Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Lebowitz is one of my favourite novels. A strange and beautiful work, it spans centuries in telling of an order of monks in a post-apocalypse world who keep knowledge alive – in a way – by tediously copying the blueprints and shopping list of Saint Lebowitz, an engineer from before the nuclear war.
All his life it was the only novel he published; but then in 1997, soon after he died, a sequel appeared – Saint Lebowitz and the wild horse woman. I don’t know why I failed to read it; I think someone I respected told me it would spoil the brilliance of the first in my mind. But I am going to read it now. How can I not?
I looked him up for some reason yesterday and found this interesting article by Terry Bisson – http://www.sff.net/people/tbisson/miller.html, who finished the novel for Walter Miller after he shot himself.
I was shocked by what I read about Miller in Bisson’s article. From Canticle and its gentle Catholicism, I imagined Miller to be a wise and peaceful religious man. Instead, Bisson paints a picture of a reclusive grump. What did Auden say? Something like, ‘Master of nuance and scruple / Forgive us writers whose words are in better taste than our lives’.