Tor. com recently asked me to write a piece on the one book that changed my life. I knew which book to talk about instantly, Walter M. Miller's famous "A Canticle for Leibowitz," which won science fiction's Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1961. It changed my life -- or at least my writing life -- three different times.
I'll paste in the first few graphs of the story I wrote about meeting the reclusive Walter Miller and his wife, and about his sharing the manuscript of the long-awaited sequel to the novel with me, giving me the chance to read it while he sat near me and watched. And if you click on the link you can read the entire piece at Tor.com.
We’ve all read books that changed us, and in this new series, we ask SFF authors to tell us about one particular book that affected them in some important way — something as big as redirecting their life, or something as particular as changing their mind about a kind of story or a style of writing.
I was born into a sports family and by the time I entered college I was taking aim at a career as a sportswriter. I had good reason to think I’d make it: my father had been a catcher for the Red Sox, Phillies, and Cardinals and was a successful Triple-A manager in those days, so I grew up inside baseball. And I was a three-sport scholarship athlete in football, basketball, and baseball, so I knew those games well. I loved to read, I loved to write, and I knew my way around the diamonds, fields and courts. Sportswriting seemed natural, and by the time I was in college I was working for the school paper and also writing part-time for the local metro daily, covering high-school basketball and football. It was fun, it was easy, the paper published everything I wrote, and they paid me very well.
But within a few years I gave up that cushy sportswriting future and turned my attention to the much more difficult proposition of finding success as a science fiction writer, which wasn’t easy, and where most of what I wrote didn’t get published, and where they didn’t pay me very well at all. Why? Blame it on A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller.
Three times in my life I’ve bumped up against that famous novel, and each time it brought me back to science fiction.
The first time was in high school. I went through the Catholic educational system in St. Louis, with the terrifying Sisters of Loretto in elementary school and then the stern but admirable Jesuits in high school. I wasn’t particularly religious, but I greatly admired the Jesuits (and still do). They wouldn’t allow a lunkhead jock, which I certainly was, to graduate from their high school without learning to love learning. Once they discovered that I loved to read, they gave me a free pass to the stacks of the very old but very fine high school library, where I found, to my great delight, dozens of science fiction books, from old classic juveniles like Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle, published in 1910, to the then very recent A Canticle for Leibowitz, published in 1960. After reading a lot of articles in Sports Illustrated and Sport magazine, and devouring a couple of dozen Tom Swift books and a whole lot of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, I felt like I’d been struck by a thunderbolt by A Canticle for Leibowitz. I read it twice in the span of two weeks of study halls. It was Catholic, it was post-apocalyptic, and it was altogether mind-blowing science fiction. Immediately I set aside the sports magazines and the Nancy Drew mysteries that I had been reading and embraced the ambitious science-fiction novels of the day, from Samuel R. Delaney’s Babel-17 to Frank Herbert’s Dune to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and many more.