Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Shikasta: Re, Colonised Planet 5 (Vintage International)
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on October 21, 2001
Shikasta is the first, the largest (in bulk and in scope) and the most epic of the quintet collectively titled Canopus in Argos: Archives. It's a stunning work, one of the very few science-fiction novels to show any awareness of the cosmic perspective of Olaf Stapledon (Last and First Men, Star Maker), let alone adapt it into another, wholly independent vision. Shikasta is the name Canopus use for Earth; the word means broken, wounded, suffering. The book falls into two parts. The first is a science-fiction revision of the Old Testament, an astounding overview of the Canopean Empire's colonising efforts over vast forgotten tracts of time which have come down to us as fossilised, distorted myths. It makes for a breathtaking two hundred pages, rivalled for sheer dizzying cosmicism only by Stapledon, the best of Lovecraft and some of Stanislaw Lem. The second part of the book is the story of the Sherban family during the last days of Western civilisation; and particularly the story of George Sherban, an agent of Canopus who (as many times before) has taken on human shape in order to guide the evolution of the human race. Sherban's efforts, observed through the bewildered but movingly sympathetic eyes of his sister Rachel, and later by a thoughtful and humane Chinese colonial administrator, culminate in a vast show trial of the white races (the natives of what the Canopeans, with a fine sense of perspective, call "the Northwest fringes") for thousands of years of horrific oppression. Despite the glorious writing, admirable originality and a total refusal to settle for easy answers, I'm not altogether sure this second part quite comes off - after the merciless dissection of human frailties in Part One, it just doesn't seem credible for Sherban's scheme to work. And the ending comes perilously close to suggesting that if we could only kill off nine-tenths of the population and live in geometrically perfect cities, all our problems would be over. That said, however, Shikasta remains a great and compelling work, always fascinating and often deeply moving - an amazing synthesis of the cosmic perspective with the political and the personal. Small wonder that it took Lessing four more books to work out the implications as fully as she wished.
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on October 25, 1999
I've read this book so many times over the years that by now I'm quite astonished to find it never loses its impact. It seems very much alive and growing to the challenge of a better understanding on my part. You may not like the perspective. However, accurate observation and a profound knowledge of human behavior and aim will disregard the wrapping they are delivered in. To call this a "Science Fiction" book is misleading. It is easier to read a newspaper at a certain distance from your face - and so it is perhaps easier to accept and digest the most uncomfortable facts about human society (and yourself) if the author goes about her business describing those from an outer-space-view. It's too close for comfort - and a most exciting and rewarding read.
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Lessing's criticism of the twentieth century is pointed, somtimes funny, and ultimately hopeful. The other four books in her 'Canopus' series are much stronger, though.

Shikasta - the outsider's name for Earth - is presented in a series of vingettes, case studies, and partial exchanges of letters. Perhaps the intent was to create a mosaic from those many pieces. I just found it fragmentary; somehow, it never formed a whole, coherent image for me. Also, this book is longer than the others in the set. In those, Lessing makes her points concisely; this book's increased length just gave more of the poor organization.

I recently re-read the other four books (not the proper order of the set of five), and came away more impressed than ever. Singly and as a set, they are wonderful. I'm glad I read this one last. If I had read this before the others I might not have bothered with them - that would have been a true loss on my part.

I recommend the Canopus series most highly. The other books are among the finest literature I know. It is unfortunate that Shikasta does not rise to their standards, and it would be sad if a new reader judged the series by it's first member.

//wiredweird
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on October 25, 1999
I've read this book so many times over the years that by now I'm quite astonished to find it never loses its impact. It seems very much alive and growing to the challenge of a better understanding on my part. You may not like the perspective. However, accurate observation and a profound knowledge of human behavior and aim will disregard the wrapping they are delivered in. To call this a "Science Fiction" book is misleading. It is easier to read a newspaper at a certain distance from your face - and so it is perhaps easier to accept and digest the most uncomfortable facts about human society (and yourself) if the author goes about her business describing those from an outer-space-view. It's too close for comfort - and a most exciting and rewarding read.
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on June 8, 2001
I don't read a whole lot of novels, and truth be told I've never been able to read anything else of Lessing's. Yet this book remains indelible and forever in my heart. Lessing herself said that this work felt born through her as much as from her, and considering the discrimination and intellect of the woman, I take that as a powerful statement.
And truly visionary this work is- it's able to zoom into the heart and process of darkness in our contemporary world without comprimise, then give the reader a view from above without sentiment or easy platitudes, with compassion and true insight.
This is a true work of spirituality- that is bringing the heart and the intellect together, without resorting to easy answers. May each one of us aspire to the dedication and tireless compassion as does Johor in order to benefit beings.
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on June 21, 2011
The Canopus in Argos series by Doris Lessing are often cataloged under "sci fi" or "fantasy." They are a little of both, I guess, but Lessing's is the conceit of a major novelist. These five books transcend any easy cataloging. In the Canopus series, she writes from third person accounts of observers of earth's whole history, observers who have an interest in influencing earth-life to attain a healthy balance with earth's environment at the same time that earth's creatures struggle to evolve toward a consciousness that has a very long view of what is important and necessary rather than the short view that is so very common among humans. That sounds pretty hippy-dippy, which the books are not. Trust me, like any first-rate author, Lessing has a wide view, a big vision that is both light and dark, and she writes excellently.

