Monday, January 25, 2016

Canticle for Leibowitz: the Detritus of Empires (spoiler alert)

 Canticle for Leibowitz was a surprisingly good read and stands as one of my all time favorite Sci-fi novels. [1] I didn't pick up the book expecting much of it, for it was written about a time when fears of a nuclear holocaust hung heavy above the population of the world. Only after reading it did I see that it still applies to our time. [2]



In the start of the book, there's a monk who lives in the detritus of a civilization after a nuclear war has taken everything down. I'm not going to give away too much, but the book focuses on what the monks have saved in terms of information from the previous civilization and are holding on to it as a beacon of light. The book then goes on hundreds and thousands of years in the future as humanity rebuilds itself to what it once was: a civilization with many of the technological advances as before. 

This gets me to the issue of what would our detritus be, should such an event occur, for any surviving humanity. [3] So much of what we have is on computers, that should that be found by some future humanity, one wonders if they would make any use of it. Would they be capable of building a future on that? What about our garbage, of which there will be much?

It's an interesting act to try to break down what we value today and see what will survive, to say nothing of what the future will find valuable. Now when I go through any museum I think of this very matter: that perhaps what has survived tells little about them, even though we may think it shows a lot (that which we have in common, if we take surviving art as one example). To point out this material bias is something of a platitude, but is still can evoke some thought. 

Of course, I'm thinking now more as a writer than anything, but what would survive of us into the future? And would it be something that says much about us?



[1] That link goes to my all time most viewed post. A listicle with my favorite scifi novels and though I enjoy it, it goes to show how popular such lists are. Not to say that breaking down any essay into lists of some sort isn't a good idea.

[2] Though there is some level of hagiography for the Catholic Church, the book is still worthwhile for the other ideas it brings up.

[3] In many ways, this is similar to the case of needing to have signs and structures around a radioactive dump site that would be capable of speaking to humanity not culturally connected to us.

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