October 16, 2004

The Postman

Author: David Brin | First published 1985 | Amazon

The writing is uneven, and the plot twists don't always feel to me like they live up to the basic premise of the book. Unlike A Canticle for Leibowitz or Riddley Walker, it's set in a future only sixteen years after a nuclear war and the ensuing consequences.

Brin makes the point repeatedly that the cause of greatest disaster is failure to stand together, selfishness in the face of a threat. He shows it in his tales of the causes of the war, the ensuing chaos in which hoarding and refusal to cooperate made matters far worse, and in his diabolical Holnists who combine survivalism and weirdly Nietzschean philosophy to produce nightmares for everyone they encounter.

There's also a thread on the importance of women, though this stays buried for a while. It's an undercurrent to the story that follows Gordon and a mostly male crew through the book. Though it surfaces dramatically, it didn't feel that well-attached to me. This theme does reinforce the value of community.

Like the other books I've been reading, reclaiming technology is a key thread here, though Brin seems to share a lot of the same doubts in its value as the other books have. Community matters more than technology, even when that community is based on faith in things that the reader explicitly learns don't exist.

Posted by simonstl at 11:43 PM

Riddley Walker

Author: Russell Hoban | First published 1980 | Amazon

Riddley Walker is like no other book I've ever read. It has some strands in common with A Canticle for Leibowitz, with its ruined world struggling to interpret remnants and the importance of religion, but it's far more hallucinatory. The prose is all in dialect, which often needs to be sounded out to establish its meaning - and there are often many meanings in a given set of words.

I've been on a post-apocalyptic binge lately (Canticle, The Handmaid's Tale, currently reading The Postman), but this one does an excellent job of conveying the confusion left after a disaster and the explanations people will resort to in order to make things seem sensible. The plot has a heavy dose of magical realism to it, but in the circumstances described, magical realism seems pretty realistic.

Posted by simonstl at 09:58 PM

October 11, 2004

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Author: Walter M. Miller, Jr. | First published 1959 | Amazon

I read A Canticle for Leibowitz in high school, but it didn't stick. All I really remembered was "pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels". There's a lot more here, even though the author enjoys using two languages I don't understand: my Latin is rusted out and I never could read Hebrew. Miller's vision of a world starting over after a nuclear holocaust is stunning, and watching the world recapitulate history is both amazing and plausible. The monks' care in preserving the sacred materials, even those they don't understand, is treated with the seriousness it deserves, and Miller does an excellent job of taking both faith and secular science seriously.

Posted by simonstl at 04:58 PM