Mike Resnick’s Santiago

Santiago_(Mike_Resnick_novel_-_front_cover)My friend Darrell Paul told me I needed to read Mike Resnick’s science fiction cult classic, Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future.  I have recently finished it, having read some of it to Mrs. Richardson and having listened to the rest of it read via Audible.  I simply wanted to give a brief nod to Santiago as a glorious example of scifi pulp fiction that was a guilty pleasure to read/hear.

The book is essentially a Western set in the future in space.  Sebastian Caine, a bounty hunter, is pursuing the ultimate prize:  Santiago.  Santiago is a nearly mythical figure, the greatest outlaw of them all.  The legends about him abound and his exploits have created a shroud of fame and infamy before which all observers stand in awe and fear.  Caine is hot on Santiago’s trail, planet hopping and following the clues…along with most every other bounty hunter in the solar system.  Along the way he meets fascinating, colorful, and weird characters.  Some of those meetings result in temporary traveling companions and some end in fights to the death, but all result in fascinating exchanges with memorable and odd characters.

Above all is the shadow of the deadliest bounty hunter of all, The Angel, who is likewise pursuing Santiago.  Resnick’s depiction of The Angel is truly chilling.  The reader will feel a palpable sense of dread and awe when The Angel is being discussed or depicted.  Resnick outdid himself on that one.

In all honesty, there is not a lot that I can say that would not give away key elements of the plot.  So I’ll just say that if you would like a book to read on vacation, or a break from serious reading, Santiago may just be your thing.  It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s good enough, and it’s highly entertaining.  There are some objectionable elements, and I suppose I’d give the book a PG-13 rating if pressed, but it’s a fun read, with some interesting twists and turns, and, above all, some characters that will stay with you for a while.

Reflections on Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World

I’ve fallen into the habit of listening to audio books as I drive (through the Audible app on my Kindle).  This is because I realize I will never be able to read all of the great books I’d like to read in my lifetime and, at the least, this gives me the opportunity to hear stories that I may be familiar with but have not actually read.  On a practical note, it has made driving a lot more enjoyable and informative!

The last three books I’ve listened to are Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  I’ve long been a sucker for the futuristic and apocalyptic genre, be it Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz or McCarthy’s The Road or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or others along those lines.  Viewing depictions of what the future might look like holds a fascination that, I trust, need not be explained.  What is striking is the shared note of pessimism among these works.  As I listened to 1984 and Brave New World in particular, I was struck by both the similarities and differences between the two books.

For instance, both books depict a terrifying version of the future consisting of totalitarian governments, the dehumanization of the populace, extreme social conditioning from on high, rigid, prescribed caste systems, and the obliteration of Christianity.  A kind of religion survives in Brave New World around Fordism, the worship of “Ford,” based on Henry Ford (thus, the triumph of consumerism and mechanization).  The old Christian crosses have had their tops sawed off, making them all into upper-case “T’s,” evoking, no doubt, the image of Ford’s Model-T.

In both stories there is a “hero” who gradually awakens to the horror of the society in which he finds himself.  In 1984, it’s Winston and Julia.  In Brave New World it’s John, “the savage,” and, to some extent, Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson.

John and Winston both feel the need for a sense of transcendence to help them escape the suffocating confines of State-sanctioned reality.  Winston says this to O’Brien, though he denies he believes in God.  Even so, he appeals to something more, the human spirit, he suggests, or something along those lines.  John, on the other hand, holds to the strange, syncretistic version of God he received on “the Savage Reservation.”  In both stories, the heroes feel that there must be more than State-constructed reality.  Yet in both stories the heroes end in despair and defeat, unable to change the social structure or see the victorious intrusion of greater transcendent reality into their bleak worlds.

In both stories, books are outlawed, individuality is suppressed, free thought is unacceptable, and a suffocating collectivism defined and controlled by the State is enforced.

The differences are striking too.  For instance, Orwell depicts a future of government-enforced sterility.  Sex is essentially outlawed and taboo.  Huxley, on the other hand, depicts a hyper-sexualized society in which sex has not been outlawed so much as desacralized.  Children’s erotic games are encouraged, monogamy and marriage are unheard of, and promiscuity is a virtue.  Sex is simply a mechanical diversion for the pleasure-seeking people.  In this, Huxley was certainly more prophetic than Orwell.

War is another difference.  Orwell depicts the future as one of constant if largely imaginary war.  War is always in the air as a means of keeping patriotic fervor at a fever pitch.  Not so in Huxley’s future.  There is no war and there are no conflicts.  Indeed, the masses are controlled by the euphoria-producing drug, soma, as well as constant tappings of the conditioning the brainwashed people have all undergone since birth.

