The Lost Canticles of Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Walter M. Miller, Jr., is an enigmatic
figure in mid-century American science fiction. An engineer with World War II
flying experience, who wrote science fiction of a technophilic variety, he also
studded his stories with allusions, clear and cloudy, to the Judeo-Christian
tradition, generally bathed in a generous light. A commercial writer who boasted
a million words by 1955, including scripts for television’s Captain Video, he
came to write progressively more complex, sophisticated, problematic stories
until, having more or less perfected his art, he stopped writing at the pinnacle
of his success, at the age of 36. A Southern Catholic, born in Florida in 1923,
he wrote his best-known work about a future order of monks founded in Arizona in
the name of a Jewish engineer.
Miller restricted almost all of his
writing to science fiction; in a short career, reaching from January, 1951,
through August, 1957, forty-one stories (listed below, in the Appendix, as
##1-41) appeared in the American science-fiction magazines over Miller’s
by-line.1 Three of these were later (1960) to comprise his
award-winning novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz; three others were
collected in 1962 under the title of one of them, Conditionally Human;
and another nine were assembled in 1964 under the title The View from the
Stars (see B1, B2, B3 in the Appendix). The two collections are out of
print, as are most of the anthologies in which at least seven other Miller
stories (along with nine of the fifteen in the three books) have been reprinted.
A goodly number of these stories are worth looking into, either for some
intrinsic value, or in connection with his best work; the themes and motifs of
Canticle had a long period of incubation. And even Miller’s worst were often
better than the accumulations of words that filled up to thirty magazines in
1952 and thirty anthologies of science fiction stories in 1954.2
Since 1957, however, Miller’s name has been associated with no new science
fiction, and very little writing for the public of any kind.3 It may
be that his novel obsessed him, draining off his writing energy; it may be that
it set him a standard he felt unable to maintain; perhaps it expressed so well
the themes which concerned him that its completion left him nothing to say. Even
if other concerns entirely apart from writing took him away from science
fiction, it must be inferred that his reasons involved what satisfaction he was
or was not getting from writing.4 In reviewing his career, then, it
is impossible to ignore Canticle as the culmination of a decade’s work,
but it would probably be unwise to assume that everything that preceded it was
in some way directed toward that final achievement.
The biographical information available
on Miller is sketchy indeed: an early autobiographical sketch accompanying
"Dark Benediction" in the September, 1951 issue of Fantastic
Adventures; a brief portrait in the June 1, 1958 Library Journal (3:1769);
an entry in Donald H. Tuck’s A Handbook of Science Fiction and Fantasy,
2nd ed. (Hobart, Tasmania: privately published, 1959); the dust jacket of
Canticle; and headnotes in the March, 1957, issue of Venture, and in
anthologies edited by T.E. Dikty, Judith Merril, and William F. Nolan comprise
the lot which I have been able to unearth. But his personal experiences and the
ambience of the decade in which he wrote are certainly discernible in his
fiction. His Southern origins, his wartime flying, his engineering education,
his reading of history and anthropology, and his personal vision of his religion
are all reflected in some of his stories. How his more private life might be
involved is conjectural, but the social environment of America in the years
following World War II is eminently visible.5 In that war, a
technological elite had come to power, had defeated an evil enemy of seemingly
archetypal proportions, and had emerged with a vision of unlimited energy and
growth in peacetime. Today’s harbingers of ecotastrophe are one ironic result
of that blind faith in progress, but the destructive use of atomic power had
already shown the negative side of technology, its potential to bring about a
culture with a forcibly much lower level of technology, which implied a
corresponding social regression. The disillusionment of the postwar decade was
not long in coming either, with the Cold War turning hot in Korea, paranoia
about national security (the Rosenberg trial, McCarthyism, the blacklist in show
business), suburban sameness and an obsession with conformity. Conformity,
security, overpopulation, hot and Cold wars all figure in Miller’s stories,
though the dominant themes, an interrelated pair, are socio-technological
regression and its presumed antithesis, continued technological advance. All of
these he treated with respect to their social implications, particularly for the
United States, but perhaps more importantly, with regard to their effect on
individual behavior, including that side of behavior which can only be termed
Most science fiction writers and
readers would probably accede to the dictum of Leslie A. Fiedler in Love and
Death in the American Novel (Cleveland: World, 1962, p. 478) that science
fiction "believes God is dead, but sees no reason for getting hysterical
about it." To be sure, an explicit role for religion is not uncommon in
science fiction. Numerous writers have used the Church as a vehicle of
government or a front for revolutionary activity, in other words, as a political
entity. For others, religion represents a storehouse of tradition, imagery,
allusions, and riddles which they have looted for its trinkets or ornaments.
Occasionally, as in C.S. Lewis’ trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet,
Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, the science fiction becomes
the ornament in an unabashed exercise in popular Christianity, attacking the
popular beliefs associated with materialistic science and technology. The
assumption in general, however, is that serious science fiction and serious
religion don’t mix.6
This assumption also seems to have
distorted critical discussions of Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.
Marketed simply as "a novel," it has been read as if it had little or
no connection with science fiction, as if the author sprang full blown into the
literary landscape in 1960, as an apologist for, or a would-be reformer of,
medieval or modern Catholicism, before the winds of change which emanated from
the Vatican Council convened by Pope John.7 Most published critiques
take little note of the novel’s polyphonic structure, in which other
viewpoints are given almost equal time and equal weight, with a special emphasis
on the viewpoint associated with science and technology.8 Few of them
have recognized his long apprenticeship in the science fiction magazines, and
the continuity between the novel and what preceded it. In these stories, and I
think in the novel as well, Miller comes across as an unashamed technophile, as
well as a Catholic believer, however incongruous that combination may seem to
opponents of either or both positions. In addition, the author is shown as a
commercial writer learning his trade, willing to play along with the conventions
and categories of magazine science fiction, while honing his tools so as to
convert a craft into an art.
Miller’s development as an artist is
not as easily demonstrated as is the thematic content of his stories. The book
version of Canticle shows decided improvements in its three parts over
their magazine versions, and the story, "Conditionally Human," has
been revised upward for book publication, but other changes are less obvious.
Since he uses the same themes more than once, some improvement in handling can
be inferred, if the "improved" story was actually written after the
"rougher" draft, something which it is impossible to know, given the
vagaries of magazine publishing schedules, without direct information from the
author himself. There is also a tremendous difference between the first and last
science fiction stories Miller published, but the progress in between is very
uneven, which may not be explained simply by the fact that dates of writing and
publication do not coincide. In such a short career, the chronology of
publication may be of limited value. The fact that his annual publication record
from 1951 to 1957 was 7, 15, 5, 5, 5, 1, and 4 stories, novelettes, and short
novels does suggest one obvious break in terms of rate of production. Moreover,
although his best work is spread across the decade, the first two years have
more than their share of trivia, impossible to take seriously but utterly
lacking in humor. By contrast, the last five years show an increase in serious
subject matter and a higher value placed on humor. That he did not always write
fast is evident in Canticle, which was at least five years in the making.
But its richness is foreshadowed by the increasing complexity of his later
stories, which were published if not written at a considerably slower rate: only
four were published after the first Leibowitz short novel. During these years
there is evidence that Miller was learning how to illustrate a point more and to
preach it less, learning how to avoid the most blatantly clichéd stereotypes
and conventions, learning how to concentrate the reader’s interest on a single
character immersed in an action the meaning of which transcends the individual.
In addition, the growth of Miller’s ability to utilize humor more or less
parallels the change in his writing to a more complex conception of the role of
characters, and a more ambiguous and problematic approach to values, culminating
in that work of utmost seriousness which is little short of a "comic"
masterpiece. But this change, which I see as an improvement, is gradual and
uneven, not a matter of simple chronology.
In examining Miller’s thematic
concerns, and his maturation as an artist, I have almost disregarded the order
of publication of his stories. In the pages that follow, we will begin with a
rapid survey of most of his work under three thematic categories, (1)
technological collapse and social regression, (2) "hard" technology
and social advance, (3) "soft" or biological technology and social or
psychological ambivalence; then, building on these summaries, continue with (4)
a review of the role of religion in Miller’s fiction and (5) a survey of his
growth as an artist culminating in a more detailed examination of his best
stories; and finally conclude with (6) an estimate of his accomplishment.
1. The cyclical theme of technological
progress and regress which is the foundation-stone on which A Canticle for
Leibowitz is built is present in much of Miller’s earlier writing, too.
Two stories foretell complete collapse of our civilization or race, two concern
political stalemates in which technological progress is at least slowed, and
five more involve directly the theme of rebuilding society after the collapse of
The collapse stories are negligible
accomplishments, both published in 1951. "The Little Creeps" describes
from the viewpoint of a blustering general, how "energy creatures"
from the future (tomorrow!) fail to get him to change several small actions
within his control so as to avoid nuclear war and devastation of which they are
a product. "The Song of Vorhu" is a grisly "love story" of a
farther future in which a spaceship pilot tries to preserve some fragment of
sanity and the human race from a nameless "plague"; seeking
another" resurrection of mankind, he is haunted by disembodied lines from
the Bible (Abraham and Sarah, the Messiah, the Red Sea, "What is man that
thou art mindful of him," "lower than angels," "to have
dominion," "from the mud of Earth").
The political satires are more
considerable, as fictions, if not as science fictions. "Check and
Checkmate" (1953) Places some promising satirical ideas in a setting so far
removed from reality as to rob them of some of their sting. Extrapolating Cold
War barriers forward several generations, Miller gives us an American president,
John Smith XVI, who is selected rather than elected, who wears the golden mask
of tragedy, and who must circulate among dozens of identical "Stand-Ins"
to insure his anonymity and bodily safety. After forty years of Big Silence, he
re-opens contact with the East, in the person of Ivan Ivanovitch IX, who wears a
red mask (of Lenin), who literally "faces" Smith down (without masks)
and who invites him to an Antarctic summit. While Congress convenes to conduct a
"witch hunt," bringing thousands to "justice" for breaches
of security, both sides trade charges but continue negotiations. Planning to
launch an attack on the day of their meeting, Smith shows up with an explosive
device strapped to his chest, only to find out what Ivan had meant when he said
a certain discovery had eliminated both the need for "atomics" and the
existence of the proletariat: Ivan himself is a robot. Miller makes no attempt
at realism, maintaining only the tiniest bit of suspense before the manifest
ability of technology, even when it is suppressed, to transcend security
precautions conclusively reduces to the absurd that preoccupation of the Cold
War era. "Vengeance for Nikolai" (1957) is only minimally science
fiction, with no extrapolated technology, rather an implicit standstill. A tale
of bizarre assassination, it concerns a Russian girl who carries poison in her
breasts for the brilliant general of the American "Blue Shirt"
invading forces. Marya is a creature of legend, Miller indicates, whose sheer
intensity of purpose seems to get her through the lines without much damage. No
didacticism, except for the warning against American fascism, detracts from the
purity of her mission, vengeance for her dead baby channeled into an act of
heroism on behalf of the Fatherland.
Miller’s first attempt at the theme
of regression, "The Soul-Empty Ones," is a confusing blood-and-thunder
melodrama, the coincidences of the plot shattering a degree of credibility built
up by the relatively sensitive handling, of character and exposition. Primitive
tribesmen on Earth are caving in to invaders from the sky, except for one, whose
fortunes we follow, as he discovers his identity as an "android," and
helps to rescue the "true men" from their Martian masters who have
brought them back to resettle Earth. The rendering of primitive ritual and the
determination of Falon to rise above submission to tradition are done reasonably
well, but the distance to technological mastery is too great to be overcome with
In "The Reluctant Traitor,"
Miller’s viewpoint character is an intruder in the primitive society, a human
on Mars who rebels against a restrictive city-state which forbids fraternizing
with the natives. In exile, he learns more about the "androons," who
turn out to be humans whose forebears came as Martian captives, and manages to
reverse their defensive posture and to overturn the city government. The
conclusion seems to promise an open frontier society like the Old West, but with
a higher level of technology and some brotherly love, or at least mutual
tolerance. The action is terrifically fast-paced, including some sexual and sado-masochistic
titillation, but the conversion of the primitive androons on their flying bats
into conquerors of a high-technology city-state is just not convincing.
Miller’s best variation on this theme
is his shortest, "It Takes a Thief" (reprinted as "Big Joe and
the Nth Generation"). Earth is no longer, and the remnants of Martian
colonists have fallen back into scattered tribes which keep ancient knowledge
fragmented by restricting it to ritualistic sayings "owned" one to a
person. Asir has "stolen" the sayings of others, and has put enough
together in his mind to realize that a catastrophe threatens unless the people
regain control over the technology governing their life-support system. At the
story’s beginning, he narrowly misses execution for theft and, not having
learned his lesson, takes off with his girl friend on a flying "huffen"
(jet-propelled by means of bellows-like lungs) for the sacred vaults. Hotly
pursued, he nevertheless deciphers the system by which to get past the ancient
robot guard (Big Joe) which kills one of his pursuers. Having advanced from the
paradigm of magic to that of science, however primitive, he can now use the
robot (technology) to help bring his tribe up to the knowledge which will be
needed within twelve Mars-years to save the world.
The same story is told still another
way in "Please Me Plus Three," which takes place on Earth, where the
survivors of the catastrophe are primitives who worship Bel (the Bell
communications satellite, whose pylons are cult centers). Another exiled hero,
Ton, is befriended by outcasts, this time a band of wandering monks, who have
kept alive some knowledge of the true nature of Bel and of the history of human
society. He escapes from them, too, and after edging through an area irradiated
by Bel’s peace-keeping efforts and coming upon some misshapen mutants, manages
to take control of a repair-robot who has been waiting over 500 years for
equipment and orders to fix pylon G(eorge)-86. Returning home "riding on an
ass’s colt," Ton overpowers, with the help of George, the guardian of
pylon G-80, and directly challenges Bel. The confrontation is partly electrical,
partly mystical, as Ton and Bel seem to exchange personalities, so that Bel can
be made to feel pain and, punished, explode. Restoration of human civilization
apparently can proceed, but how we got to this point and through it is not at
Finally, in "The Yokel,"
Miller takes up a much less devastating and more localized case of regression.
Technological haves and have-nots in the city and country, respectively, are at
odds in a post-catastrophe low-grade kind of warfare. The hero’s equivocal
actions take him to both sides of the border on land and in the air (he’s a
frustrated veteran pilot), as a good sense of Northern Florida local color comes
through. Although the hero’s survival may be in doubt, through all of the
melodramatic maneuverings, the city’s victory never seems threatened. Its
power supports a dilute utopian ideal of technological society without the
problems posed by anti-technological inhabitants, who are kept outside.
Undigested anthropology (Ruth Benedict) fails to supply a rationale for all of
this action, but the hero’s opportunism is fairly convincing; from the
beginning, he longs for a world in which "things work" again.
2. In none of these stories is there
any hint that technological progress itself is to blame for the past or coming
cataclysm, rather some shadowy kind of mismanagement seems to be responsible. No
credible character argues against progress, and the most positive characters are
always involved in rebuilding or at least preserving some semblance of
technological civilization. In another dozen or so stories, technological
advance is extrapolated from our present situation and, if not slavishly
approved, at least favorably treated. Five of these tales treat what is perhaps
the favorite of all science fiction themes, man’s getting into space. Six are
concerned with controlling technology, which to some extent means being
controlled by technology. In two stories, faith in technology is taken to almost
"No Moon for Me" is a
shaggy-dog story, about a hoax that comes true. A voice from the moon has by its
presence challenged mankind to get there, in order to confront the alien
invaders. But the ship which is launched, amid prayers, last-minute
instructions, and self-congratulations ("space opens tonight"), has
one man on it who seems to desire its destruction. Colonel Denin, father of the
American space program, was responsible for planting the voice’s transmitter,
and his martyrdom is narrowly averted by the pilot, Major Long. Denin’s
disgrace is also averted, however, because Long discovers alien footprints
around the earlier rocket, and signs of another ship. As the third crew member,
Dr. Gedrin, whimpers in his terror, "no moon for me," representing
those who do not want space travel, Long mutters to him, the Colonel, and us:
"You’ve got it, fellow. Like it or not."
"Cold Awakening" is a heavily
melodramatic story of cops-and-robbers, plot-and-counterplot on board a
starship about to take off on a 500 year journey with its occupants in suspended
animation. Enmities build, unfounded rumors fly, and the "number two
fuse," the back-up man who would be awakened in case of trouble (and die,
long before arrival), is killed. Joley, the "main fuse," whose story
this is, engages in some clever detective work, but lucks into the solution.
Morphine addicts (a pet peeve of editor John Campbell’s) plan to wake up early
and live it up, unable to face withdrawal on landing. Joley narrowly escapes a
plot on his life and, thanks to a kind of shell game with the leads to the three
fuses’ cold lockers, the evil Dr. Fraylin is cooked instead. The bad guys
punished, the ship can depart, with Joley "promoted" to the status of
colonist, and new "fuses" installed. The whole thing is very silly,
the technological situation seemingly invented in order to make an irrational
plot vaguely plausible, and to justify a tirade against drugs.
A kind of prose poem, "The Big
Hunger" more or less establishes a rationale for some of Miller’s other
stories of man’s evolution. A lyrical flight of fancy about space exploration,
ostensibly narrated by the "spirit of adventure," this story alternates florid rhetoric
and sentimental vignettes to take us far into the future, through several
pendulum swings of expansion and contraction, as waves of explorers leave this
world and others, while those who are left behind make peace with the land. A
Stapledonian chronicle in miniature, it is largely successful in evoking that
longing which Germans call Fernweh and one of the characters calls "the
star-craze," a hunger which has always echoed through science fiction and
which no amount of details about real space travel can ever satisfy. Echoes of
this story, or of the concept it tries to dramatize, can be heard in the
regression stories, in stories of human evolution, and in two elegies for the
loss by certain individuals of the "freedom" of space.
"Death of a Spaceman"
(usually reprinted as "Memento Homo") is a corny farewell to a man
whose decrepit body lies in bed while his mind and his yearnings remain in
space. Old Donegal is rough-tongued and cantankerous, a renegade Catholic who
knows he’s dying but tries to humor his wife and the inevitable priest.
Although he accepts reluctantly the administration of the last rites, his
farewell ritual is hearing one last blastoff from the not-too-distant spaceport,
for which a party next door is quieted down, and after which a solitary
trumpeter plays "Taps." Miller admits he "translated" into
science fictional terms the story of an old railroad man of his acquaintance,
but the tale’s sentimentality is effective despite the transparent
A more ambitious version of the same
theme is "The Hoofer." A more active character, Hogey Parker is also
rambunctious and querulous, an unintentionally comic character on Earth, where
he has come home one last time after squandering in a poker game and on alcohol
his earnings as a touring entertainer (a tumbler or hoofer). Using Hogey’s
drunken condition as a vehicle, the story uses flashbacks to cram a lot of
detail into a small space. Although he is disagreeable. he earns some sympathy
because of his genuine hunger for what he has lost, because he is a fish out of
water, and because in his drunken stupor he stumbles into wet cement which
hardens during the night and denies him any chance of ever returning to space.
