Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Canticle For Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller, Jr.

It's difficult reviewing a classic. Especially if you didn't particularly like it.

A Canticle For Leibowitz takes place after a nuclear holocaust decimates the world. What's left in regards to knowledge after the bombs stopped falling, was systematically eradicated by the Simpletons, those who blamed men of learning and their books for what had happened.

The novel details three periods in the life of a monastery dedicated to preserving what little knowledge a few people were able to rescue; the memorabilia. As more and more time passes people pass from ignorance to learning, receiving the secrets of technology with varying degrees of suspicion.

The writing was superb. Each word carefully thought out before being relegated to the page. He's very rigorous in terms of creating his character, setting, time, etc.. The jumps occur and the reader is thrown into the action (or lack thereof) of the new time and given no explanation of what is happening. As a reader, half the fun is trying to figure out the new politics.

At least, it's fun the first time or two. By the third time I simply wanted something, anything, to happen. It's a book of morals and ideas. Not a book of action. The characters are fleshed out, real human beings, but you're taught not to get too close to them early in the book. And by the end I found my attention wavering.

Miller presents a bleak world wherein humans are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their past, no matter how advanced we become. It's a world I would never want to see.

Having finished reading a few books on the craft of writing, Miller exemplifies many of the techniques editors recommend. Which makes it a great study guide for any aspiring authors. Pay close attention to his use of dialogue and how he gives natural clues at the beginning of each part, allowing you to piece together what's happening without resorting to lectures, unrealistic dialogue or other cumbersome practices.

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