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Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta

(Canopus in Argos #1)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  2,029 ratings  ·  229 reviews
This is the first volume in the series of novels Doris Lessing calls collectively Canopus in Argos: Archives. Presented as a compilation of documents, reports, letters, speeches and journal entries, this purports to be a general study of the planet Shikasta, clearly the planet Earth, to be used by history students of the higher planet Canopus and to be stored in the ...more
Hardcover, 365 pages
Published 1979 by Jonathan Cape
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Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Hollow Men

Eliot’s is indeed such an apt envoi for the Shikastan world, if you know the plot of this novel...

Doris Lessing seems to have been BORN to write sci-fi - though most of her critics were relatively aghast at such presumptuous temerity on her part, back in the 1970’s.

And whenever I consider the brilliance of this marvellous Nobel laureate - in the panoptic Vision of her superb novels like this one - it almost seems
My favorite quotes from this book both come from the introduction:
"Shikasta has as its starting point, like many others of the genre, the Old Testament. It is our habit to dismiss the Old Testament altogether because Jehovah, or Jahve, does not think or behave like a social worker."

"I do think that there is something very wrong with an attitude that puts a 'serious' novel on one shelf and, let's say, First and Last Men on another."
And, indeed, the overall effect is rather as though Olaf
Jun 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book is so terrible that I added a new shelf: "refused-to-finish". It has managed to supplant Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson as the worst book I've had the misfortune to encounter (and this includes Breaking Dawn!).

The main problem with this book is that the writing is bad. Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in literature for this series, so I had high hopes that at a minimum the prose would be good. It's not. Not even a little bit. There have been precisely two moments in the 156 pages I
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anarcho-feminist sci-fi lovers
First read January 2005

This book does three ambitious things.

1. It takes the Old Testament of the Bible as inspiration for its mythical geo-historical content, but instead of an angry bearded guy in charge, it has a super-advanced utopian-collectivist space-travelling civilization colonising Earth and then struggling to maintain a shadow of hope and stability through thousands of literally star-crossed years when the unfortunate planet is fed on and influenced by another, evil space-travelling
May 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people with a tolerance for preachiness and slow plots.
Shelves: science-fiction
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,
They say North America is full of troubles but I said I didn’t want to listen any longer.
I have always admired Doris Lessing’s vision as a novelist and a humanist; The Golden Notebook was (as was The Diaries of Jane Somers, about which I wrote at length, and very personally, here) such an important book to me, and continues to be to this day, and I think its focus on our deep psychological and interpersonal rifts is still highly visionary, ominously prescient.

With that said, and perhaps
Kevin J Mackey
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book shortly after it was first published. I've since finished re-reading it in its eBook form.

It was hard. But then, Lessing's "Briefing for a Descent into Hell" was hard, and worth the trouble.

Shikasta was then, and remains, a book of huge scope. It runs across all of human history, adding in pre-history and moving forward beyond today and into the future.

As I read it I fancied I discovered echoes of "The Four-Gated City", the final book in Lessing's Children of Violence series. I
Richard Derus
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this edition in 1979. Bought the hardcover, even! Went on to buy the rest in hardcover, and devour them, enjoying the bravura performances that they were...but they're not good SF. The genre's conventions are simply disregarded, if (and this is by no means certain) Lessing was even aware of them.

My rating is for my memory of the melancholic mournful musicality of the prose. I'm not going to claim that, forty years on, I retain a grasp the subtleties of the story told, and I don't have the
Nathan Titus
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is absolutely the most janky book I have ever read.

from the 1st Dictionary of Nate:
janky--JANE-key (adjective); 1: thrown together at random; patchwork. 2: containing multiple elements, many of which contradict each other, and some that are mutually exclusive 3:top-heavy; lurching randomly in every direction at once 4:aspirations beyond achievement, and/or aspirations that are impossible to achieve 5:distinctive in being completely psychotic 6:something designed over the course of eons by a
Nov 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: mystics, conspiracy types, grouches
Recommended to Joe by: Nilary B
This is a very depressing book, an alternate take on human history, but I like being miserable so I dug it. It is very well-written and I don't feel it is slow-moving at all. Ms. Lessing does a great job of making such a ( seemingly ) far-fetched story believable.
One thing--Am I the only person who noticed the similarity to "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" by G.I. Gurdjieff? The plot and even some of the writing style are so much alike. Since Ms. Lessing was a student of Sufism and Idries
Feb 14, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, sf-mistressworks
I really wanted to like this but it was just too dull. I really wanted to finish this but life is too short. I got nearly two hundred pages in and just found myself dreading reading time because I knew I would have to pick this up.

