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Shikasta (Canopus in Argos: Archives) av…
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Shikasta (Canopus in Argos: Archives) (utgåvan 1994)

av Doris Lessing

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1,1392612,766 (3.69)93
This is a space fiction set in a cosmos where the fate of the Earth is influenced by the rivalries and interactions of three powerful galactic empires. The final days of our planet are told through the reports of Johor, an emissary sent from Canopus.
Medlem:AlKLine
Titel:Shikasta (Canopus in Argos: Archives)
Författare:Doris Lessing
Info:Flamingo (1994), Paperback, 448 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek
Betyg:
Taggar:Ingen/inga

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Shikasta av Doris Lessing

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> A signaler également, dans ce style, « Shikasta » de Doris Lessing (Éd. Stock), écrivain anglais présenté à l’émission de télévision « Apostrophe ». Ce livre vous fait entrer dans une autre dimension ; sa lecture m’a passionnée. Claude PELTIER --Carnets du Yoga, Mars. 1982
  Joop-le-philosophe | Aug 6, 2020 |
The full title is Canopus in Argos: Archives Re: Colonized Planet 5: Shikasta: Personal, Psychological, Historical Documents Relating to Visit by JOHOR (George Sherban): Emissary Grade 9: 87th of the Period of the Last Days.
To begin, we receive a Preface from the Nobel-winning author. It contains a brief defense of S-F as a literary form. Lessing’s contribution to S-F is rarely, if ever, mentioned. Totaling over 1100 pages, her 5 novel series constitutes an exhaustive study of a fictionalized galactic civilization.
The alien perspective is intriguing. We hear about negotiated agreements between Sirius and Canopus, after a ruinous war. Some large-scale backstory, non-traditional storytelling, a detached voice, disembodied, disorienting and disarming. I sank into the scientific narrative like I became immersed in Olaf Stapledon’s works. He was an acknowledged influence of Lessing’s and signs of his work are everywhere, down to the skeleton of the novel’s framework.
In what will become dense social commentary, the author introduces by degrees, an astoundingly complex level of world building, a dense architecture of philosophies, and then proceeds in the method established by Stapledon in Last and First Men and Star Maker. At first glance, this book could appear to be a similar masterpiece. The further you read, the more you will realize that is not so.
The subject veers dramatically as Lessing probes the furthest reaches of the human mind, but the message gets clogged with political agendas. The use of an inhuman narrator presents difficulties, easily surmounted by fascinating juxtapositions. Get ready for dry imagery, a large number of fictional facts and abstractions, and a sense of the dangerous scale of the universe. The mode of communication is uneven throughout. Dozens of reports are interpolated from extraterrestrials and humans. At once, a distinctly skewed and innately logical setting makes way for execrations to come. The language employed borrows more from its established backstory than from societal constructs, except for the implementation of pervasive allegory, until the story shifts to modern times.
The most interesting part was the exploration of the catastrophe, which left behind work for the custodians of Shikastan Truth. Through Johor’s contribution to his planet’s experiment, Lessing makes use of allegorical devices, infusing the narrative with the sense of higher powers orchestrating vast reaches of space-time. How much of it is alien technology, and how much faith-based relics is hard to quantify.
The novel takes the form of a note in a bottle, a time capsule, or a testament. This form is broken, irreparably, as the novel progresses.
It speaks of the end of civilizations and of the galactic development of empiricism, it covers the varieties and forms of extraterrestrial life all too briefly. Subtle allegories ensue: consumerism, the food chain, until we begin to see that Shikasta is Earth. With worthy lyricism, Lessing describes this world as an outsider, and her work is surreally fascinating. Her fiercely intelligent prose slides into abstract forms and sensations. The microscopic details are uncanny, but the sweeping, bitter statements undercut what might have been a thought-provoking, instead of a thought-suppressing, conclusion.
