits from the Valley of the Misborn, Abbot Dom Paulo visiting millennia-old Benjamin, Thon Taddeo being surprised by light, the Poet-sirrah learning the consequences of getting involved, Abbot Zerchi having to practice what he preaches, and Rachel giving Abbot Zerchi communion. There are also many intense dialogues, like one between Abbot Dom Paulo and the secular scholar Thon Taddeo about the need (or lack thereof) for responsibility for scientific discoveries, one between Abbot Zerchi and the Doctor Cors about the need (or lack thereof) for euthanasia, and one between a Lady Reporter and the Defense Minister about the cause and nature of some recent suspicious radiation-spiking events in the world (Miller perfectly captures the use of language by governmental spokespersons to patriotically deflect, deny, fabricate, and accuse). And the buzzards and shark aptly close the three parts.
There MAY be a few flaws in the book: a little matter is repeated from one part to the next (three novellas being assembled into a "fix-up" novel); the ironic and sympathetic humor of the first part decreases somewhat in the second and third parts (the two Abbots being wiser than naive Brother Francis); sometimes things get a little talky (this being a novel of ideas); and there is much untranslated Latin. And although American English in the future has changed into things like Alleghenian and Southwest, the narrator uses modern English, unlike, say, Russell Hoban's richly transformed future English dialect in Riddley Walker (1980).
But Miller is an outstanding writer of rich and witty prose, as in this early scene between desert-fasting Brother Francis and his confessor:
"The thought made him unhappy enough to permit him to be overcome by temptation, so that, on Palm Sunday, with only six days of starvation remaining until the end of Lent, Prior Cheroki heard from Francis (or from the shriveled and sun-scorched residuum of Francis, wherein the soul remained somehow encysted) a few brief croaks which constituted what was probably the most succinct confession that Francis ever made or Cheroki ever heard:
'Bless me, Father; I ate a lizard.'
Apart from his Thon Taddeo being off, Tom Weiner reads the audiobook fine. He does excellent voices for youthful and earnest Brother Francis, old and stressed out Abbot Dom Paulo, the cynical but hopeful Wandering Jew, bandits and barbarians, and the warmly sardonic base narrator.
Readers who like the post-apocalypse genre, classic 20th-century sf, and well-written, lyrical and satirical work about human nature and civilization, should like this novel.
Not "better," but just a different experience. The narrator, Tom Weiner, does a simply beautiful job. I read A Canticle for Leibowitz originally when I was a teenager, and was delighted to see it pop up in my Audible queue.
The effortless way Miller compresses 1,500 years of future history into three linked volumes - not a bad trick in a book you can listen to in 10 hours.
Everything. Weiner performs the book perfectly, down to the different southwestern and midwestern accents.
Funny, but when I read the book originally 30 years ago, I believe it did just read it cover-to-cover.
The narrator was good with the different character voices, but the overall tone was too dry and succinct - as if the narrator was reading the evening radio news instead of a story.
Between the overly verbose conversations and droll tedium there were parts where the story progressed. The continuity between the ages and church vs. state dilemmas are interesting, but you really have to dig through the fluff for it.
I purchased this book on the many five star recommendations that I read, only to be disappointed.
Unlike some of the other 1950-60's books I have read that stood up (i.e. Heinlein's and Aasimov's books), this one did not stand up to the ages well - and I'm not just talking about the use of Latin.
This story could be half as long and accomplish just as much, but it was written in a time when literature was ornately over-worded (i.e. Lord of the Rings, Atlas Shrugged, etc.) so I feel this story fit the generation from whence it came. By today's standards though, it's a bit of a tired slog :(
I remember this book being on the bestseller list when I was in school. So when it was available on an Audible two-for-one offer I got it. Boy was I disappointed! It was difficult to follow, lacked interesting characters and just is not a good book, IMHO. I would not recommend this book and am surprised to continue to see it on various lists of best sci-fi compilations. I listened to the novel several times because it was so hard to follow but in the end found it a waste of my time. The authors I really like include Octavia Butler, Stephen King, Walter Mosley and Dean Koontz. I like real page turners (metaphorically) and am glad I didn't buy this book in hardcover or paperback form. The only redeeming quality was the reader and that's only because I'm trying to find something good to say about A Canticle for Leibowitz. Not sure why this is considered such a good book. Definitely not my cup of tea!
Don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Trip's cool though. Use Audible to make gym-training sane... And rip my imagination.
This is an important novel. This is a fun novel. This is a serious novel. This is a scholarly novel. This is everybody's novel. Pity that A Canticle for Leibowitz has somehow become stuck in a SciFi category as opposed to a Great Fiction category. Written in the 1950s, Miller's tale of the future is as gripping today and ripens wonderfully with age. Tom Weiner's the perfect performing artist to tell us "A Canticle For Leibowitz". A GREAT STORY!
The story must have a purpose but I couldt waste 10 hours of listening while it got to it.
Not really science fiction more like a fairy tale
I've never read another story quite like this one before. That truly earns it five stars.
Because it's a post-apocalyptic story, though, I imagined it might involve more adventure and drama than it did. The fact it did not disappointed me somewhat, but the unique nature of the story helped me finish it and still be satisfied.