Fantasy/SF Book Reviews

The Internet Writing Journal

A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller,. Jr.

Bantam Books., Oct., 1997.
Hardcover, 368 pages.
ISBN: 0553379267.
Ordering information:

Cover of A Canticle for Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller,. Jr. A Canticle for Leibowitz was the first major American post-Apocalyptic novel. It tells the story of the Monks of the Order of Saint Leibowitz whose holy mission is to preserve what scraps of literature, knowledge and technology that exist in the world after the Flame Deluge (nuclear war) which destroyed Earth's civilization. The monks work tirelessly to preserve these relics of a happier time in the hopes of a spiritual and intellectual Renaissance that sometimes seems like it will never happen, given the world's rabid anti-technology views stemming from anger at the scientists who created the atom bomb which led to the destruction of modern civilization. The story traces the path of Earth's civilization from post-Apocalyptic confusion to the rise of civilization to the point where it destroyed itself once before. Can man overcome his own self-destructive tendencies? What is faith? These are the questions Miller addresses in his classic work full of anger, dark humor and the struggle between good and evil.

Miller's classic story, written nearly 40 years ago and reissued by Bantam in connection with Miller's new sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, rings as true today as it did in 1959 when it was first published. Miller's style of writing is unique. Wry, descriptive, engaging and vastly disturbing, Miller's prose hurls the reader into a parallel universe: Earth as it might have been if we had destroyed ourselves with nuclear weapons. The story follows the lives of the Monks of the Leibowitz Abbey from the discovery in an abandoned bomb shelter of the actual relics of Saint Leibowitz, the blueprint and the sacred shopping list, to the struggles of the Monks against the violent warlords who rule the world around them and the dispossessed Papal presence in New Rome. A thoughtful polemic which reads as fresh and current as if it were written yesterday, A Canticle for Leibowitz ranks with Animal Farm and George Orwell's 1984 as a classic work of English literature and of science fiction.

St. Liebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman by Walter M. Miller,. Jr.

Bantam Books, Nov., 1997.
Paperback, 432 pages.
ISBN: 0553107046.
Ordering information:

Cover of St. Liebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman by
Walter M. Miller,. Jr. After Walter Miller wrote his classic work, A Canticle for Leibowitz, he virtually disappeared from the literary scene. A recluse, Miller, despite overwhelming requests from his fans, refused to publish another work. Finally, in 1989, he agreed to write a second novel. In 1995 it became clear to Miller, who was in his 70s, that he was unable to finish the last 100 pages of the book he had been working on for seven years. He hired noted science fiction writer Terry Bisson to complete the book using Miller's outline and scripted dialogue. Tragically, Miller committed suicide soon after. Bisson persevered and the result is Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, a tale set in the 34th century of the world described in A Canticle for Leibowitz. Bisson did an excellent job on a difficult task; his work is truly transparent.

Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horsewoman tells the tale of Monk Blacktooth St. George. An unhappy resident of the Leibowitz Abbey, St. George is suffering a crisis in faith struggling between the dictates of his Nomad upbringing and his religious vows and his increasingly secular visions of the wild horsewoman, a myth from his childhood. Offered a way out of the Abbey without renouncing his vows (which would result in him becoming a pariah, St. George is assigned to be the translator for Cardinal Brownpony. Traveling with Cardinal Brownpony to New Rome for the election of a new Pope he is thrust into a maelstrom of political intrigue and secular temptations, long forbidden by his vows.

St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horsewoman is a longer and more complex tale than A Canticle for Leibowitz, more of a close-up view of one time period out of the many covered in the original novel. The humor, the symbolism and the social commentary are vintage Miller, although the pace is much slower and the supporting cast is much larger than that found in A Canticle for Leibowitz. Miller's storytelling skills still shine and his characters pulse with eccentric life. An intriguing tale from a talented, yet troubled, author.

Return to Book Reviews Index