This story is also a kind of "translation"—Hogey could be an
Earthside entertainer—but the sense of future advances, though on the
periphery, is definitely present, counter-pointed by the backward wasteland which
is his home on Earth.
By contrast to the peripheral role
played by technology in those two stories, "I Made You" is a pure
"sorcerer’s apprentice" sketch, about a war machine on the moon
which kills anyone who comes within its range, including one of its programmers,
because its control circuits are damaged. The reactions and "feelings"
of Grumbler are included from one of several viewpoints, but no one or thing
seems to matter very much. A more conventional Astounding puzzle-story, with
Campbellian disdain for anti-technology forces, is "Dumb Waiter," an
early attempt at comedy. In a future when cities have become completely
automated, but people have been driven out of them by a war their machines
continue to fight even without ammunition, Mitch Laskell enters one city to try
to restore sanity to the man-machine interface. Whereas the crowd wants to
destroy the central computer, Mitch, with his engineering background and
technophilic orientation, only wants to reprogram it. To make the problem more
urgent, Miller not only has the city threatening him, with its blind obedience
to outmoded laws; he also introduces a young woman and child Mitch must try to
rescue, while the crowd of Luddites are only one jump behind him. The behavior of this ingenue
and of the villain seems to be turned on and off by a switch in the author’s
hand, Mitch’s solution to the problem hardly requires "enlightened"
cerebration, and the whole piece is a thinly disguised lecture on the need for
men to learn to understand machines, so as to keep them in their place. A bit of
slapstick action, in the simple-minded actions of the city and its robot cops,
presumably is supposed to turn into gallows humor, but it is difficult to take
anything here seriously enough for that.
Even more of a lecture, but one which
seems to be heartfelt, and is not compromised by much in the way of "story
values," is "Way of a Rebel," with the same protagonist,
published two years later. Now a Navy lieutenant aboard a one man submarine,
Mitch rejects orders to return to port when the autocratic American government
issues an ultimatum to the Soviets. Unable to participate in the destruction of
technological civilization (cf. "The Yokel"), he feels no compunction,
however, about "destroying the destroyers," an oncoming fleet of
Soviet submarines of which the American command is unaware, and sacrifices his
own life in the process.
In three of his best stories, Miller
sides with those who are to some extent victims of technological progress, in
their coming to terms with the presumed advance of civilization. "Crucifixus
Etiam," his best short piece, shows us a day laborer on Mars, whose lungs
are being sacrificed to the dream of making Mars air breathable for colonists
within a thousand years. This story will be examined later in more detail, as
will "The Darfsteller," the Hugo award winning short novel about an
ageing ham actor displaced by lifesize mannequins in a mechanized theatre of the
future, and his attempt to beat the new technology at its own game. Not quite as
successful is "The Lineman," Miller’s last published story, a
"day in the life" of a worker on the Moon. In contrast to the
"tragedies" of Manue Nanti and Ryan Thornier in the stories above, Relke’s experience is dark comedy, about the time a traveling whorehouse came
from Earth and put the work force off schedule. Not everything is
lighthearted Relke is threatened and beaten up by labor goons, two men are
killed (one in a well executed scene of "black humor," when he takes a
bottle of champagne from the whores’ ship into airless space) but the general
tone is one of achievement, not just survival, in the midst of ever present
danger. Though the line crew of the Lunar Power Project get to take a brief
vacation, they are reminded forcibly that Lunar interdependence can not tolerate
an Earthly margin of error or freedom. As one result of this venture in free
enterprise, more women presumably will be allowed to come from Earth, but Relke
personally learns something more fundamental from this series of mishaps.
Besides educating him about sex and politics, this episode has taught him that
"there was a God," whose creations of the universe and of human beings
were on pretty equal footing.
This sense of faith is carried to
extremes in two earlier stories. In "The Will," the impending death of
a child is thwarted by his faith in the ability and the willingness of future
time travelers to rescue and cure him after digging up his buried stamp
collection. Although the premise is uncomfortably silly, the story is almost
rescued by its mundane details: the parents’ grief, the boy’s addiction to
the Captain Chronos television show, and the public relations use to which he is
put by the program’s star and producers (based presumably on Miller’s own
experiences with Captain Video). Technology veers into the supernatural, not
just in the eyes of primitives, but in those of a computer scientist, in "Izzard
and the Membrane." A Cold War melodrama, replete with brainwashing,
counter-espionage, and the scientist’s defection, this short novel is full of
action, much of it vague, that ends when the hero saves the West almost
single-handedly. Some of the vagueness may be excusable, since one of the
characters, the spiritual part of an "electronic brain" (i.e. the 11
membrane" attached to "Izzard" or "Izzy"), turns out to
be God, or a reasonable analog. Enabling the hero to win, it then transports his
"transor" (soul), and those of his immediate family, into a parallel
universe, with orders to "increase and multiply."
3. As some of these stories show,
Miller is not always sure that the fruits of technology will be as delicious as
the planners contend, but the drive to progress is not to be halted, as it was
in the stories of regression. In all cases, however, the technology was
"hard," based primarily on the physical sciences. The Church, which
has pretty much given up most claims to insert morality into physical science,
has a much greater stake in the futures mankind is offered by the biological
sciences. Correspondingly, questions of biological "advance" Miller
treats with more circumspection; "progress" is a much more ambivalent
quality in his "biological" stories. Seven of these concern
intelligent aliens, all dangerous to man, some of which are clearly negative
symbols of possible paths of man’s biological progress. Two stories, one of
them involving aliens, concern the temptation and threat of telepathy. Seven
others focus on other questions of possible human evolution, whether natural or
forced, a distinction that breaks down under analysis.
Aliens were featured in "The Song
of Vorhu," "The Soul-Empty Ones," and "No Moon for Me,"
and the possibility of aliens, or at least Unidentified Flying Objects, is a
significant motif in "The Lineman," but few details are given. Details
are also a little sparse in some of the other stories but the menace is plain
enough. "The Space Witch" has hypnotic powers that disguise her true
form from Kenneth Johnson, and allow her to masquerade as his estranged wife
(who in fact has just drowned). Hunted by other aliens, she seeks refuge,
endangering the Northeastern United States, but Ken, after a glimpse of her
"true self" (with tentacles), hijacks her ship, condemning them to
each other for good. Almost as jejune are three other alien stories. "The
Triflin’ Man" (reprinted as "You Triflin’ Skunk") is an alien
father of an Earth child who is coming to claim his offspring, causing the child
nightmares and severe headaches. The child’s mother, however, a Southern
country woman, drives away her one-time seducer with a shotgun.
"Six and Ten are Johnny"
finds humans from the exploratory starship "Archangel" invading
aliens. The planet "Nun" is inhabited by a world-girdling intelligent
plant which ingests and learns to replicate humans. When it separates one of its
progeny to make the trip back to Earth, it plans to take over that world from
its unsuspecting hosts. Another alien who ultimately turns out to be dangerous,
indirectly, is the "Martian" in "The Corpse in Your Bed is
Me" (written in collaboration with Lincoln Boone). His sense of humor is so
bizarre that a successful television comic feels compelled to make him laugh.
Failing repeatedly, he declines and disappears, only to return, dead, as the
only sure way to produce a Martian laugh. The "Martian" does not make
the story science fiction, however, and the overall air of unreality turns what
might have been humorous into an insipid enigma.
"Secret of the Death Dome,"
Miller’s first published story, is also insipid, a melodramatic shoot-out
between invading Martians, whose dome floats harmlessly, but impregnably above
the Southwestern desert, and an Army sergeant seeking revenge for the
castration-killing of his best friend, the husband of the girl he’s always
loved. If the story has any importance at all, it’s because of the Martians’
problems with reproduction; reversing the usual insect dependence on queens,
they have only three ageing males left, one of which the hero kills, as he
rescues the girl and drives the menace off-planet. Biological specialization is
not limited to sex in the more promising "Let My People Go." An
"ark" full of human colonists finds Epsilon Eridani II is inhabited,
and a cavern an its moon offers evidence that human captives had once been
brought from Earth. Three mismatched envoys accept an invitation to visit the
planet where they discover the inhabitants have bred and trained other animals,
including humans, to serve them as communication systems, organic building
materials, even as food sources (including humans!). Rage, as in "Death
Dome," enables one returning envoy to break a hypnotic block so as to
provide the colonists with the key to their gaining a foothold on the planet.
