So are we living in a literary dystopia?


To the chagrin of many (and the surprise of few) it turns out that the National Security Agency is keeping an eye on us. If you’ve been sending tongue-in-cheek missives to your UK friends about “blowing up all of the buses because ughhh,” now might be the time to stop.

With this week’s revelations—brought to you by patriot/traitor/poor man’s Alexander Skarsgard Edward Snowden—Americans are understandably displeased. And, it would seem, anxious: Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have spiked on Amazon.

But are we really so close to the worlds envisioned by authors like Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Margaret Atwood? Let’s take a look.

Continue reading “So are we living in a literary dystopia?”

A Canticle for Leibowitz: Favorite Quotes

Some choice quotes from last week’s read, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

“It was a devil with which he was trying to come to grips, the abbot decided, but the devil was quite evasive. The abbot’s devil was rather small, as devils go: only knee-high, but he weighed ten tons and had the strength of five hundred oxen. He was not driven by maliciousness, as Dom Paulo imagined him, not nearly as much as he was driven by frenzied compulsion, somewhat after the fashion of a rabid dog. He bit through meat and bone and nail simply because he had damned himself, and damnation created a damnably insatiable appetite. And he was evil merely because he had made a denial of Good, and the denial had become part of his essence, or a hole therein. Somewhere, Dom Paulo thought, he’s wading through a sea of men and leaving a wake of the maimed.”

“Men must fumble awhile with error to separate it from truth, I think—as long as they don’t seize the error hungrily because it has a pleasanter taste.”

“Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Empires of Charlemagne and the Turk. Ground to dust and plowed with salt. Spain, France, Britain, America—burned into the oblivion of the centuries. And again and again and again. Are we doomed to it, Lord, chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork, helpless to halt its swing?”

“The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.”

“Those who stayed behind had the easier part. Theirs was but to wait for the end and pray that it would not come.”

Working title: Monks in Space!

canticleOh how I wanted to love this book.

A Canticle for Leibowitz was a recommendation from a friend, an avid Sorry Television reader who makes my day every few weeks when we run into each other socially and talk books. After our most recent such encounter, I dug through my memory bank for his long-ago recommendation and promptly ordered it online. What arrived in my mailbox two days later (thank you Amazon Prime) was this, a weighty paperback whose intimidating cover art is paralleled only by its introduction’s promise of frequent use of Latin. Apprehensive and intrigued, I dug in.

It’s difficult to explain what ACFL is “about,” a struggle not entirely helped by my edition’s vaguely worded back cover, which devotes a third of its real estate to phrases like “one of the most accomplished, powerful, and enduring classics of speculative fiction.” The book opens in post-apocalyptic times—roughly the 26th century—when the human race has long since crippled itself in a nuclear war known as the Flame Deluge. Off the bat, we meet Brother Francis, a monk in the “Albertian Order of Leibowitz,” a monastic order devoted to the preservation of knowledge, a task they accomplish by hoarding, hiding, memorizing and copying books whose value has been drastically reduced by a post-Deluge society that frowns upon literacy. Leibowitz refers to Isaac Edward Leibowitz, a 20th-century electrical engineer employed by the U.S. military, who after being martyred for his devotion to scientific knowledge, was beatified by the Romance Catholic Church (“New Rome”). At the time of the book’s opening, he is a candidate for sainthood. Continue reading “Working title: Monks in Space!”