Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

What would happen if world war 3 were to happen today? Mostly likely it would mean a nuclear war and an end to most of mankind, and that is what exactly happened in ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’.  The dead left behind a wasteland, mutants and men, ancestors of those who caused the Flame Deluge. After the nuclear holocaust, plagues and madness soon followed.  Madness in the form of simplification happened. Survivors angry at those that caused the destruction of the world turned on the scientists and teachers of the world. So furious was their bloodlust that even literacy was erased from the world. Or so it seemed. Leibowitz managed to save some books.

Walter Miller Jr, does not follow the traditional formula of following a specific character and their journeys. Instead the book is divided into 3 different parts. “Fiat Homo”, Let there be man. “Fiat Lux”, Let there be light. “Fiat Voluntas Tua”, Let thy will be done.  Each part is separated by 600 years, and because of this, we get a very wide scope of how the world rebuilds itself after the Flame Deluge and Simplification of man.

Each part takes us on a journey of human evolution through the eyes of certain characters all with a common factor: they belonged to the Order of Leibowitz.

The monks order is to preserve, maintain and unlock the secrets of these books that Leibowitz died for, so that one day mankind can receive them when they are fit to again. Canticle begins 600 years after the Flame Deluge and follows a young monk called Brother Francis, newly accepted as a monk he meets a wanderer who in turn leads him to a hidden bunker. The bunk contains notes signed by one I.E.  Leibowitz. Soon rumours fly that the wanderer was Leibowitz himself!

I had heard quite a few recommendations for this book, so I had picked it up from the library. I found that it started very well but it was nothing like I had read before. I found that the book had to be read with concentration, not because it was a hard read or because it was boring, but because it made you think. You would compare the similarities of our world and Miller’s world. I thought about how it would have been like and thought about how I would deal with those situations. You get attached to some of the characters but unlike an untimely death in other books, I know that no matter what, the next part of the book would not contain that character and that was sometimes disheartening.

This book is very much about philosophy, ethics, human nature, politics and perseverance. What Miller does is an excellent job of retelling how the world rebuilds itself and how we are our own worst enemies. The book is split into three, but those three are united by underlying themes and occurrences. You often forget how many years have passed between pages as Miller stimulates your mind by asking ‘what if’, he does so subtly and hides it under a veil of humour. Perhaps this book is wrong to be in the sci-fi/fantasy genre because it rarely touches those elements, but again perhaps those are the audiences who would appreciate Millers work more. I can say that I did enjoy this book and perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had a better understanding what the book was about. You now do. Step outside the box and step inside the Order of Leibowitz. And hurry before our Flame Deluge begins!

No comments: