Science fiction and fantasy
A Canticle For Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller Jr.
Brother Francis is a few pieces short of the full set, and he takes years to pick up on the most obvious hints. So he's not a particularly engaging character, but his simplicity demonstrates how far humanity is supposed to have fallen. However the narrative doesn't dwell very much on any single character, so Brother Francis' obtuseness doesn't ruin the story. Instead the tale unfolds over centuries, with snapshots of different characters and times. This is the kind of science fiction that's more concerned about making a point than it is with manipulating the readers' emotions. A Canticle For Leibowitz is dry and unsentimental, and even a little cold in the way it documents the lives of a host of characters.
This is the kind of novel that lends itself to study, because what it lacks in emotion it makes up for in ideas. The author has imagined a journey to a new Renaissance that's painfully slow in coming about, and fraught with obstacles and misunderstandings. People fear civilisation, and some of the characters would rather not have it at all. It depends on written records, but those records are useless if the language to interpret them is lost. Walter M. Miller Jr. highlights the fragility of technology, and some of the ways a lack of understanding can stand in the way of progress. But he's also questioning whether advanced civilisation is desirable at all.
This story is a lucid exploration of the apocalyptic fears surrounding the bomb. Although this preoccupation with nuclear Armageddon dates it, the author's vision of a stunted civilisation is always going to be relevant to the human condition. It's an excellent book if you're looking for something intellectual and stimulating.
9th June 2010
If you like this, try:The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
A Cessna pilot searches for human connection at the end of the world, but when survival is at stake the normal rules of civilisation fall by the wayside.
God’s War by Kameron Hurley
A government-sponsored assassin finds herself in trouble when she breaks too many rules. But she is the one the queen turns to in order to track down a dangerous alien.
The Visitor by Sheri S. Tepper
Armageddon has come and gone, but has it left Earth with magic and demons?