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The Sirian Experiments Paperback – 23 May 1994


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The Sirian Experiments + The Marriages Between Zones 3, 4 and 5 (Canopus in Argos: Archives) + Shikasta Re: Colonised Planet 5
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New Ed edition (23 May 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006547214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006547211
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 322,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Doris Lessing, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007, is one of the most celebrated and distinguished writers of recent decades. A Companion of Honour and a Companion of Literature, she has been awarded the David Cohen Memorial Prize for British Literature, Spain's Prince of Asturias Prize, the International Catalunya Award and the S. T. Dupont Golden PEN Award for a
Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature, as well as a host of other international awards.
Doris Lessing died on 17 November 2013.

Product Description

From the Back Cover

Shortlisted for the 1981 Booker Prize, 'The Sirian Experiments' is the third volume in Doris Lessing's celebrated space fiction series, 'Canopus in Argos: Archives'. In this interlinked quintet of novels, she creates a new, extraordinary cosmos where the fate of the Earth is influenced by the rivalries and interactions of three powerful galactic empires, Canopus, Sirius and their enemy, Puttiora. Blending myth, fable and allegory, Doris Lessing's astonishing visionary creation both reflects and redefines the history of our own world from its earliest beginnings to an inevitable, tragic self-destruction.

'The Sirian Experiments' chronicles the origins of our planet, as the three galactic empires fight for control of the human race. The novel charts the gradual moral awakening of its narrator, Ambien II, a 'dry, dutiful, efficient' female Sirian administrator. Witnessing the wanton colonisation of land and people, Ambien begins to question her involvement in such insidious experimentation, her faith in the possibility of human progress itself growing weaker every day.

"The story Ambien tells is a panorama of the possibilities of civilisation and barbarism, ranging from a matriarchal version of Atlantis to the Aztec cult of human sacrifice. Doris Lessing's interests are strictly terrestrial and the figures from outer space are there to serve as tellers of an earthly tale, providing a new, sometimes startling, perspective on earthly affairs and a largeness of vision beyond the horizon of the conventional novel."
ROBERT ALTER, 'New York Times'

"One of our greatest contemporary writers…Doris Lessing had invented a new cosmology to look at the world in a new way: she is attempting to tackle nothing less than all human life on Earth."
FINANCIAL TIMES

About the Author

Doris Lessing is one of the most important writers of the twentieth century and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007. Her first novel, 'The Grass is Singing', was published in 1950. Among her other celebrated novels are 'The Golden Notebook', 'The Fifth Child' and 'Memoirs of a Survivor'. She has also published two volumes of her autobiography, 'Under my Skin' and 'Walking in the Shade'. Her most recent novel is 'Alfred and Emily'.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Craig Hall on 10 April 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is the third in the Canopus in Argos series.
The series concerns the influences on the human psyche and the way we interact with each other and react to internal and external influences. Lessing has created a universe with three interstellar empires, Canopus, Sirius and Puttoria. Canopus is advanced and spiritual - their approach to the universe is in terms of stewardship and alignment, intervening where necessary, and by any means, to maintain universal harmony. Sirius is a younger empire and view lower lifeforms (including us) as animals for experimentation - they are very practical and not particularly motivated by higher spiritual matters. Puttoria has a community within it known as Shammat - this community have learned how to feed off disharmony and are a very negative influence throughout this quintet of novels.
The 5 books are:
- Shikasta - Re: Colonised Planet 5
- The Marriages Between Zones Three Four and Five
- The Sirian Experiments Report by Ambien II of the Five
- The Making Of The Representative of Planet 8
- Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire

This third book covers the development or Rohanda or Shikasta over the same period as the first book but from the point of view of Sirius, and in particular of one of the Sirian ruling elite - Ambien II of the five. The Sirian empire considered themselves the equals of Canopus, but had no real understanding of the Canopean empire or its real purpose. When Earth came up for colonisation, Sirius was given a good portion on which to conduct their experiments, by bringing peoples in from other planets they were able to observe characteristics and behaviours in a very dispassionate manner.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Penfold on 11 Jan 2010
Format: Paperback
The Sirian Experiments is a thought-provoking and thrilling journey through a Universe, teeming with powerful symbols of human catastrophe. The reader is invited to explore the mysterious planet of Rohanda through the eyes of Ambien 2, an administrator for the Sirian Empire, who are attempting to guide the benevolent evolution of myriad alien species. Ambien is unaware she is about to embark on a terrifying journey through a violently unstable future, to witness cataclysmic, inexplicable changes in the nature of the creatures she is watching, and will be forced to confront the horror of her true nature.