They release the "vermin" they carry aboard ship, and the
overspecialized Piszjil are forced to deal with those who know how to control
Although telepathy may not be a case of
overspecialization, as a potential human talent, it may be said to represent a
projected step in human evolution. Aside from "Gravesong" and
"Let My People Go," in which it is a simple communication convenience,
telepathy figures in only three of Miller’s stories. In "Bitter
Victory," psi powers are possessed by aliens who use them to assume human
form and to stalk each other on Earth. The story involves their becoming too
attached to human forms, ways, and emotions, so that when the final conflict
comes (one of mental powers but rendered in terms of physical effects), they
find themselves both crippled—one blind, one lame—and they seem to accept
each other, love, and human form. A recurrent phrase, "for the love of
man," underlines the implication of man’s moral superiority to these more
"advanced" life forms. In "The Wolf Pack," dreams of an
American airman turn out to be telepathic messages from a girl in the town of
Perugia, Italy, over which he must fly another bombing raid. Religious allusions
("jovial Wotan," "through crucifixion came redemption,"
"o my people," and a more or less literal "for God’s
sake") stud Lt. Mark Kessel’s wrestling with his conscience. His
observation that the existence of his pack of fighter planes is
"paradoxical proof that men by nature are cooperative beings" does not
do much to salve his conscience when he gets the last message from the girl,
dying amid flames and rubble: "If you had known ... would all have been
spared for the sake of one?" As in these stories, telepathic sharing seems
to bring about more pain than good in "Command Performance," a slick
satire in the Galaxy mode which will be discussed later.
If man is destined, as "The Big
Hunger" claims, to expand outward from Earth in waves of exploration and
conquest, human evolution may take some strange jumps. This is the subject of
two stories of the far future. The slighter piece, "Gravesong," is an
elegy for man as he was (i.e. is now), vaguely satirizing two possible paths he
may take. Emilish, returning the ashes of his mother to ancient Earth, meets the
grave-tender, Eva, whose anima-like beauty marks her as a throwback from the
mud-creatures which men on Earth have become. Amid memories of the galactic
corporate state from which he comes, and the contrast stressed by Eva that she
is a creature of earth and he is a creature of space, he ponders the warning of
his mother that, given unlimited power, "Man is no longer man," and
wonders what he is.
Two other paths are suggested in
"The Ties that Bind," a puzzle-story of a sort which pits a pacifist
Earth society, twenty thousand years from now, against the militarism of a fleet
using the planet as a refueling station (its resources apparently not having
been exhausted) en route to a battle somewhere else. Using the old ballad,
"Edward," as a backdrop—five stanzas serve as epigraphs to the story’s
five sections—Miller develops these antithetical milieus and psychologies,
emphasizing their mutual incomprehension and their ironic interrelations. Only
the fleet’s cultural Analyst, Meikl, seems to have a firm grasp of what’s
happening: he and the narrator call it Kulturverldngerung, the power of
unconscious vestiges of man’s culture. Like Cassandra, however, he is not
understood in time. Desertions and rebellion by some crewmen become a problem
before long. Then another piece of the puzzle is supplied when an Earthman picks
up a sword which he does not intend to use and finds that it seems to
"fit" his hand; his muscles, affected by Kulturverltingerung, seem to
recognize an affinity for the weapon. The real problem is that the descendants
of this Eden-like Earth carry within them an inner Hell with which Earth once
infected the galaxy. And even the now "innocent" Earthmen are
potential killers, although that potential is not realized at this time;
evolution has not changed the fact that Man is subject to this version of
If these stories represent natural
evolution, the same is not unequivocally true in "Blood Bank," in
which Terrans play the role of the heavy. In this Astounding space opera, moral
indignation runs high as one puzzle: what did Commander Roki do wrong? (he
ordered the destruction of an Earth ship carrying "surgibank" supplies
to a disaster-stricken planet, because the ship would not stand by for
inspection) gives way to another: how will Commander Roki vindicate himself, so
as not to have to commit suicide as the code of his world demands of his honor?
Admirably controlling suspense as Roki gradually uncovers the clues, Miller
keeps us from doing the same until we have learned the particulars of this
milieu and have accepted to some extent a degree of cultural relativism which
most of the characters in the story do not have. Each cultural idiosyncracy is
embodied in a person and rooted in some physical, biological, or cultural
peculiarity of his or her world. Although the heart of the adventure is conquest
of the "Solarians," a predatory race evolved on Earth which uses
standard humans as medical supplies to trade for nuclear fuel and a fascist
renaissance, the story’s center of interest is not in Earth, its legendary
past or aborted future. Nor is it in the comic confrontation between Roki and
the female pilot from a frontier world whose rickety cargo ship transports him
to the Sol solar system. The primary concern is the solving of puzzles, from the
technological (faster-than-light drive, reaction engine limits, ship-to-ship
grapples) to the anthropological (humanity’s alleged origin on Earth, the
amount of space an empire can govern, how much diversity a widespread
civilization can and must tolerate). These cross at the point of conflict
between non-Earth humans and Solarians; not being human, the latter threaten
humanity, an implicit act of war which tolerance for local customs and local
biological variation cannot encompass. Common romantic and melodramatic motifs
are employed for surface excitement, but the real interest is more of a cerebral
nature, with the moral concern for intraspecies savagery almost a side-issue.
Although the evolution in that story
may have occurred naturally, the evolved Solarians ensured their
"superiority" by means of brute strength, graying the distinction
between natural and forced evolution. Two other examples of forced evolution,
which may not be against nature, but which important characters see as
unnatural, are a pair of poor stories about cyborg spaceships, employing the
brains of human "children." Whereas other writers have seen this
process as a means by which cripples might live useful lives, Miller emphasizes
the inhumanity of their existence by emphasizing the children’s innocence and
the despair of ostensibly sympathetic mother figures. The condemnation of the
practice of using human brains to complement computer logic in piloting
spaceships seems to come from an irrational base which is at least peripherally
doctrinal. In "A Family Matter," the woman is a stowaway (of all
things) who claims to be his mother, lamenting her loss of twenty years ago, and
raging at him, threatening his "flesh-organ." In self-defense, he
accelerates too fast, killing both her and his human part, and, having lost all
sense of identity and responsibility, heads out to nowhere, instead of returning
to base from this "test" of his abilities, which has also turned into
a test of his "humanity." In "I, Dreamer," the early
training of a child to distinguish between self, semi-self, and non-self, though
effective, seems grafted on. The story proper, again told by the cyborg, is a
ridiculous mish-mash of revolutionary politics and melodramatic seduction, with
a little sadism mixed in. It is ended by the narrator’s empathy for the girl’s
pain and his longing to be a "Two-Legs" forever, which for some odd
reason causes him to plummet into the palace of the dictator, even as the secret
police are rounding up all the revolutionary conspirators. Inherent in the basic
situation is only a little pathos; Miller, in trying to exploit the
"horror" of this man-machine interface, was forced to introduce
melodramatic conflicts which make both stories ludicrous. Yet he thought the
idea worth two stories, and even reprinted one of them in his collection of
short fiction, suggesting that the idea, at least, of forced evolution presented
in them was of some importance to him.
4. In two other, longer tales, which
will be examined in more detail later, Miller is more successful in raising hard
"religious" questions about "forced" evolution, while
telling convincing stories in an effective, symbolic manner. "Conditionally
Human" questions man’s right to play God with life and death and the fate
of "lower" animals. "Dark Benediction" asks how humanity
would respond to a gift from the skies promising great powers, if it also
demanded a physical change of the color and texture of the skin.
Both stories explicitly involve
religious questions and symbolism, and feature Catholic priests in advisory, but
fallible, roles. Miller’s other works may not be as permeated with his
religion, but its effect is apparent. Catholic priests are characters in
"No Moon for Me," "Crucifixus Etiam," and "Please Me
Plus Three." Primitive priests are negative figures in the last named, and
in "It Takes a Thief" and "The Reluctant Traitor," where
they represent stagnant tradition in the way of progress. Prayer is explicit in
"No Moon for Me," "Death of a Spaceman," "The Triflin’
Man," "The Lineman," and "The Wolf Pack," and implicit
in "The Will" and in "Izzard and the Membrane" which
features God as or in a computer. Scriptural tags are employed in "Izzard,"
"The Song of Vorhu," "Crucifixus
Etiam," "The Lineman," "The Wolf Pack," and "Let
My People Go." Religious titles and imagery are apparent in "Six and
Ten are Johnny," "Grave Song," "Crucifixus Etiam,"
"Memento Mori" ("Death of a Spaceman"), "No Moon for
Me," "The Song of Vorhu," "Izzard and the Membrane,"
"The Soul-Empty Ones," "The Reluctant Traitor," "It
Takes a Thief," "Please Me Plus Three," and "The Ties That
Bind." And Christian doctrine may be instrumental in "A Family Matter,
"I, Dreamer," and "Blood Bank" as well as in the
"original sin" stories, "Grave Song," "The Ties that
Bind," "Conditionally Human," and "Dark Benediction."
Hardly an obligatory convention, like
the boy-girl romances and repulsive villains Miller brings in occasionally,
religion (especially the Roman Catholic version of Christianity) usually has a
negative connotation in science fiction. Miller’s primitive priests are
conventional in that way. But the priest in "Death of a Spaceman" is a
sympathetic figure, as are those in "Conditionally Human" and
"Dark Benediction," while the clergy in "No Moon for Me" and
"Crucifixus Etiam" are neutral tones in the moral landscape. Christian
doctrine does suggest a bass tone of conviction as a contrast to the uncertainty
of modern man, a role it plays convincingly in A Canticle for Leibowitz.