The narrator utilizes the sort of foreigners’ bizarre verbal patterns you might expect from a multi-national author. There is an incredible verisimilitude inherent in the sustained stylistic choices. The hallucinogenic descriptions of nature lend to the charm of reading Shikasta, before it betrays your every hope for consistency. I loved the lumbering, slow, aching prose, the giant, gaping palaces and eldritch ruins. I found the accumulation of atmosphere and detail profoundly unsettling. The stark narration, ripe with ordure, was strikingly vivid. Canopus institutes their regime on the vibrant planet of Shikasta, manufacturing giants and conducting sociological studies. Their enemy is Shammat. We know the Canopeans inherit genetic memory. Degeneration does not afflict them. They suffer no death. Their colonization is posited on designed evolution, and we can only assume their space-faring civilization is immense. The main concern of this “study” is the biological experiments on Shikasta and the aftermath, wherein selective breeding leads to unexpected consequences.
The development of sentience and intelligence in the controlled environment is interesting. It is speculative writing of the highest caliber, until it plummets into an abyss of antihumanism. The tension between galactic empires would have been a more stimulating subject, but I gather there will be further developments in that arena later in the series. She regales us with essays on the controlled distribution of wealth. Instead of plausible advanced technologies we get enigmatic magic. In fact, almost no explanation for the Canopeans’ powers intrudes. We must sit through 300 pages recounting the dry history of mankind, a saddening cultural survey, lacking any sign of sophistication. She exits the uncanny valley and only enters into the land of the canny, the trite and the wickedly accusatory.
She takes a scientific view of sex. But the traces of feminism are surprisingly light. Johor can change physical form. He understands acclimatization, but the more sacred knowledge he imparts, the more perverted the Shikastan experiment becomes. The clandestine alien subjugation of a civilization by a higher one is not original, but she started off in a convincing way. The planetary Petri dish, the control group, makes for a fine set-up. Recall that Johor refrains from corrupting society’s innocence with the introduction of advanced tech, but Taufiq becomes almost entirely human. Johor has an affinity with beasts, and uses this to his advantage as he seeks to modernize the brutes. His comrades practice micromanagement of a race already spiraling out of their control. Johor’s tasks and duties are at first vague, and his communication from Canopus is not enlightening, but it becomes clear he is meant to moderate the chaos.
Human symbiosis with the planet has always been tenuous, but Lessing drives home the fact that we have made a fine mess of things.
Luckily, we are given the emissary’s explanation along the way. He is a measurer of vibrations. These vibrations are the invisible forces at work, crafting the environment.
The Shikastan’s are told their function as lesser beings in service to Canopus, he bears the news of their loss of freedom, in one of the most stirring passages, and a fall results.
“A whole race will cease,” he says. This is the destruction of the self through hyper awareness. A competition for survival begins after the reliance of higher powers ceases. However, Johor’s prophetic powers and the development of the telepathic survival trait do little to prevent widespread degradation.
The fates of races are determined by the caprices of stars. Lessing distorts her religious allegory with many misappropriated Biblical references, only to castigate and belittle all organized religions later on.
Determinism and the possibility of anticipating the future follow attempts to placate the disintegration of their evolutionary project. The enemy emerges from their mishaps. Beginning with the Edenic people among which evil does not exist, she depicts society before sin, and Shammat, as sin, is labeled, and makes short work of any sign of Canopean progress. Johor’s immersion in another culture describes this scenario beautifully. He contemplates whether awareness of sin is a weakness. The garden falls through lack of adequate resources in the face of limitless wants. Shammat is syphoning off the life of planets. This is the enigmatic enemy, or the name he has given the force antagonistic to the aims of Canopus. Parasitism as an inevitable variation of progress from symbiots.
