The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The novel has three sections, with narratives separated by about six hundred years between sections. From the perspective of the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz, church history is recapitulated in a future “Dark Age,” a “Renaissance,” and an apocalyptic “Modern Age.”

The first section, “Fiat Homo” (“let there be man”), begins about c.e. 2600. A twentieth century atomic war and a repressive Age of Simplification have almost wiped out the past. Brother Francis, a simple monk fasting in the desert, uncovers an underground chamber with “Fallout Survival Shelter” written over it. He believes that Fallout is the name of a demon and has no conception of the war that destroyed civilization. The shelter contains documents written by Leibowitz, an engineer who stayed on at the abbey after the war and devoted himself to the preservation of knowledge.

In the timeless life of the abbey, the Blessed Leibowitz finally is declared a saint. Brother Francis devotes fifteen years to illuminating a wholly meaningless blueprint. On the way to New Rome to present his illumination to the pope, he is robbed by mutants. The pope gives the monk enough gold to buy back the illumination. In the second encounter, however, the mutants steal the gold and cannibalize him, casting him as a martyr.

In the second section, “Fiat Lux” (“let there be light”), set in c.e. 3174, the...

(The entire section is 514 words.)