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July 19, 2011 2:37 PM   Subscribe

A Canticle for Leibowitz (1981, NPR); an audio adaptation of Walter Miller's 1960 history of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz in the centuries after the Flame Deluge.

Notes on the adaptation from old-time.com
posted by Iridic (69 comments total) 122 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is one of my most favorite novels. Thanks!
posted by Renoroc at 2:38 PM on July 19, 2011


Excellent find. Thank you.
posted by Fizz at 2:39 PM on July 19, 2011


Oh man. Loved the book as a kid.

I'm a little scared to start listening to it, as I think I may have lost the ability to pay attention to a single thing for an extended period, which I was so good at as a young pre-Internet nerd. And as the review says "This is not your typical 50s-60s sci-fi radio. This is deep. Take your time, enjoy it as the centuries unfold."
posted by benito.strauss at 2:41 PM on July 19, 2011


I remember hearing this radio play on the radio when I was 9. I was transfixed and refused to let my poor mother change the channel. It helped to spark my life-long love of science fiction and apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novels and short stories. Thanks so much for posting this!
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:42 PM on July 19, 2011


I absolutely adore that book. I find it one of those intellectual, thought-provoking, human-concerned, devoting and despairing novels that I've ever read. It's layer upon layer of language, religion, science, and ultimately man. I always tell people when I talk about it that there are two types of people: people who have never heard of it, and people who enjoyed it.

(Yes, a bit hyperbole, but seriously, all sorts of people I've introduced it to have walked away from it sad joyous.)
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:46 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why this book was chosen to introduce my grade 11 class to sci fi I could never figure out. If I hadn't already read Dune this book would have turned me off sci fi completely.
posted by Gwynarra at 2:50 PM on July 19, 2011


"the Albertian Order of Leibowitz"

Is that the Jon Stewart fan club?
posted by unigolyn at 2:51 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember hearing this radio play too, as a young-un. It was my first introduction to the story. Never knew it was 15 parts though - that's epic.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:51 PM on July 19, 2011


If I hadn't already read Dune this book would have turned me off sci fi completely.

I guess it takes all kinds, but Dune did nothing for me. Then again, my first exposure to it was at the movie theater where I missed the 1st 10 minutes of the movie.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:52 PM on July 19, 2011


When I said I didn't like science fiction, a friend suggested I read A Canticle for Leibowitz. I read it, but I still don't like science fiction.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:53 PM on July 19, 2011


A brilliant book, and very unique and special. Hints of Umberto Eco, but just hints, and without any of the literary snobbery. (I enjoy Eco, but jeeesh.)

Trying to read Saint Lebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman of the Apocalypse was a mistake. With a title like that I'm still baffled as to how it could have gone wrong.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:53 PM on July 19, 2011


This is awesome--I have a road trip coming up!
posted by Mngo at 2:55 PM on July 19, 2011




Why this book was chosen to introduce my grade 11 class to sci fi I could never figure out. If I hadn't already read Dune this book would have turned me off sci fi completely.


It's not gratuitous, or typical of scifi. It's a fairly adult book, and contrary to what people have said here, it's probably not for everybody. But it is good. I'll probably end up reading it a third time some day, which is the highest praise I can give a book.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:55 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bless me, Father, I ate a lizard.
posted by resurrexit at 2:56 PM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


Public Domain?
posted by stbalbach at 3:02 PM on July 19, 2011


Yay! Good find - thanks.

Definitely not for everyone, but a solid book.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:03 PM on July 19, 2011


a friend suggested I read A Canticle for Leibowitz. I read it, but I still don't like science fiction.

My reading found it an anti-science fiction novel. It's about Latin Medieval Catholicism and the Middle Ages, the preservation of learning through difficult times, which led to the Renaissance and modernity. Within that learning was the seed of its own destruction for the cycle to repeat (the novel was written at the height of the Cold War when atomic annihilation was very real). It's our past history imagined as repeating into the future. It's a cool idea, if a little boring vision (let's hope history isn't that predictable). It's also very Western oriented, couldn't get away with this book today, would have to include world history.
posted by stbalbach at 3:20 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wonderful links. One of my favorite books of all time.
posted by entropos at 3:21 PM on July 19, 2011


I have bought several copies of the novel over the years, because I keep pushing it on friends, sci-fi fans or no, and say "Please read this, because I think you'll love it." I don't tell my "eww sci-fi" friends that it's sci-fi. They often call me up and say "Wait, this is set in the future; you said it wasn't sci-fi," and I say "Please trust me and give it a chance. There are no lightsabers or robots."

