Joe Hill's The Fireman
Joe Hill’s The Fireman

The Fireman, Joe Hill’s latest opus, is a big, rambling, post-apocalyptic horror novel that is fast-moving and entertaining but, for me, ultimately unsatisfying. I was never engaged enough to suspend my disbelief or to be even remotely scared by the goings-on. This was a distinct impediment to my full enjoyment of a promising feast. So while I found the novel action-packed, reasonably fun to plow through, and a good enough way to spend a couple of days, I could not in the end take it seriously.

The Fireman begins with the world in the throes of a new plague known as Dragonscale—a highly contagious fungus that causes most infected people to burn alive, and to burn the world down with them as they go. A lucky few, however, have learned to make a chemical peace with the infection. Some can even use their fire as a tool, or a weapon. These fire-users become the novel’s main characters, fighting to get to a safe place rumored to be off the Maine coast.

This, for me, is where The Fireman’s problems start. I didn’t find these characters believable as real people, and so it didn’t matter to me if they succeeded.

Hill’s POV character is Harper Willowes, a twenty-six year old nurse infected with Dragonscale, pregnant, and fleeing what she has just now discovered is an abusive marriage. To me, she comes across as both trite and cutesy. Her main character traits seem to be her weirdly optimistic affect, unlikely medical knowledge, and obsession with Mary Poppins. The last highlights the inconsistencies in her personal frame of reference. Harper is supposed to be in her twenties, but Hill’s timeline of her experiences and life events (as well as her taste in music and children’s films) all skew at least a decade older. She is a collection of quirks that never quite gel into a convincing person.

The main male character is John Rockwood—exhibitionist British mycologist, romantic lead, Dragonscale master, possessor of a 1935 hook and ladder rig, and so the Fireman of the title. He also suffers from an abundance of odd traits. He is somewhat more realistic than Harper, but he still ends up being presented as an assemblage of eccentric details rather than a fully-developed character.

I also found the secondary characters weak in The Fireman. Hill uses a lot of stereotypes in the peopling of his novel, from the calm, wise black woman to the grandfatherly old man and from the evil conspiracy theorists to the pseudo-religious cultists gone bad. Profanity and lascivious chatter are thrown in at random and attributed to various characters without regard for who they are supposed to be, giving the racy dialogue a toneless quality and a distinct lack of impact. Teens are largely portrayed as Lord of the Flies-style savages. The bad guys are single-dimensional at best, cartoonish at worst, and consequently not particularly frightening. None are truly individuals—they are tropes and plot devices which act without personality. I couldn’t find anything about them to genuinely care about.

Joe Hill as a fireman
Joe Hill as a fireman

The Fireman may be intended as homage or at least a pastiche, but the literary and cultural references are so in-your-face it is hard to take them as other than too-clever name-dropping. We get the direct naming of Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, and Harper Lee. We get obvious allusions to Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, King’s The Stand, Pet Semetary, Firestarter, and more.  At one point Hill uses his father’s technique of detailing a sudden disaster’s effects on minor characters. But the trick falls flat when there is no relationship with or between the people he suddenly throws into the story.

As with the references, so many of the details feel disconnected, as if Hill were focused more on moving the plot along (which he does, extremely effectively) than building a convincing end-of-the-world scenario. I was distracted by too many technical questions that stood out more clearly than the characters themselves. For example: Where do all the big trucks and construction vehicles gas up when they are driven for hundreds of miles? How do the overweight characters stay that way for months on end if the survivors are on short rations and skipping meals? And why are there always canned peaches?

So, to sum it up: despite the undeniably compelling pacing I found the characters poorly drawn, the cultural and literary references overdone, and the post-apocalypse details unconvincing. I can’t recommend The Fireman as more than a lightweight beach book. It is a glossy, compelling, in-joke of a novel with unlikely nonstop action, deus ex machina plotting at every turn, and an additional scene dropped off after the credits that teases a sequel. It will fall apart if you look too deeply. But if you don’t look, and don’t really expect too much, The Fireman can still be fun.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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Wool, the publishing sensation
Wool, the publishing sensation

In my experience, the bigger the hype, the bigger the disappointment. And so it is with Hugh Howey’s Wool, the first of his Silo saga. Wool began its climb to fame as a self-published series of short stories. Then those various pieces were collected into a novel when Simon & Schuster picked up the property. But despite the attention of a mainstream publishing house, its amateur origins show. While the novel gained considerable word of mouth buzz (including rumors that a film version might be directed by Ridley Scott), I think its literary shortcomings dim the luster and make the glowing cover blurbs seem completely overblown. Wool is reasonably entertaining, and may be in the vanguard of the new way of publishing, but it is a long way from great.

