Friday, March 9, 2012

Book review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

An amazing book I read several years ago and have only just got over. Hilarious and deeply profound.

It begins in a post apocalyptic world, 600 years after a nuclear war at the end of the twentieth century.

Nomadic tribes led by mad ignorants roam the lands, clashing with mutant humans and "misbirths" - there is a King and in New Rome the Pope still receives pilgrims. But the core of the book is the story of a small Abbey and the inhabitants who worship the blessed "Leibowitz", an electrician from before "The Flame Deluge" whose scrappy note reading: "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels, bring home for Emma" is worshipped by the monks as a holy text.

Religion and morality still survives but science and literacy have been abolished. All pre-war knowledge was hunted down and destroyed in The Simplification. Ignorant of their meaning but sensing their importance, the monks strive to preserve and protect any fragments of scientific texts they can find. Gradually, within the next 600 years the interest in science grows and the "Memorabilia" in the Abbey reveals its secrets to visiting scientists.

Unearthing the secrets of the old civilization becomes paramount and the scientists who work to do this find it difficult to accept that they aren't discovering, they are only re-discovering. Brilliant characters live and die throughout the book, but there are constant observers too, The Poet with One Eye, a centuries old Wanderer who is waiting for the Messiah and the saintly carved wooden face of Leibowitz. Tied to neither Religion or Science, these odd characters carry the spirit of "God" throughout the ages and watch cynically as the monks and scientists come to an uneasy truce, neither able to truly manifest Truth.

Meanwhile, the self perpetuating and cyclical nature of civilization continues remorselessly as the World Court prepares for another nuclear war, which neither the re-advancement of science nor the humility and fossilised rituals of religion can prevent...

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