Loss of judgement en masse in the face of changing environmental constraints, sin as death, “disobedience to the master plan” causing the fall of Shikasta, and other parabolic constraints sheer away little by little, the fabulous invention Lessing spent 100 pages crafting.
The slow and assured death in the environment without divine intervention goes unchecked for 31 millenia. The plight of mutants and outsiders, those cast off and forsaken cry out from her pages. Possessed of no faith in a higher power, blessed were they in their ignorance, they fail to live up to the standards of the Canopean empire, which are divine in nature. Without religious beliefs they begin preternaturally innocent, but innocence soon falls by the wayside. Discovery that your planet is an artificial construct, would be enough to alter most peoples’ perception. Your society and development from beast hood was unnatural and programmed. The Natives and Giants are the 2 sentient species created by Canopus. The resultant diaspora dissolves the clever societal dichotomies she threatened to enumerate.
The signature is Johor’s distinguishing power. The loss of innocence is described as a descent into fear and dissolution. The rise of prophets as a result of chaos and the birth of religion, the rebellion of the spirit all come to the fore as Johor’s influence wanes. A multitude of afflictions intrude upon disorganized society, the tribes scatter, the disbalance physically manifests as a disease of the flesh. Their faith and awareness brings them torment and destruction. Disorder is measured by permeating vibrations in the environment which the natives misuse for their own pleasure. The destruction of the idealized past occurs repeatedly. They lose immortality and fall into perpetual cycles of death and sin, degenerate back into animals, devolution and reversion.
The intrusion of belief systems and humanity’s reliance on its environmental conditions, segregation and the survivalist mindset, and resistance to higher laws, all erupt from the misuse of Canopean stones. The patterns of stones create vibrations, in the sense that imposed order endows inhabitants with prosperity. The stones possess divine, or Canopean, power. Johor warns inhabitants with prohibitions and pointing out their in-progress destruction. He chooses disciples to spread the Truth from Canopus.
Shammat emanates, sows destruction. Johor tries to establish Laws. He communes with nature as a prophet seeking guidance. We learn of boosters, conductors and planet programming, Sirius, Effluon 3, Puttiora, pollution, abstract corruption, filtering and enhancing brain power, physical manifestations of conceptualizations, and a destructive force as supernatural as the stones. This allegory allows us to contemplate the destructive nature of our technology and our reliance on higher systems to function. Shammat uses Shikastans as transmitters. Out of darkness it came, sapping strength, beauty and intellect, which to Canopus, are measurable resources.
In his marvelous journey of discovery, Johor seeks to limit the spread of Shammat. The first murder occurs in an attempt to communicate divine Truth. Intimations of intoxication, idolatry and addiction are obvious consequences.
Love had been provided and engendered in the genetic make-up of their forebears. They must relearn progress, invention, adaption, intuition. They have to reinvent every basic device, the building blocks of civilization, SOWF (substance-of-we-feeling) = manna - the source of progress and human sentience. It is what separates Shikastans from animals.
Another disciple, Taufiq, is an agent, an instrument of the way toward life and immortal divinity. He espouses idealism. We recognize him amid our wars, government and culture.
An abrupt shift around page 100 brings us to modern Earth, still called Shikasta. The second section of the book is a direct castigation of privileged white society. Pettiness, avarice, socialist spoofs, small and frivolous revolutions, every expression of vanity. Supplemental reports give extraneous detached viewpoints, lassoing in cults and the minutiae of wasted lives, every category of sin is dissected in a discomfiting, clinical way. The writing degrades steadily from logical argument to execrable melodrama. It becomes a searing history text which cultivates a disgusted, ashamed tone of oppressive derogating, recounting all the missteps in human affairs, an endless series of disturbing protests against flawed individuals.