Lessing's themes here are only more vital today at the start of the second decade of the 21st century, about 40 years after the books were written.

I found this fifth book in the series, _Planet No. 5_, the most amusing of the five. All of Lessing's strengths are displayed here ... she has such a strong voice!

Each of the five books in the series stands as a complete novel, as this one does, but to grasp fully all the nuance that exists in each of the books, I think it would help to know her full, large vision of this huge novel, broken into five books. And, since this is the fifth of five ...

My recommendation: Read _Shikasta_ first. I suspect you might then, as I did, immediately go on to _The Marriages Between Zones 3, 4 and 5_, and then on to the last three volumes. But, I know, it's a large commitment of time. I found it time well spent, in the hands of one of the best authors of the 20th century.
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on December 12, 2000
Shikasta is one of those rare creations that defies classification, a gripping novel which through the medium of fantasy reveals deep truth. For its rich humanity, its scope and its uncanny perceptions of the human condition, this work is sure to last forever.
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on February 27, 2009
Even though technically this is sci-fi, parts of it come across more as mythology, and a lot of it - though couched in fiction - is disturbingly TRUE. This isn't so much a "novel" as a collection of documents pertaining to the science project being undertaken on the planet Shikasta (Earth) by a race of advanced aliens from Canopus. The Canopians are very spiritual, and they are the figures generally interpreted in human myth as gods and angels. Messiahs and prophets throughout history have tended to be agents of Canopus in disguise. At the start of the experiment, the planet is called Rohanda and everything is going fine, but then disaster strikes. The stars go out of alignment and it becomes impossible for any but a tiny amount of spiritual energy known as "SOWF" (Spirit Of We-Feeling) to be sent from Canopus for the sustainment of balance and sanity on Rohanda. An evil planet called Shammat exploits the catasrophe in order to plunder Shikasta, turning it into a violent chaos that will generate the negative energy which Shammat needs to sustain itself. The Rohandan natives start to degenerate and everything goes wrong. The planet is renamed Shikasta, and the middle part of the book chronicles its deterioration, as the natives manifest types of behavior that religion labels "sin." This section amounts to a relentless critique, no, a sorrowful CONDEMNATION of human society from the perspective of a being who is outside the human condition and observing it in near-disbelief. What we take for granted, Johor finds intolerable, unbelievable. Human sins are so succinctly and perfectly described, there is such power in these passages, I felt as if my eyes had been opened. I was alternately excited, dismayed, and terrified with each page. It almost knocked the breath out of me, as along with the sense of shame came the realization that Johor is right; our behavior really _doesn't_ make sense. We don't have to sit idly and accept evil by calling it "human nature." The one resounding note of hope in the book is that evil is NOT our nature. We have been perverted by Shammat, but we can choose to resist. The problem is that most of us don't. It is easier to give in to the influences around us and let ourselves slip into the mess...
The second half of the book consists of journals and notes by natives of Shikasta, and develops into more of a conventional narrative. This part seems weaker than the first half, but it does mitigate the intensity of the reader's own guilt and provides an upbeat conclusion to the whole experience. I really want to read the rest of this series, but most of it seems to be currently unavailable...
I would call this a "must-read" for anybody interested in spirituality, morality, Gnosticism, or who wants to gain a wider, clearer perspective on the human condition than that offered by established religions. This book will make you think. This book will make you tremble.
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on February 13, 1999
This is a luminously compassionate and brilliant novel that on some intuitive level (the novel is multileveled) rings "true."
It endeavors to explain the phenomenon of "evil," and, from where I stand, it is more "inclusive" in its vision than most anything else I've been exposed to in this life.
At times, Lessing's images sing. At times they stumble and bog down, becoming overly concrete. But Lessing does not need to be forgiven as an author. One needs sunglasses and sunscreen just to read her. She's a modern day Cassandra holding a lightning rod for us: The ensuing flash illuminates the landscape all around us even as we inexorably move from one Age to the next.
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on August 23, 2015
How little we know or can imagine what may happen to this planet, or any other, as it has been happening for ages! And the reason for all this: providing experiences developing our consciousness, us the uppermost layer of the planet, or perhaps of this particular solar system.

Remember that Lady Doris was a student and friend of the eminent sage Idries Shah. Thus the extraordinary quality of this whole series Canopus in Argos: Archives of which this volume is a part. Read the whole corpus, I suggest. You will get a wider perspective of what kind of ants, nay bacteria, we are compared to the whole Cosmos. And again, the Purpose of all this: both kind of similar to some parts of some religions and also going so much beyond the popular simplifications, beyond what the author calls Degenerative Disease.

And still it is an easy read, not the dryness of the Western philosophy. Of course if you are capable of transcending the mass media or social media daily nonsense. For people who aspire to thinking as opposed to mechanicality which we mistake for thinking. Be prepared to allow that it is less fictional than you may think.
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