Walter M. Miller, Jr.

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He had never seen a "Fallout," and he hoped he'd never see one. A consistent description of the monster had not survived, but Francis had heard the legends...

Walter Michael Miller, Jr. (23 January 1923 - 9 January 1996) American science fiction writer, most famous for his novel A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for best novel.


  • The old man was sad as he sat on his porch. He knew so little of the Great Purpose. Why must his seed fling itself starward? He knew that it must — but he lacked a reason. His grandchildren played in the twilight, played space-games, although there was not yet a starship on the planet.
    • "The Big Hunger" (1952)
  • Whatever you specialize in, another specialty will either gobble you, or find a way to replace you. If you get what looks like a secure niche, somebody'll come along and wall you up in it and write your epitaph on it. And the more specialized a society gets, the more dangerous it is for the pure specialist. You think an electronic engineer in any safer than an actor? Or a ditch-digger?
    • "The Darfsteller" (1955)

A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)

Fiat Homo

  • Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice's Lenten fast in the desert.
    Never before had Brother Francis actually seen a pilgrim with girded loins, but that this one was the bona fide article he was convinced as soon as he had recovered from the spine-chilling effect of the pilgrim's advent on the far horizon, as a wiggling iota of black caught in a shimmering haze of heat. ~ Ch 1 (First lines).
  • Encounters between strangers in the desert, while rare, were occasions of mutual suspicion, and masked by initial preparations on both sides for an incident that might prove either cordial or warlike. ~ Ch 1
  • He had never seen a "Fallout," and he hoped he'd never see one. A consistent description of the monster had not survived, but Francis had heard the legends. He crossed himself and backed away from the hole. Tradition told that the Beatus Leibowitz himself had encountered a Fallout, and had been possessed by it for many months before the exorcism which accompanied his Baptism drove the fiend away.
    Brother Francis visualized a Fallout as half-salamander, because, according to tradition, the thing was born in the Flame Deluge, and as half-incubus who despoiled virgins in their sleep, for, were not the monsters of the world still called "children of the Fallout"? That the demon was capable of inflicting all the woes which descended upon Job was recorded fact, if not an article of creed. ~ Ch 1
  • From the lightning and the tempest,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From the scourge of the earthquake,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From plague, famine, and war,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From the place of ground zero,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From the rain of the cobalt,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From the rain of the strontium,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From the fall of the cesium,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From the curse of the Fallout,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From the begetting of monsters,
    O Lord, deliver us.
    From the curse of the Misborn,
    O Lord deliver us.
    ~ Ch 2
  • When Brother Francis had removed the last tray, he touched the papers reverently: only a handful of folded documents here, and yet a treasure; for they had escaped the angry flames of the Simplification, wherein even sacred writings had curled, blackened, and withered into smoke while ignorant mobs howled and hailed it a triumph. He handled the papers as one might handle holy things, shielding them from the wind with his habit, for all were brittle and cracked from age. There was a sheaf of rough sketches and diagrams. There were hand-scribbled notes, two large folded papers, and a small book entitled Memo. ~ Ch 2
  • It was said that God, in order to test mankind which had become swelled with pride as in the time of Noah, had commanded the wise men of that age, among them the Blessed Leibowitz, to devise great engines of war such as had never before been upon the Earth, weapons of such might that they contained the very fires of Hell, and that God had suffered these magi to place the weapons in the hands of princes, and to say to each prince: "Only because the enemies have such a thing have we devised this for thee, in order that they may know that thou hast it also, and fear to strike. See to it, m'Lord, that thou fearest them as much as they shall now fear thee, that none may unleash this dread thing which we have wrought." But the princes, putting the words of their wise men to naught, thought each to himself: If I but strike quickly enough, and in secret, I shall destroy these others in their sleep, and there will be none to fight back; the earth shall be mine.
    Such was the folly of princes, and there followed the Flame Deluge.
    ~ Ch 6
  • The Simplification had ceased to have plan or purpose soon after it began, and became an insane frenzy of mass murder and destruction such as can occur only when the last traces of social order are gone. The madness was transmitted to the children, taught as they were — not merely to forget — but to hate, and surges of mob fury recurred sporadically even through the fourth generation after the Deluge. By then, the fury was directed not against the learned, for there were none, but against the merely literate. ~ Ch 6
  • The monks of the earliest days had not counted on the human ability to generate a new cultural inheritance in a couple of generations if an old one is utterly destroyed, to generate it by virtue of lawgivers and prophets, geniuses or maniacs; through a Moses, or through a Hitler, or an ignorant but tyrannical grandfather, a cultural inheritance may be acquired between dusk and dawn, and many have been so acquired. But the new "culture" was an inheritance of darkness, wherein "simpleton" meant the same thing as "citizen" meant the same thing as "slave." The monks waited. It mattered not at all to them that the knowledge they saved was useless, that much of it was not really knowledge now, was as inscrutable to the monks in some instances as it would be to an illiterate wild-boy from the hills; this knowledge was empty of content, its subject matter long since gone. Still, such knowledge had a symbolic structure that was peculiar to itself, and at least the symbol-interplay could be observed. To observe the way a knowledge-system is knit together is to learn at least a minimum knowledge-of-knowledge, until someday — someday, or some century — an Integrator would come, and things would be fitted together again. So time mattered not at all. The Memorabilia was there, and it was given to them by duty to preserve, and preserve it they would if the darkness in the world lasted ten more centuries, or even ten thousand years... ~ Ch 6

