Study Guide

A Canticle for Leibowitz Technology and Modernization

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Technology and Modernization

When you think of science fiction, you probably imagine flying saucers, faster-than-light travel, and maybe a robot or two. In other words, you think of technology. What you don't think of is a bunch of monks stuck in the middle of nowhere showing up all the tech savvy of troglodytes (totally a real word). But while A Canticle might not be brimming with the hi-tech marvels, it does use its technological imagery in a unique way. Science fiction stories tend to revolve around plots in which technology saves us all. Have a Godzilla problem? Build some tech. Aliens invading Earth? Hit 'em with a computer virus. But Miller's novel questions this notion. Does our technology really better our lives, or is it merely another bone we can bonk ourselves over the heads with?

Questions About Technology and Modernization

  1. Is any character able to use technology toward a positive outcome? If yes, then who and how? If not, then why not?
  2. Find an example of technology in all three sections of A Canticle. Do you see any similarities between these examples, and how they are used? Any differences? What does this suggest to you about the theme of technology throughout the course of the novel?
  3. In the end, the technology of space travel saves humanity from self-destruction. Do you think this signifies a change in the relationship between humanity and its tools, or do you think the cycle of creation and destruction will repeat itself away from Earth?
  4. Watch this explanation on 2001: A Space Odyssey. (It's fun, we promise.) Now: do you think 2001 and A Canticle share similar positions on humanity's use of technology, or are they coming from different angles? Explain your answer.

Chew on This

In A Canticle, science is viewed as benign knowledge. It is only when science takes a physical form in technology—or the manipulation of nature—that it can be used to hurt others.

Almost every example of technology in the novel is shown to cause pain in one form or another. Possible exceptions might include the pen, paper and the printing press. Because who doesn't love the printing press?