The basic idea is intriguing—a society contained entirely inside a deep, underground silo, the descendants of the last human survivors of a world-killing war. And the plot itself is plain and solid, with secrets, factions, civil war, and plenty of action. But the execution is blunt and unpolished, with several main narrative components suffering from it.

The first issue I have is with Howey’s character development. Wool presents as a typical teen dystopia—except it has a cast of adult characters who do not seem to have grown emotionally since their adolescence. The stubborn behaviors, the angst, the absolutism, the weepiness, would all make more sense if the characters weren’t mostly in their thirties. Overall, Howey’s silo inhabitants are not particularly well-drawn or differentiated, with even the main protagonists being plot-driven rather than drivers. The few who do stand out, though, demonstrate a profound lack of realism.

As a surprise survivor in another underground silo, Solo (Solo? Really?) is written like a mentally challenged child, not as a fifty-ish man who has spent most of his life in isolation. He jumps around like a preadolescent, although he was supposed to have been sixteen when he was left alone.

And as the chief antagonist, IT head Bernard is an almost comically hackneyed villain with his mustache, pot belly, and Napoleonesque habit of putting his hand inside the front of his overalls. He is grandiose and megalomaniacal and every bit the cartoon tyrant.

At intervals, Howey tries to add some flavor to his cast. “I just don’t figure he was happy up there. That weren’t his home” (184) is his repeated attempt at differentiating characters—the ones he would have us identify as older, good men. Unfortunately, inserting a few random country twangs into a limited, otherwise homogeneous (if stratified) population doesn’t ring true and does nothing to make those characters into individuals.

Inside a silo
Inside a silo

Howey seems to have done only cursory research on the physical aspects of the novel’s world, relying instead on his imagination to flesh it out. This makes many of his constructions come across as unlikely and conceptually flawed. Too many details are seemingly thrown in only to make the situation seem futuristic, and they do not bear much scrutiny before they fall apart—the giant spiral staircase as a highway for the entire population, the inefficient reliance on human porters, the ubiquitous, color-coded overalls, pig’s milk as a beverage, corn growing in underground farms, mining and oil drilling directly below the silo, rotten soup and intact bodies still existing after thirty four years. It all goes back to the old saw of “write what you know”—which doesn’t mean write what you have experienced, but what you have studied and understood. Howey didn’t.

In addition to the awkward and unlikely details, there are some really excruciating descriptions to be found here: “His husband eyes swam behind tears while he allowed his dutiful sheriff-self to intervene” (24); “The clouds…loomed like worried parents over these smaller darting eddies of windswept soil, which tumbled like laughing children, twirling and spilling, following the dips and valleys as they flowed toward a great crease where two hills collided to become one” (44); “Here was where silicon chips released their tangy scent as they heated under the strain of crunching data” (204). The messy attempts to build atmosphere only serve to show how rough this Wool really is.

Wool's backyard
Wool’s backyard

As an extension of the weak characterization and the bad prose, Wool is riddled with pervasive fifties-style sexism and gender-roles that seem an odd social trait to retain, post-apocalypse. For example: “The deputy possessed that distinctly male quality of pretending to know where he was, even when he didn’t” (90); “There’s this ritual, a man asks a girl’s father for permission” (152); in reference to a twenty-seven year old man, “She smoothed the front of her red overalls and allowed Lukas to help her to her feet. She puckered her lips, and he presented his cheek. “My little boy,” she said, kissing him noisily and squeezing his arm” (410); and the hyper-traditional “Young children lumbered reluctantly off to school; husbands and wives kissed in doorways while toddlers tugged at their overalls and dropped toys and plastic cups” (146). Howey evokes a social structure that harkens back to an idealized mid-century rather than putting the energy into something organic. I found it off-putting and a little weird, unless Wool’s world ended in 1960.

