Audible – A Canticle for Leibowitz

Another six gym days week, another audiobook down. I was recommended this one by our tutor (the magnificent James Friel) for the MA Creative Writing course late last year, when we were discussing different sci-fi via email. I’d not heard of it, and kept hold of the email until such time as I was able to read/listen to it. With his suggestion of Audible earlier this year, it’s given me ample opportunity to listen through my ears, what I don’t have the opportunity to look at with my eyes. My ever growing ‘to read’ pile is testament to this.

Anyway, I’m digressing, as I so often do. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller (1960) is another post-apocalyptic tale, following the monks of St Leibowitz as they store knowledge of the pre-nuclear war world. It starts following novice Francis, who is out in the middle of nowhere abstaining. Guided to a rock by a passing Wanderer (exactly what it says on the tin, someone who wanders), which in turn leads to a discovery of a fall out shelter, the book took a route I wasn’t expecting. In a time when loads of films and novels would have mutants and/or undead swarming out of it, and Francis would have to become a little more like the Preacher, and a little less like an actual monk, ACfL just has him discover a corpse, and some documents, including a blueprint and a shopping list, which he suspects is written by Leibowitz himself.

Novice Francis is a member of the Albertian order of Leibowitz, an order of monks who, after the nuclear war that has sent mankind back to the middle ages (well, they’ve become warring tribes, etc, so you get the idea). The monks of Leibowitz collect any scientific knowledge they can, painstakingly making copies of it, so that one day they can give the information when mankind is ready for it. After making the find in a fallout shelter, he takes the items back to the monastery, where the other novices speculate that the old man who directed him there, was the embodiment of Leibowitz himself, much to the annoyance of the Abbot.

This leads Francis on a long road, eventually taking him to the new Rome to meet the Pope. In the following sections of the novel (originally written as three stories), follow the tale around 5-600 years after each other, the first section being set in the 26th century. With the timeline spanning that great a time, we get to see the world post-apocalypse, then post-post-apocalypse, when the world has been rebuilt, and so on.

It’s a great read/listen, and again, I suspect it’d be one for me that is easier to listen to than it would be to read. That said, I think I may just like it when people read me stories. In itself it is slow moving, but brings up some interesting points that obviously played on Miller’s mind as much as they do on some people’s today; Is it right to euthanize someone who is in pain and suffering greatly, and will die a long, agonising death? Or is it better to keep them alive so that they can live as long and as comfortably/uncomfortably as possible? The point in the novel has religious connotations, as the Abbot chastises a young lady for taking herself and her baby to be euthanized, God loves her for her suffering and perseverance, while she asks why he is happy that she suffers.

It also asks about the scientific knowledge, how, despite all the miracles and magic that modern technology can bring (I grew up with a black and white TV in my room, that changed channels with a dial. The C-64 looked better in colour though, iPads, tablets, etc are all incredible to me. Possibly sorcery/witchcraft), mankind chooses to use it to find means to kill itself in more and more efficient ways. The monks, aware of this, are keeping the knowledge held until such time as humans are ready for it. Again, it brings the fiery terror from the skies, and makes you wonder why the folk in charge don’t concentrate on being creative and useful, rather than blowing the piss out of each other (or rather, making other people do it).

All in all, I’d definitely recommend it, a great story and some more questions to ask yourself/think on. At ten hours fifty-five it’s not massively long, but it’s worth every minute.

Next up is Anthony Beevor’s The Second World War. It’s in two parts, and each is massive, so I may be some time.

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