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The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five

(Canopus in Argos #2)

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,107 ratings  ·  83 reviews
The second novel in the Classic series "Canopus in Argos: Archives". A tale of love and the anicent battle between men and woman.
Paperback, 244 pages
Published August 12th 1981 by Vintage (first published 1980)
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Mauro Yes, I think so. I'd say they are quite independent but maybe it is better to start with the first one to understand better what Doris is trying to…moreYes, I think so. I'd say they are quite independent but maybe it is better to start with the first one to understand better what Doris is trying to tell us.(less)

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 ·  1,107 ratings  ·  83 reviews

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The second in Lessing’s Canopus in Argos space fiction series, The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five shifts from the galactic view of human evolution, history, and the eventual chaotic upheaval on Earth (a.k.a. Shikasta) to an on-the-ground account of two regents—Al-Ith, the queen of Zone Three, and Ben Ata, the king of Zone Four—who are ordered by “the Providers” to marry.

As always in Lessing, the melodramatic arc here of the battle of the sexes is driven in, rather repetitively,
Nov 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Like Shikasta, this book is also a bit of a mess, but with some brilliant moments. My favorite scene occurs near the beginning. Al·Ith (I don't know how you're supposed to pronounce it either), the proud, independently-minded queen of Zone Three, has somehow been obliged to marry Ben Ata, the coarse, soldierly king of Zone Four. They know nothing about each other. He tries a couple of unsuccessful conversational openings, then, frustrated, pushes her over on her back, holds her down, and ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I re-read The Marriages Between Zones ... over Christmas, and was no less impressed than when I read the book in 1980. The more interesting and gritty character is Ben Ata, representing a static patriarchal zone functioning within a strict structure, initially dramatised as is the way of fables. Ben Ata is both repelling and fascinating to Al Ith, who represents a static matriarchal zone, where intuition, while highly valued, has created a trance of harmony. Destiny (the Providers) call them to ...more
Jan 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I believe The Marriage Between Zones Three, Four, and Five is one of the best books I have read in my entire life.
William Leight
Dec 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
My feeling about this book is that Ursula Le Guin would have done it better, because she’s a real science-fiction writer and so understands that science fiction is not simply about letting your imagination run free. Ok, so in a way it is: despite the genre’s name, you can make up any sort of futuristic anything you would like without having to base it in science at all. But the flow always has to be from the invention — an new technology, a new society, whatever — to the story. That’s why the ...more
Azza Raslan
Jun 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
I loved the Canopus in Argos series. All the parts complemented each other, and although externally the books seemed unrelated, at the end, when you've read the last page of the last book, the pattern emerges loud and clear - Wake up humans, you are destroying your planet and your life.
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
The first book in Lessing's Canopus in Argos: Archives series, Shikasta, is unimpressive upon reading, but impresses upon reflection. Lessing puts a thoughtful and intriguing spin on our understanding of humankind's origins. The second volume, The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five is unimpressive upon reading and almost impossible to reflect upon with interest. The bellicose inhabitants of Zone Five are unsophisticated, 'masculine' and heavy. The arty inhabitants of Zone Four are ...more
The first volume Shikasta was an alternative history of Earth and a more general contemplation on 'good' and 'bad'. This second volume is more specific. The focus is on 'men' and 'women'. While in Shikasta, different civilizations incorporated the extremes, these extremes - if you can call genders extremes - are represented this time by different zones presumably of Shikasta although the name is never mentioned in this book.

Marriages is not so much space fiction anymore. Canopus is only
Sep 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
The idea that human civilisation be divided in accordance with stages of "spiritual" evolution is fascinating, and I could really sense the longing of each "Zone" for the learning and beauty of the next higher one. In a way, this resembles the religious devotee's longing for heaven, or God, or Brahman, the scientist's longing for Answers. And most of us have experienced this desperate urge to reach out to that which is "higher" than us.

I picked this book because I did enjoy Shikasta, no matter
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Warning: Spoilers

This is the second novel in Lessing's Canopus in Argos: Archives series, and for me the most moving of the five books. Lessing said she wrote it quickly because it came from a deep place she had been trying to reach for some time. You don't need to know the rest of the series to appreciate this fable-like story of basic human drives, but I think it helps to know about the Zones the characters live in. Lessing's alternate earth, called Shikasta, (also the title of the first book
Paul Kieniewicz
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-novels
How do you set a novel in the afterlife while avoiding hackneyed formulae derived from spiritism or theology? Jean Paul Sartre gave us a memorable example in his play, No Exit where hell is a hotel with endless rooms. In science fiction, Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld Series presents an engineered afterlife. Many SF writers followed that model, presenting prosaic variations on our world. Closer to Scotland, is Neil Gunn’s Green Isle of the Great, a dystopian Garden of Eden ruled by fascists, ...more
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
I really, really wanted to give Canopus on Argos another chance. After reading Shikasta, I was disappointed, but at the same time strangely interested. Overall the book didn't work that well, but there were certain aspects that resonated with me anyway. However, after this book, I think I can put this series to a rest for now.
This book repeats a pattern I have already described with Shikasta, that is, wrapping some high level message which I agree with (This time it is "Always aspire to
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-good-shit
boy, they just don't write 'em like that any more.

well, but of course they do.

still, we are talking about Doris Lessing here.

i recently was reminded of this series. i'd read them when they first came out. of all of them i remember finding this one the most accessible, the story most appealing. i am re-reading them one by one and shall report... but now, this one.

how is it she could set up such obvious stereotypes and still make them breathe? the brutish lout of a husband, the wife a victim with
Fenixbird SandS
Oct 14, 2007 marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: All women & adults
One of a dozen or so books by recent Nobel literature prizewinner Doris Lessing. I WANT TO READ THIS ONE, ESPECIALLY SHORT STORY "THE FIFTH CHILD" (paperback) AND "THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK."

