A Canticle for Leibowitz • 1959 • SF novel by Walter M. Miller

★★★★★

Meta: isfdb. The short story appeared The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1955 and was extended to a full novel 1959. It won the 1961 Hugo Award.

Post nuclear holocaust is pre armageddon. This post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel is one of a few SF works that escaped from nerd study to common interest in study halls (my daughter is studying a different one right now: Slaughterhouse-Five). It’s root lies in the author’s participation in WWII-bombing of the historical
abbey Monte Cassino (where St. Benedict founded Western monasticism in 6th century).

I found the novel to be surprisingly funny with slapstick monk Francis in the first third or stiff scientist Thon Taddeo in the second one. It touches current topics as well. Not so much an imminent nuclear war – though I know that feeling from the Cold War back in the 80s – but euthanasia from the last third.

I love a novel with mediaeval monks spinning around a female: The Name of the Rose. Canticle in contrast is lacking females somewhat. The exception is this two-headed mutant tomato-selling woman who is quite central concerning several questions: Has an unconscious second head got a soul of its one such that it sould be baptized? What is the core of Rachel’s character once she awakens?

Those are the big questions that led me to give the novel 5 stars, although I found some parts of it a bit boring.

If you want to read a very good article about Miller and this novel, go for A Science-Fiction Classic Still Smolders.

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