The story picks up considerable momentum in the last hundred pages and becomes a reasonably compelling read, but the damage is already done. The improvements in the home stretch can’t disguise that Wool is overall rather artless, and the weak characterization, ungainly descriptions, and ill-conceived mechanics all combine to make this novel a prime example of the pitfalls of big hype. It’s an interesting story idea, passably told, and an amusing enough read. Not much more.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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T.M. Wright in 1992
T.M. Wright in 1992

The horror author T. M. Wright passed away on Halloween. By pure coincidence I had just reread his 1991 novel The Last Vampire when the news of his death came down.  Wright was a skilled storyteller with an often surprising imagination and a deep sense of life’s essential melancholy, and he was quite prolific over the course of his career. While his style can be an acquired taste, I admire his way of exploring the dark and I think his work should be remembered. So please forgive any poignancy in what was supposed to be a simple review.

Although I had encountered his work when I was a kid, I didn’t recognize Wright’s name when I found a copy of The Last Vampire in a vacation rental some ten years back. I started it as a way to read myself to sleep, but the premise and the storytelling were so… different, so haunting… that I took the old paperback with me when I left.

The Last Vampire has a meandering, nonlinear narrative structure and gives a fine example of an unreliable narrator in the title character. Wright’s style is dreamlike, suffused with loss, and sadness, and nostalgia, and an ability to twist and recombine genre tropes into unexpected constructs. His prose moves quickly, and the story slips by even as it circles back on itself and retells certain resonant fragments.

The Last Vampire
The Last Vampire

The Last Vampire takes place after a nuclear apocalypse has wiped out most of humanity. Wright begins with a frame story that is never completed, and is then, after a short, unconnected section about a midnight vampire rodeo, told entirely in the first person by the last vampire himself, Elmer Land. The frame occurs about fifty years post-apocalypse, while the bulk of the novel happens shortly after the destruction. Wright repeats passages to mimic a slipping memory as Land recounts his existence as both human and vampire. Regrets creep in during the telling, and exhaustion. “I persist, even now. Persist. Persist. Resist. Cannot go away. Leave nothing, take nothing, break hearts and bones, hearts and bones…” (62). There is a mood to The Last Vampire that echoes the mood in Tanith Lee’s short story “Nunc Dimittis”—a pervasive sense of loneliness and of too much time spent merely existing.

Elmer first appears as a disembodied spirit reaching out, not so much for contact as for proof that he had been, once: “One moment we’re a living person, we have the needs of a living person, the next moment we’re an obscenity, then, moments later, we’re an apparition. I believe at this moment in my existence, I’m an apparition” (22).

And at the end of the world, what remains of the last vampire is also the last connection to the common dead:

“…they whisper to me that they never ever thought it was going to be like this, that they had expected something a bit more final, or a bit more ethereal. But they wait inside themselves, instead, and watch their bodies come apart, and they feel the awful pain that they were so certain death was going to bring an end to” (64).

Being a revenant himself, Elmer is aware of the world’s lingering ghosts. He cannot speak to them because of his own limits, but he can hear their complaints and affirm the dimming memory of their lives. It is the same affirmation he seeks for himself.

A defining quality of vampirism in The Last Vampire is the lack of one’s own senses. Elmer may hear the thoughts of the dead, but he relies on his similar ability to “read” the living to be able to see and hear the world around him. Much of it still remains beyond his experience, and he knows what he misses: “I need to talk about my first kill. Call it nostalgia, I suppose. My memory of it stirs something sweet in me. Bitter-sweet. I could never taste blood, though I’ve always wanted to”(225-6).

While his vampire is still a bloodthirsty monster, Wright infuses the character with a layered sense of his own identity. Elmer Land describes his state as, “…like a termite eating someone’s house up. I can’t be reasoned with, I can only be exterminated, and that is so terribly difficult” (137-8). But he still defines himself as a different thing than the vampire who made him. She was “…the archetypal vampire…a wide-eyed, quivering, and insatiable mass of fears and compulsions which, because of its own needs, eventually dooms itself”(199). Elmer was never superstitious in life; and in death escaped the trap of becoming what the legends said he should be. But the bloodlust was inescapable: “I knew so well about compulsion. Here I am, inside this creature, this old corpse that still tries to animate itself, and I want to cry my eyes out. I thank God I cannot live forever. I thank God that the house has fallen down around me and there is no more work for me to do” (262). Elmer’s remaining consciousness is still self-aware, and with that comes regrets about what his life and death have made of him. There are elements of self-loathing, but they are secondary to the great weariness of a creature that has far outlived his own wants.

