NESFA Members' Reviews


by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Bantam, ISBN 0-553-10704-6, 1997, 448pp, US$23.95

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1997 Evelyn C. Leeper

In 1961, Walter M. Miller's CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. (Miller, by the way, shares with Octavia Butler of having the best "Hugo batting average": both have been nominated two times for Hugos and both won both times.) Now, thirty-six years later, comes a sequel, or rather, a coquel, since the action of SAINT LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN takes place between the second and third parts of the original novel. (SAINT LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN was written primarily by Miller before his death, and completed by Terry Bisson.)

A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ is a great book. Part of what made it great was that it was fresh and new in its use of the Catholic Church as the lightbearer through the Dark Ages following the Flame Deluge. But SAINT LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN doesn't have that. As I read it, I found myself thinking, "Been there, done that." The story, of Brother Blacktooth's spiritual quest, is an acceptable post- holocaust story, but it isn't great. This is much more a story of politics and warfare than of theology or faith.

The other problem is not as obvious, and I needed Gary Wolfe to put words to it: what we're reading here is an alternate history in which the Flame Deluge occurred--in the early 1960s. The Catholicism here is pre-Vatican II, pre-liberation theology, and in general more the Catholicism of the past than the present. Having made his bed in 1959, Miller decided to lie in it rather than remake it (as Asimov attempted to do with his "Foundation" series, for example). But Miller has made some changes, with more emphasis on religious images and ideas apparently drawn from Native American religions.

Does SAINT LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN have flaws? Yes. Is it worth reading? Yes. Does it stand on its own? No, but then, A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ is a classic in the field of science fiction that everyone should read.

(I find it interesting--and a bit depressing--that Bantam's cover blurb for SAINT LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN calls it "the sequel to the best-selling classic A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ," making it sound as though A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ is in the same category as Danielle Steel.)

%T      Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman
%A      Walter M. Miller, Jr.
%C      New York
%D      October 1997
%I      Bantam
%O      hardback, US$23.95
%G      ISBN 0-553-10704-6
%P      448pp
%S      Leibowitz
%V      2

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