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Literature / Saint Leibowitz And The Wild Horse Woman

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Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman is a 1997 novel written by Walter M. Miller, Jr. and Terry Bisson. The story sequel to Miller's only other full-length novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz. Published after Miller's death, the story was completed by Bisson, whom Miller recruited before dying.

Tropes in the novel include:

  • Author Avatar: Blacktooth St. George in this book. In the decades following the publication of A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr. became disillusioned with the Catholic Church as an organization. Struggling with severe depression, Miller became a recluse and refused to interact even with family members. Blacktooth St. George is a depressed Monk at the Abbey of St. Leibowitz who wants to be released from his vows at the abbey after becoming disillusioned with it. Blacktooth mentions multiple times how he feels worthless in spite of his obvious talent with language, and ultimately feels like he doesn't fit in with the world. He becomes extremely sardonic about the political nature of the Papacy over the course of the book, and ends up spending his old age alone as a hermit mystic in a cave.
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  • Black-and-Gray Morality: In a major contrast from the first book, the Catholic Church is looked at through a cynical lens, showing how the individuals in the church pursue their own goals at the expense of religious orthodoxy. The only ones above the fray are Cardinal Silentia and Amen Specklebird.
  • Black Sheep: Blacktooth at the Abbey, and with society in general.
  • The Chessmaster: Cardinal Brownpony, ruthlessly manipulating events to his advantage for most of the book. It's even heavily implied he ordered the murder of one of his best friends, Amen Specklebird, to legitimize his claim to the Papacy.
  • Church Militant: A crusade is launched by the Catholic Church against Texark to retake New Rome. Whether using violence against the enemies of the church is justified or not becomes a debate within the book.
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  • Corrupt Church: What the Catholic Church is blatantly portrayed as here.
  • Crisis of Faith: Blacktooth for most of the book.
  • Downer Ending: The sequel also has a downer ending. The Crusade to bring the Papacy back to New Rome and destroy the Empire of Texark is lost. New Rome is sacked by the Nomad armies brought by the Pope to take back the city. Cardinal (now Pope) Brownpony commits Seppuku in a burned out St. Peter's Cathedral once he realizes the extent of his mistake. The Plains Nomads are turned against each other and are implied to be wiped out in the coming years. Texark moves the Papacy to Hannegan City and completely under its thumb. It's implied that Blacktooth never sees his lover Ædrea again after searching for most of the book, though he seems content with that.
  • Fantastic Racism: Those with genetic disabilities are shunned by society and are forced to live in reservations. Those born of mutant parents but look normal are known as "spooks" and are blamed for passing on their mutant genes to normal humans, creating more deformed humans. The spooks are used as a convenient scapegoat considering that the nuclear fallout has caused mutations to happen randomly to any newborn.
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  • Future Imperfect: Like the original, and still Played for Laughs, especially when the Church relocates the Prime Meridian in order to liberate it from the influence of the "Green Witch".
  • Genghis Gambit: Brownpony spends the first half of the book clandestinely arming enemies of Texark for rebellion under the current Pope's nose. His hope is if he can unite Texark's enemies into one faction, they can destroy the Empire. After becoming Pope Amen II he calls a crusade to crystallize the alliance. This appears to work at first, but he overestimates the power of the church in keeping the various factions in line. Upon arriving at New Rome, Brownpony is betrayed by the Nomad / Mutant army, resulting in New Rome being sacked and Texark destroying all of its enemies in one fell swoop.
  • Government in Exile: The Papacy has been in exile in Valana (roughly Colorado Springs) for the last 70 years because of the events during "Fiat Lux" in A Canticle for Leibowitz. While the schism caused by Hannegan II has been mended, the Papacy refuses to go back to New Rome while it is being occupied by Texark soldiers.
  • The Hermit: The Old Jew Benjamin from the original book plays this part again. Also Amen Specklebird in Valana and occasionally Blacktooth St. George.
  • Holy City: New Rome, the original home of the Papacy after the Flame Deluge, heavily implied to be St. Louis. It is burned to the ground and sacked by the end of the book.
  • Interquel: The book takes place between the second and third parts of A Canticle for Leibowitz.
  • Language Drift: More of a theme in the sequel with the main character (Blacktooth) being a translator who is gifted with languages. Various regional languages and dialects have developed out of a mix of English, Spanish, and Latin, depending on the location. Some of the languages include Ol'zark, Rockymount, Nomadic (with various dialects), and Churchspeak. Latin and "Old English" are dead languages and are only known by the church or scholars.
    • Language drift has mangled the names of many locations as well. The Missouri River is known as the "Misery" River, the Pecos River is known as the "Bay Ghost" River, and the Canadian River is known as the "Nady Ann."
    • Occasionally played for laughs, as a stew for radiation sickness is known colloquially as "Sumofabisch Stew."
  • The Plague:
    • A disease developed by Texark scientists, "Herbert's Disease," is unleashed on the Papal and Nomad armies to make them too sick to fight. The disease spreads rapidly and causes uncontrollable diarrhea. Only the Texarki armies are provided with the pills to stave off the disease, giving them a considerable advantage.
    • An passing comment is made about a weaponized sexually-transmitted disease being spread during the Flame Deluge. This could be an reference to AIDS, though considering the Nuclear War happened in the late 1960s this is unlikely.
  • Retcon: There are many retcons in the sequel specifically because it came out nearly 40 years after the original:
    • It is implied that Vatican II may have happened in this universe after all, as the sequel mentions Latin was "reintroduced" into the church after being dropped before the apocalypse (Latin was de-emphasized in Vatican II.) It's mentioned that Latin was useful as a code language when speaking of sensitive information after the Flame Deluge.
    • The term "Flame Deluge" is rarely used in the sequel, and is usually referred to instead as "The Deluge of Fire and Ice." The concept of a nuclear winter after a major nuclear war was much better understood by the time the second book was published.
    • "Texarkana" is shortened to "Texark" in Wild Horse Woman, mentioning that Texarkana was how the Church (incorrectly) referred to the Empire.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman took a completely different tone and writing style than its predecessor. While it was released to very positive reviews, it was not nearly as successful, and it is known as "Miller's other novel."
  • Sinister Minister: Multiple examples in this one, from the hedonistic Cardinal Benefez to the more benign but morally-ambiguous Cardinal Brownpony.