Monday, June 1, 2009

A Canticle for Liebowitz

I finished up Walter M. Miller Jr's A Canticle for Liebowitz last night and I must say I'm not particularly looking forward to writing about it today. For those of you that are not familiar with this work, it is considered a classic of science fiction, and even a classic in the entire universe of literature. Written in the 1950's it is probably one of the first novels ever written concerning a possible post-apocalyptic society.

So why am I hesitant to write about it? This book has achieved cult status. It is so well regarded by the science fiction intelligencia that to question it in any way is almost sacreligious. So of course I will proceed directly down that path and risk the scorn of those that would say I'm just not intelligent enough to appreciate it. I have never strayed from my mission to point out elitism where I find it and I don't intend to start now. Of course not everybody who raves about this book is an elitist and I'm fully aware that different books appeal to different folks. And don't get me wrong, I don't hate this book or even actually dislike it. There is a lot here that is intriguing and parts are quite thought provoking.

The premise is that some 600 years after a nuclear holocaust in the 20th century, some "artifacts" belonging to an engineer named Liebowitz have been found in an old fallout shelter. An abbey of Catholic monks who exist in a sort of Dark Ages struggle with how to deal with these artifacts. The book is divided into three parts with the second part taking place 600 years later at the onset of a new Renaissance with the final third taking place yet another 600 years later at a time of another potential nuclear war. There are all kinds of themes in this book, not the least of which is that history repeats itself and seems incapable of learning from its mistakes. Overall, the book depicts a conflict between knowledge and morality. There are huge religious underpinnings throughout with the Catholic church being the one true bastion in the abyss to which we can all hold on to in times of crisis. I do not happen to be catholic and was somewhat lost in all of the catholic rituals occurring and dogma expressed. Perhaps if I knew more in this area my interest level would have been higher. But there is also a lot of latin used in this novel, with no benefit of translation for those readers like me who are unfamiliar with the expressions. This served as yet another way for my mind to wander instead of following the plot.

But more than any of that, I simply found the story lacking. The first part was OK; I actually liked the unassuming Brother Francis who found the original artifacts and was interested to find out how an entire sect could grow from these items. But the second part was a jolt with all new characters, a different style, and different themes. The third part only served to lower my level of caring about what happened next. Overall, there are certainly less entertaining books out there but I wouldn't recommend this to the casual reader. It would, however, be a good one to study as part of a class where a lot of discussion takes place.

The third short story in Stephen King's collection, Skeleton Crew, "Monkey" had just the opposite effect on me. Here is a tightly woven story that epitomizes the short story form. And if you like horror, this is one of the greats. The monkey itself, one of those toys with the wind up clanging symbols on his arms turns out to be one fantastic creepy icon, much like clowns or creaking stairs. King uses his classic method of bringing out his characters' worst fears of childhood and translating that very real horror to them as adults. This is turning out to be a great collection of stories indeed!

Next up is Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire