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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Shikasta (1979) by Doris Lessing

The cover of Shikasta tells you all you need to know about the comments: Tedious!
Book Review
Shikasta (1979)
by Doris Lessing

  Shikasta is book one of Doris Lessings' Sufi influenced science fiction quintology.  It bears the extremely awkward full title of:  

Canopus in Argos:
Archives
Re: Colonised Planet 5
Shikasta
Professional, Psychological, Hisotrical Documents Relating to Visit by
JOHOR
(George Sherban)
Emissary (Grade 9)
87th of the Period of the Last Days

    All of that appears on the cover of Shikasta, and it actually provides a good indicator of what the reader is in for with this book.  Shikasta is only very loosely a novel, rather it is a compilation of reports and observations by JOHOR, ending with a two hundred page novella written about George Sherban, a human incarnation of JOHOR.   Before the novella comes a series of obeservational reports written by JOHOR and other alien observers about their time on Shikasta (It's Earth, ok?) during the lengthy project of alien colonization.

  Lessings' narrative: Multiple alien species active secretly on Earth in an attempt to create a galactic colony in harmony with the rest of the universe, will sound familiar to many fans of science fiction.  Canopus, the main player in this galactic empire of harmony, works in conjunction with partner empire Sirius and against the rogue empire Puttiora and it's aggressive representative planet, Shanmat.  JOHOR is designated as an emissary to Shikasta/Earth and he is on the scene as the initial colony set up by Canopus collapses as a result of Shanmat's interference, to be replaced by the rise of the contemporary human race.

  The modern period with the incarnation of JOHOR as George Sherban, takes place on the eve of World War III, when China with the help of various youth armies has taken control of the globe, and Europe stands on the brink of extinction, in order to pay penance for the crimes of "the white race."  Lessing, in addition to her new Sufi influences, evident in the eschatology of the alien race of Canopus, joins her previously noted Socialist/Communist leanings in Shikasta.

  During Shikasta I had the distinct feeling that I was reading a dramatic wrong turn in the career of a first rate world writer (Nobel Prize for Literature 2001).  The fact that Lessing remained committed enough to the idea over five novels presumably tells you all you need to know about "late Lessing," and the fact that the 1001 Books project dropped Shikasta in the first revision tells me all I need to know about whether this book is actually a classic.

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