There's no plot for the reader to follow. There are no characters for the reader to engage with. There is no point to this narrative other than to show how stupid and corrupt humanity is. Yeah, well, I already know that and this is not what I call entertainment.

This is
A. Dawes
Aug 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
I enjoy Doris Lessing and I enjoy speculative fiction. Somehow though, the combination had a tragic outcome. An attempt to be clever that fails in an impenetrable epistolary mess. If you want great epistolary spec-fic, try The Prestige by Christopher Priest instead. If you want great Lessing, read anything by her that's realist. Ignore this novel. Erase it - if you can - from you memory because Lessing was actually a super talented writer.
This work is kin to Oryx and Crake, and to a lesser extent Babel-17: conservative where it needs to be progressive, progressive where it needs to be informed, and all in all amounting to little more than a done to death rehashing of various mainstream assumptions sprinkled with a few intriguing hints at veritable open fields. The insensate jabbering on and on about the evils of history with nary a holistic breakdown into tiers of intra community issues and intersectional community action outside ...more
Ted Child
Mar 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
I don’t recommend this book. Actually I don’t think it should have ever seen print. Don’t get me wrong, I like slow, deep books with profound spiritual and political messages, especially if their science fiction. I don’t recommend this book for one reason: it is inexcusable boring. Let me explain. I liked the three page introduction, where Lessing makes some important comments about science fiction. The first half of the novel, a retelling of the Old Testament with SF elements, is kind of ...more
Rating 1 of 5 stars.

I had to abandon this book!

I read about half of it and skimmed the other half, reading some pages here and there. It just didn't work for me. I was bored almost all of the time. The writing style is way too wordy to me, the sentences too long where they don't necessarily have to be.

I neither found a coherent story, nor any characters to care for, and parts of it is too much of a lecture to me. This, combined with the biblical/mystical/esoteric undertones was enough to finally
May 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
I think I'm just reading the wrong Doris because I know people love her but this was the boringest thing ever. Just a dull froth of myth + sci fi. IT'S EARTH THE PLANET IS EARTH OMG. Hated it. Forget why I started it. Not finishing it.
Glenn Davisson
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book over 20 years ago. I reread it a couple of times in the following 10 years. I am not a person who rereads books; especially not novels. My reading comprehension is and always has been extremely high. So I generally get it when I first read it. The fact that I read this book multiple times is an indication of the importance that this work holds in the constellations of some people’s universes.

I made the mistake of reading some of the negative reviews. I am astonished at
Erik Graff
May 13, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sf
Doris Lessing was first recommended to me by Karen Spilke, my next-door neighbor in the senior year at Union Theological Seminary, who read part of her Golden Notebook aloud while I was driving her car up to visit her parent's summer house near Leeds, New York. I had certainly heard of Lessing before and this reading put it back in my head to get down to reading her fiction.

Then, Shikasta came out, a science fiction novel by the intended. Great! I bought it in hardcover and two of the subsequent
Jan Rice
I am including this book in my "favorites" because of the unusual impact it had on me for about 25 years. I have the 1981 paperback image that's shown. I read most of the book sometime soon after that. It's a rather old book, but, still, I'll use the spoiler alert since what I'm going to say reveals something not that far from the end.

(view spoiler)
David C. Mueller
Aug 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf-misc-authors
This novel is the first of Lessing's classic "Canopus in Argos: Archives" series. It differs from much modern science fiction in that is defies classification. In part science fiction, in part psychological-religious exploration, in part modern doomsday tale, in part pseudo-historical documentation, the story follows the earthly life of Geoge Sherban, human incarnation of the Canopan being Johor. George/ Johor visits a near future Earth where human society is on the brink of total breakdown. ...more
This was the latest in my Nobel Laureate readings, and I started this one I think back in May. It took me this long to finish it, and if it weren't for the fact that it was part of my challenge this year... I may not have forced myself through it.

