If You Read One Thing Today, Make It This Canticle For Leibowitz Essay

Illustration for article titled If You Read One Thing Today, Make It This Canticle For Leibowitz Essay

Walter M. Miller's three-part novel A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the acknowledged classics of science fiction... that doesn't get talked about nearly enough. Over in the New Yorker, there's a fascinating, must-read essay about this book, putting it in context.

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Apart from other things, the New Yorker essay talks about the fact that Miller
was one of the airmen involved in a huge, bloody operation that dropped bombs on the abbey at Monte Cassino. The abbey had been there since 529 A.D. and had an irreplaceable library of hundreds of manuscripts by classical authors. It wasn't until Miller was writing the third part of his novel (published in three parts in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) that he thought about Monte Cassino:

By his own admission, the Miller did not become fully aware of the driving force behind his novel until he was working on its third part. "I was writing the first version of the scene where Zerchi lies half buried in the rubble," Miller recalled. "Then a light bulb came on over my head: 'Good God, is this the abbey at Monte Cassino? . . . What have I been writing?'"

The New Yorker essay has some interesting insights on the current boom in post-apocalyptic literature. (And I did not realize that Junot Díaz was currently writing a novel about alien invasion, climate change and viral illness.) Writer Jon Michaud puts Miller in a special category of apocalyptic novelists who lived through real apocalyptic war — a club that includes Kurt Vonnegut and Joe Haldeman. And there's some great stuff about the comedy in Miller's otherwise-bleak novel. But most of all, it's a great look at Miller himself, the man who produced one classic work and then didn't write anything else for four decades. [The New Yorker]

DISCUSSION

crosis101
crosis101

I read this book, and I fell in love. It is in the rarefied strata of books "I will read again.." Other books in this area of my brain are DUNE, Starship Troopers, 2001, The Stars My Destination.... a place reserved for grandmasters usually....

I was told to read it by my scifi teacher, and one of my more left leaning friends told me she hated it, mainly because of the religious overtones, but told me I would probably love it.

I recently recommended it to a person who was going through difficulties in pregnancy. She had finished Oryx and Crake and specifically asked me for a post apocalypse book.

I recommend this one because it fits in my view of humanity: "God Damn You All, I Told You So."