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Miller, Walter M. Jr.
A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
Sometimes good art gets recognized: the stunning wraparound cover by Peter Jones was originally used for a 1976 British paperback edition, and now it can be appreciated by more than just a few collectors. This is the 1993 SFBC printing (#01193 on back.) Their 1998 printing has (#19102) on back.
Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s Hugo award winning novel, A Canticle For Leibowitz. After the Flame Deluge (atomic war) and the great Simpification (maddened mobs killed leaders, scientists, teachers- anyone they could blame), one of the few institutions left dedicated to order and preservation of knowledge was the Holy Roman Church. Most events take place near the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz (a "bookrunner" who had been martyred by the mobs.) This book follows the rise of a new civilization from the ashes of the old in 3 episodes placed hundreds of years apart - based on 3 novelettes from Magazine of F&SF: "A Canticle for Leibowitz" (April 1955), "And the Light is Risen" (August 1956), and "The Last Canticle" (February 1957.)
In Part 1, Brother Francis unearths an old fallout shelter containing what may be relics of the blessed Leibowitz himself. New Rome is suspicious of holy relics being discovered by the order which bears his name, for Leibowitz has not actually been declared a saint (the process takes decades or more, and needs documented miracles in support.) Brother Francis comes up with a personal project: spending years illuminating a circuit diagram that was part of the discovery. In Part 2, Thon Taddeo (one of the best of the new scientists) travels to the Abbey to examine scientific documents preserved there. He finds Brother Kornhoer conducting studies and experiments of his own- making an artificial light with electric arc. But mankind is still prone to war, and the Abbey is considered a prize for the knowledge it has hoarded over centuries. In Part 3, Mankind has spaceships, satellites, and orbiting nuclear weapons. Tensions between the Asian Coalition and the Western Bloc have gone beyond saber rattling to actual provocation- inviting (a new) nuclear war. The Church has activated an emergency plan- to salvage what knowledge could be carried and perpetuate the Church on colony planets if the worst comes to pass on Earth... and they have their own Starship.
A Canticle For Leibowitz is not what I would call an "easy read." It is funny and sad, bleak and understanding of follies. I only understood some parts after second and later readings. Now I cherish it for those subtleties and details. In many ways, this is a cautionary tale, exploring the depths to which humans will fall if nuclear war comes... but consider when it was written, at the height of Cold War tension - when bomb shelters were serious business. One of the more interesting puzzles herein is figuring out the identity (from history) of the only continuing character in this tale which spans centuries. At the time of his death, Walter M. Miller, Jr. was working on a sequel: Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, completed (with Miller's permission) by Terry Bisson.
A Canticle For Leibowitz won the "Best Novel" Hugo award in 1961.
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