SHIKASTA by Doris Lessing
Kirkus Star

SHIKASTA

KIRKUS REVIEW

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. 22nd, 1979
ISBN: 0006547192
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1979




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