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Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman
author: Walter M. Miller, Jr.

by David
Spring, 1999


It seems like , with most entertainment media, the better the original, the longer one must wait for a sequal. Star Wars to the Empire Strikes Back? Three years. Rocky to Rocky II? Three years. Leprechaun to Leprechaun II? 10 minutes.

A Canticle for Leibowitz to Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman? 40 years.

In case you haven't read the original book, A Canticle for Leibowitz was written in the mid 1950s and is a tale of post-apocalyptic earth. In the Leibowitz universe, a great "flame deluge" (nuclear war) savaged civilization in the late 50s/early 60s. After the deluge (which left most of hunmanity dead and a large portion genetically warped), society turned against science, scientists, and eventually all literate, educated people (including Leibowitz, who was probably an engineer of some sort in Nevada or Arizona), burning libraries and universities and killing anyone who displayed any tendencies toward science (the term for this: "Simplification"). Leibowitz and his followers stashed books and scientific papers in safehouses (and, when things became more deadly, memorized entire volumes for later reproduction), tucked away for a time when learning was once again accepted. It is a cautionary tale about science, religion and government, and is comprised of three stories, each centering around a Albertine Monastery and Catholic monks of the Order of Leibowitz. The first tale takes place about 500 years after the deluge just as science is becoming acceptable again, the next 500 years later when scientific knowledge and secular government begin to overtake the importance of the Church, and the next 500 years later as mankind once again falls into the trap of self-destruction. It is a wonderful and widely read novel.

Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman is not a sequal in the truest sense -- the characters are not the same, and the story takes place about the same time (or shortly after) the middle story in the original. Still, the main character is a (failed) monk of the order of Leibowitz named Blacktooth St. George, or "Nimmy." (an interesting side note here regarding Miller's interest in the Monastery life: Miller himself was involved in several US bombing runs during WWII and participated in the run which destroyed the oldest monastery in Europe) As the story unfolds, Nimmy, who wants nothing more than to be released from his Monkish duties, becomes involved in a Cardinal's conspiracy to arm the mostly "heathen" Nomads of the vast plains (from whom Nimmy is descended) and lead them in a crusade against the secular government of the Hannegin, who has exiled the Papacy and taken the city of New Rome for his own (whew). While Cardinal (later, Pope) Brownpony wants only to recover the Holy City, it quickly becomes clear that the crusade is about much more to many of the people involved.

Leibowitz's story is thoroughly engaging -- smart and complex. Twists and surprises pop up everywhere, and Miller does not pause as he destroys the characters he has so richly constructed. The writing is simple and crisp and almost completely transparent -- the story shows brightly through without any forced embellishment.

Miller's writing does have a few flaws, however. Many of the characters are referred to by multiple names, and at times it is difficult to remember who is whom. Also, in the beginning of the third act, there is an odd lull in the action -- the main character (Nimmy) almost disappears for a time and the story sort of stops for 20-30 pages. I'm not certain how or why this happened. It is important to note that Miller died before the book's final draft (it was cleaned up for publication by another well-respected sci-fi author with whom Miller -- who knew he was dying -- kept close contact at the end), and this minor story hiccup might might simply be something Miller never got to fix.

All in all, though, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman is a great read, and definitely worth picking up. Miller has great insight into the interaction betweeen religion and government and the consequences of war, and his great storytelling ability makes this, his last novel, a great companion to the classic original.


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