I’ve been chipping away at A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. for almost a month now, taking it a chapter at a time. While I admit I didn’t have much time for reading during that month, the book didn’t make the read any easier on me.
The book is divided into three sections and takes place after a nuclear war decimates almost all life on Earth. The first section takes place as civilization is beginning to take shape again. It follows a member of the Blessed Order of Leibowitz, and order dedicated to protecting the texts of the old world from the survivors of the nuclear fallout. These survivors want to destroy all the texts because they blame education for the destruction of the world. The new member of the order discovers relics left over from the fall of man in the desert. These artifacts help canonize Leibowitz as a saint in the Catholic Church.
The second section details the return of an educated time, with philosophers finally trying to replicate the technology of the old world. Here we’re given a glimpse of the dark future of humanity as nation’s are banding together to take over neighboring lands. However, it is still portrayed as a time of enlightenment. Finally, the third part of the book details the fall of man through yet another nuclear apocalypse. The cyclical nature of humanity is examined and Miller poses the inevitability of humanity destroying itself again and again.
The message is dark and intriguing. Though the book was written over half a century ago, the message is perhaps even more relevant today. The book is also told from the viewpoint of the Catholic Church. While I’m not Catholic, I could still appreciate the story and the importance of the Catholic Church in shaping both Miller’s dystopian future and our own world.
The biggest issue I have with the book is the first section. It’s just not on par with the second and third sections. I had to force myself to get through a single chapter of the first section. It was meandering slowly toward a conclusion that, while shocking, could have been reached in half the time. If most of the first section of the book was omitted, I would have enjoyed the book much more. As it stands, I can’t call a book great if the first 150 pages aren’t great. While the rest of the book is enjoyable and even makes up for some of beginning’s flaws, I wouldn’t recommend putting this one at the top of your reading list.
I also had the opportunity to read through Snowpiercer: The Escape, the graphic novel that has recently been adapted into a new film starring Chris Evans. In the dystopian future of Snowpiercer, the surviving bits of humanity have been forced to live out their lives in a perpetually moving train called Snowpiercer. The train is 1,001 cars long and increases in luxury from the tail to the front cars. The story follows somebody from the tail who has managed to make it into third class. He’s immediately arrested and ordered to be brought before the President at the front of the train.
The story here is minimal, but what Jacques Lob does in terms of world building is pretty incredible. In a short time we’re introduced to the end of humanity, a believable class struggle, and a corrupt government all on a train to nowhere. Originally written in French, there are one or two moments where the translation doesn’t quite fit, but overall it’s a great read. The characters in the book are not likeable. At all. But I think that was the intention. There is no hero. There are only survivors and those who have made it onto the train aren’t the type to engage in heroics. Even the well-intentioned resistance group show their true motivations when their lives are on the line. I highly recommend you check this one out.
After reading the book I was really excited to see the movie. Unfortunately, due to a limited release, the movie isn’t coming to any theaters in a fifty mile radius. I guess I’ll have to check it out on VOD.
So anyways, that’s where I’m at now. Next up is Starship Troopers. If you want to tell me how brilliant A Canticle for Leibowitz really was or high five over Snowpiercer, feel free to message me or tweet me @left4turtle.