Thursday, April 11, 2002

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

Bantam Books, 0553379267, $12.95

Set over a thousand years in the future as the world slowly recovers from devestation in the aftermath of nuclear war, Walter Miller's A Canticle For Leibowitz focuses upon the renewal of Faith in a faithless world. Surviving in the deserts of the western United States, the monks of St. Leibowitz struggle to piece together their history and that of Christianity with the hopes that history will not repeat itself and further destroy civilization. Standing guard over their endeavors is an apparently immortal old man, a man believed to have been resurrected by Christ and is awaiting His return.

As a novel, Canticle is unique in the way that it proves the Christian faith is not necessarily out of place within the science fiction genre -- Miller paints a Catholic precursor to the Mad Max films where man survives through sustaining knowledge. People unfamiliar with the Catholic faith may be put off slightly by the somewhat brusque portrayals of the succession of abbots who oversee the daily monastic life, others may snicker at the scenes where excitement is derived from the discovery of an actual shopping list left behind by their patron saint, not to mention the seemingly archaic use of Latin among the monks (Miller wrote Canticle before the Vatican II council, when Latin was still prevalent in worship. One can only assume Miller though the Latin Mass would always be the norm).

Nonetheless, A Canticle for Leibowitz contains a message that continues to ring true thirty years after its initial publication: that with faith there is always hope for the future, even when everything seems dark.

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