On the surface, "A Canticle for Leibowitz" represents a futuristic dystopian novel. But it is misleading. Actually it is about our past, but only about past as seen in the west (from Greco-Roman world's point of view).
The book comes in three parts. It begins in 26th century with the story about nuclear holocaust that happened in the 20th century, referred as "flame deluge", that soon was followed by act of massive homicides and cleansing of educated classes, referred as "simplification". Within few years the whole world civilization collapses.
We can clearly see the parallel with the fall of western Roman Empire in 5th century and beginning of the dark ages.
Leibowitz is a scientists who is martyred by the mob during "simplification" for collecting and saving books. With the blessing of surviving Catholic church, now located in New Rome, the whole new priestly order is established, named after Leibowitz, tasked to preserve the knowledge.
Again, we clearly see the parallels with the medieval libraries associated with the Catholic church during dark ages.
In the second part, set around 3200 A.D, there is a renewed interest in acquiring knowledge and we are witnessing advances in secularism but also in empire building. These are references to real life Renaissance in the western Europe starting in the early 15th century.
In the final, third chapter, set around 3700 A.D, society came full circle and we are witnessing nuclear weapons and space travel capability. Yet again, book is ending by another "flame deluge", this time even worse. One space ship owned by Catholic church, however, manages to escape destruction and leaves for closest star system.
I personally see this book more of "Christian faith" book rather than science fiction. Catholic church is portrayed as a only force whose goal is to preserve and defend humanity. Conceptually, book's first and its final 20 or so pages contain all the the book's "artistic values" and they are quite powerful to read.
posted by David Usharauli