Invariably, my friends adore it, and I say "Keep it. You'll want to read it again one day."

Then I buy more copies.
posted by tzikeh at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the link! Canticle is one of my favorite books.

It's also very Western oriented, couldn't get away with this book today, would have to include world history.

But part of the point is that thanks to the war and the Simplification (the destruction of surviving technology and books by rampaging mobs), the Brothers of the Order naturally have very little notion of history at all, let alone that of the world at large. (The one account of the war is written in a Blblical style that, interestingly, names one of the President's advisers but not the President himself.)

I love how that in the final part of the book -- in which modern technology, including the Bomb, has once again emerged -- the Asian Coalition has emerged as the chief enemy -- of course other civiliizations emerged from scattered pockets of survivors throughout the world, though naturally they'd be unhinted at in the early part of the book, where knowledge of the world outside the Abbey extended pretty much to barbarian shamans in Utah and "New Rome," located in the midwest of the former US.
posted by Gelatin at 3:49 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did you know they were thinking of releasing the manuscript for the sequel Miller was working on, but since it was never finished they decided to bury him with it?

This is a way better reality than the really real reality
posted by cjorgensen at 3:50 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The one account of the war is written in a Blblical style that, interestingly, names one of the President's advisers but not the President himself

I forgot to mention that said account, in what must have been a deliberate parallel to the New Testament, is explicitly described as having been an oral history only written down by someone a generation or two after the war.
posted by Gelatin at 3:51 PM on July 19, 2011


Blessed Saint Liebowitz, keep 'em dreaming down there.
posted by localroger at 3:53 PM on July 19, 2011


A brilliant book, and very unique and special. Hints of Umberto Eco, but just hints, and without any of the literary snobbery.

Actually, A Canticle for Leibowitz + Umberto Eco = Anathem.
posted by The Bellman at 3:53 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you liked A Canticle for Leibowitz, there's a really good chance you'll like Riddley Walker--if only for the imaginative language in which it's written.

Feel like Riddley Walker spoilers?
posted by John of Michigan at 4:04 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


cjorgensen: Did you know they were thinking of releasing the manuscript for the sequel Miller was working on, but since it was never finished they decided to bury him with it?

Untrue.
posted by tzikeh at 4:09 PM on July 19, 2011


Oooh, thank you! I love Canticle and happened to be thinking about re-reading it lately (thanks to a comment in yesterday's Borders thread & my being in the middle of a Rhodes book) -- this is perfect. It's very much a product of its era, and I wonder whether younger readers (who didn't experience the atomic anxiety of the cold war) approach it differently; anyone here teaching it?

And this book originated an ice-breakery question that I still enjoy putting to people: if you had a page -- and only one page -- to devote to a simple (and preferably graphical) explanation of something that would help mankind "reboot" civilization after an apocalyptic catastrophe that destroys all scientific and cultural knowledge, what would you describe?
posted by Westringia F. at 4:09 PM on July 19, 2011


The image of those cool green eyes lingered with him as long as life. He did not ask why God would choose to raise up a creature of primal innocence from the shoulder of Mrs. Grales, or why God gave to it the preternatural gifts of Eden — these gifts which Man had been trying to seize by brute force again from Heaven since first he lost them. He had seen primal innocence in those eyes, and a promise of resurrection. One glimpse had been a bounty, and he wept in gratitude.
Afterwards he lay with his face in the wet dirt and waited.
Nothing else ever came — nothing that he saw, or felt, or heard.


I mean, that prose never ceases to bring literal tears to my eyes. Sorrow and joy. Mystery and grace.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:14 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love this book. One of my favorites.
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:16 PM on July 19, 2011


Surely by now, we have learned, if you put numbers in your filenames you have to zero-pad the number so that the files sort in order, eg: 01, 02, 03, ... 09, 10, 11, 12 ...
posted by wobh at 4:18 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read Canticle when I was sick, which didn't help either my understanding or my mood.

If I hadn't already read Dune this book would have turned me off sci fi completely.

