Kersplebedeb's Reviews > Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta

Re by Doris Lessing
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's review
Jun 06, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction
Recommended for: people with a tolerance for preachiness and slow plots.
Read in June, 2008

i first read Shikasta fifteen years ago, and found it fantastic but very difficult. Rereading it now i felt differently, it was both a lot easier but also a lot less impressive.

A white woman who grew up in Zimbabwe back when it was Rhodesia become a nobel laureate in literature last year. Amongst her reactions were something like "what took you so long" and "my science fiction was my most important work."

Shikasta is the first book in Lessing's science fiction series, and it is very much a long, at times moving at times embarrassing examination of colonialism, oppression, and what Christians (of which Lessing is not one) would term the "fall from grace". This is not a zippy action tale, there is no clever word-play or mind bending concepts, rather this book is Lessing's indictment of all of human history, and of human beings propensity to hurt and mistreat one another and the world we live in. It climaxes with an actual trial in which the "white race" stands accused of all the crimes of euro-imperialism, and ends with most of humanity being killed in some kind of war, the few survivors returning to a state of grace as "Shammat" (Lessing's stand-in for the Devil) retreats from the planet.

There's lots in here, but not a lot which is great. Some descriptions are quite evocative, the build-up in which we are introduced to Shikasta (that's the alien's name for Earth) prior to the fall from grace, all this is very well done, though with a lot of loopy politics.

i feel bad giving this book three stars - it really felt like several books within one volume, and the first third (describing Shikasta's fall from paradise, so to speak) and the last sixty pages (basically from the Trial on) were four-five star material (and i rarely give five stars) - unfortunately what came between, the case studies and Rachel Sherban's journal, were more like one-two star material.

This book is not one i would recommend to most people. You have to have high tolerance for a kind of shameless self-righteousness and earnestness normally associated with teenaged angst. i consider myself to have much less problem with that stuff than most people, but still at times i felt embarrassed for Lessing.

On the other hand, it is an interesting period-piece, both ahead of its time and also mired in how things looked thirty years ago. In many ways the world is following pretty much the path Lessing prochesied, in some ways it seems even worst off.
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