A Canticle for Leibowitz

(…) the evil to which even you should have referred was not suffering, but the unreasoning fear of suffering. Metus doloris. Take it together with its positive equivalent, the craving for worldly security, for Eden, and you might have your ‘root of evil’.

With a reading slump there inevitably comes a writing slump and I’m sitting, rather comfortably, right in the middle of it. But it’s spring and I’m now reading Paul Auster – and these things make me feel weirdly (and uncharacteristically) happy, at least tonight. So I thought – why not grab a pen and just jot down a couple of thoughts on A Canticle for Leibowitz? It’s not like I have a lot to say – and at least I’d be done with it, it’d stop staring at me accusingly from the bedside table like it’s been doing for the past month.

 A caveat though- I didn’t have the best experience with it. While it’s considered a classic, I found it occasionally dull, predictable and somehow bit irrelevant (or rather outdated) – but I can’t deny that there are moments of very intense drama flowing through it.

What I liked was the idea of humanity as a cyclical, self-destructive entity – with the ending (uhm…spoiler?) all but ensuring that the same mistakes will be made in another galaxy, and then another…ad infinitum. It’s a nice take on a you can’t teach an old dog new tricks theme, with humanity being the old mutt bound to do the same things over and over again because the temptation of power and the enslavement of greed will always be too strong. But even this is so obvious in the initial outline of the story – a 3-parter, each taking place about 700 years apart: Fiat Homo, Fiat Lux, Fiat Voluntas Tua – that it robs you of the pleasure of discovery. The common element is the Abbey of St. Leibowitz, a saint of the new world order, one who has helped save some of mankind’s knowledge after the Flame Deluge (nuclear apocalypse cca. 1981; since it was written in the 60s, the fear of the bomb courses through the entire book).

 Fiat Lux deals with the more practical consequences of this event: the total destruction of infrastructure, the mutations, the masses rising against the few remaining scholars and violently imposing a Great Simplification (echoing the cultural consequences of the 1917 revolution in Russia). All this leads to Leibowitz (an engineer) creating a group whose aim is to preserve knowledge through very unsure means: bookleggers and memorizers, which reminded me of The Book of Eli. From here on we follow the rebirth of civilizations in America (no longer one country though) through a new Middle Age (and Renaissance) and, of course, a new nuclear and space era. As I said – cyclical.

A thing that keeps bugging me in books envisioning a universe thousands of years in the future remote from us is the constant referencing to common cultural staples and icons. It happened with Dune and it happens here again: Judas or Caesar might make the story more relatable, but they make it less believable.

In a way, the book is interesting in a historic sense: it’s clear that is has inspired several authors and passages might even provoke déjà-vus. But be it because of personal circumstances or because it’s just not enthusiasm-inducing, I won’t really go around recommending it…yet I’m definitely not sorry to have spent my time with it.  For better reviews, try here or here. Or google 🙂


~ by ameer on March 20, 2012.

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