But the doctrine or its exponent, as in Miller’s novel, may be na´ve, lacking
in understanding of the whole picture, or otherwise irrelevant. The exponent
need not be nominally religious, either: although the psychiatrist in
"Command Performance" can not play this role because his advocacy of
conformity is so much a part of the conventional milieu of the Fifties, the
Analyst in "The Ties that Bind" is a reasonable facsimile of a
priestly raisonneur because of the antiquity of his anthropological teaching,
which predates in a sense the secular humanism of that story’s Eden-like
For the technophilic Miller, unlike the
technophobic C.S. Lewis, the direct opposition of science and religion won’t
do, at least not if it means the downgrading of science and technology. They
represent for him the best that we can do today and in the foreseeable future,
when it comes to knowledge and concrete achievement. As in A Canticle for
Leibowitz, however, religion suggests a kind of wisdom, traditional,
irrational, humane, which knowledge alone can not reach, but a kind of wisdom
which, divorced from social and technological, and even aesthetic reality, is
also inadequate as a guide for conduct. It complements the engineering question,
How, with the age-old poetico-religious question, Why, even if it does not
reveal the Answer. At the least, its presence in a Miller story indicates
continuity with the present, and by implication, a universal need of mankind. At
best, the religious connotation of the parable—and most of Miller’s stories
are parabolic in their didacticism—underlines the moral ambiguity of a
situation, its need for a moral resolution. When the mass of American and
British science fiction magazines were top-heavy with laboratories, machines, and
the "social" effects of science and technology (i.e. the effects of
hypothetical inventions and discoveries on "masses" of people), Miller
was one of a handful of writers concerned with effects on individuals, who stand
alone, lacking the kind of certainty that only dogma can provide, and aware of
both the lack and the inadequacy of the outmoded dogma.
5. Philosophy, or sententious content,
does not by itself make a story or a writer, of course. On other counts, Miller
was neither consistent nor outstanding. Writing for science fiction magazines,
he had to keep in mind the prejudices of their editors and readers, if he were
going to sell his stories even at their low rates of pay. One thing he had to do
was to keep the story moving, often at the expense of character, structure, or
even logical coherence, and many if not most of his stories suffer from that
requirement. The melodrama has not worn well. His best, however, seem to have
incorporated that principle of efficient story-telling without harm to their
If he were writing for Astounding or
Galaxy, the highest-paying markets, he had to try to please their editors. John
Campbell’s technophilia was congenial, and his predilection for the
puzzle-story could have dictated the writing of "Blood Bank," among
others. Other Campbell buttons probably were pushed by "No Moon for
Me" (space at any cost), "Izzard and the Membrane" (Cold War
hostilities, brainwashing, and defecting scientists), and "Cold
Awakening" (the horror of drugs). The man-machine interface dominated
"Dumb Waiter," "I Made You," and "The Darfsteller,"
which Campbell bought along with the mood-pieces, "Crucifixus Etiam"
and "The Big Hunger." Mood may also have caught Campbell’s eye in
"The Soul-Empty Ones," which is otherwise a good example of Miller’s
bad handling of melodrama, something that stands out in most of the stories
published before 1954.
Horace Gold at Galaxy preferred
satire, which "Conditionally Human" and "Command
Performance" powerfully exhibit, as Miller’s only sales to that magazine.
Other attempts at satire, possibly written for Galaxy, but published
elsewhere, were less successful: "Check and Checkmate," "Bitter
Victory, "The Triflin’ Man," "The Hoofer," and "The
Corpse in Your Bed is Me."
The predilection of Anthony Boucher and
his successors at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and its
short-lived sister publication, Venture, were for careful writing and
characterization, when they could get them. The three parts of Canticle
were published in F&SF as was "The Lineman"; Venture
printed "Vengeance for Nikolai" and "The Corpse in Your Bed is
Me," both of which are only borderline science fiction, but enigmatic
character-studies and a bit shocking for the Fifties (Venture’s
editorial policy favored material which was "strong" for the times).
That six of Miller’s last nine publications were with Mercury Press is
indicative of the turn his writing had taken toward "human" stories,
less crowded with incident, more concerned with values.
Melodrama was dominant in his 1951
stories, except for "Dark Benediction." "The Secret of the Death
Dome" is a traditional Western with a Gothic twist, and incompletely
visualized action, a problem which beset several of Miller’s early stories.
The world was saved in four of those first seven tales, by implausible means,
implausibly and humorlessly described. Overplotting and cardboard stereotypes
ruined "The Reluctant Traitor," "Cold Awakening," "Dumb
Waiter," and "Let My People Go" in 1952, though the last-named
has its moments and is almost long enough not to buckle under the weight of
events. Sentimentality is another risk he took frequently, especially with
irrelevant love-interests, but also with whole stories, such as "The Song
of Vorhu," "Bitter Victory," "Grave Song," the cyborg
stories, "The Wolf Pack," and "The Will," using it to good
advantage only in "The Big Hunger," "Death of a Spaceman,"
and "Conditionally Human." From the humorlessness of his earliest
travesties, Miller proceeded to satire as early as 1952, but a more feeling kind
of humor does not show up until "Death of a Spaceman" in 1954, after
which it is featured in more of his stories than it is not. He was always
concerned with values, and even found successful aesthetic vehicles to express
them as early as 1951 ("Dark Benediction," and, published just after
the turn of the year, "Conditionally Human"), but not with the
richness and ambiguity only humor can supply.
In his best stories, Miller managed to
combine thought and action, to make ideas personal and involving, by approaching
a universal ("truth") or problem by means of strong identification
with an individual, who must demonstrate an important decision by means of an
action, the significance of which is underscored by the fact that there is not a
lot of action for action’s sake cluttering up the pages. One exception is
"The Big Hunger," in which mankind as a whole is the protagonist, but
it holds for the sentimental or near-sentimental "Death of a Spaceman"
and "The Hoofer," for the melodramatic "It Takes a Thief"
and "Blood Bank," for "The Lineman" and "The Ties That
Bind," which just miss being in the first rank. And it definitely holds for
those stories which are in the first rank.
"Command Performance" is a
very human story of suburban loneliness and conformity, and the conviction of
Lisa (Miller’s only female protagonist except for Marya in "Vengeance for
Nikolai") that she is rightfully different from the conventional image to
which her husband and her analyst want her to conform. Telepathic communication
with another, which should convince her that she is right, instead upsets her
terribly; she is to some extent attached to that conventional image she wishes
to reject. She can only accept her talent after she has used it herself to fend
off the "attacker" who wants to mate with her to perpetuate a
super-race. The scenes of her communication with him are rendered well, from his
discovery of her, dancing naked in the rain in her backyard; to his prevention
of her calling the police, by means of illusion, causing her to see things that
are not there; to her own switch from passive reception to active sending, as
she stops his physical progress towards her by means of imaginary cars in the
street. He pushes on, disregarding them, only to be killed by a real automobile,
leaving her safe but empty again, and this time knowing why. Lisa wastes no time
on remorse; she begins, as her would-be ravisher presumably once did,
tentatively questing in the telepathic "communication band" for
someone else like her. Her prospective mate and his plans for a race of supermen
are melodramatic, but Lisa’s character and situations are real enough and
realistically presented, with the kind of satire of contemporary mores
(conformity and all that) for which Galaxy was noted.
In "Conditionally Human,"
Terry Norris, a veterinarian, cares for animals whose intelligence has been
increased to put them midway between pets and children (children are rare,
because of restrictive population laws), and his occupation upsets his newlywed
wife whose maternal reflexes are strong. Terry’s crisis point is an order to
destroy certain "units," in this case "neutroids" (apes
transmuted into baby girls with tails), which exceed the allowable intelligence
limits. After Terry has located one of these units, named Peony, and taken it
away from its "Daddy," a petshop owner, he is visited by Father
Paulson (Father Mulreany in the book version) on behalf of his bereft
parishioner. The priest acts reluctantly as a moral guide for the unreligious
Terry, who uses him as a sounding board, then goes to excesses not sanctioned by
the priest. He not only hides the illegal "deviant," but he also
kills, by a carefully planned "accident," his supervisor who has come
to see that the order and the "neutroid" are executed. Then he decides
to take a new job with the company that produces "newts," to carry on
the work of the fired employee who made the newts not only too intelligent, but
also functionally, biologically human.
In a society forced by population
pressures to restrict the freedom to breed, there are many malcontents, from
Terry’s wife and the priest, to pet owners who identify themselves as parents,
to the kind of technician who "humanized" the newts. In this
situation, Terry finds himself "adapting to an era," at first to the
status quo, but then to the possible future that an artificially created race
might bring about. Either choice requires a kind of moral toughness and seems to
demand that he kill, if not Peony then supervisor Franklin. By contrast, the
priest could never sanction murder, though he may be an indirect cause of one;
he finds the creation of the neutroids an abomination but their destruction
possibly even more so. Peony has an edge on Man, since she "hasn’t picked
an apple yet," in the words of the priest, i.e. she is not tainted by
original sin (compare the reading of a play fragment in Part Two, and the
consecration of Rachel in Part Three of Canticle). But Miller seems
determined to stretch the Church’s teachings to the limit; what if you have to
choose between murders? Terry and Anne both make that choice --she threatens to
kill him -- on behalf of the freedom to breed or "create," but the
reader, having been taken only part way down that path of argumentation, is left
with a moral ambiguity. The satire (Galaxy again) cuts both ways, but
seems aimed at the kind of society which makes such choices necessary.
