(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The complete title of Doris Lessing’s first “space novel” is Canopus in Argos: Archives: Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta: Personal Psychological, Historical Documents Related to Visit by Johor (George Sherban), Emissary (Grade 9) 87th of the Period of the Last Days. This title accurately describes the novel as a collection of documents compiled as a general picture of Shikasta for first-year students of Canopean colonial rule. The reader is placed in the position of godlike beings who possess a cosmic perspective on Earth (Shikasta), who see the planet as one of thousands in a complex universe, its history as a day in the cosmic year.

To the Canopeans, the universe is living in every part and is composed of forms of substance of which mankind has discovered only a few. The Canopeans have achieved an understanding that the living stars are even higher forms of being. The stars seek to produce a universal harmony of activity of which the consciousness of beings such as the Canopeans and Shikastans ought to form a part. Having discovered how to act harmoniously with “the Purpose,” Canopeans help self-conscious beings on many planets to rise to this level of consciousness. Their goal is the evolution of spiritual consciousness.

Some hints of the direction of this consciousness are revealed in the zones or alternate dimensions of being, which mysteriously coincide with or surround the planet. In Zone Six, “souls” of people who have died on Earth wait to be reincarnated. If they have failed during their most recent life on Shikasta to conform their lives with the Purpose, thereby changing the substance of their beings, they must return to try again or wait forever in Zone Six. By implication, those who do succeed may traverse Zone Six to enter “higher” zones until, eventually, they succeed in reaching the dimension of the Canopeans beyond Shikasta’s zones.


(The entire section is 789 words.)