Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Books - Book Review - A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller Jr.
This counts as my third and last entry for "It's the End of the World as We Know It" Challenge. I finished before schedule. Yeah!
Every summer, I reread a few books and I tend to go for the nuclear disaster novels. I used to read these types of works when I was a teen and was not really expected to live to see the year 2000. It still amazes me that it's 2008 and no fallouts have happened yet.
This novel was written in the 1950s when the nuclear threat was on everyone's minds. It takes place in the far future in the Texarkana region of the United States. (I drove through there a few years ago. Get on I30 and see where Texas and Arkansas meet.)
My edition is an old one that is really falling apart. I remember there used to be a map that I would try to fill in every time that I read with the current names of the places. This year, I couldn't find the map; it's time for a new edition.
It seems that Europe got blasted and the people in North America lost contact with them. At first, the monks were bookleggers (book smugglers) or memorizers of the books. Then, they evolved to saving and copying all textbooks and blueprint drawings until a time that people get civilized again and want to learn. Despite all their efforts, literacy is in the single digits, and hunting skills are appreciated more than ever.
This is a very Catholic novel, Vatican I doctrine, with lots of untranslated Latin in the text. It will challenge your brain to figure out what is written, and you will learn a lot of the older rites. There are just a few women in this work; most of the characters are men.
The story starts with Francis of Utah, a novice is who really trying to be a priest. His Lenten silence and fast are interrupted by Benjamin, the last Jewish man on Earth, who claims to have met the founder of Francis' order, Issac Leibowitz, about 600 years earlier.
After Benjamin bothers poor Francis, Francis stumbles into a Fallout Shelter, where he finds a note pre-Deluge artifacts. Even something with Leibowitz' signature!
There are moments of levity; it's not all doom and gloom. When Francis' confessor comes to hear his sins, I was just cracking up: almost eating a lizard and cheese (gluttonous thoughts and deeds), dreaming and daydreaming about an attractive succubbus (corcupiscent thoughts) and laughing at the Blessed Leibowitz' to-do list: pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels - bring home for Emma.
The story continues for a time with Franics and his role in the beatification of the Blessed Leibowitz. It then jumps a few centuries with the arrival of Thon Taddeo, a theoretical physicist. The librarian and Brother Kornhoer are always fighting. The librarian wants the Thon to use only candles to read and move closer to the chained books; Kornhoer wants to use 5 people to operate his machine that lights a single light bulb and to have the books unchained. Thon Taddeo is amazed at the candle power of Kornhoer's machine but is disgusted that his theories have already been discovered a centuries earlier.
In the last section of the novel, the order continues to exist but now there is electricity again and people are still born with genetic defects.
It's not the easiest novel to read because of the Latin, but it's an interesting story. You should enjoy it.