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90 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Repetition Does Not Make Perfect
Canticle is one of the best post-holocaust stories ever written. Told in three separate sections that were originally published as separate stories, it details a post-nuclear war society where (once more) the Catholic church has become the repository for what little learning there still is, complete with monk scribes happily copying by hand the few remaining books. But at...
Published on 30 Jun 2003 by Patrick Shepherd

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3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointing
This is one that I've been meaning to read for some time. It shows up on a lot of "best sci-fi" lists, and I've always thought the premise was intriguing - that a monastery has dedicated itself to preserving pre-apocalypse information, whatever form it may take, and however irrelevant it might be in reality.

The execution though - I thought - left...
Published 1 month ago by Mike N


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90 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Repetition Does Not Make Perfect, 30 Jun 2003
By 
Patrick Shepherd "hyperpat" (San Jose, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Canticle is one of the best post-holocaust stories ever written. Told in three separate sections that were originally published as separate stories, it details a post-nuclear war society where (once more) the Catholic church has become the repository for what little learning there still is, complete with monk scribes happily copying by hand the few remaining books. But at least for the first section of the book, the scribes don't understand what they're copying. When they uncover some ancient relics of Saint Leibowitz (a twentieth century engineer who tried to stop the book burnings and other atrocities) they end up enshrining one of his grocery lists and venerate a common blue-print as rare and sacred. Later portions of the book detail the resurgence of science, fueled by the church's repositories of knowledge, but as becomes increasingly obvious as you go further in the book, there is still no change in mankind's basic human nature, and war enters the picture again (and again) - covering almost a two-thousand year span.
There is a large amount of ironical humor suffused throughout this book, which makes its prime message that man is doomed to continuously repeat his mistakes, leavened only by the love of a distant God, much easier to take. In many ways this book is a hard look at both the ultimate value of religion and at basic human nature, couched alongside some heavy symbolism (the Wandering Jew makes multiple appearances) and some very sharp satire. The story itself is told with such emotional power that I found myself both plumbing the depths of despair and laughing uproariously, while the moral and ethical questions raised kept poking sharp daggers into my under-brain, just waiting for the chance to come to the fore of my consciousness and force me to re-live this book again and again.
Within each section of the book, characterization is excellent, from the young initiate Francis in the first section to the Caesar-like Hannegan and Brother Taddeo of the middle section to Abbot Zerchi of the final section. But the very fact that it is told as three separate stories leads to a little disjointedness, as the characters you have come to know and love in one section disappear in the next and a whole new set make their appearance. The unifying force between these sections is obviously the church, the one constant across all the years, and this provides the foundation for not only the story, but a framework for all the philosophical questions to reverberate against. Questions of is man inherently evil, what role God should play in an individual's life and his surrounding society, when does pride become hubris, what constitutes sin and can an earthly representative of God truly provide forgiveness, why do good deeds so often seem to lead to bad consequences, and many more. Miller does not really provide any answers to these questions - nor should he, as these questions are really only answerable at the individual level, but his story provides some powerful illumination of these questions, and his ending does leave some room for possibly the most enduring of human emotions, hope.
This book is what science fiction should be, a book that enlightens what the human condition is within a context of an all-too believable future world, literate and profound without hammering the reader on the head. Winner of the 1961 Hugo award, it clearly out-classed all the other contenders for that year, and ranks as one of the best the field has to offer.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Religion and SF in one story, 19 Nov 2002
By 
S. Flaherty "steve3742" (Nottingham) - See all my reviews
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I don't usually give books 5 stars so you'll understand that I thought this book to be exceptional. Yet it's a little hard to say why. Possibly it's the combination of religion and SF, which happens very rarely and even more rarely succeeds.
A little about the plot. This is a post-apocalyptic novel as is obvious in the first chapter when a monk of the order of St. Leibowitz is wodering why metal cores are found so often in rocks - said rocks being concrete rubble. The Catholic church has relocated to New Rome, somewhere in the American southwest, and the main setting is the monastery of St. Leibowitz, somewhere in the desert in the American southwest. The main characters are the monks. The action of the story takes place over around 1,000 years, consisting of three stories, each one hundereds of years apart from the others.
The order of St. Leibowitz is dedicated to preserving knowledge in the Memorabilia, a collection of pre-apocalyptic writings and documents. For this, they were persecuted in the immediate post apocalyptic period as the survivors of a nuclear war rose up, enraged, against technology. The first story takes place a few hundred years after this, when civilisation is just starting to be even thought about again. The Church of New Rome is a repository of knowledge (especially the Order of St. Leibowitz) and a force for social cohesion. There are obvious (and, I'm sure, intentional) parallels with the European Dark Ages after the fall of Rome here. As there are in the second part, which deals with the rise of an empire (perhaps based on Charlemagne?) that looks like it might unify the American southwest but, perhaps inevitably, comes into conflict with the Church. Again, historical parallels can be seen.
But the three stories should be taken as one and the underlying theme of the nature of man and the conflicts between politics and ethics go through all three stories. At the end of the third story, Man has again achieved civilisation, and with it, nuclear weapons. Are we fated to repeat history? Or will the sure knowledge of what happened last time act as a restraint?
There is far more to the book than this, but i don't want to spoil the plot or the ending. I will say that in every way this book forces you to think about what you may beleive. And few books can do that.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Science Fiction, 24 Jun 2007
By 
BleakWisdom (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This post-apocalyptic tale is narrated by the survivors of a 20th century "Flame Deluge" (nuclear war). Modern civilisation is decimated and the world's population largely annihilated. The anger of the few survivors is channelled toward the remaining scientists and politicians, leading to a cull of the inteligencia which culminates in book burning and the slaughter of anyone who can read. The novel is set mostly within the walls of an abbey constructed to preserve the remaining knowledge until the population is ready to understand it and rebuild. The author revisits the abbey three times over the next two thousand years, charting the technological and philosophical development of civilisation at each point in history. The subsequent emergence and renaissance of this fictional civilisation parallels that of our own and the author uses this as a plot device to discuss the failings of humanity and the propensity of society to make the same mistakes throughout history. Is history destined to repeat itself?