Perhaps Lessing was so ensconced in the omniscient extraterrestrial perspective, she let pessimism run rampant. She is excessive and obsessive in her portrayal of human folly. It seems to come from a place of anger, is spiteful and mean-spirited.

The repetitions, reinterpretations, and restating her theses statements becomes the modus operandi of the second half of the novel. There is a continual reinforcement of the depressing worthlessness of human beings. The shorter the lifespan, the worse the human maladjustments become, and a vestigial belief in former immunity to death remains as a carry-over to haunt them.

Rachel's journal presents a stilted human viewpoint, but after all the macrocosmic speculation, her foibles, whining and minuscule troubles appear petty, void and contrived, inserted for a dramatic shift in the scientific tone.

Lessing indulges in bald satire, on the changeable minds of men, makes light of the power struggles during and after the World Wars, progress, justice, vain ambitions, etc. Humans have an innate fear of Canopus, which is dimensionless, reinterpreted through religious agendas, Taufiq assumed human form and diverges from his mission, finds religion to be a tool for ruling castes, espouses pacifism and points out human flaws again.

The book is a survey of human corruption, the death of the spirit, a forecast of the bleak fate awaiting us. Post-human speculation comes singly, much like the new men in Stapledon. We see increased involvement by extraterrestrial agents, decreased population split into giants, little people, hybrids and natives, a mixed species majority, the persistence of evil in human nature (seems unjustly attributed to Shammat) mass extinction due to Shikasta's axis shift. Canopeans choose strategic, selective incarnations and visibility, and introduce experimental methods to combat the “revolt against the gods.”

The law of inevitable division and subdivision remains, operating through currents carried through stone patterns, Canopean vibrancies are simply eugenics, and even with their civilization-building experiments, they cannot prevent acts of God.

