Riddley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban

“I think the best writing is done with what enters you and takes possession of you and doesn’t let go of you until you get the job done.” – Russell Hoban


Riddley Walker is the 12 year old narrator of this tale set in a post-apocalyptic England two thousand years after nuclear war has wiped out most of civilization. It is written in a vernacular English that often needs to be read out loud to understand. It tells the story of Riddley’s journey as he travels to Canterbury and back, trying to piece together what happened by seeking a “Little Shynin Truth” in the remnants of an old Saint’s story and the Punch & Judy show.

First things first, this book is not an easy read. I don’t think it is meant to be. Only 214 pages long, yet it took me months to read it through. I kept putting it down and reading other books, becoming too easily distracted by more “popular” fare. But when I did read it, I quickly found myself immersed in the grim, primitive, pitiless world that Hoban creates. Imagine muddy paths winding through a sparse, broken landscape, endless rain falling at dusk, packs of starving wild dogs waiting just out of bow range. Perhaps there was only so much darkness that I was willing to take at one time? Continue reading

A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) by Walter M. Miller, Jr

“I’m not so sure he’s mad, Father. Just a little devious in his sanity.”

Published in 1959, ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ won the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction novel. It has since been described as “the first major post-holocaust SF novel.” It is the only novel its author Walter M. Miller, Jr released in his lifetime. The sequel, ‘Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman’, was completed by the author Terry Bisson and published posthumously in 1997.

I’d never heard of it until a fellow blogger recommended it to me via the wonderful Worlds Without End website. It is a novel made up of 3 novellas which Miller originally released individually. Each novella focuses on a different period in the future after there has been a planet-wide nuclear holocaust. The story is told from the point of view of an order of monks whose task is to preserve any surviving texts or “memorabilia” from before the war. Continue reading