Heavy with implications, the story is
not weighty in a ponderous sense; things happen too fast for that. Miller sets
the stage with a honeymoon quarrel, sends Terry off on a collecting mission, and
intersperses social background and lampoons of oversensitive "mothers"
before we even find out what a neutroid is, Before the first,
"unimproved" batch die, Anne risks too much attachment to them by
feeding them apples; she also declares her intention to risk an illegal baby of
her own. Scenes flash by, such as Terry’s conversations with the police chief,
with Anne, with "Doggy" O’Reilly (Peony’s "Daddy");
tension builds, Peony is shown to be adorable, and the die is cast. Though the
moralizing increases, the pace never flags. The end finds the Norrises waiting
it out, aware that they are pitting themselves against society. Quixotically
they pursue a goal they are unlikely to achieve, recognizing that they have
elected—as has the whole society, unconsciously, and in an opposite manner—to
play God to a "new people."
"Dark Benediction" raises
other interesting questions about man’s fate, positing a biological
transformation of the whole human race into a new "improved" model, a
transformation which is resisted by almost everyone before it takes place.
Sharing the senses of Paul Oberlin, we share his repugnance to the "dermies"
whose skin has turned scaly and gray, and whose desire to touch others and
spread the contagion is little short of obscene. Overtones of racial prejudice
(the locale is the South), leprosy, violation of the integrity of the
individual, fear of the unknown in general, and the known transition period of
often fatal fever make it clear that a considerable trade-off is required. For
those who are not dermies, who do not know or believe that there are benefits
involved, it is less a trade-off than a betrayal of all that’s human, a
conversion of men into monsters. Rather than chronicled, this background is
given to us through flashbacks and conversations, as we follow Paul, alone on
the road. In Houston, he is impressed into the service of a paramilitary local
government, concerned with maintaining racial purity, safe from contagion, and
anxious to have him, as a trained technician. He makes his escape in a truck,
one of the few vehicles that run and have gas in this age of chaos, but on
impulse he rescues a girl, Willy, whose incubation has started and who is about
to be executed for it. Making her ride in the open back of the truck, Paul heads
for Galveston Island, which he hopes will be a haven. His hope is doubly ironic,
given the contemporary reputation of Galveston as a "sin city," and
the coming twist of the plot.
Having rescued Willy from the moral
equivalent of a Nazi concentration camp, Paul is now obligated by decency to get
her to safety, provided that she doesn’t try to touch him. The island,
however, is a colony of "hypers," their term for dermie. Only in the
hospital, run by priests, where he takes her for help, can Paul find any
security, and that in a sterile room, avoided by hospital personnel, who wear
nose-plugs to maintain their self-control in his presence. He lingers on, partly
because Willy is responding poorly—fearful that she might have touched him,
she attempts suicide—partly because he has been promised a boat in which to
escape. While he is waiting, he learns from a Dr. Seevers what truth he has
managed to extract from his research into the transformation and its cause. One
night, however, Paul wakes up terrified, with memories of being caressed; over
the first fright, he realizes it was Willy, and discovers that she has run away.
He chases after her to the sea, and accepts the inevitable, his transformation
and her love.
As in all Miller’s best stories, the
science fictional rationalization is clear, the behavior believable, the focus
not on the science fiction itself but on the situation of one troubled person.
Unlike in others, however, the biological transformation in this one is a
positive one, with utopian overtones. Although the repellent characteristics are
given their due, the parasite which Dr. Seevers explains is responsible for them
is also responsible for an increase in sensory perception and apparently,
cooperative behavior. At least the islanders are better behaved than the
mainland totalitarians; this may be partly due to the influence of the priests,
but where else is their wisdom respected? And islands are traditional utopian
locales. The real reason why this metamorphosis is more acceptable may be its
resemblance to a divine blessing. The parasite is a gift from the sky, having
arrived in meteorites launched by some alien civilization; though labeled with
warnings, the pods were first opened by the ignorant, unable to read the signs
and driven by their "monkey-like" curiosity. As from Pandora’s Box
or the apple of Genesis, but perhaps in reverse, as a distribution of good, the
contents spread everywhere, making it likely that everyone, eventually, will
have to give in to this "dark benediction." Reception of the parasite
is a passive act, moreover, requiring acceptance only of the "laying on of
hands." Believing it really is beneficial, that the scientist’s findings
are accurate, requires, as does believing the disease is harmful, an act of
faith (parasites in "Let My People Go," clearly in the service of
overspecialized aliens, were regarded with fear and loathing). Paul and the
reader can only decide on the basis of others’ behavior; the paranoia of the
mainlanders can hardly be preferable to the love and respect shown by Willy and
the priestly medicine men.
An act of faith is also crucial in
"Crucifixus Etiam," Miller’s best short story, but the faith is not
sustained by the protagonist’s Catholic religion. An
elegiac, near-future projection, this story makes of technophilia a secular
religious faith. Although the passage of two decades has brought into question
some of the details (the limited amount of social change in a century, the
stated "high" rate of pay of five dollars an hour, the use of English
rather than metric measures), the basics of the story are universal, as the
title suggests. Roughly translated, it means "crucified still or
again." This is the story of a man who takes great risks to his health for
the chance of high rewards; as his health begins to fail, and the rewards come
to seem unobtainable, he wonders what the justification of his work is, then
comes to identify with the goal he serves but will never attain.
The man is Manue Tanti, a Peruvian
laborer at work on Mars, his health endangered by implanted oxygenation
equipment which encourages atrophy of the lungs. The justification is
"faith in the destiny of the race of man." The science fictional
trappings are necessary, since no job on Earth offers quite this kind of risk,
and certainly none is so dependent upon future realization. The project of
making a breathable atmosphere for Mars is already almost a century old, with
eight centuries yet to go. But the handling is in no way impersonal. Our concern
is not with the project, but with the suffering of one man, representative of
many. We start with the basics of his situation, his longing to travel, his pain
from the oxygenator, his struggle to maintain his lungs so that he can indeed
realize his ambition. We hear that the engineers have life much easier than the
laborers, we hear that Mars is growing her own labor force, we hear that the
object of the drilling job is to tap a well of tritium oxide, and we know no
more than he does which is fact and which is rumor. We see his estrangement from
his fellow-workers and how they and the elements seem to conspire to make him
give in, to breathe less, to let the oxygenator work more. In the hospital, we
dream with him of falling and wake with him in the death-fear this inspires,
only to discover to his horror that he has not been doing any breathing at all
on his own. Facing his being trapped on Mars, we ask with him the purpose of all
this, whose ends he is serving, and we see the inadequacy of the faith proffered
by the itinerant clergy who come to offer comfort, As he gradually gives in to
the pain and its easement, we follow Manue in his quest for understanding: a
repairman tells him Mars is a dumping ground for Earth’s surplus, tritium
suggests to him hydrogen fusion as an energy source, the "quiet
secrecy" implies that the men are not be trusted with the knowledge of what
in fact they are doing.
As the work goes on and he becomes an
oxygen "addict," we follow the curve of his emotions to cynicism and
despair, to a controlled cursing in lieu of prayer. On the day a controlled
chain reaction is started deep beneath the Martian crust, the men are finally
informed of the significance of their job, laboring so that others may breathe,
far in the future. Pent-up resentment and a momentary fear that the reaction
might not be controlled almost lead to a riot. Quite unexpectedly, Manue knocks
out the ringleader, and his frenzied threat to pull out the rioters’ air hoses
quells the rebellion. He finds the answer bitter—Miller calls it Manue’s
"Gethesemane"—but also glorious. One man asks "What man ever
made his own salvation?" Another says "Some sow, some reap," and
asks Manue which we would rather do. Manue himself picks up a handful of soil
and thinks "Here was Mars. His planet now."
The roughly 8000 words that comprise
this story are very efficiently employed. Miller uses vignettes, rather than
long scenes, and avoids the sentimentality that technique seems to lead to in
other short stories. Bits of action and dialogue, nothing extended, break up
what is mainly narrative. The characters, bit players except for Manue, are
solid individuals: the Tibetan, Gee, Manue’s digging partner with whom he has
nothing in common; the foreman, Vögeli, who is quick-tempered and efficient,
trying to maintain his men like tools; San Donnell, the "troffie"
(atrophied) repairman, who is a mine of misinformation; even the riot leader,
Handell, and the supervisor, Kinley, though little more than roles with names,
seem right in their parts. The local color and slang, brought in as if in
passing, make Mars feel lived in. And the third person narration, limited to the
consciousness of Manue, is particularly effective in that it restricts our
senses almost claustrophobic ally to those of the perfect observer for this
story: a Peruvian, used to thin air and small social horizons, ignorant of much
but proud of his ancient heritage and comfortable in his ambition, Catholic in
upbringing but able to recognize how ill-fitted his religion is to this alien
On a larger scale, Miller managed a
similar triumph in the short novel, "The Darfsteller." This, too, is
limited to the consciousness of one person, for whom technological advance is no
unmixed blessing. Ryan Thornier, an ageing former matinee idol in the days
before the stage was automated, has consistently refused to make a
"tape" of his acting personality, or to work in the production or
sales ends of the autodrama business. Steeped in theatrical tradition, proud of
his art and even of the poverty to which his pride has brought him, Thornier is
reduced to janitorial duties in an autodrama theater, his chief joy in life
being the rare chance to see a third-rate live touring company play to a sparse
audience. Denied that opportunity, he is given two weeks’ notice before he is
replaced in his job, too, by an automaton. Since this is on the eve of a
mechanical stage run of a play he once starred in, the actor conceives and
executes a plan to make one last performance the culmination of his career and
simultaneously an act of revenge against this boss, his profession, and the
world. "The Darfsteller" is the story of what he accomplishes, and
On one level this is a personal story,
a near-tragedy. Learning quickly enough how the technology of the autodrama
operates, Thornier sabotages the tape of an actor intended for a role he once
played. Then, since there is not enough time to get a new tape before opening
night, he offers himself as a replacement. Against the better judgment of
everyone involved, his offer is accepted, and he puts a real bullet in the gun
with which the mannequin playing his enemy is supposed to shoot him. In the
actual performance, however, in which he competes against the
"Maestro," the mechanical director that operates the tapes and
mannequins, adjusting them to each other and to audience reactions, Thornier is
reinvigorated. He dodges the bullet and catches it in his belly.