The Shikastans are victims of themselves, Canopeans deliberate and destroy some tribes, their insistence on their own morality becomes questionable. It reminds us in the most unpleasant way of the soulless behavior, cruelty, and small acts of terrorism that pervade our history. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
The full title is Canopus in Argos: Archives Re: Colonized Planet 5: Shikasta: Personal, Psychological, Historical Documents Relating to Visit by JOHOR (George Sherban): Emissary Grade 9: 87th of the Period of the Last Days.
To begin, we receive a Preface from the Nobel-winning author. It contains a brief defense of S-F as a literary form. Lessing’s contribution to S-F is rarely, if ever, mentioned. Totaling over 1100 pages, her 5 novel series constitutes an exhaustive study of a fictionalized galactic civilization.
The alien perspective is intriguing. We hear about negotiated agreements between Sirius and Canopus, after a ruinous war. Some large-scale backstory, non-traditional storytelling, a detached voice, disembodied, disorienting and disarming. I sank into the scientific narrative like I became immersed in Olaf Stapledon’s works. He was an acknowledged influence of Lessing’s and signs of his work are everywhere, down to the skeleton of the novel’s framework.
In what will become dense social commentary, the author introduces by degrees, an astoundingly complex level of world building, a dense architecture of philosophies, and then proceeds in the method established by Stapledon in Last and First Men and Star Maker. At first glance, this book could appear to be a similar masterpiece. The further you read, the more you will realize that is not so.
The subject veers dramatically as Lessing probes the furthest reaches of the human mind, but the message gets clogged with political agendas. The use of an inhuman narrator presents difficulties, easily surmounted by fascinating juxtapositions. Get ready for dry imagery, a large number of fictional facts and abstractions, and a sense of the dangerous scale of the universe. The mode of communication is uneven throughout. Dozens of reports are interpolated from extraterrestrials and humans. At once, a distinctly skewed and innately logical setting makes way for execrations to come. The language employed borrows more from its established backstory than from societal constructs, except for the implementation of pervasive allegory, until the story shifts to modern times.
The most interesting part was the exploration of the catastrophe, which left behind work for the custodians of Shikastan Truth. Through Johor’s contribution to his planet’s experiment, Lessing makes use of allegorical devices, infusing the narrative with the sense of higher powers orchestrating vast reaches of space-time. How much of it is alien technology, and how much faith-based relics is hard to quantify.
The novel takes the form of a note in a bottle, a time capsule, or a testament. This form is broken, irreparably, as the novel progresses.
It speaks of the end of civilizations and of the galactic development of empiricism, it covers the varieties and forms of extraterrestrial life all too briefly. Subtle allegories ensue: consumerism, the food chain, until we begin to see that Shikasta is Earth. With worthy lyricism, Lessing describes this world as an outsider, and her work is surreally fascinating. Her fiercely intelligent prose slides into abstract forms and sensations. The microscopic details are uncanny, but the sweeping, bitter statements undercut what might have been a thought-provoking, instead of a thought-suppressing, conclusion.
The narrator utilizes the sort of foreigners’ bizarre verbal patterns you might expect from a multi-national author. There is an incredible verisimilitude inherent in the sustained stylistic choices. The hallucinogenic descriptions of nature lend to the charm of reading Shikasta, before it betrays your every hope for consistency. I loved the lumbering, slow, aching prose, the giant, gaping palaces and eldritch ruins. I found the accumulation of atmosphere and detail profoundly unsettling. The stark narration, ripe with ordure, was strikingly vivid. Canopus institutes their regime on the vibrant planet of Shikasta, manufacturing giants and conducting sociological studies. Their enemy is Shammat. We know the Canopeans inherit genetic memory. Degeneration does not afflict them. They suffer no death. Their colonization is posited on designed evolution, and we can only assume their space-faring civilization is immense. The main concern of this “study” is the biological experiments on Shikasta and the aftermath, wherein selective breeding leads to unexpected consequences.
The development of sentience and intelligence in the controlled environment is interesting. It is speculative writing of the highest caliber, until it plummets into an abyss of antihumanism. The tension between galactic empires would have been a more stimulating subject, but I gather there will be further developments in that arena later in the series. She regales us with essays on the controlled distribution of wealth. Instead of plausible advanced technologies we get enigmatic magic. In fact, almost no explanation for the Canopeans’ powers intrudes. We must sit through 300 pages recounting the dry history of mankind, a saddening cultural survey, lacking any sign of sophistication. She exits the uncanny valley and only enters into the land of the canny, the trite and the wickedly accusatory.
She takes a scientific view of sex. But the traces of feminism are surprisingly light. Johor can change physical form. He understands acclimatization, but the more sacred knowledge he imparts, the more perverted the Shikastan experiment becomes. The clandestine alien subjugation of a civilization by a higher one is not original, but she started off in a convincing way. The planetary Petri dish, the control group, makes for a fine set-up. Recall that Johor refrains from corrupting society’s innocence with the introduction of advanced tech, but Taufiq becomes almost entirely human. Johor has an affinity with beasts, and uses this to his advantage as he seeks to modernize the brutes. His comrades practice micromanagement of a race already spiraling out of their control. Johor’s tasks and duties are at first vague, and his communication from Canopus is not enlightening, but it becomes clear he is meant to moderate the chaos.