So the cold war brought the world to the brink of the apocalypse, this may be so, but this period instilled a level of fear and paranoia in the mind that can germinate great creative ideas, and this book is full of them, I can't recommend it highly enough! The prose is beautifully written and incredibly readable, although at points intensely depressing I was surprised how richly comic I found this novel given the subject matter.

I'm a massive Sci-fi fan but must concede that although some of the great literary ideas are produced in this genera, the quality of the writing and characterisation frequently falls short of the mark. I would often tar even the `greats' such as Azimov and Clark with this brush, although don't get me wrong, I hugely enjoyed some of their books. This novel, alongside precious few others, including Frank Herbert's Dune and John Wyndham's, "The Day of the Triffids" is in my opinion an exception to this rule. The opening is reminiscent of John Wyndham's post-apocalyptic classic, "The Chrysalides" and the subtext and social commentary of these two novels is similar. "Ignorance and failure to communicate are potent sources of bigotry and prejudice which frequently lead to conflict and war." The multilayered ideas and deep philosophical content of Canticle is reminiscent Kurt Vonneget's "Slaughterhouse 5", despite the contrasting style of these authors. Contemporary works of post apocalyptic fiction such as the excellent "The Road" by Cormack Mccarthy owe a great debt to this highly original and thought provoking novel.

Although an atheist, I much enjoyed the religious symbolism in Canticle, indeed the "Wandering Jew" makes several appearances throughout a two millennia time span, and thus the reader witnesses the failure of humanity again and again through his eyes; make no mistake, this is a deeply pessimistic novel. The catholic doctrine is fervently espoused by various characters, particularly in the context of euthanasia and suicide; however, a passionate secular counter argument is also put forward and this makes for compelling reading, it's as though the author is wrestling with his conscience and thrashing out these ideas in his mind. I found this aspect to be very interesting, indeed, the strength of the catholic arguments put forward in this novel adds to the deep irony as well as the monumental tragedy of the author's suicide.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sci-fi that isn't, 11 July 2008
By 
reader 451 - See all my reviews
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Do you know many science-fiction books that quote Latin? Where the heroes are monks and abbots? Where the protagonists argue over illuminated manuscripts? A Canticle for Leibowitz has an appeal well beyond science-fiction fans.

