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Friday, June 26, 2009

A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr.

Read for the It's the End of the World Reading Challenge II.

This book focuses on the Abbey of Saint Leobowitz, founded after a nuclear war (called the Flame Deluge) destroys much of the world, in order to save some remnants of civilization. The documents they're guarding come to be called the Memorabilia, and it’s the monks’ duty to safeguard this information.

The story occurs in three main parts, first in a sort of Dark Age, where the true meaning of the Memorabilia is lost, second in a renaissance where the world is rediscovering the knowledge contained in the Memorabilia, and third, when the world has reached the same technological level as just before the Flame Deluge.

Through these three time periods, it’s interesting to see the interaction of the monks with the Memorabilia, and to see their interaction with the outside world where the Memorabilia is concerned. My favorite part was the middle section, where the Abbot had to struggle with whether or not it was a good idea to place this information in the hands of people again, where the knowledge could be used for good, or ill.

The Catholic church hierarchy plays a rather large role in the story (it is a monastery after all), and there’s a surprising amount of Latin, which I admittedly can’t understand, but having been raised in that church, the overall atmosphere rang true. I don’t know if someone without that background would find this book hard going in places.

At the very end, the story addresses the question of can we learn from our mistakes. This was my BF’s least favorite part of the book, but I’m reading it at a time of saber-rattling in some of the more unstable nuclear states, and I found a strange feeling of resonance in those passages.

This is a great book. It transcends the usual reputation of the science fiction genre, and I understand why it’s considered a classic.

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