Human symbiosis with the planet has always been tenuous, but Lessing drives home the fact that we have made a fine mess of things.
Luckily, we are given the emissary’s explanation along the way. He is a measurer of vibrations. These vibrations are the invisible forces at work, crafting the environment.
The Shikastan’s are told their function as lesser beings in service to Canopus, he bears the news of their loss of freedom, in one of the most stirring passages, and a fall results.
“A whole race will cease,” he says. This is the destruction of the self through hyper awareness. A competition for survival begins after the reliance of higher powers ceases. However, Johor’s prophetic powers and the development of the telepathic survival trait do little to prevent widespread degradation.
The fates of races are determined by the caprices of stars. Lessing distorts her religious allegory with many misappropriated Biblical references, only to castigate and belittle all organized religions later on.
Determinism and the possibility of anticipating the future follow attempts to placate the disintegration of their evolutionary project. The enemy emerges from their mishaps. Beginning with the Edenic people among which evil does not exist, she depicts society before sin, and Shammat, as sin, is labeled, and makes short work of any sign of Canopean progress. Johor’s immersion in another culture describes this scenario beautifully. He contemplates whether awareness of sin is a weakness. The garden falls through lack of adequate resources in the face of limitless wants. Shammat is syphoning off the life of planets. This is the enigmatic enemy, or the name he has given the force antagonistic to the aims of Canopus. Parasitism as an inevitable variation of progress from symbiots.
Loss of judgement en masse in the face of changing environmental constraints, sin as death, “disobedience to the master plan” causing the fall of Shikasta, and other parabolic constraints sheer away little by little, the fabulous invention Lessing spent 100 pages crafting.
The slow and assured death in the environment without divine intervention goes unchecked for 31 millenia. The plight of mutants and outsiders, those cast off and forsaken cry out from her pages. Possessed of no faith in a higher power, blessed were they in their ignorance, they fail to live up to the standards of the Canopean empire, which are divine in nature. Without religious beliefs they begin preternaturally innocent, but innocence soon falls by the wayside. Discovery that your planet is an artificial construct, would be enough to alter most peoples’ perception. Your society and development from beast hood was unnatural and programmed. The Natives and Giants are the 2 sentient species created by Canopus. The resultant diaspora dissolves the clever societal dichotomies she threatened to enumerate.
The signature is Johor’s distinguishing power. The loss of innocence is described as a descent into fear and dissolution. The rise of prophets as a result of chaos and the birth of religion, the rebellion of the spirit all come to the fore as Johor’s influence wanes. A multitude of afflictions intrude upon disorganized society, the tribes scatter, the disbalance physically manifests as a disease of the flesh. Their faith and awareness brings them torment and destruction. Disorder is measured by permeating vibrations in the environment which the natives misuse for their own pleasure. The destruction of the idealized past occurs repeatedly. They lose immortality and fall into perpetual cycles of death and sin, degenerate back into animals, devolution and reversion.
The intrusion of belief systems and humanity’s reliance on its environmental conditions, segregation and the survivalist mindset, and resistance to higher laws, all erupt from the misuse of Canopean stones. The patterns of stones create vibrations, in the sense that imposed order endows inhabitants with prosperity. The stones possess divine, or Canopean, power. Johor warns inhabitants with prohibitions and pointing out their in-progress destruction. He chooses disciples to spread the Truth from Canopus.
Shammat emanates, sows destruction. Johor tries to establish Laws. He communes with nature as a prophet seeking guidance. We learn of boosters, conductors and planet programming, Sirius, Effluon 3, Puttiora, pollution, abstract corruption, filtering and enhancing brain power, physical manifestations of conceptualizations, and a destructive force as supernatural as the stones. This allegory allows us to contemplate the destructive nature of our technology and our reliance on higher systems to function. Shammat uses Shikastans as transmitters. Out of darkness it came, sapping strength, beauty and intellect, which to Canopus, are measurable resources.
In his marvelous journey of discovery, Johor seeks to limit the spread of Shammat. The first murder occurs in an attempt to communicate divine Truth. Intimations of intoxication, idolatry and addiction are obvious consequences.
Love had been provided and engendered in the genetic make-up of their forebears. They must relearn progress, invention, adaption, intuition. They have to reinvent every basic device, the building blocks of civilization, SOWF (substance-of-we-feeling) = manna - the source of progress and human sentience. It is what separates Shikastans from animals.
Another disciple, Taufiq, is an agent, an instrument of the way toward life and immortal divinity. He espouses idealism. We recognize him amid our wars, government and culture.
An abrupt shift around page 100 brings us to modern Earth, still called Shikasta. The second section of the book is a direct castigation of privileged white society. Pettiness, avarice, socialist spoofs, small and frivolous revolutions, every expression of vanity. Supplemental reports give extraneous detached viewpoints, lassoing in cults and the minutiae of wasted lives, every category of sin is dissected in a discomfiting, clinical way. The writing degrades steadily from logical argument to execrable melodrama. It becomes a searing history text which cultivates a disgusted, ashamed tone of oppressive derogating, recounting all the missteps in human affairs, an endless series of disturbing protests against flawed individuals.