The story ingeniously uses the tragic story of the collapse of paradise, and the alien societies descent into darkness, to offer a mirror image of humanity's decline. Ambien's slow path to enlightenment, and her terrible realizations about the nature of goodness, and the purpose of existence offers a powerful looking glass into the depths of the human spirit. Each beautiful passage of writing is suffused with hidden depth. Ambien discovers that as each creature develops, it begins to desire a mysterious higher purpose, and she is forced to contend with the same destructive forces within herself which she sees destroying the creatures planet in her care. The reader comes to see why each moment of happiness in the novel is doomed as the Sirians own achievement of perfection and immortality leads to a meaningless existence. Even Ambien's innate desire to do good entraps her in the corrupting influence of power, in a profound message about the danger of believing in our inherent goodness. The reader will find their perception transformed, along with Ambien, as you are taken on a gripping journey through a parallel world, which provides an unforgettable exploration of our true nature, and the search for purpose which drives us all.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By David Shewan on 22 Dec 2001
Format: Paperback
I feel a bit chary of giving any book 5 stars, but my very high opinion of this book is the reason I am writing this review. I have never met anyone else who has read one of the Canopus in Argus books, although plenty of people seem to have read Doris Lessing's African novels, and I hope that this review might make this marvellous, apparently unknown book read by at least a few more people. It is science fiction, but it is as original as CS Lewis' trilogy, Gormenghast, or 'The Man who was Thursday' and I would recommend this book to fans of these books. Told from the point of view of the representative of a ancient and long lived race, the 'Sirians', it tells of the joint stewardship of a developing earthlike planet over millions of years, with a second race: the 'Canopeans'. The book avoids moralising on the shortcomings of mankind or dwelling on geological or anthopological detail and concentrates rather on approaches to stewardship of a 'subject' world. And don't worry, this book isn't 'Africa' in space; perhaps the theme harks back to DL's other books but the narrative is amazingly original. Doris Lessing tells the story with a breathtaking sweeping approach, assuming the detail and keeping you turning the pages to keep up with the story and to find more clues about the civilisations and worlds she infers. Do read this book, and I hope you like it as much as I do.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Lindley-Thompson on 25 Sep 2009
Format: Paperback
It has been many years since I read this book (must be about 10) but I still remember its impact. It follows the career of a member of a 'superior' race overseeing the development of 'lesser' species and charts the evolution of her world view. The tale is simply told but packs a tremendous punch as the protagonist sees her work progress and the results of her actions over time. Her views are coloured by interactions with the representatives of other advanced cultures involved with her projects.

The Sirian Experiments is not an easy read, but it is short! It is an ideas book so if you are searching for action and adventure it probably is not for you. Although they are very different, I place this with Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun in terms of its thought provoking quality and impact.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 25 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Thoughtful, imaginative, thrilling 26 Jan 2000
By actaeon@gateway.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am afraid this book may turn out to have a limited audience: too literary and "unrealistic" for science-fiction fans, and too fantastic for literary types. Too bad, because this is a stupendous book, or rather, series of novels. Some may think it strange that an author with as high-brow a reputation as Doris Lessing would stoop to writing "space fiction" (her term), but she has been incorporating sci-fi elements in her fiction as far back as The Four-Gated City, and maybe farther, depending on your definitions. What is science fiction if not the use of extreme and imaginative settings to point out truths invisible in our crowded world? Science fiction encourages "thinking outside the box," a concept that Lessing has explored in a lifetime of ground-breaking work. What are we? What does it mean to be human? Is there more? Lessing hits these questions with a courageous mind and an arsenal of experience and imagination.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant analysis of our civilisation 29 May 1996
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
These 5 novels are difficult reading but well worth the effort.
Doris Lessing has taken her uncanny observation of the
treachery of mankind and translated it into a narrative
as presented by beings from Canopus. What they think
of us, how they've influenced us.