Too much of it shouldn't be given away, but the story takes place after a nuclear war and concerns the fight to preserve what is left of human literacy and knowledge. Of course, this is about the need for spirituality and wisdom to balance progress in scientific pyrotechnics. But A Canticle for Leibowitz is first and foremost an utterly convincing political fable, interwoven with a host of private adventures and tribulations. And while nuclear holocaust may sound less likely today than in the 1950s, what is astonishing is that this book hasn't aged a bit, that it has none of the technological and contextual faux pas that makes so much of science fiction dated.

Walter Miller wrote with authority, conviction and humour. His dialogue between churchmen is jaw-dropping in its veracity; I couldn't believe afterwards that he was never a priest or a novice. The novel's politics are as credible as they are subtle. Miller creates a reality in which you will find yourself completely immersed without wanting to leave it, however harsh it may be. My only quibble, in fact a major disappointment is that, incredibly, Walter Miller never wrote anything else.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic grandiose sweep of future history., 8 Jun 2003
One of the earlier, and still the best, post-nuclear-holocaust novels around. Walter Miller treated the concept in a broad historical view, breaking the story into three parts at successive intervals of 600 years after the "Flame Deluge" (nuclear war) which presumably occurs in the late 20th or early 21st century. All three focus on the perspective of a new monastic order which emerges in its aftermath, dedicated to the preservation of scientific and technical literature saved by their founder, an engineer later known as Saint Leibowitz.
To quickly summarize: part 1 is in the depths of a new dark age, begun by the widespread rejection of technology and learning following the holocaust. The monks, isolated in the North American desert, illuminate manuscripts based on ancient circuit diagrams and fearfully unearth a fallout shelter. Part 2 sees a second renaissance beginning amid warring city-states and nomadic raiders, with a gifted would-be scientist struggling to retrieve knowledge from the monastery's memorabilia. In part 3, as far from today as today is from the time of Hadrian, mankind has climbed back to and exceeded the heights of technology from which it fell. But in a supermodern age of robot traffic and interstellar colonization - and reinvented nuclear weapons - nations still vie with each other just as they always have. Is the only lesson of history to be that we never learn anything from history?
The religious framework is the chief continuity between the three periods, and gives a real sense of history - putting the far imagined future into a format with which one can identify is no small achievement for the author. Characters, though seeming somewhat po-faced, do come through and are more than two-dimensional. What is best, though, is the subtle detail of settings and circumstances which makes it thoroughly believable. The shift between different historical mindsets and perspectives is well-accomplished. My only criticism is that some pseudo-Scriptural passages require a Latin dictionary.
Miller can hardly be blamed for not fully realising the severe environmental consequences of a global nuclear exchange, such as the nuclear winter - he was writing before the relevant studies had been made.
Though not the longest novel of its kind around, quality is certainly evident over quantity. Anyone who enjoys intelligent and serious speculation should give this book a chance.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've re-read in years, 27 Mar 2013
Great book! It had an impact on me as a teenager and I got a copy for my 66th birthday to see if it was as good as I remembered - it was! You can see why it has lived so long and why it won awards. It is not a bit of flighty "Stars Wars" SF and requires some effort on the part of the reader - but it is well worth it. I've picked up a copy of the sequel and I'm really looking forward to starting that.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A SF classic, one all should read., 19 Feb 2013
By 
MangaraLock (North Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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Humanity is recovering from the flame deluge, a nuclear mass extinction event that demolished all on earth, including knowledge man had built up prior to this. These monks of the order Leibowitz set about their god given purpose, collecting, recording and copying scraps of data salvaged from the land and begin the formation of an archive of pre-deluge knowledge.

Drawing on a broad range of topics from religion to the fallibility of man, Miller provides a novel which does not disappoint. Covering the actions of the order over such and extended time frame is done well, and each section is comprehensive enough to provide a backbone for the writers ideas.

I must admit I found the first hundred pages a bit of a slog, but as I got through the wall, and deeper into the novel the intricacies of the story more than made up for the difficult start. Despite being written is the 60's the warnings contained within are still as relevant today.