Perhaps Lessing was so ensconced in the omniscient extraterrestrial perspective, she let pessimism run rampant. She is excessive and obsessive in her portrayal of human folly. It seems to come from a place of anger, is spiteful and mean-spirited.

The repetitions, reinterpretations, and restating her theses statements becomes the modus operandi of the second half of the novel. There is a continual reinforcement of the depressing worthlessness of human beings. The shorter the lifespan, the worse the human maladjustments become, and a vestigial belief in former immunity to death remains as a carry-over to haunt them.

Rachel's journal presents a stilted human viewpoint, but after all the macrocosmic speculation, her foibles, whining and minuscule troubles appear petty, void and contrived, inserted for a dramatic shift in the scientific tone.

Lessing indulges in bald satire, on the changeable minds of men, makes light of the power struggles during and after the World Wars, progress, justice, vain ambitions, etc. Humans have an innate fear of Canopus, which is dimensionless, reinterpreted through religious agendas, Taufiq assumed human form and diverges from his mission, finds religion to be a tool for ruling castes, espouses pacifism and points out human flaws again.

The book is a survey of human corruption, the death of the spirit, a forecast of the bleak fate awaiting us. Post-human speculation comes singly, much like the new men in Stapledon. We see increased involvement by extraterrestrial agents, decreased population split into giants, little people, hybrids and natives, a mixed species majority, the persistence of evil in human nature (seems unjustly attributed to Shammat) mass extinction due to Shikasta's axis shift. Canopeans choose strategic, selective incarnations and visibility, and introduce experimental methods to combat the “revolt against the gods.”

The law of inevitable division and subdivision remains, operating through currents carried through stone patterns, Canopean vibrancies are simply eugenics, and even with their civilization-building experiments, they cannot prevent acts of God.

The Shikastans are victims of themselves, Canopeans deliberate and destroy some tribes, their insistence on their own morality becomes questionable. It reminds us in the most unpleasant way of the soulless behavior, cruelty, and small acts of terrorism that pervade our history. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
Dreary prose, befitting its form: a series of diplomatic communiques. Drearier conceptually, with the exception of an early "Shaggy God story," as a friend called it, mostly a history of the cataclysmic 20th century in bureaucrat-speak, now quite bland and dated. Such is the 20th century liberal's worldview; Thomas Mann doesn't really hold up either. The idea that Shikasta is a battleground for a good vs. evil war of energies by another planetary system is okay. A lot more fun could have been had with that.

I know Doris Lessing has done better. Was it The Four-Gated City? ( )
  CSRodgers | Apr 14, 2018 |
Shikasta was a logical step for Lessing taking up themes that she had explored in Memories of a Survivor. In that novel she had written about the breakdown of civilisation as seen by an elderly woman peering out of her ground floor city flat and who only ventured outside on local foraging expeditions. It provided a gritty reality to a dream world that she imagined behind her living room wall. In previous novels Lessing had used her experiences as a political activist in Southern Rhodesia, as a single woman in post war London and as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown to pin point ideas and themes that were shot through with a realism that was gripping and drenched in the life and times through which she lived. Shikasta opened out into something more ambitious, because Lessing sought to make her themes global: everything now was to be imagined and everything linked to the history of our civilisation.

She needed a medium in which to capture her ideas and she chose science fiction. Influenced no doubt by the novels of Olaf Stapledon particularly "Last and First Men” and "Star Maker" which attempted to put the broad sweep of our civilisation into the perspective of the universe: Lessing used these ideas to explore the human condition. There is very little science in her science fiction; this did not concern her, she wanted to create a scenario where she could put the human race under her microscope and expose the fault lines that she had observed through her own experiences and her knowledge of history. It should be no surprise that the outlook is pretty bleak.

The history of Shikasta (our Earth) is told by journals, reports and letters from representatives from Canopus; a higher civilisation that along with the Sirians work to keep the universe in harmony. Johor is the person who is tasked with protecting and nurturing Shikasta and it is a thankless task. Shikasta means the broken one but it did not start out like this. Johor first knew it as Rohanda a world blessed with a nature that supported a variety of life. It was one of the most hospitable worlds in the Universe and needed special attention. A race of giants in tune with the harmony of the spheres were bused in (by space ship) to support the emergent ape like humanoids who were the most intelligent of the earths inhabitants. With the support of the Giants the natives developed a harmonious civilisation that promised to be a cornerstone of the Canopus empire. Unfortunately within the Universe there was also Shammat a rapacious empire bent on destruction and they also had eyes on the Earth. They were able to introduce a degenerative disease into the native population which weakened their harmony with the Universe and with each other; they increasingly put themselves first, became greedy, and exploitative. Their protectors; the giant race had to leave.,

We pick up the story of Shikasta just as it emerges from its second world war. Johor receives a number of reports from his representatives detailing through individual cases the problems that are burgeoning on the planet. The most serious problem seems to be a generation gap, the youth of the world start to blame their parents for the state of the earth, which is steadily moving towards a third world war. Food production is not keeping pace with the population, the air is being poisoned by industry, there are water shortages and a small percentage of the population have become very rich to the detriment of the rest.

