A Canticle for Leibowitz

April 22nd, 2003 Comments Off on A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller, is one of those books that cause a feeling of uneasiness in the readers. That feeling comes from the way the author deals with the main theme of his work, which is one of the greatest fears of our generation: the apocalypse that can be unleashed by unchecked nuclear power.

The story begins six hundred years after a global nuclear catastrophe that virtually wiped mankind from Earth’s face. After the disaster, which inundated the planet in a flame deluge, the few survivors seek to destroy the scientific knowledge, considered by them as one of the causes of the hecatomb, and eliminate the men responsible by that knowledge, plunging humanity in an era of barbarism and savagery. Nonetheless, in the dark years following the holocaust, a monastic order, whose protector is Saint Leibowitz, struggles to preserve remnants of the lost science through the Memorabilia: scientific texts copied uncountable times waiting for some person to integrate them in a new Renaissance. In an ocean of ignorance, those monks are like a small boat seeking for a distant and illuminated shore. As time passes, and mankind regains the lost knowledge — thanks, in part, to the effort of those men — a question arises: is the memory of the nuclear holocaust enough to prevent a new tragedy?

The book — which won a Hugo award in 1961, and would probably have won a Nebula if it existed at the time — causes a lingering impression on its readers due to its vividness and complexity. Miller weaves a subtle plot that absorbs the readers, leaving them in a permanent disbelief of mankind’s motivations. This is, in fact, the book’s greatest quality. Far from being an apology of progress, the book questions the values behind the technological advances of our society, although it’s not against science itself or its development. Thus, the author calls the readers’ attention to the really important questions in our acquiring of scientific comprehension.

Since I read it for the first time, many years ago, A Canticle for Leibowitz, earned a place in my preferred science fiction books. It’s one of the books I read from time to time because of its literary richness, and it’s certainly worthy of figuring in any compilation or library of the best science fiction books of all times. In short, strongly recommended.

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