After reading Earth Abides and gushing about it with kleinbl00, he suggested I read A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr.
Post-apocalyptic Utah. The nuclear holocaust was so long ago, and the resulting chaos so destructive, that technology is largely forgotten, and people are living in the Dark Ages.
Except this one religious order, established hastily at the end of the holocaust/war, with the goal of preserving technology, books, and written wisdom for some future generation.
So our little monk at the center of our story discovers some more technology writing (wiring diagrams), which the scriveners at the monastery add to their library of writings to reproduce and illuminate. (Like the monks of the dark ages, saving texts by endlessly rewriting them, as the old ones deteriorated, prior to the advent of the printing press.)
Jump-cut 500 years into the future of this monastic order of Leibowitz. Still preserving ancient documents, in an era that is roughly parallel to the transitional period where civilization moved from the agrarian tribal Saxon/Nordic model, to the Renaissance.
The Order of Leibowitz is still doing its work. But the amount of rediscovered materials has increased, and the "natural sciences" are on the rise. Monks start doing experiments. Electricity is discovered.
Jump cut to a thousand years in the future. Mankind is interplanetary. The Order of Leibowitz is still doing its work. But the political structure of the Earth is unraveling. There is a serious chance of the annihilation of all life on Earth, so the Order of Leibowitz equips a secret crew of priests and bishops on a secret ship, and plans to lob them into space to protect the Order from the impending end of all life on Earth.
I really have a Serious Issue with religion in all its forms. I won't get in to that here, but the fact that this entire book follows a monastic order is a big conceptual hurdle for me to overcome.
And the story is essentially an analog of the story of the Roman Catholic church, from the time of Christ to the modern day. So for several hundred pages, I was immersed in the worst of religions, as it grew in influence and idiocy over roughly two thousand years.
So it's probably no surprise that it was always foremost in my mind that I really didn't like any of these characters. They were dogmatic and dedicated to ancient and irrelevant religious rites, beliefs, and processes.
The only character I could connect with was Hannigan, who was just basically Ceasar.
So things did not start off well. And then, story-wise, went downhill from there.
There is a recurring character of an old wanderer, who reappears in each age, tests one of the monks of the Order of Leibowitz, shakes his head, and says, "Nope. He's not The One, either."
Clearly this man is the one who is anointed by God as the one who will tell us when the True Jesu... erm... Leibowitz has risen/returned!
... and then he disappears from the story, never to return. This immortal, who appears in each part of history like some Comte St. Germain, and has scenes and pages of discussion all about him, and what he means... simply poofs out of the story, and is never mentioned again.
Because the book takes place in three different eras over 2000 years, there is a lead character in each section, who we follow and experience the world through their eyes. From the lowly initiate at th beginning, to the learned traveling monk in the middle, to the Abbot of the Order of Leibowitz at the end, our lead character gives us different views of the order and the world, as the timeframe changes.
One of the most significant characters in the book - a farmer-woman street vendor, who (due to radiation poisoning) has grown two heads - appears in the third era of the story.
Her particular disfigurement, and relationship with the Abbot, are clearly an analogy for ... well ... something. She is generous, and kind, and deferential to the Abbot, but also very insistent and dedicated to her religious beliefs. Interactions with her cause the Abbot to return to the roots of his belief and question why God has made her, and why God has put her in the Abbot's path? What is God trying to tell him?
Well, we never find out. The Abbot gets crushed and dies slowly under a collapsed wall. The two-headed woman has an episode... and the inert malformed "baby head" on her shoulder takes over, and does... mostly nothing.
And then the priests take off in their rocket to continue their Abbey in space.
Hugo-award winning. Lauded by generations of sci-fi readers and writers as a visionary, comic, and cutting look at humanity...
... and all I get from it is the feeling, "Jesus Christ I hope their rocket blows up on the pad, so they don't bring their religious bullshit and nuclear weapons technology to other civilizations and habitats in space. The human race should die with them. Let other evolved creatures have a crack at it, because these people have failed."
And, in the end, maybe that's what I was supposed to get out of it. I have no idea.
And I want to hear from others who have read it. Did I miss something? Is my lack of knowledge of religion preventing me from "seeing" the witty and insightful nature of this story?
Because I definitely did not get much out of it. And I wanna know why.