Quoting NY TIMES' reporters Motoko Rich & Sarah Lyall:

"Ms. Lessing’s strongest legacy may be that she inspired a generation of feminists with her breakthrough novel, “The Golden Notebook.” In its citation, the Swedish Academy said: “The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work, and it belongs
Jul 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
A little too gender-normative, but interesting nonetheless. An exploration in prose of the limits of absolute femininity and masculinity and the intersections between these idealized, romanticized and poetic realms. Lessing is a fantastic writer, but the absolute nature of her genders - here rather essentialist for sake of argument - was a bit frustrating. Lessing advocates a social meld between masculine and feminine tendencies for a perfect, harmonious society, but whether she wishes this to ...more
more fantasy than the sci-fi i was expecting. there were certainly well-handled moments that made me feel insight into & compassion for the characters, but these were inevitably countered by moments of gender essentialism or just plain wtf??-ness.
Vel Veeter
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cbr-10
This book is far from the first or last of its kind. This is a on-the-ground version of events from the previous book. Not so much as a retelling of the same story, because in fact it’s a very different story altogether, but a retelling of a perspective. Gone is the colonial voice of George Sherban (Johor) and his ilk, and instead we get the collective story-tellers of Zone Three, a put-upon area of Canopus on Earth (Shikasta) as their culture is threatened by the violent political outreaches of ...more
Katja Vartiainen
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, sci-fi
I read this book slowly, having pauses, because there is a lot of description of stagnation or waiting, of not knowing how to proceed, and it felt so very close to my own situation in life, and was thus almost painful to read. Luckily, my situation was just professional hesitations, not fulfilling a destiny determined by a super deity/force- what ever the Providers are. It's been a while from the first book, and I just remember it was awesome. This book is slow, we participate into to ...more
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The "Canopus in Argos" series for me is like a series of Prog-Rock concept albums. They are at once simple and complex, deep but enjoyable on a surface level too, yet able to annoy the literary crowd for being too fantastical and annoy the science fiction crowd for being too literary. I personally really like it both as a complex exploration of societies and toxic gender constructions but also as a literary fantasy tale.
Jerry Pogan
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it
A meandering and sometime confusing tale of a marriage arranged by a mysterious overseer between the queen of a peaceful zone and the king of a warlike zone. Well written and entertaining but defied logic at times.
Raphael Sason
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cottage
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A story of a fictional world which is thought provoking and extremely well written.
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only one of the Canopus in Argos series, that I read. - novel/experimental and moving from feminism to more of equality between the sexes.
Tyler Wanden
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make in awhile, and though I made the right choice, I still regret it. But not enough to go back and finish the book. Yes, you read that correctly. I DIDN’T FINISH THE BOOK. I gave it an honest shot. I slogged through 190 pages (out of like 245 or something). I started speed reading, skimming pages, anything to speed up the process but I couldn’t focus enough to sustain this. I just kept thinking about THE NEXT BOOK, and how literally any book ...more
Mikael Kuoppala
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
After the dry and chaotic opening, Lessing's Sci-fi series continues with a completely different installment. "Marriages" is a streamlined, clear, carefully balanced fable told with beautiful language. The storytelling is colorful and deeply emotional, as well as tightly analytical.

The novel takes place in mysterious "zones" surrounding our world. Zone Three is inhabited by a traditionally matriarchal society that is socially equal, peaceful, aesthetic, restrained and ritualistic. The people
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it
This one was hard for me. It was a book club selection for my Classic Sci-Fi book group. The champion of this book immediately had to defend it on the question, is this science fiction? It's really not, I'd say it's more of a fairy tale or morality play. That's ok, but my main complaint here was that this had the subtlety of a kick in the head.

Lessing is a very strong feminist, and this is a very genre specific second wave feminist tome. I'm ok with that, and the message has it's place in
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-fiction
Doris Lessing's books take some thought and dedication to fully understand. In my experience it is worth the effort. There was much to reflect upon in the first of this series and I grabbed this volume to see what happens next only to be treated to an amazing parable that I think about quite often. Zone Three, a matriarchy, has reached a level of peace that results in stagnation. Procreation doesn't happen any more. The spring doesn't bring fields of lambs. The fecundity of nature is lost. Peace ...more
Patrick Sullivan
Dec 26, 2008 marked it as to-read
WHEN George Orwell complained just after World War II about the decay of the English language, he insisted that its decline was not inevitable. While pessimists argued that our language - like the civilization it reflects - was doomed, Orwell insisted that ''The process is reversible.'' If language is languishing, he urged its rescue; if thought is sloppy, well, it was time to think clearly.

Now, writing out of the same country as Orwell, but out of a less pragmatic political tradition, the
Andy Todd
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Canopus in Argos Vol. II: enthralling visionary tale, compelling use of language, inspiring.
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
One of the most amazing books by an amazing writer, about what looks like a marriage between a king of a little brutish society to someone from a more civilised one (and don't try to think you know what that means, you would lose any bets on that - unless you are one in a billion or rarer) and both suffer in the process, which (the process) is intended for the purpose of civilising the various zones. She brings beauty and gentleness to his strength but is dismayed often by his and his society's ...more
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Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as ...more

Other books in the series

Canopus in Argos (5 books)
  • Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta
  • The Sirian Experiments
  • The Making of the Representative for Planet 8
  • The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire
“We Chroniclers do well to be afraid when we approach those parts of our
histories (our natures) that deal with evil, the depraved, the
benighted. Describing, we become. We even - and I've see it and have
shuddered - summon. The most innocent of poets can write of ugliness
and forces he has done no more than speculate about - and bring them
into his life. I tell you, I've seen it, watched it...”
More quotes…