This is completely incomprehensible to me. Dune is terrible SF. Nothing ever happens, ever ever ever.
posted by DU at 4:32 PM on July 19, 2011


A Canticle for Leibowitz + Umberto Eco = Anathem.

I love Anathem and I liked Eco, but I'm not sure this is right. Eco seems more literarily intellectual while Anathem is more Hofstadterianly philosophical.
posted by DU at 4:34 PM on July 19, 2011


"Eco seems more literarily intellectual while Anathem is more Hofstadterianly philosophical."

This seems like an unnecessarily fine distinction. Eco, particularly in "Foucault's Pendulum" as well as many of his essays, can't help but layer philosophy on top of his literary and linguistic confections, which is what you'd expect from a semiotician.
posted by a small part of the world at 4:49 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It took me several tries over some teenage years, but I made it through, and the end blew me away. Impossible for me to reread that last bit without crying. The shark!

Babylon-5 did a brilliant tribute to this book, too.
posted by doctornemo at 4:52 PM on July 19, 2011


I'm willing to grant that Dune is a contender for "terrible SF," and the writing can be downright clunky, but goddamn if I don't re-read it more often than 99% of the books I own. A flawed jewel it may be, but its many cracks and imperfections do nothing to diminish its luster.
posted by a small part of the world at 4:54 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a little scared to start listening to it, as I think I may have lost the ability to pay attention to a single thing for an extended period, which I was so good at as a young pre-Internet nerd.

Well, then, you need the radio series which is the internet, audio version. Bigipedia! (Sponsored by Chianto!)

All that aside, thanks so much for posting this! I love this book, remember listening to this series a zillion years ago, and can't wait to hear it again. Most excellent indeed!

Dune is terrible SF. Nothing ever happens, ever ever ever.

Dune is a religious text disguised as SF. If you read it in any other way, you're doing it wrong.
posted by hippybear at 5:12 PM on July 19, 2011


> Untrue.

Nope. That link goes to a myth perpetrated by bored internet pranksters. There is no second book.

Come join me in my reality. It's a much better place.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:03 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Westringia F., I think you might be looking for this (thanks, wcfields).
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:22 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dune pretty much blew my mind in all the ways that SF is supposed to when you're a kid. If I re-read it now, I'm sure I'd notice all kinds of creaking in the machinery, but the experience is still an important touchstone for me.

Canticle (which I'm pretty sure I read earlier) came on differently, but the imagery and tone have stayed with me in a way that few novels manage, and I find myself thinking about it pretty often.

I'm curious if fans of this one have read George R. Stewart's Earth Abides...
posted by brennen at 6:46 PM on July 19, 2011


I'm curious if fans of this one have read George R. Stewart's Earth Abides...

I read Earth Abides a couple of months ago and loved it. Probably the best post-apocalyptic novel I have ever read.

I didn't find Canticle that interesting. What do you all love about it? I'm curious about what I'm missing.
posted by Triplanetary at 6:57 PM on July 19, 2011


TL;DR Classic Science Fiction Book Reviews!

Dune: James Michener in SPACE!
A Canticle for Leibowitz: Thomas Merton Beyond Thunderdome
posted by KingEdRa at 6:58 PM on July 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


I had a bookmark to Bigipedia in my podcasts list for about a year. I eventually it deleted after never seeing anything new. I was going to wonder out-loud how I could be sure to be notified if it every started up again. I guess the answer is to keep reading MetaFilter. Thanks, hippybear.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:59 PM on July 19, 2011


A Canticle for Leibowitz: Thomas Merton Beyond Thunderdome

I think we can just go ahead and close the thread now.
posted by brennen at 7:02 PM on July 19, 2011


Classic book. I still have my paperback copy I got in the 1970s. A must read for anyone who likes post-industrial dystopic literature. I'm not really sure why one would like Earth Abides, but not Canticle. Both are great stories.
posted by midnightscout at 7:03 PM on July 19, 2011


Although, um, about James Michener...
posted by brennen at 7:05 PM on July 19, 2011


I too read it for the first time in 11th grade sci-fi class. And I've re-read it several times since then.
posted by COD at 7:35 PM on July 19, 2011


Speaking of Anathem, would I get shouted down if I said that I have it sat on my to be read pile, where it has resided since I purchased it, several years ago. It just lays there, taunting me - daring me to read it. "You like Stephenson's other works", it screams to me, "so dive in - you know you want to."