In The Last Vampire, T.M. Wright takes his readers to the world’s end to endure compulsion, nostalgia, loss, and desire. These are themes that Wright has explored in other works as well. He is comfortable with them, and adept at making his reader feel what is gone. And since I am not ready to let him go just yet, my next post will look at how he interpreted those themes through a living protagonist in the first novel of his that I read—A Manhattan Ghost Story.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Emergence, first edition
Emergence, first edition

Sometimes, you really can’t go home again.

I first read Emergence, by David R. Palmer, in the magazine Analog back in 1981, when Emergence was only a novelette. I was thrilled with it then. The protagonist, Candy Smith-Foster, all of eleven years old, was close to my age and a self-described plucky female adventurer taking on a depopulated post-apocalypse world with the help of her hyacinthine macaw companion. How could I not be thrilled? Palmer pulled the same successful trick again in 1983 with Seeking, publishing a second installment of the story in Analog. These two novellas were renamed Volumes I and II in what would become the full, Hugo-award nominated novel in 1984.

However, life got busy and despite the best intentions I never got around to reading the expanded version of Candy’s saga. Consequently, I am both delighted and sadly disappointed with what happened to Palmer’s energetic kid heroine.

First, the delight. Emergence is written in a snappy, abbreviated first-person journal style that gives an almost breathless rush to the action and an immediacy to the exposition. It is imaginative, well-paced, and colorful, and it jumps immediately into the fray: “Unfortunate. Regrettable. Vicious cycle—snake swallowing own tail. Mind dwells on problems; problems fester, assume even greater importance for mind to dwell on. Etc. Bad enough where problems minor. Mine aren’t” (1). After this tantalizing opening, Palmer draws back long enough to provide a brief autobiography of the narrator and some limited background on the state of the world.

Palmer’s primary stylistic device is that Candy’s journal is written for the ages in Pittman shorthand, which does a great deal to drive the speed of the plot. While descriptive and at points an internal monologue, chopping down full sentences to subject/verb keeps the story moving. There is little to bog a reader down once the action begins in earnest.

Set in the aftermath of a combined nuclear and biological apocalypse instigated by the Soviets, Emergence is often a snapshot of mid-eighties state-of-the-art technology. For example, Candy is thrilled to find an “administration building well stocked with modern communications media marvels: electric typewriters, photocopiers, etc” (59). A phone answering machine is an important plot component. Computers are bulky and limited to academia and military settings. Candy makes frequent use of good old-fashioned phone books to find resources as she wanders through various cities on her quest for other survivors. The fly-in-amber quality to the novel’s frame of reference has its own quirky charm—if the world had ended in 1983, it would look an awful lot like this.

While no new technology is introduced, Palmer does offer up a new species. Candy is a member of the hardy new breed, Homo post hominem. In the great tradition of mitochondrial DNA and viral recombination, “The grandmothers of these children were all…conceived during the rampage of the great influenza pandemic of 1918-19…Sweeping genetic recombination, due to specific viral invasion” (40). This lucky twist of mutated fate makes the hominems into super-intelligent super-humans and allows them to survive the germ warfare that annihilates the Homo sapien population.

Candy Smith-Foster, Emergence
Candy Smith-Foster, Emergence

The beginning of the disappointment lies with Palmer’s assurance that he can sustain a believable eleven year old female character. Over the course of the full novel this works out far less well than the journal-style narration. Let’s leave out the new species, end of the world scenario. Palmer is awkward at integrating the emotional vagaries of a preadolescent girl with what he envisions is an evolutionarily superior being. The effect is only amplified by the extended storyline. And Palmer reminds his readers fairly relentlessly that Candy is only eleven, as a way of underscoring her inherent exceptionalism. “Candy must have gone up on a shuttle; she must be in space right now. What’s an eleven-year-old kid doing in space?” (279).

Also, in returning to Candy’s adventures as an adult, I found a few recurring themes to be… off.

