This is a gaming nerd blog so I don’t want to delve to deep into a review of a book, but this is one that comes along for me every once in a while that I really have trouble finishing from an author I otherwise like. The books author produced the amazing Canticle for Leibowitz in the 50’s and SLatWHW came out in 1997– posthumously. It was finished up by another writer who stated that 90% of the text was complete and didn’t touch it– he just wrapped up the last 100 pages or so.
In reading the book it feels like a huge mess of a thing, this is not to say I didn’t like it, it’s one, like Canticle, that will stick to your ribs a bit as there is some heady shit in there. However, there are scenes that just didn’t need to be there, characters that have 3-4 names that are used across the book and it feels to me like it’s 3 books smushed into one, there are descriptions of places and things that have already been described in earlier parts of the book and some arcs that jump into the story that it feels like you’re supposed to know about beforehand. Certainly the scope of the book could have been a trilogy of 250+ pages each– but my big beef with the book is that I feel like it needed an editor to really dial it in.
That said, if you liked Canticle for Leibowitz, you should buckle down and read this, there is certainly some gold to be had here. The plot concerns a monk of Saint Leibowitz who isn’t too happy with the order and has some misbehavior, since he is fluent in some of the nomad languages, instead of dismissal from the order he is pawned off to what turns out to be a very militant Cardinal who takes him on some sort of journey to deliver modern weapons to a settlement of mutants. During this time the pope dies and our protagonist gets a view into the machinations of church and state to elect a new pope. Note that this is post-apocalyptic so there are your Gamma World style mutants around and a lot of rediscovery of technology during what appears to be a rebirth of knowledge in the world. There are no sentient plants or anything crazy, but some of the mutants have odd powers. Of course, having read Canticle, the readers know the whole plot is just the build up to a and eventual second flame deluge.
I do think Miller was on to something here, the world of the rad-zone nomads and Texarkana Empire and the church is quite vibrant, but he has an extremely frustrating protagonist who seems to never be in the right place at the right time. It’s repeatedly mentioned that the main character is a mutant by other characters, but this is never explored to fruition in the plot, which is strange. My favorite part of the book is a showdown between nomads, church troops and Texarkanaian empire troops over a shipment of repeating rifles– the nomads pretend to switch sides, help both sides and basically sit and watch until the right moment. I feel this was narrated brilliantly. Other parts are a bit of a chore to wade through and honestly I had no idea where the book was headed until the last third, even then there was a lot of wandering around.
Thematically, the book is about the conflict of church and state and paganism vs monotheism (the first external to the protagonist and the second internal). Frankly, I didn’t get what Miller was trying to say with either one– just left me thoughtful, but confused. Some of the character’s motivations, especially the militant cardinal, are never fully explained. All in all, a tough but good read, now on to something a lot lighter.