But something has always stopped me.

Should I push past it and read it, or should I let this one book beat me?
posted by cerulgalactus at 8:47 PM on July 19, 2011


should I let this one book beat me?

A book has only beat you if you've started it several times and never finished it.

If you've never started it, then you've beaten yourself.
posted by hippybear at 8:56 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


A lot of the comments here touch on why I'm scared to reread so much of the Sci-Fi I loved as a young adult. Will I find Canticle forced? Will I be able to enjoy Niven & Pournelle knowing what I know about the individuals now... and dear god, even I knew then how badly the characters were all written. No way will I touch Ender's Game, even though it sits 8 feet away from me.

These books helped shape me, but I don't think the molds would fit anymore.

That said, I love this..and I loved Canticle.
posted by DigDoug at 9:06 PM on July 19, 2011


I appreciate Eco, and Canticle. I started Cryptonomicon once, but was in a mad busy time, and put it down unfinished, though I got far enough along to know that I'll return to it. Snow Crash, however, I grew to hate less than half-way into the thing. It read to me like a manic first-draft, written by a smart high-schooler between marathon X-box episodes in a Pixy Stix-fueled haze.

So, my better-read friends, should I take a crack at Anathem?
posted by slab_lizard at 9:19 PM on July 19, 2011


Snow Crash, however, I grew to hate less than half-way into the thing. It read to me like a manic first-draft, written by a smart high-schooler between marathon X-box episodes in a Pixy Stix-fueled haze.


Snow Crash started out as a plot for a graphic novel and the first half still reads like that. The second half increasing reads as if the author got bored and just wanted to get his plotting over and done with. I enjoyed the book for the first part when I read it when I was younger but tried re-reading it a couple of years ago and I just couldn't bear even the first part.
posted by Bwithh at 9:52 PM on July 19, 2011


Should I push past it and read it, or should I let this one book beat me?

I'm about 2/3rds through my second reading of Anathem (after rereading Cryptonomicon through the Baroque Cycle in anticipation of Reamde). I think it's the hardest to get into, and I think it has some writing issues (I find Stephenson in general has some issues as a writer, but obviously I still find his work worthwhile). I think it is worthwhile and full of some very interesting ideas. Worth trying to dig past the first several chapters in my book.

And I'm adding this FPP to my recent Ask question!
posted by nanojath at 10:54 PM on July 19, 2011


Someone green-light the film version of Thomas Merton Beyond Thunderdome, stat.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:20 PM on July 19, 2011


I found Anathem highly worth my time after I got over my initial annoyance at having to learn Stephenson's invented vocabulary. It explores a lot of interesting ideas, and turns into a page turner as the plot picks up at the end. Once I convinced the wife to make the commitment she tore through it in an intense 3 day reading session, then immediately read the whole thing again to savor the nuances.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:12 AM on July 20, 2011


Say what you want about Snow Crash, but The Diamond Age is a work of beauty.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:59 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Earth Abides, as mentioned above, is very much worth reading. I found the book rather beautiful overall and was very moved by the ending.

Shockingly, despite having read everything else mentioned in the thread, I've never read Canticle. I shall fix that.
posted by ainymeek at 1:53 AM on July 20, 2011


I found Anathem highly worth my time after I got over my initial annoyance at having to learn Stephenson's invented vocabulary.

The early parts were definitely a slog.

Then something just kind of switched, and it felt like clearer prose than usual. It's one of the better artistic effects I've ever encountered in a narrative, and (I suspect), a pretty important part of the overall statement.

I think it's probably Stephenson's most successful novel. It's not as funny, or as outright brilliant in places, as some of the earlier stuff, but it's coherent and structured well, with an arc that gives the sense of being more than a sum of parts.

