Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz radio drama

A Canticle for Leibowitz adapted for radio by Karl Schmidt and John Reeves from the novel by Walter M. Miller, Jr., read by a full cast

Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s 1959 Hugo Award-winning masterwork revolves around the Abbey of St. Leibowitz and the monks there who seek to preserve and rediscover the knowledge of the ancients, most of which was lost in the aftermath of the great Flame Deluge. Beginning in the 26th Century and covering a span of some 1800 years, with humanity progressing from a new dark age to a new space age, A Canticle for Leibowitz tells a tale of the pursuit and folly of technological advancements and of the cyclical rise and fall of civilization.

The novel is brought wonderfully to life by this captivating radio dramatization produced by WHA Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio (in association with NPR). Carol Cowan, the primary narrator, reads the text in a grim, compelling tone that leaves the listener hopelessly ensnared. The rest of the cast deliver likewise sterling performances, breathing life into Miller’s characters, capturing at once the profundity of the novel’s themes and its sly, dark humor. Sound effects can often hamper an audiobook production, but here they complement the dramatization well; the sound of church bells and the eerie chanting of the Edgewood College Chant Group help fully immerse the listener in this vision of a post-holocaust America.

Genre purists will probably want to first read the novel, or listen to the unabridged audiobook from Books-on-Tape (read by Jonathan Marosz), but for the casual fan (or the purist who has already read the novel), this is sure to delight. Perhaps it’s best to think of this production as an illuminated manuscript—though it can never replace the sacred original, it is a pleasing replica and a fitting tribute.

Originally appeared in Amazing Stories