Walter M. Miller Jr.'s science fiction classic A Canticle for Leibowitz is the only end-of-the-world novel I've ever read that isn't upbeat. Unlike Stephen King's The Stand and David Brin's The Postman, Canticle isn't about a little band of survivors hanging together, fighting the bad guys off and successfully starting human civilization again. It's about the struggles between religion and modernity, about the Dark Ages to come, about Judaism and the Catholic church and morality and about being kicked out of Eden for good.

There are three pulses (parts) to this book, and they cover something on the order of 1500 years or so of Utah history---or rather, Utah future. The story begins in the Dark Ages 600 years after The Bomb dropped and put an end to civilization as we know it. An engineer named Isaac Leibowitz somehow survived the bomb and the fallout and the plagues and the slaughter of most of the intellectuals and established an abbey to preserve human history for the distant generations. Long after Father Leibowitz's death, the fallout shelter where his wife died is found, along with a cache of records signed by the blessed Leibowitz, including engineering designs and grocery lists and racing forms, none of which are very comprehensible to the monks. Brother Francis makes an illuminated copy of one of the engineering designs, which is what reminded me of the Archimedes palimpsest.

But there's really a larger issue that Canticle brings up. Miller doesn't hold out a lot of hope for the human race, because by his lights, we don't seem to learn much from the past. Keeping the scientific records isn't really enough (in fact you might say science uninformed by ethics is worse); we have to transmit how to avoid the Dark Age crashes or we'll end up escalating the costs right up to the luckless planet we call home.
Created by KKris. Last Modification: Monday 20 of October, 2003 13:41:06 EDT by KKris.