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Miller, Walter M., Jr. – “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (1955)

07/13/2014

When I read the novel a few years ago I thought it was really poorly written, but in context I can say that it is, in fact, a masterpiece. 600 years after the Deluge of Flame destroyed the world as we know it, Brother Francis Girard of Utah, Catholic monk, meets a stranger in the desert who steers him toward a rusted iron box. Said box turns out to contain tools and documents owned by Isaac Leibowitz, founder of his order – a Jewish engineer at the time of the fall, who converted to Catholicism and started the order to try to preserve the knowledge of the past. He was eventually martyred during the Age of Simplification, when angry mobs had destroyed both scientists and books whenever they were found. Brother Francis, assumed to have lied about the stranger, spends seven years in the novitiate for refusing to denounce his own story, before the blueprints he found are verified and he is sent to the New Vatican to witness the canonization of Leibowitz. Kind of the ur-example of post-apocalyptic mythologizing of modernity, while the connection with actual Catholicism anchors the cyclical history a bit more firmly than usual.

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