Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr

Out in the desert, a young would-be monk labors.  He is on a mission for his monastery, a week of fasting and privation that all initiates must go through.  As he works to create a shelter for the coming night, he sees a traveler approaching.  No one travels the desert so he is filled with fear.  The man approaches.  He is a skinny old man, barely dressed and ready to fight anyone who he sees.  He threatens the young man, then after a while, helps him by marking a stone to finish his shelter.  After he leaves, the initiate removes the stone he has marked and finishes his shelter.  Removing the stone creates a landslide and steps are revealed.

What has been buried is the entrance to a bomb shelter, for this is the age after the world has gone through nuclear annihilation.  Few people remain and those that do mistrust each other.  Roaming tribes kill everything in their path and intellectuals are disdained as they were the ones who created the bombs that ruined civilization.  As the initiate explores, he finds a box with fragments of writing.  Even more amazing, the fragments carry the name of Leibowitz, who is the man for whom the monastery exists.  For these monks are charged with preserving what little writing and knowledge exists.  They bury barrels of writing material in remote places and copy the words of existing manuscripts, even when they have no idea what the words mean.

What follows is a bleak exhibit of humanity.  The reader sees the world through the eyes of time.  Over the centuries, men start to value knowledge again.  They rediscover the natural principles that underlie all progress, and painstakingly, over centuries, civilization rebuilds to the point that sophisticated machines and computers once again exist.  Yet, every time progress is made, it is accompanied by the human nature that cannot help but tear it down again.

This novel is considered a classic of science fiction.  It demonstrates a fear of learning and an underlying negativity about human nature.  Yet, along with the bleakness, there is always a tendril of hope, someone who risks all in order to learn and spread knowledge.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

No comments: