I was quite excited to read a science fiction book written by a Nobel Prize Winner. My expectations were quite high, and as a result I was quite disappointed. The book does not even pretend to be allegorical, it often is a political commentary on historical and contemporary events. The science fiction element seems unnecessary, the book would have worked as well, or even better, if the fantastical element was dropped.
This is the first volume in the series of novels Doris Lessing calls collectively Canopus in Argos: Archives
, but it can be read and appreciated as a stand alone story. It is a compilation of fictional documents, reports, letters, speeches and journal entries, presented as a general study of the planet Shikasta, clearly the planet Earth, to be used by history students of the higher planet Canopus and to be stored in the Canopian archives. For eons, galactic empires have struggled against one another, and Shikasta is one of the main battlegrounds. Johar, an emissary from Canopus and the primary contributor to the archives, visits Shikasta over the millennia from the time of the giants and the biblical great flood up to the present. With every visit he tries to distract Shikastans from the evil influences of the planet Shammat but notes with dismay the ever-growing chaos and destruction of Shikasta as its people hurl themselves towards World War III and annihilation.
Shikasta's humanity is presented as with no agency, unable to determine or alter its fate, that is predetermined by cosmic energies and powers. Moreover the critique to the evils of colonialism is rendered ineffective by the actions of Canopus, that while presented as morally superior and god-like, treats Shikastan as the most horrible of the colonialist ever was: Canopus values its morals and believes as superior, it perpetrates genocide more than once, and constantly use eugenics to "improve" the local population.
Despite this serious shortcomings, the book has some redeeming qualities: when the author stops focusing on politics and inter-planetary conflicts, when she focuses on single characters, on their stories and inner emotions... then she really shines. The diaries of Rachel are incredibly well written and moving.
I recommend reading Ursula Le Guin's review of Shikasta on New Republic
: Jan 10 2018 Finished:
Jan 28 2018