A novel packed to the brim with musings on religion, existence, society and much more. A novel with broad scope for deep thought and contemplation of the themes contained within. A must read for every Sci-Fi fan.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carries a message for YOU!, 22 Mar 2004
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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What more is there to say about this innovative work from the Age of Nuclear Terror? In those times we were assured by our "leaders" that a "balance of power" was the way to keep peace. Those with an IQ greater than room temperature, however, well knew that one finger on one button in one second could obliterate the world. Many writers sought to wake America to the threat they had created. FAIL SAFE, DR STRANGELOVE, the list of works explaining how the nuclear holocaust could occur expanded in this era. Few writers addressed "the Day After". CANTICLE was almost the first to picture the aftermath. Harlan Ellison's incisive analysis A BOY AND HIS DOG, honouring directly Miller's groundbreaking work, essentially closed the genre.
This Miller's tale is a vivid examination of the workings of the American mind. America in the 1950's was a seething cauldron of anti-intellectualism, of distrust of the learned and the innovative. When CANTICLE was published, America was coming to the end of the Eisenhower presidency, the eight years that "showed America could do without a President". Social programs, education, health care had all been pushed aside in favour of intense military buildup and corporate expansion. With a simple-minded ex-general in the White House, the hovering threat of a "flame deluge" was at the forefront of most minds. The McCarthyite inquisition was the blatant expression of American fears. Miller's rising new governments exhibit a similar desire for mind control, with predictable results.
Miller's use of Mother Church as the sole organized survivor of the nuclear exchange was inspired. Catholicism was viewed with suspicion in America. The debate over John Kennedy's presidential candidacy the following year demonstrated the feelings the Church engendered. Yet, Miller got it exactly right. No other institution in America would likely have survived the Flame Deluge. Neither government nor the military commanded the talents nor ability to bring continuity to those who survived. How ironic in the fundamentalist America of CANTICLE that Miller could successfully raise this issue.
An even greater irony is the Beatification of Isaac Edward Leibowitz, descended of Polish Jews, by an American Catholic monastery. Jews were subjected to the same distrust from America's Silent Majority as Roman Catholics. One facet of that suspicion related to the numbers of Jews in universities, technical programs and science. Anti-Semitism and anti- intellectualism resided in the minds of many "Middle Americans." Leibowitz parades through this story as mythical figure with a dual role - the founder of the Bookleggers and representative intellectual, and perhaps, in the symbolic Wandering Jew who reappears time and again over the centuries after the Deluge. Miller's handling of Leibowitz and the desert hermit is without equal in the literature of the time or today. The image of a admonitory Prophet has nearly disappeared in today's writing, making CANTICLE valuable for its timelessness.
More than simply fine writing and innovative thinking, CANTICLE has a message that remains valid today. The rendering of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union has not brought peace nor stability to the world. Wars, especially religious wars, are occurring with increasing, not diminishing frequency and intensity. We have brushed with enlarging one or more of those conflicts more than once. Miller's warning message remains valid and should be read by the new generation. Remember, the source of the Flame Deluge still resides in those Prairie silos and hidden Red Octobers, both Russian and American. Read this book and find out what that might mean. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 23 Jun 2014
This review is from: A canticle for Leibowitz
Great book and it arrived on time and in really good condition. It is well worth a read for a sci FI classic
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3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointing, 2 Jun 2014
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This is one that I've been meaning to read for some time. It shows up on a lot of "best sci-fi" lists, and I've always thought the premise was intriguing - that a monastery has dedicated itself to preserving pre-apocalypse information, whatever form it may take, and however irrelevant it might be in reality.

The execution though - I thought - left something to be desired, and came across as rather dry. There was also a strange mix of mysticism and science that I found hard to reconcile - who was the old man that lived for centuries and showed up in all three acts. I wasn't really sure what the book was aiming at here.

Then there's the 3 act cycle. The first act introduces the concept, then the second act picks up quite neatly from there a few hundred years in the future, where the discoverer of the Liebowitz documents has been canonised. The 3rd act though, I thought, came rather abruptly, and shook me out of the story I thought I was listening to, which made it rather difficult to actually finish this book. Since I had this as an audiobook for my daily commute I did finish it, but I can imagine that, had it been a print/ebook copy, I may well have put it down and picked up something more interesting.

On the whole, I'm glad I read it - it's certainly an interesting take on the apocalypse - but it certainly hasn't made me want to read anything else in the "Saint Liebowitz" series.
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