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A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)

by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Leibowitz (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,567289535 (3.95)1 / 484
In the depths of the Utah desert, long after the Flame Deluge has scoured the earth clean, a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz has made a miraculous discovery: holy relics from the life of the great saint himself, including the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list, and the hallowed shrine of the Fallout Shelter. In a terrifying age of darkness and decay, these artifacts could be the keys to mankind's salvation. But as the mystery at the core of this groundbreaking novel unfolds, it is the search itself--for meaning, for truth, for love--that offers hope for humanity's rebirth from the ashes.… (more)
1960s (9)
1950s (231)

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English (281)  French (3)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (288)
Showing 1-5 of 281 (next | show all)
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel written in 1959. Life, as it existed post-WWII, led many to fear a nuclear holocaust, so it stands to reason that a futuristic story would depict life after such a flame deluge (global nuclear war) destroyed civilization as we know it. Some Catholic monks, keepers of knowledge, survive, and New Rome, someplace near Missouri, is the headquarters for the post-apocalyptic Catholic church. Initially published as three separate novellas, each of the three sections could stand alone.

Miller includes many interesting characters—monks, scientists, doctors, thieves, etc. The first section, Fiat Homo (Let There Be Man), takes place in the future, 600 years after the global nuclear war destroyed civilization. My favorite character, Francis, was a novice monk in the novel's opening. He discovered an ancient fallout shelter and the remains of Leibowitz, a scientist and founder of the religious order. At first, the veteran monks think Francis is mad. Moreover, Francis seems doomed since he also reported the sighting of a pilgrim. But then, those from New Rome begin to realize that his chance finding of the remains and accompanying artifacts lead Leibowitz to become a saint, and Francis, a recognized hero, attends the canonization ceremony.

The second section, Fiat Lux ("Let There Be Light"), supposedly takes place another 600 years later. In this segment, the reader realizes that the pilgrim Francis saw is probably the wandering Jew of myth. Conflicts between Christians and Jews, as well as conflicts between religious beliefs and secular scientists, are highlighted as electricity is rediscovered. Librarians are preservers of documents rather than studiers.

The final installment, Fiat Voluntas Tua ("Thy Will Be Done"), is set in the year 3781 and is another 600 years beyond the previous section. In this last section, we see the effects of a technological society. Moral issues and decisions become commonplace, and conflict runs rampant. Opposing forces are prepared to create another worldwide disaster. Will people learn lessons from history?
See my reviews at https://quipsandquotes.net/
  LindaLoretz | Jun 23, 2022 |
A science fiction novel published in 1959 and included in the SF masterwork series. It was the only novel by Miller published in his lifetime and is in fact an amalgamation of three shorter stories published between 1952-1957 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Miller has linked the three stories well enough to the central themes of his novel; they tell of events in different time periods and so the progression through time, told in chronological order gives the novel a sense of unity.

I had trouble warming to the novel, because it is a novel that is written from a religious point of view; particularly a roman catholic position and as my views tend towards the existential; not believing in an all powerful omnipotent God, I found much of the discussion of themes and ideas irrelevant to me. Had I read the novel in the 1960's when I was a teenager and fresh from a Church school then probably I would have found the religious views more pertinent, but I have moved on since then and so perhaps readers like me will find that the novel has not aged well.

The novel starts in the 26th century when much of the world has been destroyed by a nuclear war. Brother Francis Gerard is a novice in the order of the monastery of Leibowitz; which is campaigning for sainthood for its founder. During his lenten vigil he stumbles across an old air raid shelter which contains some documents including a blue print with a connection to Leibowitz. Brother Francis is eventually allowed to copy and embellish the documents by hand and is chosen to take them to Rome for the canonisation of Saint Leibowitz. The second part takes place in 3174. The Albertian Order of Saint Leibowitz has preserved a number of documents after Brother Francis has paved the way for the monastery to be a repository for half understood knowledge, from the previous civilisation. The world is emerging from a new dark age and one of the monks is experimenting with an electricity generator. A secular scholar arrives to examine the documents at a time when new rulers are threatening war. The scholar says it will take decades to understand the memorabilia, but the soldiers accompanying him are busy examining the monastery as a base of operations. The third part takes us to the year 3781. The world is reaping the benefits of a new technological age. Space travel has been accomplished, but two power blocks on earth are once again threatening nuclear war. The church of New Rome has secured a space ship for the order of Leibowitz to take the teachings of the Roman catholic church to the stars should the earth self destruct.

