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Doris Lessing: Canopus in Argos: Archives series

While I am generally fond of good science fiction, this series of five novels didn’t really work for me. She is now into to her full mysticism/Idries Shah phase and this can be clearly seen in these novels. If you are into Sufism, these books might mean more to you than they do to me. Much of the series is taken up with an almost Star Wars type struggle between the Canopeans – the good guys – and the Shammat – the bad guys. The first book revolves around the struggle of these two over Shikasta, a planet which is clearly meant to represent Earth. The Canopeans have, of course, been guiding us along for years (a science fiction staple theme). She does this quite well and this one is pretty interesting. The second book is about the zones and forced marriage of the king of Zone Four with, firstly, the Queen of Zone Three and then the Queen of Zone Five. Maybe it’s me, but intergalactic love stories don’t do much for me.

Book three is about the planet Sirius and how the nice Canopeans are trying to make the not very nice Sirians nice. Book four is, of course, about Planet Eight, which is a happy, sunshiny planet which learns that it is going to suffer a cosmic crisis and freeze. The book is about the inhabitants attempt at survival. Book five is noted for the lovely phrase undulant rhetoric, which a junior Canopean agent has succumbed to. In short, this book is about Orwellian or, if you wish, GeorgeBushian misuse of language for political aims. Indeed, this book is far more of a satire than its predecessors. It is quite fun but, frankly, I think 1984 did it better. In conclusion, an overambitious work, though not without interest as Lessing always writes well.

Publishing history

Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta
First published 1979 by Jonathan Cape
The Marriages between Zones Three, Four, and Five
First published 1980 by Jonathan Cape
The Sirian Experiments
First published 1981 by Jonathan Cape
The Making of the Representative for Planet 8
First published 1982 by Jonathan Cape
Documents Relating to the Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire
First published 1983 by Jonathan Cape