Fiction Reviews

A Canticle for Leibowitz

(1997 ed, first pub 1959) Walter M. Miller jr., Orbit, 5.99, pbk, 356pp. ISBN 1 85723 014 0


A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of those rare works: an all time great work of SF but from an author who wrote very little else. Nonetheless Canticle is one of the SF classics, winning Walter Miller a Hugo Award for 'Best Novel' in 1960; which itself is strange since the book is really three separate, but connected, novellas.

It is set in a post-nuclear holocaust world where humanity has turned away from science and technology which were perceived to have caused World War III. That is everyone save an order of monks who try to preserve technological mysteries from a previous age for future generations. The trouble is that the monks have no real clue as to what it is they are trying to preserve.

Canticle is written with a dry, if not black, humour and contains, folks, a message that might be truly relevant to you and I today... Praise be!.. and pass one of them bagels.

According to the author, this work was inspired by a World War II raid in which he participated on the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino, the oldest monastry in the western world. An irony really considering that the book's philosophy is set so much in the present, and indeed a present that is as applicable as we enter the 21st century as it was when the first edition came out in the mid-20th century.

There is little that can be said in a potted review about such a complex work, save that this is one of those books that every SF buff simply has to read to get a core grounding in the genre. Reading it is, if you like, an essential pilgrimage for fans. Get it while you can -- it'd be a shame if you had to wait decades for another reprint.

Jonathan Cowie

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