The two major themes of the novel are the cyclical trend of history. The repetition of mistakes; mankind always moving towards self destruction after periods of dark ages and then renaissance. The second theme is the conflict between church and state, this is particularly well argued in parts two and three of the novel. Contained within these themes are human stories that focus the readers attention. Brother Francis's struggles with the Abbot and church hierarchy to inch ahead with the preservation of documents from the past in part one and Brother Kornhoer has similar problems with efforts to generate electricity in part two. The most poignant story is Abbot Zerchi's struggles with the State during a nuclear attack and his arguments against voluntary euthanasia for those terminally ill with radiation sickness. The church is seen as a repository of knowledge and wisdom, but tends to hold back the advance of civilisation. This idea is seen as essential for mankind's survival as the reactionary nature of its functions looks towards mankind's salvation. The characters are swamped by events over which they have no control and as such they struggle for a foothold to mark their existence. The answer that this book postulates is the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith. From my own point of view I am not thrilled by the idea that the only people escaping the earth's destruction are a spaceship full of missionaries to spread the word to those inhabiting planets in other star systems. This would seem like a repetition of the earths destructive cycle.

I can admire the new ground covered in this book. It is a book without a hero and although it deals with weighty themes it manages to create a micro-climate of human stories connected with the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz. It never lets the reader stray too far away from the characters, even if they do at times function as mouthpieces for the ideas that carry this novel forward. There are no female characters in the book, apart from the mutant woman destroyed by the nuclear attack and the young woman and child terminally ill with radiation sickness. Women as victims is pretty much standard for this period of science fiction writing. There is no overt racism. My rating is 3.5 stars. ( )
2 vote baswood | May 27, 2022 |
Standard reading when I was in high school, A Canticle for Leibowitz brought many cultural issues to bear far above that of a young high school girl. Already fascinated by history and religious opposition, this book added perspectives far beyond my fertile imagination. A definite addition to my education. ( )
  Windyone1 | May 10, 2022 |
This is my favourite After The Holocaust novel, because the characters are superbly drawn, the prose is lyrical, the imaginary war-ravaged world is so plausible, and just as in real life "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished".
An example of Science Fiction, the fiction of ideas, at its very best. ( )
  HealthSeeker | Mar 20, 2022 |
Quite enjoyable. ( )
  invisiblecityzen | Mar 13, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miller, Walter M., Jr.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Feck, LouCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marosz, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Picacio, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rambelli, RobertaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Russell, Mary DoriaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serrano, ErvinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viskupic, GaryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weiner, TomNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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a dedication is only
a scratch where it itches—
for ANNE, then
in whose bosom RACHEL lies
guiding my clumsy song
and giggling between the lines
—with blessings, Lass
First words
Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice's Lenten fast in the desert.
There were spaceships again in that century, and the ships were manned by fuzzy impossibilities that walked on two legs and sprouted tufts of hair in unlikely anatomical regions. They were a garrulous kind. They belonged to a race quite capable of admiring its own image in a mirror, and equally capable of cutting its own throat before the alter of some tribal god, such as the deity of Daily Shaving. It was a species which often considered itself to be, basically, a race of divinely inspired tool makers; any intelligent entity from Arcturus would instantly have perceived them to be, basically, a race of impassioned after-dinner speechmakers.
“The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew into richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they-this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that Man might hope again in wretched darkness.” (page 285)
Brother Francis was copying only the body of the text onto new parchment, leaving spaces for the splendid capitals and margins as wide as the text lines. Other craftsmen would fill in riots of colour around his simply inked copy and would construct the pictorial capitals.
Brother Francis found the finest available lambskin and spent several weeks of his spare time at curing it and stretching it and stoning it to a perfect surface, which he eventually bleached to a snowy whiteness.
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Miller published a short story in 1955 with this title. Please do not combine the novel with the short story.
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Wikipedia in English


In the depths of the Utah desert, long after the Flame Deluge has scoured the earth clean, a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz has made a miraculous discovery: holy relics from the life of the great saint himself, including the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list, and the hallowed shrine of the Fallout Shelter. In a terrifying age of darkness and decay, these artifacts could be the keys to mankind's salvation. But as the mystery at the core of this groundbreaking novel unfolds, it is the search itself--for meaning, for truth, for love--that offers hope for humanity's rebirth from the ashes.

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Book description
Set in a Catholic monastery in the desert of the southwestern United States after a devastating nuclear war, the story spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself. The monks of the fictional Albertian Order of Leibowitz take up the mission of preserving the surviving remnants of man's scientific knowledge until the day the outside world is again ready for it.
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