Doris Lessing had established an illustrious career as a realistic novelist before she wrote Canopus in Argos. This series comes rather late in her career and represents a substantial shift in her writing. Reviewers responded negatively to this shift. Lessing has written many novels since Canopus in Argos, but none of them are science fiction. Canopus in Argos has been seen as an aberration in her work. Like Margaret Atwood and P. D. James, other well-known female writers who have written science fiction, Lessing appears to have thought that only science fiction could convey her radical criticism of contemporary society.
Lessing’s science fiction can be seen as part of a trend by female writers who use science fiction to propose alternatives to current gender roles. Canopus in Argos also has been identified as part of the British tradition of science fiction, especially the work of Olaf Stapledon. Stapledon is most famous for Last and First Men (1930), a work that deals with the evolution of a number of human races over the course of two billion years. Like Stapledon, Lessing looks at an immense time frame, a common “race mind,” and the evolution of humanity. Like Stapledon’s work, Lessing’s series is science fiction that focuses on ideas rather than characters or an action-adventure plot.
Lessing prefers the term “space fiction” to that of science fiction. “Space” is used to...
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