Saturday, March 01, 2008

Doris Lessing

I have begun to read the novels of Doris Lessing who was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature. I have started with an unusual choice, reading Shikasta , the first volume of her series Canopus in Argos. Having read many science fiction novels over the years I was not prepared for this unique approach to the genre. Lessings' space novel is told from the point of view of the alien Canopeans who compete with their rivals from the planet Shammat for the guidance of civilization on Shikasta (Earth). A cosmic accident of some kind (not caused by Shammat) disrupts the energy flows between Shikasta and Canopus. This leads to the breakdown of the harmony of Shikastan civilization, and dominance by Shammat. As an immediate effect, the life span of living beings on Shikasta is shortened from several hundred years to the average life span of a contemporary human. All kinds of evil aspects of modern society (mostly that of political violence and abuse of power) start to arise from this energy disruption. Throughout the Canopeans have agents visiting Shikasta to report on the events and finally living as Shikastans . The novel uses many different styles including historical reports, sociological studies, memos and the diary of the sister of the protagonist, George Sherban (aka Johor). It is a fascinating display of imagination even though it is dated in some ways (the Soviet Union and Communist China are depicted as they existed thirty years ago). It is almost quaint the way Johor walks across Africa and letters from Communist China are sent but never received, while the level of technology presented does not incorporate the immense changes in computing. However, as an allegory it demonstrates an political world that is not too different from the one in which we live. Overall I enjoyed her writing style and look forward to my next Lessing work, her first novel The Grass is Singing.

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