Johor realises that he must take more direct action and he chooses to be born on the planet to parents who will provide him with some support. He becomes George Sherban and we follow his growth into becoming a youth leader through the diary of his sister Rachel. He is powerless to stop the catastrophe that is developing but we follow his career second hand through his sisters diary. The final set piece of the novel is the Youth Conference hosted by Geoge Sherban which becomes a show trial for the white race colonisers who are blamed for the destruction of the planet. Shikasta is now ruled by the benevolent Chinese dynasty, but they are benevolent in name only and all the faults of previous rulers and colonisers are just as apparent. George Sherban can only work to save something from the wreckage.

Lessing has divided the novel into three parts, the first tells the story of Rohanda and it is here that her writing is at its lyrical best. She imagines a world where all is in harmony; the cities are built according to mathematical formulas that are in keeping with the landscape. There are round cities. crescent cities, star shaped cities and square cities all vibrating in harmony through the stones that have been placed by the giant race. Johor is stationed on the planet and notices the first dissonance in the vibrations and it is through him that we see the degenerative disease take hold.

The second part finds Johor in Zone 6. This is the place where the dead souls from various planets wait to enter a firmament to become reborn. It is here he receives reports from Shikasta and they tell of disaffected young people struggling in a world that has no future for them. These read like case histories and Lessing is able to pin point the ills of modern civilisation through these missives. The degenerative disease is having its effect in Zone 6 which is turning into a wasteland. Johor finds people(souls) who he has trusted in the past and persuades them to follow him down to be reborn on Shikasta

The third part describes the career of George Sherban and Lessing is able to paint a vivid picture of a world collapsing into a dystopia. George Sherban and his family move around the less fortunate countries where the parents work in hospitals for the common good and George gets on with the life of being a sort of prophet. It is Rachel’s diary that details this part of the story and Lessing once again takes her novel into the nitty gritty of the life of poor families trying to survive in ever worsening conditions. The final youth convention is described by a representative of the Chinese government.

The novel is not without its faults. I found the second section which details the issues faced by young people to be a sort of catch all for the ills of modern civilisation. Lessing uses them to hammer home her views on society and even if you sympathise with her left of centre opinions (and I do) they become a little repetitive and they add nothing to the overall flow of the novel. To enjoy the novel you must be able to swallow the science fiction elements; for example a benevolent higher civilisation that protects and guides fledgling civilisations and has representatives on earth. However Lessing uses them merely as a device for the working of her novel, we learn very little about Canopus, even less about the Sirians. It is a bleak view of the human race and ultimately one which is unable to help itself and the idea that higher powers control our destiny will not be welcome to some readers. (Lessing does however avoid any religious connotations). Despite all of this one cannot fail to be impressed by the scale of the novel or of passages of her most thoughtful prose. Brimful of ideas and it does have that sense of wonder that will appeal to some science fiction readers. 4.5 stars. ( )
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Doris Lessingprimär författarealla utgåvorberäknat
Pfetsch, HelgaÖversättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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For my father, who used to sit, hour after hour, night after night, outside our house in Africa, watching the stars. 'Well,' he would say, 'if we blow ourselves up, there's plenty more where we came from!'
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Shikasta was started in the belief that it would be a single self-contained book, and that when it was finished I would be done with the subject. (Some Remarks)
I have been sent on errands to our Colonies on many planets.
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This is a space fiction set in a cosmos where the fate of the Earth is influenced by the rivalries and interactions of three powerful galactic empires. The final days of our planet are told through the reports of Johor, an emissary sent from Canopus.

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