Honestly, I have no idea what to expect but I’m looking forward to it. The convention has some kind of connection to Clarion West and it offered a writing workshop. That is tonight, after work. I submitted ‘The Island of Lost Gods’, the longer version. We’ll see what people think about it.
One thing that twigged my interest is that they pick a book each year and many of the panels are focused around that book. This year was a blast from the past (pardon the pun) called “A Canticle for Liebowitz”*.
I hadn’t read the book in decades and frankly the book was hard to find. No Kindle edition but Half Priced Books came through in the end. It was interesting. One of the more overtly religious science fiction novels I’ve read. Normally that is like the mix of oil and water. Many, many sci-fi authors are agnostic at best, some are actively hostile to organized religion. But in ‘Canticle’, we see a replay of the Church’s role from the Dark Ages: preserving knowledge of the earlier, educated days in the hopes of supporting a later flowering of the sciences. Yep, little known fact these days, the Catholic church and their monasteries are the reason we know anything about the Greeks and the Romans. Several of the early scientist were monks as well, Gregor Mendel and Albert Magnus.
The first two portions of the book could easy be read as Fantasy or historical fiction, though they’re set centuries after a nuclear war. On the last touches on traditional sci-fi elements. But the setting isn’t what this is about. It’s not even about technology, though the efforts to recover and maintain technical knowledge and the correct application of science are major themes of the book. The book is really about human nature. How man doesn’t change. How man repeats history because of his unchanging nature. Empires rise and fall and for the same reasons as their rise and fall in times past.
I think that’s what struck me most. There is a passage towards the end of the book that I thought was beautiful and profound. And sad. I’m paraphrasing from memory but I think it went something like this:
When life is hard, paradise and heaven is easy to embrace. Because we want to believe that something can be perfect and good and that there is rest at the end of a life of toil. But the more comfortable we become, the closer to perfection that we make our world, the more discontented we become. Tiny flaws are blown up into huge drama and we stop seeking to be good people. We seek pleasure and pleasure alone and it does not satisfy and we are discontented.
This was written in 1960. Back then, my parents were living on a farm in Iowa and life was not soft or easy for them. How much more true those words seem today.
The characters seem real, flawed; noble or practical. But it’s the ideas of the book that make it worth discussing. It’ll be interesting to see what people pick up on at Potlatch. Will the focus on the post-apocalypic setting? Will they focus on the struggle between Church and State (Church doesn’t win that one, then or now)? Will they focus on the arrogance of science? Or will the glom onto the subplot at the end, where euthanasia is vigorously refuted?**
I don’t know. But I’ll find out in a few short hours. So here’s to Potlatch the 21st, in the year of our Lord 2012.
*Won the Hugo in 1960 and, yes, I had to look up what a Canticle was. It means hymn or song.
**I disagreed with the Church over this in the book. They make their case but it felt weak to me. But even that felt real.