An especially awkward addition is the sexuality Palmer interjects from Volume III onward. There is something inescapably squicky about the sexual thoughts, advances, and descriptions in Emergence as put forth by the forty-ish year old male author. At times Palmer’s presentation of Candy’s desires and conflicts veers uncomfortably close to Lolita territory—although Nabokov never tried to get into his girl’s head. A few examples of the awkwardness: “Am not ready for babies: not physically, not emotionally—not now!” (107); ”I cannot and will not endure your company on a celibate basis if, after speculum examination, it is my professional opinion that you are physically capable of accepting me as a lover” (151)—this is spoken by a forty year old man; “Perhaps should have gone ahead with Adam. Then at least wouldn’t be dying as virgin…But only 11, after all” (224); “If only little bit older, would see to it they both died smiling” (247)—this refers to men who are in their thirties and fifties, respectively.

And the loving descriptions of the adult female characters are, despite multiple disclaimers from Candy, the fantasies of an adult male: “Kim could serve as judging standard for California Golden Beach Girls…Slim, willowy, long-legged. Waist-length natural Swedish-blonde mane…Pact with Devil not uncommon result when mortal female encounters Kim’s type” (166); “woman entered…tall, marvelous figure…waist-length ponytail” (200).

Analog Magazine, January 1981
Analog Magazine, January 1981

Palmer also indulges in the lightly scatological. He dwells with uncomfortable frequency on bodily functions, with a special fondness for the Foley catheter. These particular interludes do not advance the plot in any appreciable way. I can only imagine these various details were an attempt to keep this from being lumped in with juvenile fiction.

Emergence will always be a book I remember fondly, but I doubt I will ever come back to it. While I was happy to read it again after all this time, in the end it didn’t, really couldn’t, hold up for me. Emergence is an easy way to pass a few hours, an exciting and well put together but ultimately shallow story that has moments of what struck me as trying too hard. Candy wasn’t the girl I remembered. Best to leave her where I found her, thirty years in the past.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

A Canticle for Leibowitz
A Canticle for Leibowitz

One cannot simply review a work with the enduring impact of Walter M. Miller, Jr’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. It would be a waste of everyone’s time to deconstruct the characterization, or the imagery, or the phrasing, plotting, and pacing. Those components all took a back seat to Miller’s philosophical observations about faith, hope, and human frailty, and the result is a novel that left me contemplating its nuances long after closing its cover. The following is what I took away with me.

In broad outline, A Canticle for Leibowitz tracks the progress of humanity over the eighteen centuries following a worldwide nuclear apocalypse. Miller breaks his loose narrative into three sections at six hundred year intervals, each set at the Abbey of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz in what was once the Utah desert. His characters are the monks who persist there across the centuries, and the few visitors who seek them out. Despite the amount of time it covers, A Canticle for Leibowitz is not an especially long book. Neither its plot nor its scale is particularly elaborate. But its relative simplicity has surprising depths.

Miller gives only a brief, poetic summary of how the world ended, and what happened then:

“So it was that, after the Deluge, the Fallout, the plagues, the madness, the confusion of tongues, the rage, there began the bloodletting of the Simplification, when remnants of mankind had torn other remnants limb from limb, killing rulers, scientists, leaders, technicians, teachers, and whatever persons the leaders of the maddened mobs said deserved death for having helped to make the Earth what it had become.” (61)

He chooses not to dwell on the mechanics of a world collapsing upon itself. It happened, and it was terrible. Not much more needs to be said.

Apocalypse by Albert Goodwin
Apocalypse by Albert Goodwin

In the new Dark Ages of Miller’s post-apocalypse world, the Church and its rituals still endure in its ancient role as keeper of otherwise-lost knowledge. Beyond this anchor, Miller does not trouble himself with creating a realistic, fully-developed future; we need only a quick sketch of the world to understand Canticle’s allegory. The science, accepted by the monks as true even when they cannot understand it, takes a back seat to issues of genuine faith. It is absolute faith that preserves the fragmented information it cannot explain or employ, knowing that once lost it may never be recovered. And in a way the monks cannot admit, though they eventually come to suspect, this faithful preservation of ancient science allows man to re-sow the seeds of his own destruction. But the faith still endures.