"Shikasta..." is the most harsh, and the most accurate
and my favourite of the set.
"The Marriages..." is a beautiful fairy tale.
"The Sirian Experiments..." is an alternative view of
"Shikasta" and a brilliant depiction of humankind.
"The Representative..." is a beautifully written fantasy
of a dying planet.
"The Sentimental Agents" is a scathing, excellent
commentary on the arrogance of rhetoric. Ours, of course...

While these novels appear to be science fiction, they really
are not. They are "Space Fiction" and are a
thought-provoking, sometimes beautiful, but always brilliant
view of our world and possible others...
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Experiment successful 22 Oct 2001
By Philip Challinor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Empire of Sirius, formerly the enemy of Canopus, has now for some time been its uneasy and mistrustful ally. Though highly advanced technologically, and despite being sophisticated social engineers, the Sirians are suffering some upheaval because of the many members of their population who feel that their life lacks a worthy purpose. Ambien II, a member of the Five who govern the Empire, is befriended by Klorathy, an agent of Canopus, in the course of their mutual dealings upon and around the planet Rohanda. Ambien II's education in the means and motives of Canopus, and her eventual realisation that, doubtless unique in the history of galactic diplomacy, Canopus means what it says and does what it promises, is the major subject of The Sirian Experiments. Doris Lessing has written, "I could like Ambien II better than I do;" which is a pity, for Ambien II, along with Rachel Sherban in Shikasta and the incensed innocent Incent in The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire, is one of the most appealing characters in the quintet. Her growth from efficient, obedient social scientist (who deplores the changing of our planet's name from Rohanda (Fertile) to Shikasta (Wounded) as showing "a mixture of poeticism and pedantry typical of Canopus") into willing pupil, sometime rescuer, and eventually into that amazing paradox, the clear-headed visionary, is a triumph of characterisation. Her report - careful, thorough, just and drily humorous - betters Shikasta in its fusion of the personal with the cosmic, and contains one of the most spectacular set-pieces in the whole series, as well as some of its most poignant personal encounters. The ending is quietly ironic, without the sense of definite progress which was present at the end of the previous two books - the major breakthrough here takes place inside Ambien II herself, though further, exterior victories may just possibly be on the way. This book (not to mention the quintet as a whole) is the kind of thing science fiction was meant to be all about.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Earth through an Alian's Eyes 8 Jan 2000
By Eve Clements - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This was the first Doris Lessing book I ever read. Because the protagonist is a dry technocrat, the writing is written in that style. Nevertheless, I found the book gripping. Lessing gives a fascinating and enlightening perspective of the development of human society as a whole. Of course, the awakening that takes place in the protagonist's mind as she works with the Canopeans has its own gems of wisdom buried in it. Of the five books in Canopus in Argos: Archives, this one is my favorite.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Obscure Discordian Masterpiece 31 July 2007
By Taufiq - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Many who read this book would be shocked to learn that Doris Lessing dropped out of school at the age of 14, considering the breadth of knowledge she displays. Maybe they would be less surprised to learn that this series was written shortly after she began studying Sufism. This series not only presents a clever way of providing some persective on human affairs, it also give to us a mythology of prehistory as valid as any other I've come across. The Canopean view of Shammat as not necessarily "evil" and the idea of "forced evolution" were especially valuable to me.
Some parts may be difficult but I found it all highly stimulating and obviously it is very well written. If you're unfamiliar with Chinese culture or have no background knowledge, a book on Chinese history may seem terribly boring to you. Similarly, these books may bore you if you haven't any interest in pre-history or spiritual dimensions. This is a work of science fiction and those who appreciate the genre should enjoy it, however, it is one of those pieces with a broader appeal, perhaps comparable to some of Vonnegut's work.
Robert Anton Wilson's introduction to his illustrated screenplay, Reality is What You Can Get Away With, is an homage to this book and confirmed a feeling I had that this should be added to the Discordian Canon. I know very few who have read this marvel and none who were disappointed. I keep my volumes in a place of honor.
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