SHIKASTA

Lessing's latest project, a series entitled Canopus in Argos—Archives, will (if this first volume is any indication) firmly pull together and extend all the most controversial elements of her recent work. Shikasta does not flirt with science-fiction premises, but conspicuously adopts them, much like that remarkable story "Report on the Threatened City." The benevolent civilization of Canopus attempts through a "Forced Growth Plan" to bring a promising bunch of monkeys to "Grade A species" status in less than half the usual 50,000 years. But at a stage apparently corresponding to the early Adamic generations of the Book of Genesis, the evil representatives of another empire cut off the flow of love and intelligence from Canopus and begin wresting the inhabitants of ruined "Shikasta" (Earth) to their own purposes. With terrible pain and difficulty, a few Canopean envoys in successive human incarnations keep the sense of our first destiny fitfully alive through the unspeakable centuries of later history. This material is arranged as a cut-and-paste documentary culled chiefly from Canopean history textbooks and the reports of the emissaries; but the culminating episode—the final mission of "Johor" to free the surviving fragments of humanity after the last cataclysms of the 20th century—is narrated entirely from the viewpoint of the people who know him as the gifted leader George Sherban. In many ways Shikasta is a failure—impatient, flimsy science fiction; much crude historical and political analysis. But at the same time it links up virtually all of Lessing's work since The Four-Gated City (tied to Shikasta by the figure of Lynda Coldridge) as a sustained attempt to point out the coupled mechanisms of derangement and salvation built into human endeavor. And there are passages here—all the more striking for the deliberately disjunctive form of the narrative—which are like miraculous, passionate crystallizations of everything Lessing has ever said about out squandered selves and misconceived hopes. Seeing this stubborn mind returning more elaborately than ever to the theme of transhuman vision, those in quest of illuminating political autobiography or feminist rallying-cries are bound to wonder whether she has become entirely irresponsible. No, this is the same Doris Lessing, grasping even broader moral and political nettles. She has never been more preposterous, more difficult. . . or more worth reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1979

ISBN: 0006547192

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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