Tuesday 12 February 2019

A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr. - Saint Leibowitz Book 1

A Canticle for Leibowitz
Saint Leibowitz Book 1
Walter M. Miller Jr.
Bantam Spectra
ISBN 9780553379266


I originally read the short story by the same title as this novel in ‘Sacred Visions’ edited by Andrew M. Greeley and Michael Cassutt many years ago. I also have read the short story version in a few different courses in university. When reading this book and about the author I cannot help but think of another favorite Catholic author of mine, J.F. Powers. There are similarities between the two. Both wrote predominantly short stories. Both were heralded for their skill as writers. Both published novels that were in reality a compilation of short stories. Powers published two novels both won the Nation book award, and Miller only published this one novel, and it is clearly the rework of three short stories into a single-story spanning thousands of years. The difference between the two men is Powers wrote contemporary fiction, and Miller Science Fiction, and Powers was a life long Catholic and Miller a convert.

It is hard even today not to read a story like this and wonder if in some ways it will end up proving prophetic. Will mankind unleash a destruction, either through nuclear war, or EMP, or plague that will set us back to the dark ages? I loved the short story version of the first part of this novel. But the changes between that version and the novel cause one to wonder. The addition of the Latin. The changing of the Abbot’s name, and the addition of characters. The conflict between civil and ecclesial authorities in the novel are an important part of the story.

I find that reading a novel like this provides both hope and despair. Hope that the monasteries will continue to be repositories and protectors of knowledge. That there will be men of faith that will stand up for truth even if it is contrary to popular opinion and causes conflict with those in worldly power. With all that is going on in the church in 2018 and 2019 I wish we have more bishops with the temperaments and fortitude of the abbots we encounter in this novel. Each time I have encountered Saint Leibowitz I have come away thinking, and that is one of the great things that this novel does. It helps us to reflect, and maybe on some things we would rather not. But that we honestly should. And this time I will read ‘Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman’ and see where Miller started to take the story next.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2019 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Walter M. Miller Jr.:
St. Leibowitz Series:

A Canticle for Leibowitz
Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman

Collections of Short Stories:
Conditionally Human
The View from the Stars
The Science Fiction Stories of Walter M. Miller Jr.
The Best of Walter M. Miller Jr.
Conditionally Human and Other Stories
The Darfstellar and Other Stories

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