Another difference is Orwell’s prolonged depiction of State-controlled historical rewriting.  In 1984, Big Brother is constantly rewriting history and controlling it.  Teams of workers, like Winston, spend their days rewriting bits of newspaper articles to make them fit more neatly into the State-approved version of reality.  In Brave New World, the story of the past is allowed to be what it is because the people have been conditioned to find it repulsive (i.e., that people used to born literally of their mothers ((and not in laboratories)) and live in families and marry a single person, etc.).

These two works have affected me pretty deeply, especially where they seem prophetic (which they frequently do).  The disintegration of the family, the conditioning of people to think certain ways, hatred of Christianity and what it stands for, the unquestioned orthodoxy of State-constructed and media-supported narratives of reality, the redefining of ethical mores, homogenous collectivism around, again, State-defined guidelines, political correctness, the dissolution of the Christian sexual ethic (in one way or another), the reduction of human beings to consumers, the redefining of words and language, etc.  It all has a too-close-for-comfort feel about it.

Let me quickly say that I am no Chicken Little.  I do not claim that we live in either Orwell’s or Huxley’s nightmarish visions at present, nor that we necessarily will.  I simply claim that there is an eerie familiarity to certain themes and imaginings that one finds in these books, especially when one compares these themes to certain trends in our country.  Regardless of their accuracy, these books are necessary if flawed warnings about what could be.

For this reason, if for no other, they should be taken seriously.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz


I’m still reeling from this book, so you will have to be patient.  Mrs. Richardson and I finished it last night, and I found it to be, in a word, astounding.  Of all the novels we’ve read together, this will go down as one of the most memorable.

Originally published in 1959, the late Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the most profound, unsettling, haunting, effective, and brilliant novels I have ever read.  It’s a scifi cult classic, and with good reason.  I think I agree with Time magazine’s initial assessment of the book as “Extraordinary…Chillingly effective.”

I should probably call my father and apologize to him, for he has been telling me for years that I really need to read this book.

He was right.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic novel set in the future and tracing the events of the human race primarily through the lens of a monastic community in the deserts of western North America called The Albertian Order of Saint Leibowitz. The book consists of three movements dealing with three different periods of time:  the 26th century, the year 3174 A.D., and the year 3781 A.D.

The first period deals with the resulting dark ages of ignorance, savagery, and brutality following nuclear holocaust (the “flame deluge” in Miller’s memorable terminology).  The Order of Leibowitz is a monastic community determined to preserve “the memorabilia,” or the remains of the past society of men.  The second movement finds the order dealing with an increase in scientific knowledge, the beginning emergence of the human race out of the long darkness of its own ignorance, and the reconstruction of the basic contours of society.  It is, however, a time also of great strife and war.  The final movement finds the human race in a state of great technological advancement but plagued by the old, consistent malady of man’s moral, societal, and ethical corruption.

In truth, the common thread throughout each epoch, and, in my opinion, the primary concern of Miller’s novel, is precisely the problem of original sin and man’s refusal to recognize that all political and social attempts at reestablishing Eden on the earth inevitably dissipate into barbarism and, ultimately, self-destruction.

Miller was a tail-gunner in WWII, and he knew well the ravages of war.  He participated in the bombing and destruction of a famous monastery in Italy, an event that had a dramatic impact on his life and, obviously, his writing.  He converted to Catholicism (a point that must be grasped if the novel is to be understood) but later lived in adultery, became extremely reclusive, and, finally, died at his own hand in 1996.

Miller understood theology very, very well, and the book is marked by both theological depth and, at times, density.  Some readers may find the copious Latin references burdensome, but they are quite germane to the story and helpful in creating mood and context.

Miller is thoroughly Augustinian in his view of the sinfulness of man.  More than once the abbots of the Leibowitzian order pontificate on the disastrous effects of both the Fall of Man and man’s refusal to see and understand the radical implications of that Fall.  This aspect of the novel reaches its apex in the concluding thoughts of Abbot Zerchi during the second nuclear holocaust as he lay dying.

“The trouble with the world is me…Thee me Adam Man we.  No ‘worldly evil’ except that which is introduced into the world by Man – me thee Adam us – with a little help from the father of lies….’Me us Adam, but Christ, Man me; Me us Adam, but Christ, Man me,’ he said aloud.” (330)

In truth, Miller’s handling of harmatology, soteriology, and theophany in this novel are quite impressive.  Along the way, the novel also offers powerful reflections on war, technology, and euthanasia (particularly in part 3).

In many ways, it’s harder to describe an overwhelming book than a lesser one, and I find that I’m experiencing that even now.  So perhaps I should simply end with this:  A Canticle for Leibowitz is everything a great book should be.  It is thought-provoking, psychologically and emotionally engaging, challenging in the various dilemmas it offers the reader, memorable in its descriptive force, and, ultimately, expressive of the grand verities of the gospel.

This is undoubtedly one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read, and I intend to read it again.

A great, great read.

Highly recommended.