Allegorically, this is a fable of
technological displacement. In case anyone missed the point, Rick, the
projectionist, runs it through again in the coda. Explaining that a human
specialist will inevitably lose to a specialized tool, a machine, Rick defines
the function of Man as "creating new specialties." But the technology
is more than a symbol; the autodrama, throughout the story, is continually vying
with Thorny for center stage. To compete with it, he has to learn to understand
it, which he has never tried to do before. Learning what he can from Rick, he
becomes fascinated with it, to his dismay and the reader’s edification. Seeing
the Maestro at work, with Thornier in its system, is most instructive, and enough
details are developed to make the automation of the theater, presumably the last
bastion of personalized professions, seem believable.
The creation of this illusion is
assisted, moreover, by the appearance of former actors and stage people
associated with the autodrama who come into town in connection with the opening.
Like any technology, this one requires preparation and tending, and they have
been reduced to servants of the machine in Thornier’s estimation, and to some
extent in their own. It is, of course, the only game in town, and it even offers
a kind of "immortality" to actors in their prime, he recognizes,
comparing Mela, his one-time co-star and lover, with her unageing tapes and
mannequins. The heart of the story, however, lies in Thorny’s love affair with
the theater, with its icons and superstitions, the image it gives him of himself
(on our level of perception he is a querulous, vain popinjay), and the
recaptured thrill of performance, even a mediocre performance on a stage full of
mannequins and of threatening electrical equipment. As he thinks to himself,
seeing the Maestro in human terms, the director with his eyes on the whole play
and the reaction of the audience is always in opposition to the Darfsteller (the
true actor-artist), and prefers the mere Schauspieler (the crowd-pleasing
entertainer). An excellent fictional creation, Ryan Thornier is always an actor,
even in the role of himself with an audience of one, and the theater as
microcosm is ideal for this "morality play" of man vs. machine. Though
the reader may find himself in intellectual agreement with Rick, in his analysis
of the situation, the rational conclusion is clearly at odds with the emotional
identification with the quixotic Thornier, whose irrationality is more
The narrator in this short novel has
the same distant, gently ironic detachment as in A Canticle for Leibowitz,
with the same fondness for slapstick if not for puns as leavening in a serious
tale. The construction is effective, alternating action and dialogue, narration
and internal monologue, parallels and antitheses. The characters, aside from
Thornier, are personalized functions, though only the theater owner, Thornier’s
boss, is an obvious stereotype, and even that may be excusable since he is a
tormentor as seen through Thornier’s eyes. And the didacticism, though clearly
overt, is cleanly balanced by the felt reality of Thornier’s lament. Perhaps
the only thing the novel does not have, and does not need, which may be
surprising in view of Miller’s usual propensities, is any religious props or
even a sense of religion, unless we assume that for the actor, the stage is his
Church. The effect of the whole, however, is that of a minor masterpiece, as the
13th World Science Fiction Convention recognized by awarding it a
"Hugo" as the best "novelette" of 1955.
6. The medium lengths, novelette,
novella, short novel, were where Miller’s strengths lay, where he could
combine character, action, and import. Of his forty-one magazine publications,
twenty-four were of middle length, including "Blood Bank," "The
Ties that Bind," "The Lineman," four of the five we have just
reviewed, and the three more or less independent parts of Canticle. Only "Crucifixus
Etiam" really stands out among the shorter works, followed by "The Big
Hunger," "It Takes a Thief," "Death of a Spaceman,"
"The Hoofer," and "Vengeance for Nikolai," most of which
come dangerously close to sentimentality (melodrama in "It Takes a
Thief") and each of which relies heavily on a gimmick, the bane of so many
short stories. Whether the sustained continuity of a more conventional novel was
beyond him, we can not know for certain, but it seems certain that part of the
success of Canticle is due to its tripartite form, each third crisply
etched in short novel size, with counterpoint, motifs, and allusions making up
for the lack of more ordinary means of continuity. This, too, he learned in his
apprenticeship in the science fiction magazines.
Five outstanding stories out of
thirty-eight is not disastrous, but it would have hardly have caused Miller to
be remembered if he had not written A Canticle for Leibowitz. Against
that standard, not very many science fiction stories or novels can measure up.
Leading up to it, however, and to the enigma of Miller’s abandoning writing
afterwards, the whole canon has some extrinsic interest, chronicling as it does
his development from a commercial writer to an artist, one who may have quit
while he was ahead, rather than have everything thereafter compared to one book
and found wanting.
1. Miller’s first published story,
"MacDoughal’s Wife," American Mercury (March 1950), 313_20,
is not science fiction, though it invokes religious and scientific imagery, in
keeping with his science fiction, to magnify the significance of the biological
sterility and assumed infidelity of the titular character.
2. Anthony Boucher’s observation on
magazine publishing in "The Publishing of Science Fiction," in Modern
Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Value, ed. Reginald Bretnor (New York:
Coward_McCann, 1953), 33, is supported in "Science Fiction Rockets into Big
Time," Business Week (October 20, 1951), 82-4, 89, and in Bradford
M. Day, ed. "The Complete Checklist of Science-Fiction Magazines,"
pamphlet (New York: Science-Fiction and Fantasy Publication [sic], 1961). Data
on anthologies compiled from W.R. Cole, ed., A Checklist of Science Fiction
Anthologies ([New York: W.R. Cole], 1964) and Frederick Siemon, ed., Science
Fiction Story Index, 1950-1968 (Chicago: American Library Association,
1971). Supplemented by my own collection, these checklists are also the source
for information in the Appendix concerning reprints of Miller stories.
3. A political article, "Bobby and
Jimmy" (concerning Kennedy and Hoffa), identifying its author as the writer
of Canticle, appeared in Nation (April 7, 1962), 300-3, but I have
been unable to find any other stories or articles by Miller outside the science
4. William F. Nolan, in the headnote to
"The Lineman" in his anthology, A Wilderness of Stars, states
simply: "For good and valid reasons of his own, Walter Miller, Jr. has
retired as a storyteller."
5. Cf. Robert S. Chapman, "Science
Fiction of the Fifties: Billy Graham, McCarthy and the Bomb," Foundation,
#7-8 (March, 1975), 38-52, about which editor Peter Nicholls comments: "It
is excerpted from a paper he wrote for the Department of History, while a
student at the University of California at Berkeley," and "The whole
subject of social attitudes as manifested in science fiction .... is rapidly
becoming, and with good reason, one of the most popular themes among students
doing their Ph.D. theses on science fiction, especially in Europe." I have
written to Mr. Nicholls about this, and would also appreciate any information
readers of Science-Fiction Studies might have about such studies.
6. At least one anthology, Other
Worlds, Other Gods, ed. Mayo Mobs (Garden City: Doubleday, 1971) has been
built out of stories that combine religion and science fiction, and that seem to
me to bear out my contention, despite the editor’s sentiments as expressed in
his introductory essay. For other brief considerations of the topic, see William
Atheling, Jr. [James Blish], The Issue at Hand: Studies in Contemporary
Magazine Science Fiction (Chicago: Advent, 1964), 49-61, and Sam Moskowitz, Seekers
of Tomorrow: Masters of Modern Science Fiction (Cleveland: World, 1966),
7. Review articles on the novel’s
original publication appeared in the following publications: Analog
(November, 1960), Chicago Sunday Tribune (March 6, 1960), Christian
Century (May 25, 1960), Commonweal (March 4, 1960), Galaxy (February,
1961), Manchester Guardian Weekly
(April 7, 1960), New York Herald-Tribune Book Review (March 13, 1960), New
York Times Book Review (March 27, 1960), New Yorker (April 2, 1960), San
Francisco Chronicle (March 8, 1960), Saturday Review (June 4, 1960), Spectator
(March 25, 1960), and Time (February 22, 1960).
At least seven subsequent revaluations
have also been published: Martin Green, Science and the Shabby Curate of
Poetry (New York: Norton, 1965); Edward Ducharme, "A Canticle for
Miller," English Journal, 55 (November, 1966), 1042-4; R.A. Schroth,
"Between the Lines," America, 118 (January 20, 1968), 79; Hugh
Rank, "Song out of Season: A Canticle for Leibowitz," Renascence,
21 (Summer, 1969), 213-21; Michael Alan Bennett, "The Theme of
Responsibility in Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz," English
Journal, 59 (April, 1970), 484-9; Walker Percy, "Walker Percy on Walter
M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz," Rediscoveries,
ed. David Madden (New York: Crown, 1971); Russell Griffin, "Medievalism in A
Canticle for Leibowitz," Extrapolation, 14 (May, 1973), 112_25.
The Catholic journals were most parochial in dismissing the science fiction in
the book, but the reviewers for the Herald-Tribune, Manchester Guardian,
and Spectator were also remiss.
8. The only treatment of these aspects
of the book of which I am aware is in my 1969 U.S.C. dissertation, now published
as Visions of Tomorrow: Six Journeys from Outer to Inner Space (New York:
Arno, 1975), 221_79.