I chose this because I thought it was interesting that a Nobel Laureate had written a sci-fi novel, but I've been really careful to NOT read reviews before I read one of these books, since I'm trying to stay open minded. But... I really wish I had
Paul Kieniewicz
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: great-novels
I know that a book is exceptional if I’ve read it more than once. More than twice, and it has to be extraordinary. Doris Lessing’s Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta (the first in a series known as Canopus in Argos) is one of those. Known for her extensive corpus of mainstream, left-leaning fiction, Shikasta represents her first foray into science fiction., and into mysticism. Her die-hard fans hated her new direction and hoped it wouldn’t last. She’d already tried their patience with Briefing for ...more
Oct 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shikasta is the first of five volumes in Lessing's Canopus in Argos cycle. Lessing herself calls these books space fiction and explains that this genre (i.e. a type of science fiction) in her eyes is unjustifiably maligned and provides the opportunity to think beyond boundaries.

Essentially, the five books together represent nothing less than a holistic view of Earth and mankind. The planet Shikasta is clearly recognizable as Earth. Canopus is the home planet of a superior, almost transcendental
Benjamin Ettinger
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is not an easy book to review. I'm not even sure of my own opinion. If I rate the book highly, it's not for the usual reasons one might cite - that it was a particularly emotional read, or one that I found tremendously gripping or thrilling (a "page-turner"). Quite the opposite. The book, both while you're reading it and in retrospect, comes across as rather deliberately dispassionate - the intellectual calisthenics of a highly political literary mind finally let free to experiment with a ...more
Mikael Kuoppala
The first volume in Doris Lessing’s praised sci-fi quintet is a truly curious piece of literature. I almost hesitate to call “Shikasta” a novel, due to its erratic structure. Lessing’s style here brings to mind Virginia Woolf, early Jack Vance and most of all William S. Burroughs. It’s much like “The Naked Lunch,” even though its sci-fi setting creates a bit more congruence between the individual stories, manifesto’s, apologies and philosophical as well as mythological deconstructions the whole ...more
Corie Ralston
Jan 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
I've read some critics's reviews of Shikasta which suggest that the book is different from most science fiction in that it has well developed characters and a deeply meaningful plot. (!) Of course, the critics still hated the fact that Doris Lessing "demeaned" herself by writing science fiction at all, so I guess no one can win. I really wanted to love this book because it is so highly regarded and a friend of mine loved it, but those were in fact the only reasons I finished it. The first ...more
Artnoose McMoose
Nov 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Artnoose by: Ian Mayes
This is the third Doris Lessing book that I've read, and I feel now like I kind of have a handle on what her work is generally like. She has recurring themes and settings. I started reading this on a trip, and it was probably only because I was on a trip that I powered through it. That is to say, I didn't have anything else to read. When I got back, I put it down and didn't touch it for a month, when I finished it while on another trip.

That's not to say that this is a terrible book. It's just
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Jul 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
Wow. I am happily surprised how much I liked this book. My 1st try at D. Lessing was THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK, and I could not get myself into it, gave it up pretty quickly. When I was researching her work, I was curious to hear she had written a series of sci fi titles.

The "sci" in this sci fi is on the light side. As is the case in much of the finest science fiction, distancing us from the known world can help an author frame a story the better to make points about that same world. The basic point
Oct 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this; science fiction rather in the direction of Stanislaw Lem. Lots of diplomacy and secret agents involved as well, hardly any sci-fi-typical technology. A little dated now in some aspects, perhaps. but the general concern about humanity is hardly ever out of time.

Somehow the book also presents a kind of theodicee, in that the reason of Man's depravity is due to 'cosmic forces', beyond the control even of the 'supervisors'. The foreseeable resolve of the story into a kind of Happy
Jessica Andersen
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dystopian, sci-fi
I went back and forth over whether I liked this book. It was slow to get going, and once it got going was not necessarily heavy on plot as much as heavy on social commentary. It tells the story of Earth, from a science fiction worthy beginning (the planet being stewarded by a benevolent alien race), through the horrors of war in the 20th Century.

The book was written in 1979, so much of the last part of the book is speculation, and reasonable speculation based on what was happening in the world
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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

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Canopus in Argos (5 books)
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  • The Sirian Experiments
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