The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 Analysis

Doris Lessing

The Making of the Representative for Planet 8

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 is the fourth book in a series collectively entitled Canopus in Argos: Archives. It was preceded by Re: Colonized Planet 5, Shikasta (1979); The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five: As Narrated by the Chronicles of Zone Three (1980); and The Sirian Experiments: The Report by Ambien II of the Five (1980). A note in the front matter classifies these books as a “novel-sequence” (a generic term many will find new), but to call all of these works “novels” makes the word useless as a literary term; they are not all the same kind of work, nor, despite their common series title, do they all tell the same story.

Re: Colonized Planet 5, Shikasta, the first book of the series, is marginally science fiction, differing from the pulp variety chiefly in that it offers less characterization and science, and more preaching and high seriousness. Had H. G. Wells had to label it, he would arguably have called it a scientific romance. It is certainly not a novel, if one means by “novel” what Sir Walter Scott meant—a long prose work set in the present and telling of ordinary people and events.

The second, The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five, is neither novel nor scientific romance. One is tempted to call it a parable or fable, except that parables seldom run to 245 pages. The first book of the series was set on Earth: Earth’s history and geography are there pictured, although the evolutionary history of the fictional planet departs considerably from that of the familiar world. “Shikasta” is the name that the Canopans give to Earth. Although the setting of The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five is also called Shikasta, its setting is nothing like that of the first book. There is no more connection between the Shikastas of the first two books than, for example, between New York City and the Emerald City of Oz.

The third work, The Sirian Experiments, is a fantasy continuing the story of Re: Colonized Planet 5, Shikasta. Both take place on Earth; in both, the pliable humans are being gently urged toward goodness by the benevolent Canopans; being dispassionately studied by the uninvolved Sirians; or being secretly corrupted by the despicable Puttiorans. Again, one may describe the book as a scientific romance.

The most recent work in the series, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, is still another kind altogether, a member of a species rare in the twentieth century—the allegory. Like such works as John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684), The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 supplies only the sketchiest of characterization (perhaps intentionally: the people of Planet 8—let them be called “Planetarians”—have so little imagination that they call their world “Planet 8,” and they have so little personality that instead of personal names, they have labels that derive from their jobs; indeed, if two switch jobs, they swap names as well). As in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596), at least some of the characters have names that stand for or suggest some noteworthy function of the character: Masson (drop an S) is the aptly named Chief Representative for Buildings and Sheltering, while the chief of the teachers is Pedug—for pedagogue, no doubt. Not all the names are so obvious, but enough so that they seem more like titles than personal names, sending up unmistakable signals of allegory.

One genre into which the work certainly does not fit is science fiction, which, at the minimum, requires what Wells described as “an ingenious use of scientific patter.” That is, the science in the work need not be possible, only sound possible. The science in The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, by contrast, is simply unbelievable.

The Canopans planned the world as a paradise; like the Earth before the fall in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667, 1674), Planet 8 has no tilt to its rotation, its axis is perfectly perpendicular to the plane...

(The entire section is 1705 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

Library Journal. CVII, February 1, 1982, p. 273.

Nation. CCXXXIV, March 6, 1982, p. 278.

National Review. XXXIV, February 5, 1982, p. 116.

New Statesman. CIII, March 26, 1982, p. 21.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, February 7, 1982, p. 1.

Observer. March 28, 1982, p. 31.

Times Literary Supplement. April 2, 1982, p. 370.