on 22 December 2001
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.
on 10 April 2010
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. The story is about the spiritual awakening and development of Ambien II over the millenium of human history. As Ambien becomes aware of Canopus, she begins to see clearly and questions the way Sirius behaves towards its colonies. The story is based on Earth throughout the ages and covers topics from Atlantis to Human Sacrifice of the Aztecs. This is an amazing book with many dimensions and insights that I would recommend.
One small point, I tried to read this book before I read Shikasta and found it diffucult to follow as I had no context to place it (I might just be thick!). I decided to stop, read Shikasta and come back to this afterwards. This gave me the background I needed and the book made much more sense.
on 25 September 2009
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.
on 11 January 2010
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.