“A Canticle for Leibowitz” (Post 2/2)


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[28] Part II: Fiat Lux

Latin: “Let there be light”

The most disorienting section to get into, but my favorite once it settles. The writing seems more relaxed than Part I, the touches of humor more effective.


“Martyrdom is all very well, but we have a job to do first.”



This fellow, thought Marcus, is after something he wants rather badly, and he’s even willing to be polite in order to get it.


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“A Canticle for Leibowitz” (Post 1/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2

Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s classic (and Hugo award-winning) 1960 post-apocalyptic novel. I read a Bantom Books mass market paperback; a very good printing at a very fair price (and my favorite cover for the book that I’ve seen).

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 2

The Plot:

After a 20th-century nuclear war causes most survivors to destroy every remnant of learning and science, a monastery dedicates itself to preserving humanity’s past, believing there will be a time when men seek knowledge again.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a bleak book, not so much enjoyed as endured. If you are depressed, feeling down, or easily drop into fear-of-death malaise, hold off on this one.

The construction is interesting; we get three (mostly) self-contained novellas, spanning several hundred years after the fall of man. The first two stories are technically set in the future but feel like the past, showing monks and a monastery suited for a historical novel. Part three becomes science fiction and Miller pulls off all angles pretty well.

Our protagonists are mostly men of faith confronted with tests and trials. But Leibowitz is not a typical faith vs. knowledge piece. Miller doesn’t make those who oppose the monks (or those the monks oppose) into villainous caricatures. Both sides make valid arguments and try to reason in intelligent ways. The focus of the novel suggest that the monks are Miller’s heroes but there’s a sad and depressing undercurrent; Miller doesn’t quite buy what he’s selling. He lacks the conviction of his characters. The entire work seems like a dialogue of a man trying to convince himself of his faith and unable to get past his own logic.

This is the major strength of the book and what makes it so interesting. I think you can come to this from any belief (or non-belief) and relate to something here. The thing I can’t follow Miller on is the blame he puts on inventors and scientists. From his perspective, the first annihilation was their fault and the second one will be, too. He seems to forget that damage, death and destruction from technology often goes hand-in-hand with religion.

He also uses a tremendous amount of Latin and my two years of high school Latin didn’t help. I usually look up translations in my reading but I quickly decided that if Miller didn’t care enough to give his audience translations, I wasn’t going to waste my time looking them up. Continue reading

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

Invasion 01

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Jack Finney’s 1955 sci-fi classic. I read a Fireside paperback edition.

3 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: No. Somehow I’ve never seen either version (1956 or 1978). I probably should.

The Plot:

The citizens of Doctor Miles Bennell’s once-safe hometown are changing into near-perfect reproductions.

Jack Finney has been on my to-read list for years (Stephen King speaks highly of Finney in Danse Macabre) but I wasn’t so sure about Invasion. I assumed it would be a cheesy, cheap, sexist, idiotic alien tale. But the writing, though simple and sometimes repetitive, is clean and upright. It’s an easy book to read without being stupid. The language feels surprisingly fresh and it goes by fast; my edition is 216 pages and it felt like a tight novella.

The science is washy (“the sunlight lying on an acre of farm land weight several tons” p.148) but Finney tells a compelling tale without dragging things out. His main characters pull a couple of clever maneuvers and they’re generally likeable. Overall, a pretty good book.

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“Mao II”

Mao II

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Don DeLillo’s 1991 novel. I read a 1992 Penguin paperback (which doesn’t seem to have a listing on Amazon).

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Reclusive author Bill Gray leaves his secluded home, loyal assistant, and ex-cult member lover after hearing of a poet kept hostage by terrorists.

…but don’t worry about the plot because this is a mood piece. The first quarter of Mao II establishes a story with predictable endpoints which DeLillo then refuses to follow. He instead meditates on emotion and thought with four incredibly interesting leads who intersect, ponder their lives, and slowly move along.

There are amazing descriptions of images that chill and unsettle. DeLillo’s New York City is haunting and wonderful as always. He is the master of the insightful, clever one-liner and pulls of the feat of feeling literary and important with a foundation of simple language. I hardly ever have to look up vocabulary in his work. David Foster Wallace cribbed a lot from DeLillo but failed to understand his core: building depth with simplicity. I see more of DeLillo in David Mitchell (who I hope to read more of this year).

DeLillo interweaves real-world events throughout Mao II: Sun Myung Moon’s 1982 mass marriage ceremony in New York City, the horrific scenes from the funeral and burial of Komeni, even the title of the book is derived from art by Andy Warhol.

But what holds Mao II back from being great is it leaves me wanting too much more. It’s never good to outstay your welcome but the four leads in this book barely get time to stretch. I loved the scenes where two or more of these characters were together. Sadly, at around the halfway point, they hardly interact at all. I wanted to know so much more about all of them.

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“The Fifth Child”

Fifth Child 01[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Doris Lessing’s 1988 psychological horror novel. I read a Vintage International paperback edition with a gnarly cover.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Harriet and David Lovatt plan to fill their huge house with a clan of perfect children. But their fifth child, Ben, disrupts all hope for order and tradition.

I had never heard of The Fifth Child until fans of a podcast I listen to listed it as one of their favorite required readings from school. I went through the American public school system and (sadly) never encountered it or any of Doris Lessing’s work.

Better late than never: Lessing’s style is incredible. Clean, direct, simple language to convey complex emotional and moral situations. She creates a literary feeling without pretension or a reliance on outside references.

The Fifth Child reads like a fable though it’s placed firmly in our world and set to specific years. And in a move I can’t remember ever encountering, there are no section or chapter breaks, giving the work the feeling of a nightmare – it continues endlessly, changing locations and moving forward unrelentingly.

An incredible range of interpretations and readings can be drawn from The Fifth Child. It’s a great piece to use in school; ten people could have ten different opinions of who to feel pity for and who to hate. Some could take it at face-value, some could see it as satire or social commentary. Lessing never comes down on any character’s side – every person in this story suffers and there is no solution that doesn’t involve more suffering.

This is going to be more of a love-post than reference/research.

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