Miller’s tone is both unsentimental and slightly wry, as if the long struggle of post-apocalypse recovery is merely a curiosity to be observed with detachment from an appropriate distance. Yet over the course of each section he swings seamlessly between amusement and pathos and pulls us along in his wake. Most characters are presented with a light hand, even as vaguely comedic archetypes rather than as specific people, and yet we can still feel for them as circumstances catch and overwhelm them.

But the novel is not really driven by its characters, either. They preserve, and they prepare, and they react, and the world moves on despite them. Canticle remains at its heart a musing about the folly of man and the repetition of history, dressed up as a novel to work its will upon us. Because this is allegory rather than narrative science fiction adventure, Miller employs his lay characters as symbolic devices to make his points instead of moving along his plot. The Wanderer, possibly immortal, drifts through the ages and gives the monks reason to question their assumptions about the world. The Poet—painted as cynical, slovenly, and a freeloader—sacrifices himself freely to balance an unbearable injustice. And at last, when the inevitable nuclear war erupts again, the uneducated, faithful, mutant Mrs. Gales is the one found worthy to carry a soul born without original sin.

Many of Miller’s attitudes are dated, and the story is littered with the detritus of atomic age technological dreams (not just the radioactive fallout), like space ships, translation machines and driverless cars. Miller also conserves a social order full of the racism and sexism of the 1950s, with savage tribes descended from the Plains Indians, an all-male priesthood beholden to New Rome, sly Asian aggressors, and women (nearly all merely mentioned but not met) consigned to mostly non-participant roles as Sisters, wives and mothers.

But within those limitations, Miller is still certain that man is clever enough to understand his past, and immature enough not to actually learn from it. He begins his story with the ignorance of the early survivors who carved a shrine from the desert: “He had never seen a ‘Fallout,’ and he hoped he’d never see one. A consistent description of the monster had not survived” (17). In some ways it reads as the innocence of a cultural childhood. And like childhood, it does not last. Next Miller follows their descendants through the rediscovery of nuclear technology, and finally into the morass of a terrible, seemingly inescapable cycle: “Generation, regeneration, again, again, as in a ritual…forever building Edens—and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn’t the same” (232).

Miller seems to give humanity a pass for the first apocalypse they brought upon themselves: “Back then, in Saint Leibowitz’ time, maybe they didn’t know what would happen… They had not yet seen a billion corpses” (261). But after having seen those corpses, the second apocalypse, much like the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan, is far more difficult to excuse.

A Canticle for Leibowitz--Another Apocalypse
A Canticle for Leibowitz–Another Apocalypse

Miller was a veteran of World War II, and the scars of his experience show clearly in his work. Published in 1959, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of a spate of similar late-fifties post-apocalypse novels ( like On the Beach, 1957; Level 7, 1959; and Alas, Babylon, 1959) generated by the then-recent memory of Japan’s nuclear devastation and the immediate pressure of the burgeoning Cold War. Humanity had finally achieved the means to destroy itself completely. Literature was one of the easier ways of dealing with it.

Even though A Canticle for Leibowitz is about humanity’s double-edged efforts to survive and rebuild itself after nuclear annihilation, the novel is constructed almost entirely of the internal struggles of a few essentially honest and well-intentioned men wrestling their own consciences. The background circumstances shape them, but they must still find ways to live with their own moral and practical decisions in the larger political world. They argue with and among themselves, reach occasional understandings, and frequently disagree. But they mean well. They want better, for themselves and their brethren. Miller does not offer any real villains. The antagonist against which his good men struggle is rather man as a collective—bringing to mind the old warning that humans as individuals can be very smart, and as groups can be very, very stupid.

Although Miller begins A Canticle for Leibowitz in the wake of one nuclear apocalypse and ends it at the beginning of another, his story arc is still fueled by a shaky but enduring hope. Despite the fear and ignorance and destruction that humanity hauls around on its back, despite the marked inability of man to get off that terrible wheel he has built for himself, Miller still leaves room for us to be capable of better, and to try again, and again, and again to achieve it. Even as he mourns the repetition of the end of the world, he allows that the faith in something better may actually, finally create one. He believes in second chances, and thirds. Maybe one of these times, we’ll get it right.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!