I really, really liked it.
posted by brennen at 2:37 AM on July 20, 2011


It is almost 4 in the damn morning, and I should go to sleep, but I thought I'd say first that I'm really glad so many people have read Earth Abides. I have a (really wonderful) school librarian to thank for it, but I'd somehow gotten the impression it wasn't very widely read even among people with a taste for this sort of thing.
posted by brennen at 2:42 AM on July 20, 2011


If we are bringing up Earth Abides, we should probably mention the other two post-apocalyptic greats from the era: Alas, Babylon and On the Beach. Canticle is one of my all-time favorite books, and these four books together truly capture the era perfectly.
posted by Lokheed at 5:52 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd completely forgotten about this novel and how marvelous it is. Great post.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:24 AM on July 20, 2011


I love this series to pieces; it was one of the last great NPR Playhouse productions before the CPB got defunded under the Reagan Admin and before NPR became all-news-all-the-time. There were a few years in the late 70's-to-early-80's when there was a brief explosion of radio drama on public and college radio, spurred by the Star Wars adaptations and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in its original and true form as a BBC4 radio serial. At the time, ZBS, the National Radio Theater, NPR Playhouse, and the Mind's Eye were all producing great stuff here in America (well, maybe the Mind's Eye wasn't so great) and many stations played series by the BBC and the CBC.

Anyway, I was able to get this series on CD when it was briefly made available. Everyone, snatch it up now before the take down; while the Archive says it's Public Domain there's no way that's right--the production was in 1981 and I'm sure that Miller's estate also has an interest.
posted by Trace McJoy at 6:31 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the late 60's, Alas, Babylon and A Canticle For Liebowitz very strongly shaped the worldview of me and my friends as we were entering high school.

To be in grade school during the late 50s and early 60s, particularly in 1962-3 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the bomb shelter panic and Kennedy's assassination all piled on top of one another, along with our parents (some of whom were refugees) experience of WWII, it was a pretty doom-struck time to be a kid. It particularly didn't help living in the Seattle suburbs with a bunch of Boeing engineers working on things like the Minuteman, KC-135 aerial re-fueling, etc., all devoted to nuclear warfighting.

In the mid 70's, I was working at a museum that hosted a visiting Soviet science exhibition. I gave a copy of Canticle to the delegation's press officer. The security officer made him give it back to me because it was about religion.

I find it odd that Canticle is missing from this list of nuke holocaust fiction.
posted by warbaby at 8:18 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia has a funny way of making you wrong.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:23 AM on July 20, 2011


(in hindsight, I meant -- because of the changes)

(but looking at the history -- because I was going to change it -- it looks like it was there all the time)

posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:26 AM on July 20, 2011


I loved SnowCrash and still love it. Diamond Age was also great. Stephenson is an uneven writer but I love the worlds he creates so I will keep reading his stuff even though his stories sometimes have unsatisfying endings.

I finished Anathem last month and it is a bit of a slog and I am not sure that I will read it again. But I loved the main characters and the universe the story is set in so it was worth reading just for that.
posted by Gwynarra at 9:27 AM on July 20, 2011


Canticle was one of my favorite novels when I was a young person. I agree with the idea the Anathem is Neal Stephenson's homage to this work (I loved Anathem, too).

By that same token I would say that Cryptonomicon is Stephenson's homage to Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by zomg at 12:14 PM on July 20, 2011


Listened to the first two parts today in the car. That couldn't be... was that Jeffrey Tambor as Fr. Cheroki?!
posted by MarchHare at 2:19 AM on July 21, 2011


Why this book was chosen to introduce my grade 11 class to sci fi I could never figure out. If I hadn't already read Dune this book would have turned me off sci fi completely.

It's an easy read, it's sci-fi without spaceships and robots and what-have-you, it's deep enough to have discussions about in class without being TOO deep for 16 year olds who aren't into sci-fi. I'm a huge post-apocalyptic fiction nerd, so Leibowitz is definitely up there in my list of fave books of the genre. I just re-read it a few months ago actually.

My grade 11 english teacher introduced us to sci-fi with Arthur C Clarke's Childhood's End (hated it at the time, have since re-read it and it's grown on me) and John Wyndham's The Chrysalids (loved it at the time, never got around to re-reading it. Actually, most of the books we read in grade 11 English were sci-fi-ish in some way. That was definitely the re-ignition of my love for sci-fi, and reading in general actually.
posted by antifuse at 11:39 AM on July 22, 2011


Oh, and re: Anathem - I started reading it, made it maybe 200 pages in and had to give it up. The slog beat me. I'll try again some time, but DAMN.
posted by antifuse at 11:55 AM on July 22, 2011


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