By Godfrey Blackwell

Another one from the "archives" ... still find LV-426 and the whole sequence from the film Alien where the Nostromo approaches the planet to be haunting, creepy, and beautiful all at the same time.


Book Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Title: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Author: Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Publisher: Spectra Books
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A classic of science fiction and Catholic literature which gives a chillingly realistic portrayal of Catholic monks toiling in the Lord's vineyard in the wake of atomic apocalypse.

I must say the first thing that surprised me was all the overt and orthodox Catholicism. Written in 1959, the book portrays a future Church that is totally traditional, and is told from the perspective of members of The Order of St. Leibowitz,  monks who live according to the Cistercian Rule.

The novel is actually a collection of three novellas, each taking place several centuries apart, each following the same dystopic future setting. The dystopia comes from a global nuclear war that took place some time in the mid-late 20th century, with the first novella taking place some 600 years later in a period of darkness and barbarism. In that time, the Church is (as it was c. 500 a.D.) the last stronghold of learning and knowledge.

I have to say that I enjoyed the first novella, which followed Brother Francis of Utah, a novice seeking his vocation in the Order who plays a key role in the canonisation of St. Leibowitz, and the third novella, which follows Abbot Zerchi, leader of the order in the next time of troubles, the most. The middle novella wasn't as masterful as the first and last, in my view, though it was still good.

One thing that impressed me about Miller's writing style was how he was able to portray traditionally Catholic life in a monastery, including prayers in Latin and the like, without coming across as preaching. At least, I didn't find it preachy, but the book sold over 750,000 copies so I think that many others had my impression of "non-preachiness" while immersing the reader in total Catholicism. This is a technique that I continue to struggle with in my own writing.

Perhaps part of the non-preachy tone of the book comes from the excellent characters that play central roles in the piece. They are all very human, with faults and strong points, yet their faults never give an impression of hypocrisy in their devotion and the confessional scenes were very well done. I loved the fact that all the characters in this book were believable, devoted Catholics who I could really relate to despite their monastic state versus my lay state.

Not only were the characters very strong, but the plot was quite well done. I made the mistake of reading the forward to the novel which totally gave away some of the main plot elements (which I am being careful not to do here), yet I still found the book highly enjoyable with a few unexpected twists. The portrayal of a post-nuclear holocaust world was chillingly believable. The depictions of the Church were very well done and traditional, with some well-concieved thoughts on what sorts of issues She might be wrestling with in the wake of a nuclear war and all that it brings. I thought it was a little Americo-centric to think that the papacy would relocate to the United States if Rome were annihilated in nuclear fire, but this didn't take away from the novel.

All in all, I can't really say enough good about this novel, which truly is a masterpiece. It is excellent science fiction with all the right elements of suspense, mystery, strong characters, and new societies.



By Anna Blackwell (December 2018, Age 11)

Up amidst the Twin Sisters the evil ork prince, Gulag, and his army advanced through the rocky pass. Gulag's instinct told him this was where the army was to attack. He looked up in the sky; darkness was falling all around. Positioning his troops, the bloodthirsty ork waited for his victims.

Suddenly a poison dart shot out of the trees. One of the goblins dropped dead, then out of the trees came lizard-like creatures holding javelins, war-axes, and clubs. In their midst stood a tall Claw Beast, a Monitor-like creature, and on its back rode Kamen the fierce lizard-and-man-like creature.

Gulag's troops attacked the scaly beasts, sending blood and flesh everywhere. Gulag rushed through the enemy, smashing and gnashing at them. Soon the weather turned to the orks' side as a blizzard rolled down from the mountains. The lizards could not bear the cold and it was not long before they tried to turn back.

Kamen turned his Claw Beast towards Gulag; the two threw hard blows at one another. Blood gushed out of both of the leaders. Gulag swung his mighty mallet at the head of Kamen, sending his helmet flying. Gulag leapt upon his victim: "Surrender or die!" he cried.

"Never!" croaked Kamen.

The Ork raised his weapon to finish the lizard off, when suddenly a great blast smote him in the face. Gulag fell to the ground groaning and snarling. Kamen lay on the ground coughing and bleeding. Gulag got up to see a young Elven man, his sword blazing with light.

The furious Ork jumped up, screaming and crying, "Elf! Elf! die before me!"

But the Elf was faster and jumped forward, stabbing his opponent in the chest. Gulag made one last screeching wail and dropped dead. The ork troops dropped their weapons and fled. The young elf walked over to the lizard troops.

"Do not be afraid, I am Asa, son of Lanther, King of the Western Elves."

The lizard-like creatures crawled slowly forward to tend to their leader. Kamen was taken back to the temple to heal. Meanwhile the chiefs of the lizard tribes made a peace treaty with the elves, to thank them for saving Kamen and their land.


Godfrey's Thoughts on "Cryo-Prisons"

One sci-fi trope I've never understood is cryonic jails. I was reminded of this when thinking about some of the weirder or more preposterous scpace craft depicted in film and remembered "Lockout" with Guy Pearce (a thoroughly mediocre, but fun in a cheese 1980s action movie sort of way). The trope is probably better known from the 1993 film "Demolition Man" and basically it goes like this: convicted criminals are cryonically frozen for the duration of their jail sentence. Which makes no sense if you consider the purpose of jails. I practice criminal law for a living, so perhaps this is more annoying to me than to others, but consider ...

The word "penitentiary" comes from Mediaeval Latin penitentiaria (“place of penitence”) -- it's meant to be a place where one is reformed through penance and meditation upon one's transgressions. Certainly this was the original intention when one considers the progenitors of our modern jails, those set up by the Quakers in the 1790s that involved all the inmates being held in cells alone with only the Bible to read. Penance means at the very least a certain level of punishment or discomfort. Letting prisoners sleep through their sentence completely takes away any penance and makes it merely temporary warehousing.

In terms of Lockout featuring a jail in space, this I can accept. You can't get any more secure than that -- it's rather difficult to escape when the jail is surrounded by thousands of kilometers of absolutely nothing. That's even more remote than the Siberian gulags. But letting them sleep through the duration of the sentence takes away the punishment aspect of the sentence because the sentence will be perceived as but a day or two long as far as the crook is concerned. Rehabilitation is similarly out the window for the same reason -- the criminal's asleep so he can't learn anything.

That leaves the only purpose being to separate offenders from the public. Which has certain merit, I suppose, but it not very effectively accomplished by cryonics -- the twenty year old killer is still twenty years old when he's released after a 50 year sentence. If not frozen, he's 70 years old on release and a lot less likely to commit further crimes. And I doubt it would be a any cheaper to keep someone on ice (refrigeration/monitoring systems) than to feed and clothe him for all that time. It just strikes me, overall, as a dumb idea.



From a supportive reader who enjoyed the first instalment of The Time Lizard so much that she sent us her own interpretation of the main character, Tim AKA the "Time Lizard":

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...