Monday, 16 May 2011

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

It took me a lot longer to finish than novel than initially expected since Miller's prose tends to be a little bit clunky and objectively detached for my tastes although it does suit the context of the novel: A epic and bleak historical post-apocalyptic account that spans several millenniums all from the perspective of various monks that are stationed at the ancient monastery of St. Leibowitz. While the initial premise is intriguing, the narrative tends to be dense and tedious with flat characters. I admit to having to force myself to keep on reading at times and perhaps if the novel was more refined in the editing department, the story would not have dragged on incessantly. Nonetheless, the novel's preoccupation with preserving human knowledge (conducted by the monks at the abbey) along with its contradictory religious and philosophical convictions kept me interested enough to at least finish the novel. Although Leibowitz is often considered one of the pinnacle works of the science fiction genre, I appreciate the novel much more within its historical context and patent didacticism rather than on a strictly enjoyment level. It is definitely worth a read for those interested in history or are curious to seek out an unorthodox dystopian science fiction novel but personally, I much prefer works within the genre that are quick-paced, overflowing with ideas, imagination and have that pulpy edge like Philip K. Dick or Alfred Bester are able to offer.

The novel is chronological in its depiction of events and is split into three sections, where each part depicts a specific moment in time. Miller completely subverts genre expectations of the post-apocalyptic science fiction story because he is not interested in presenting an action-packed heroic survival narrative where characters battle the harsh environment or are up against silly mutated creatures. The allegory of the Cold War is rather blatant and the novel is built upon the foundation of Christian religious theodicy to perhaps offer an explanation of human kind's flawed nature to commit sin and to justify the ways of God to man. If there is a God then why does he allow evil in the world and if human beings are his children, then why would he allow history to repeat itself where the nuclear holocaust is carried out? He is a merciful God and is perhaps giving us the opportunity to change our ways and learn from our mistakes. Throughout my reading  a quote from Battlestar Galactica was constantly in the back of my mind: "All of this has happened before and all of it will happen again." Or maybe one interprets the novel from a cynical perspective where there is no God; mankind is destined to continually destroy itself through advanced technology and the blind pursuit of a more idealized society. Miller is far from subtle in his agenda and the ending suggests a rather pessimistic world view -- a terrifying forewarning of history repeating itself with the rise and fall of civilization brought about by the imminent nuclear annihilation of the human race if we are not more cautious and responsible towards advancing technologies. 

Read from May 03 to 06, 2011

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