Thursday, 5 June 2014

Tales of Blood and Glory: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Post-Apocalyptic fiction was a big part of the scifi genre from the 1950's-1970's, courtesy of the Cold War and the widespread fear of Mutual Annihilation. Stories of mutants prowling irradiated wastelands and well-meaning scientists whose efforts are too little, too late. I've stumbled across quite a few post-apocalyptic stories the last few years(Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog" and Leiber's collection "The Night of the Wolf" come to mind) but now I finally got to read Walter A. Miller Jr.'s "A Canticle for Leibowitz". It is probably the most highly lauded scifi tale in the genre, winning the Hugo award for best novel in 1961 and remaining a classic till this day.

"Cantacle" follows the Monks of the Order of St. Leibowitz during three successive epochs:


  1. A few generations after the first Nuclear Holocaust, where we learn their mandate--to preserve the surviving remnant of Human knowledge for posterity
  2. At the dawn of a new Age of Reason, where the Order's mandate approaches fulfillment and it is unclear what the future holds for them
  3. Leading up to the second Nuclear Holocaust, where we learn that their new mandate was to prevent a recurrence of Nuclear Holocaust and in case they fail, to launch a mission to another planet, once again, to preserve the remnants of Human knowledge

Ultimately, the book comes off as a deeply thoughtful meditation on Nuclear Apocalypse, largely from a Humanist-Religious perspective. The exploration of suicide and the comparison to "mutually assured self-destruction" in the final part is quite though-provoking, if not altogether profound. Actually, it's all really good. The dialog between science and religion in the second part. The many Humanist vignettes. The tongue-in-cheek humor throughout.

Quite often, I end these posts in the "Tales of Blood and Glory" series with my thoughts on how to apply it to gaming, but here it's a hopeless case. The only substitute for reading "A Canticle for Leibowitz" is reading "A Canticle for Leibowitz". So seriously, if you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? It's just that good!

2 comments:

  1. It is a great one! I also liked the "sequel," finished by another author after Miller's death -- I don't think it really looked at the same issues and is panned unfairly for that reason by people who wanted more of the same. Miller also has some really excellent short stories. It's worth checking out an anthology.

    I actually did want to try running something in a setting like the first part, but with more mutants...that's actually not so far from D&D, though, and pointless.

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