“I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The ‘Life Force’, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work — the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls ‘Forces’ while denying the existence of ‘spirits’ — then the end of the war will be in sight.”
pp. 30-31, Letter 7 from the Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
The Allied bombing of the famed citadel-like abbey at Monte Cassino involved more than 1000 tons of explosives from more than 200 B-17s, B-25s and B-26s. Walter M. Miller, Jr. was a tail-gunner on a B-25 Mitchell involved in the attack. Hundreds of civilians had taken refuge in the fortress, and died there. The citadel itself had survived multiple sackings throughout history, famously rebuilding after each one in its mission to preserve the recordings of civilization within its walls.
Although Medieval in concept, the intellectual citadel factors heavily in science fiction, particularly in “post-megawar” or post-apocalyptic fiction. Cryptonomicon‘s data haven in Kinakuta is just as much an example of such a fort of knowledge as the abbey at Monte Cassino is.
The antifragility of such a citadel rests not in its reinforced walls or its mountainous defense: it rests in the spirit of a people willing to suffer defeat and loss and sacrifice in the hope of carrying the ideals forward for as long as possible.
Or, as Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz puts it:
Cum vix justus sit securus
(since even the just man is scarcely safe)
Following the apocalypse, these citadels exhibit their durability not through enduring whole texts, but in the scraps that the survivors fight to discover and defend. These remnants become more than signifiers of past knowledge: they become holy artifacts as well. Miller believed that following a Megawar catastrophe that “survivors don’t really live in such a world; they haunt it.”
These ghost heroes in the post-apocalyptic afterlife haunt the doomed citadels of knowledge and theology, and the drama with such stories tends to stem from not the survival of the hero, but on the hope that lies latent in the inevitable decay of an already devastated repository. After all, despite the heart-wrenching and downbeat conclusion of such a tale, its structure begs an important question.
In other words, who is the reader (or in the case of the link, the listener) of There Will Come Soft Rains? If someone is alive, and he lives with the capacity to interpret the content of such stories, does not the unwritten, apparently non-existent, hope lie in the breast of breast of the reader? Although the world seen is dead, is not the reader himself a sign of resurrection?
If survivors in such books are the ghosts, then do they not prove – without knowing – the very existence and vitality of the readers whom they haunt?
In the Megawar, all the Force of all the Magicians in the world is sufficient to destroy a citadel’s walls and make remnants of its once rich and living contents.
It cannot alter–in the slightest–the course of enduring spirits.
Dima Fedotof put it another way: