Inspired by the long-running annual series from The Millions, Libretto presents the best books we read in 2015 – regardless of year of publication.
Like everyone else here at Libretto, this was the year I made it halfway through A Confederacy of Dunces – and honestly, I think that was far enough for me. Additionally, I found Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash a fun, although inferior, take on William Gibson's Neuromancer, and I finally tackled Camus’ The Stranger. However, as the office’s resident – and preeminent – reader of genre fiction, it inevitably falls to me to flex my nerd muscle about something sciency and fictiony.
Earlier this year I finally made good on a long-ago promise to read A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., a sci-fi epic first published in 1960. After finishing, I wondered why I’d taken so long to pick this one up. The award-winning novel centers on the role the fictional Albertian Order of Leibowitz plays in the rebuilding of society over hundreds of years following a nuclear apocalypse. Although there are several acts set centuries apart from one another, common threads of causality connect the tales in ways that feel simultaneously authentic and unexpected. This structure surely owes much to Asimov’s Foundation, but Canticle has more to offer in terms of the humanity of its setting and characters.
You’ll likely find the novel more rewarding if you have a cursory understanding of the Catholic Church’s teachings and of the history of monasticism, but neither is required. I often make the claim that science fiction serves as an incredible lens from which to view the modern day; thanks to its historical richness, Canticle produces similarly insightful perspective into the past.
From zombie uprisings (The Walking Dead and World War Z) to environmental catastrophes (The Day After Tomorrow and Interstellar) to “acts of god” (2012 and This is the End and The Leftovers), the industry of Ragnarok continues to sell. In contrast with many of these contemporary works, Canticle is less concerned with the ending than it is with the rebeginning. It takes a long view that develops – with great respect for actual European history – a new path for society in the wake of exceptional tragedy, and it is this process of prediction and extrapolation that most intrigues and entertains.