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Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta (often shortened to Shikasta) is a 1979 science fiction novel by British Nobel Prize in Literature-winner Doris Lessing, and is the first book in her five-book Canopus in Argos series. It was first published in the United States in October 1979 by Alfred A. Knopf, and in the United Kingdom in November 1979 by Jonathan Cape. Shikasta is also the name of the fictional planet featured in the novel.

Subtitled “Personal, psychological, historical documents relating to visit by Johor (George Sherban) Emissary (Grade 9) 87th of the Period of the Last Days”, Shikasta is the history of the planet Shikasta (Earth) under the influence of three galactic empires, Canopus, Sirius, and their mutual enemy, Puttiora. The book is presented in the form of a series of reports by Canopean emissaries to Shikasta who document the planet’s prehistory, its degeneration leading to the “Century of Destruction” (the 20th century), and the Apocalypse (World War III).

Shikasta draws on the Old Testament and is influenced by spiritual and mystical themes in Sufism, an Islamic belief system which Lessing had taken an interest in in the mid-1960s. The book represented a major shift of focus in Lessing’s writing, from realism to science fiction, and this disappointed many of her readers. It received mixed reviews from critics. Some were impressed by the scope and vision of the book, with one reviewer calling it “an audacious and disturbing work from one of the world’s great living writers”. Others were critical of the novel’s bleakness, that humanity has no free will and that their fate lies in the hands of galactic empires.

The story of Shikasta is retold in the third book of the Canopus series, The Sirian Experiments (1980), this time from the point of view of Sirius. Shikasta reappears in the fourth book in the series, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982), and the Zones, briefly mentioned in Shikasta, are the subject of the second book in the series, The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1980).

Canopus, a benevolent galactic empire centred at Canopus in the constellation Argo Navis, colonise a young and promising planet they name Rohanda (the fruitful). They nurture its bourgeoning humanoids and accelerate their evolution. When the Natives are ready, Canopus impose a “Lock” on Rohanda that links it via “astral currents” to the harmony and strength of the Canopean Empire. In addition to Canopus, two other empires also establish a presence on the planet: their ally, Sirius from the star of the same name, and their mutual enemy, Puttiora. The Sirians confine their activities largely to genetic experiments on the southern continents during Rohanda’s prehistory (described in Lessing’s third book in the Canopus series, The Sirian Experiments), while the Shammat of Puttiora remain dormant, waiting for opportunities to strike.

For many millennia the Natives of Rohanda prosper in a Canopean induced climate of peaceful coexistence and accelerated development. Then an unforeseen “cosmic re-alignment” puts Rohanda out of phase with Canopus which causes the Lock to break. Deprived of Canopus’s resources and a steady stream of a substance called SOWF (substance-of-we-feeling), the Natives develop a “Degenerative Disease” that puts the goals of the individual ahead of those of the community. The Shammat exploit this disturbance and begin undermining Canopus’s influence by infecting the Natives with their evil ways. As Rohanda degenerates into greed and conflict, the Canopeans reluctantly change its name to Shikasta (the stricken). Later in the book, Shikasta is identified as Earth, or an allegorical Earth.

In an attempt to salvage Canopus’s plans for Shikasta and correct the Natives’ decline, Canopean emissaries are sent to the planet. Johor is one such emissary, who takes on the form of a Native and begins identifying those individuals who have not degenerated too far and are amenable to his corrective instructions. Johor then sends those he has successfully “converted” to spread the word among other Natives, and soon isolated communities begin to return to the pre-Shikastan days. But without the SOWF and Shammat’s influence over the Natives, Canopus is fighting a losing battle and the planet declines further. By the Shikastan’s 20th century, the planet has degenerated into war and self-destruction. Johor returns, but this time through Zone 6 from which he is born on the planet (incarnated) as a Shikastan, George Sherban. As Sherban grows up he establishes contact with other Canopeans in disguise and then resumes his work trying to help the Shikastans. But famine and unemployment grow, and anarchy spreads.

On the eve of World War III Sherban and other emissaries relocate a small number of promising Shikastans to remote locations to escape the coming nuclear holocaust. The war reduces Shikasta’s population by 99% and sweeps the planet clean of the “barbarians”. The Shammat, who set the Shikastans on a course of self-destruction, self-destruct themselves and withdraw from the planet. The Canopeans help the survivors rebuild their lives and re-align themselves with Canopus. With a strengthened Lock and the SOWF flowing freely again, harmony and prosperity returns to Shikasta.

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januar 3rd, 2011 at 8:00 am

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