Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Post-Apocalyptic world, full of humanity and wry humour, as well as pity and terror.

Seen from the viewpoint of a remote desert monastic community, where, against the odds, the survivors of the nuclear flame deluge attempt to preserve the last fragments of mankind’s lost knowledge, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” chronicles the long slow rebuilding & eventual fall, again, of civilization through three linked novellas.

As in the mediaeval dark ages, the Catholic church becomes the home of scholarship and the preserver of lost knowledge.

First we meet the naïve and likeable Brother Francis Gerard, who makes an important discovery after meeting a strange and scrawny pilgrim.

Brother Frances, does not discover working weapons or high technology that will enable man to leapfrog over generations of slow rediscovery : that is where the genius of the first section lies.

The scraps of information he finds : a grocery list, a hurried note, and a blueprint, are perhaps relics of the Blessed Leibowitz : ironically a Jewish engineer and survivor of the nuclear apocalypse: who was instrumental in attempting to save books and documents from the book-burning anti-science backlash which followed, and was martyred as a result.

Brother Francis devotes his life to preserving and embellishing scraps of knowledge, along the way showing us the life of the community, and the optimism that helps man to slowly stumble back towards civilization.

In the middle segment, generations have passed and city-states war with each other and the mutant wildmen of the wilderness : this is western movie territory, also echoing the European reformation when secular power attempts and partly succeeds in displacing the power and learning of the church.
The monastery survives, and as ever, the buzzards thrive.

Finally, again generations in the future, man has regained space technology, but is threatened by the ever-greater certainty of another nuclear war.
Plans are laid to convey the consolation of the church, and the hoarded wisdom of the generations, to the stars.

Meanwhile, “voluntary” euthanasia is offered to radiation victims in military camps reminiscent of the Holocaust.
The ethics of both these developments are debated and exemplified by the Brothers of St. Leibowitz,

The book ends on a bittersweet, hopeful yet despairing note as the Earth plunges again into nuclear night, while the last ship escapes.

Will the cycle repeat yet again, or will man this time break free and build a long-term sustainable future in the stars?

Or will the mutants who survive this time do better: as is hinted in the last pages by the development of Rachel, the saintly, intelligent conjoined twin of Mrs Grales, the simple old “Termarter woman”?

I hadn’t read this before, but I will certainly return to the book more than once.
It is rich, sad, funny, philosophical, and full of wry humanity.
It says more about the human condition than many of the other powerfully bleak post-apocalyptic novels that came after it

SF books - what do you think?

I first came across this meme at Walt at Random, but I've seen it in a few places since (notably Phil Bradley's new non-work blog, Frivolity and the ubiquitous Librarian in Black).

“Below is a Science Fiction Book Club list most significant SF novels between 1953-2006. The meme part of this works like so: Bold the ones you have read, strike through the ones you read and hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put a star next to the ones you love.”

I don't start reading things and then give up. Or, if I do, it happens infrequently enough for me to think I don't do it. I've added another symbol, +, to mark books on my "to-read" pile (quite literally a pile of books next to my bed).

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert +
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin +
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson *
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick *
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett *
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card +
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams *
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer +

You'll notice two things about this list:

1. I've got a heck of a long way to go
2. I tend not to read books unless I think I'm going to like them.

The "to read" pile also includes some more Gibson (including Idoru, for Bibliothecary), some Kim Stanley Robinson Mars books and plenty of other stuff.

So, copy 'n' paste the list into the comments box and share your thoughts. Could it make a good basis for the nascent online genre fiction group?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Horror Readers' Charter

I thought that people might be interested in this over at Monster Librarian: it's a Bill of Rights for genre fiction readers. I particularly like "You have the right to carry books in your baggage at all times," which pretty much sums up my whole accessorizing philosophy (hence the shoulder bag on my avatar). The Monster Librarian website is a reader development resource for horror novels; a pretty cool thing in itself but a good springboard for our embryonic online reading group, perhaps.

On the subject of horror novels, did anyone catch Stephen King on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs? Due to the evil intricacies of music licensing the 'listen again' feature isn't available, but it's repeated on Friday morning at 9 am. I thought he was an interesting choice and it was nice to hear Kirsty Young praising his writing abilities.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Who are they? Where did they find them?

Here is the 2006 World Fantasy Award Winners list;

The World Fantasy Awards were presented at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention, held in Austin, Tex., over the weekend.

Judges were Steve Lockley, Barbara Roden, Victoria Strauss, Jeff VanderMeer, and Andrew Wheeler.

The winners were:

Life Achievement: John Crowley and Stephen Fabian

Novel: Haruki Murakami, for Kafka on the Shore (Knopf)

Novella: Joe Hill, for Voluntary Committal (Subterranean Press)

Short Fiction: George Saunders, for "CommComm" (The New Yorker, Aug. 1, 2005)

Anthology: The Fair Folk edited by Marvin Kaye (Science Fiction Book Club)

Collection: Bruce Holland Rogers, for The Keyhole Opera (Wheatland Press)

Artist: James Jean

Special Award, Professional: Sean Wallace (for Prime Books)

Special Award, Non-Professional: David Howe and Stephen Walker (for Telos Books)

I thought I was well-ish read, but I have heard of none of the authors, and only one judge.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fame at last!!

Hello all,

Just to let you know that the Bookseller have published a great photograph of 'How Novel' in their supplement this month dedicated to graphic novels and manga.

So now you know who we are, well except me, who expertly took the photograph. (Oh and that is Tim Perkins, the comics illustrator)



This Saturday (November 4th), the graphic novel group at Bolton Central Library will be considering Old Stoneyface.

There are quite a few Judge Dredd books in Bolton Libraries, most of which will have been dished out to members of the group a couple of weeks ago. I've got The complete case files v. 1 sitting in my living room, waiting to be read, plus I've been following the Origins storyline in 2000AD for the last few weeks.

You might like to know that the mighty BBC website has some 2000AD strips online, as well as quite a few other comics. This one featuring Jonathan, Buffy's would-be arch nemesis, looks like it could be fun.

I'll see you perps at 3.30-4.30 in Bolton Central Library's Adult Fiction section this Saturday. Tea and biccies will be provided, as ever.