Fiat Lux

  • Reasoning which touches experiential reality nowhere is the business of angelologists and theologians, not of physical scientists. And yet such papers as these describe systems which touch our experience nowhere. Were they within the experimental reach of the ancients? Certain references tend to indicate it. One paper refers to elemental transmutation — which we just recently established as theoretically impossible — and then it says — 'experiment proves.' But how?
    It may take generations to evaluate and understand some of these things. It is unfortunate that they must remain here in this inaccessible place, for it will take a concentrated effort by numerous scholars to make meaning of them.
    ~ Ch 20
  • "Ignorance has been our king. Since the death of empire, he sits unchallenged on the throne of Man. His dynasty is age-old. His right to rule is now considered legitimate. Past sages have affirmed it. They did nothing to unseat him.
    "Tomorrow, a new prince shall rule. Men of understanding, men of science shall stand behind his throne, and the universe will come to know his might. His name is Truth. His empire shall encompass the Earth.
    And the mastery of Man ever the Earth shall be renewed. A century from now, men will fly through the air in mechanical birds. Metal carriages will race along roads of man-made stone. There will be buildings of thirty stories, ships that go under the sea, machines to perform all works.
    "And how will this come to pass?" He paused and lowered his voice. "In the same way all change comes to pass, I fear. And I am sorry it is so. It will come to pass by violence and upheaval, by flame and by fury, for no change comes calmly over the world." ~ Ch 20
  • "Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power. Even literacy they fear, for the written word is another channel of communication that might cause their enemies to become united. Their weapons are keen-honed, and they use them with skill. They will press the battle upon the world when their interests are threatened, and the violence which follows will last until the structure of society as it now exists is leveled to rubble, and a new society emerges. I am sorry: But that is how I see it." ~ Ch 20
  • One never knows whether the Poet is speaking fact, fancy, or allegory. If fancy is clever enough, I doubt that the Poet would admit a difference between fancy and fact. ~ Ch 21
  • If you try to save wisdom until the world is wise, Father, the world will never have it. ~ Ch 21
  • He was a very dispirited Poet. He had never expected the world to act in a courteous, seemly, or even sensible manner, and the world had seldom done so; often he had taken heart in the consistency of its rudeness and stupidity. But never before had the world shot the Poet in the abdomen with a musket. This he found not heartening at all. ~ Ch 23
  • The Poet could not remember ever fearing death, but he had often suspected Providence of plotting the worst for him as to the manner of his dying when the time came to go. He had expected to rot away. Slowly and not very fragrantly. Some poetic insight had warned him that he would surely die a blubbering leprous lump, cravenly penitential but impenitent. Never had he anticipated anything so blunt and final as a bullet in the stomach, and with not even an audience at hand to hear his dying quips. The last thing they had heard him say when they shot him was: "Oof!" — his testament for posterity. Ooof! ~ Ch 23

Fiat Voluntas Tua

  • We are being protected from hysteria. Isn't that what they call it? Maniacs! The world's been in a habitual state of crisis for fifty years. Fifty? What am I saying? It's been in a habitual state of crisis since the beginning — but for half a century now, almost unbearable. And why, for the love of God? What is the fundamental irritant, the essence of the tension? Political philosophies? Economics? Population pressure? Disparity of culture and creed? Ask a dozen experts, get a dozen answers. Now Lucifer again. Is the species congenitally insane, Brother? ~ Ch 24
  • Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Empires of Charlemagne and the Turk: Ground to dust and plowed with salt. Spain, France, Britain, America — burned into the oblivion of the centuries. And again and again and again. Are we doomed to it, Lord, chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork, helpless to halt its swing? This time, it will swing us clean to oblivion, he thought. ~ Ch 25
  • To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law — a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security. ~ Ch 29
  • He received the Wafer from her hand. She replaced the lid of the ciborium and set the vessel in a more protected spot under a jutting rock. She used no conventional gestures, but the reverence with which she had handled it convinced him of one thing: she sensed the Presence under the veils. She who could not yet use words nor understand them, had done what she had as if by direct instruction, in response to his attempt at conditional baptism. He tried to refocus his eyes to get another look at the face of this being, who by gestures alone had said to him: I do not need your first Sacrament, Man, but I am worthy to convey to you this Sacrament of Life. Now he knew what she was, and he sobbed faintly when he could not again force his eyes to focus on those cool, green, and untroubled eyes of one born free. ~ Ch 29
  • The image of those cool green eyes lingered with him as long as life. He did not ask why God would choose to raise up a creature of primal innocence from the shoulder of Mrs. Grales, or why God gave to it the preternatural gifts of Eden — these gifts which Man had been trying to seize by brute force again from Heaven since first he lost them. He had seen primal innocence in those eyes, and a promise of resurrection. One glimpse had been a bounty, and he wept in gratitude. Afterwards he lay with his face in the wet dirt and waited.
    Nothing else ever came — nothing that he saw, or felt, or heard. ~ Ch 29
  • They sang as they lifted the children into the ship. They sang old space chanteys and helped the children up the ladder one at a time and into the hands of the sisters. They sang heartily to dispel the fright of the little ones. When the horizon erupted, the singing stopped. They passed the last child into the ship. The horizon came alive with flashes as the monks mounted the ladder. The horizons became a red glow. A distant cloudbank was born where no cloud had been. The monks on the ladder looked away from the flashes. When the flashes were gone, they looked back. The visage of Lucifer mushroomed into hideousness above the cloudbank, rising slowly like some titan climbing to its feet after ages of imprisonment in the Earth. ~ Ch 30
  • The last monk, upon entering, paused in the lock. He stood in the open hatchway and took off his sandals. "Sic transit mundus," he murmured, looking back at the glow. He slapped the soles of his sandals together, beating the dirt out of them. ~ Ch 30

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