A Canticle for Leibowitz
History repeats itself in a classic post-apocalyptic tale.
Walter Miller Jnr's only well-known work, A Canticle for Leibowitz won the 1961 Hugo Award. Originating as short stories published in the US Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, the book consists of three sections, each dealing with a phase of civilisation's rise and fall.
The story begins in an America which has gone back to the dark ages as a result of the Fire Deluge - some sort of nuclear catastrophe. There has been a backlash against learning, and what little knowledge of the world before remains is in the hands of the Catholic Church. Isolated communities, such as the Abbey of St Leibowitz, preserve and copy old writings without necessarily understanding them at all.
Part two leaps forward to a new Renaissance, regarded with unease by the Church. By part three, a thousand years from the era of the story's beginning, humanity has rebuilt a technological civilisation and even reached the stars. But it is once again on the verge of nuclear war.
Although A Canticle for Leibowitz's cyclical view of history seems pessimistic, the novel itself is lively and witty, with engagingly well-drawn characters. Miller, himself a Catholic, hints at a spiritual salvation transcending the physical, which some could view as a happy ending.
A new instalment of the story was begun by Walter Miller before his death by suicide in 1996. It was finished by Terry Bisson and published in 1997 as St Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.
Work nominated by JanusAI.