Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

"...there began the bloodletting of the Simplification, when remnants of mankind had torn other remnants limb from limb, killing rulers, scientists, leaders, technicians, teachers, and whatever persons the leader of the maddened mobs said deserved death for having helped to make Earth what it had become. Nothing had been so hateful in the sight of these mobs as the man of learning, at first because they had served the princes, but then later because they refused to join in the bloodletting an tried to oppose the mobs, calling the crowds "bloodthirsty simpletons."" (page 62, 2006 Eos paperback edition)

With politicians in danger, doctors lives in peril, college campuses shutting down after threats to students and professors, and academics worldwide being purged and jailed, it was with a shiver that I read the above words. In this bleak post-apocalyptic novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Miller creates a world in which, after a "Simplification" rejected intellectualism and technology, only select religious orders secretly preserve the secrets of the past as society slowly, generation after generation, rebuilds itself. Watching the world undergo its own Simplification right now, I can't help but think of how prescient Miller was writing those words in 1959.

The ending left me hollow, hopeless, and a bit nervous about turning on the news.  But there are surprising elements of humor in this novel that leave you smirking a little bit, even as overall you're drawn into a web of nihilism. I thought this book was a masterpiece. It's not a novel I think I ever need to read again, although I bet I would get different messages from it ten or twenty years down the road, but it's a book I do think I can recommend to a lot of people. 

I know a lot of people are reading The Handmaid's Tale right now and I can't say don't read it, but this novel really impacted me a great deal more than Atwood's dystopian look at the world.  Read them both!

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