9. Robert P. Mills, ed., The Worlds
of Science Fiction (New York: Dial Press, 1963), 86.
APPENDIX: THE BOOKS AND STORIES OF
WALTER M. MILLER, JR.
B1. A Canticle for Leibowitz
(Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1959; London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960; New
York, Bantam pb, 1961, frequently reprinted; other paperback editions; Boston:
Gregg Press, 1975, photographic reprint of 1960 Lippincott edn, with
introduction by Norman Spinrad), novel, comprising revised versions of ## 35,
B2. Conditionally Human (New
York: Ballantine pb, 1962; London: Gollancz, 1962; London: Science Fiction Book
Club, 1964), comprising ##4, 9, 33.
B3. The View from the Stars (New
York: Ballantine pb, 1964), comprising ## 11, 12, 13, 19, 21, 24, 25, 28, 34.
#1. "Secret of the Death
Dome," novelette, Amazing (January, 19511; reprinted in Amazing
#2. "Izzard and the
Membrane," novelette, Astounding (May, 1951); anthologized in
Everett Bleiler and T.E. Dikty, eds., Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels: 1952
(New York: Frederick Fell, 1952).
#3. "The Soul-Empty Ones,"
novelette, Astounding (August, 1951).
#4. "Dark Benediction," short
novel, Fantastic Adventures (September, 1951); collected in B2.
#5. "The Space Witch,"
novelette, Amazing (November, 1951); reprinted in Amazing (October,
#6. "The Song of Vorhu ... for
Trumpet and Kettledrum," novelette, Thrilling Wonder Stories (December,
#7. "The Little Creeps,"
novelette, Amazing (December, 1951); reprinted in Fantastic (May,
1968); anthologized in Milton Lesser, ed., Looking Forward (New York:
#8. "The Reluctant Traitor,"
short novel, Amazing (January, 1952).
#9. "Conditionally Human,"
novelette, Galaxy (February, 1952); revised and collected in 132;
anthologized in Everett Bleiler and T.E. Dikty, eds., Year’s Best Science
Fiction Novels: 1953 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1953).
#10. "Bitter Victory," short
story, IF (March, 1952).
#11. "Dumb Waiter,"
novelette, Astounding (April, 1952); collected in 133; anthologized in
Groff Conklin, ed., Science Fiction Thinking Machines (New York:
Vanguard, 1954) and Damon Knight, Cities of Wonder (Garden City:
#12. "It Takes a Thief,"
short story, IF (May, 1952); collected, as "Big Joe and the Nth
Generation," in B3.
#13. "Blood Bank," novelette,
Astounding (June, 1952); collected in 133; anthologized in Martin
Greenberg, ed., All About the Future (New York: Gnome Press, 1953).
#14. "Six and Ten are
Johnny," novelette, Fantastic (Summer, 1952); reprinted in Fantastic
#15. "Let My People Go,"
short novel, IF (July, 1952).
#16. "Cold Awakening,"
novelette, Astounding (August, 1952).
#17. "Please Me Plus Three,"
novelette, Other Worlds (August, 1952).
#18. "No Moon for Me," short
story, Astounding (September, 1952); anthologized in William Sloane, ed.,
Space, Space, Space (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1953).
#19. "The Big Hunger," short
story, Astounding (October, 1952); collected in 133; anthologized in
Donald A Wollheim, ed., Prize Science Fiction (New York: McBride, 1953).
#20. "Gravesong," short
story, Startling (October, 1952).
#21. "Command Performance,"
novelette, Galaxy (November, 1952); collected, as "Anybody Else Like
Me?" in B3; anthologized in Everett Bleiler and T.E. Dikty, eds., The
Best Science Fiction Stories: 1953 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1953); Horace
Gold, ed., The Second Galaxy Reader (New York: Crown, 1954); and Brian W.
Aldiss, ed., Penguin Science Fiction (London: Penguin, 1961).
#22. "A Family Matter," short
story, Fantastic Story Magazine (November, 1952).
#23. "Check and Checkmate,"
novelette, IF (January, 1953).
#24. "Crucifixus Etiam,"
short story, Astounding (February, 1953); collected in 133; anthologized
in Everett Bleiler and T.E. Dikty, eds., The Best Science Fiction Stories:
1954 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1954); Judith Merril, ed., Human? (New
York: Lion, 1954); Michael Sissons, ed., Asleep in Armageddon (London:
Panther, 1962); Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, eds., Spectrum V (New
York: Harcourt Brace, 1966); and Robert Silverberg, ed., Tomorrow’s Worlds
(New York: Meredith, 1969).
#25. "I, Dreamer," short
story, Amazing (July, 1953); collected in B3.
#26. "The Yokel," novelette, Amazing
#27. "The Wolf Pack," short
story, Fantastic (Oct., 1953); reprinted in Fantastic (May, 1966);
anthologized in Judith Merril, ed., Beyond the Barriers of Space and Time
(New York: Random House, 1954).
#28. "The Will," short story,
Fantastic (February, 1954); reprinted in Fantastic (April, 1969);
collected in 133; anthologized in T.E. Dikty, ed., The Best Science Fiction
Stories and Novels: 1955 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1955).
#29. "Death of a Spaceman,"
short story, Amazing (March, 1954); reprinted in Amazing (March,
1969); anthologized in William F. Nolan, ed., A Wilderness of Stars (Los
Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1971); anthologized as "Memento Homo" in
T.E. Dikty, ed., The Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels: 1955 (New
York: Frederick Fell, 1955); Robert P. Mills, ed., The Worlds of Science
Fiction (New York: Dial Press, 1963); and Laurence M. Janifer, ed., Masters’
Choice (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966).
#30. "I Made You," short
story, Astounding (March, 1954).
#31. "Way of a Rebel," short
story, IF (April, 1954).
#32. "The Ties that Bind,"
novelette, IF (May, 1954); anthologized in William F. Nolan, ed., A
Sea of Space (New York: Bantam, 1970).
#33. "The Darfsteller," short
novel, Astounding (January, 1955); collected in B2; anthologized in Isaac
Asimov, ed., The Hugo Winners (Garden City: Doubleday, 1962).
#34. "The Triflin’ Man,"
short story, Fantastic Universe (January, 1955); collected as "You
Triflin’ Skunk" in B3; anthologized in Judith Merril, ed., Galaxy
of Ghouls (New York: Lion, 1955).
#35. "A Canticle for Leibowitz,"
short novel, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF)
(April, 1955); revised as part of A Canticle for Leibowitz (131);
anthologized in T.E. Dikty, ed., Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels:
1956 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1956); Anthony Boucher, ed., The Best
from Fantasy and Science Fiction, fifth series (Garden City: Doubleday,
1956); and Christopher Cerf, ed., The Vintage Anthology of Science Fantasy (New
York: Vintage, 1966).
#36. "The Hoofer," short
story, Fantastic Universe (September, 1955); anthologized in Judith
Merril, ed., S_F: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy (New
York: Dell, 1956), and S-F: The Best of the Best (New York: Dell, 1968).
#37. "And the Light is
Risen," short novel, F&SF (August, 1956); revised as part of A
Canticle for Leibowitz (131).
#38. "The Last Canticle,"
short novel, F&SF (February, 1957); revised as part of A Canticle for
#39. "Vengeance for Nikolai,"
short story, Venture (March, 1957); anthologized in Joseph Ferman, ed., No
Limits (New York: Ballantine, 1958).
#40. "The Corpse in Your Bed is
Me," short story co-authored by Lincoln Boone, Venture (May, 1957).
#41. "The Lineman," short
novel, F&SF (August, 1957); anthologized in William F. Nolan, ed., A
Wilderness of Stars (Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1971).
Walter M. Miller is an enigmatic figure. An engineer with
World War II flying experience, he wrote science fiction of a technophilic variety, yet
studded his stories with allusions, clear and cloudy, to the Judeo-Christian tradition,
generally bathed in a generous light. A commercial writer who had produced a million words
by 1955, including scripts for the early television serial Captain Video, he came
to write progressively more complex stories until, having more or less perfected his art,
he stopped writing at the pinnacle of his success, at the age of 36. A Southern Catholic
born in Florida in 1923, he wrote his best-known work about a future order of monks
founded in Arizona in the name of a Jewish engineer. The medium lengths—novelette,
novella, short novel—were where Miller’s strengths lay. Of the forty-one
magazine publications surveyed here, twenty-four were of middle length, including the
three more or less independent tales later published as A Canticle for Leibowitz
and some other strong efforts: "Blood Bank," "The Ties that Bind,"
"The Lineman," "The Darfsteller," "Dark Benediction,"
"Conditionally Human," and "Command Performance." Among Miller’s
short stories, on the other hand, only "Crucifixus Etiam" really stands out,
followed by "The Big Hunger," "It Takes a Thief," "Death of a
Spaceman," "The Hoofer," and "Vengeance for Nikolai," most of
which come dangerously close to sentimentality. Five outstanding short stories out of
thirty-eight published is not disastrous, but they would hardly have caused Miller to be
remembered if he had not written A Canticle for Leibowitz. Against that standard,
not many science fiction stories or novels can measure up. Leading up to it, however, and
to the enigma of Miller’s abandoning writing afterwards, the whole canon has
extrinsic interest, chronicling his development from a commercial writer to an artist, one
who may have quit while he was ahead rather than have everything thereafter compared to
one book and found wanting.
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