Lessing's More... With or Without the Nobel Prize

i-5c5f6124ff0ec6b0bcc481377006fc92-c1e8228348a0dcbf8207f010._AA240_.L.jpg'Go read Doris Lessing,' said my favorite Classics professor at Tufts. You see, we both love Vonnegut, Heinlein and all sorts of science fiction, so I visited his office one day asking why there weren't more women writers of the genre catching my fancy.

I took his advice and wandered into the used bookstore in Harvard Square. There among the maze of shelves downstairs, I came upon an old copy of Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos: Archives The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five. The book deals with struggles between men and women and dimensions of love and sex. Here's the synopsis straight out of wikipedia:

The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1981) is one of a set of unconventional science fiction novels written by Nobel Prize-winner Doris Lessing. They are linked by the name Canopus in Argos, but each is a story in its own right and separate from the others. It is very different from the standard "space opera" approach.

Shikasta, the first book in the series, gives an imagined history of the Earth in which superior aliens from Canopus and Sirius play a role. This story concerns the interactions between "zones" connected to Earth but not quite part of it. The main differences between the "zones" are attitudes to sex, power and the rights of women (the advanced and enlightened zone three, the patriarchal and militaristic zone four, and the chaotic barbarian zone five). Some superior power forces the different peoples to interact and learn from each other (decreeing that a woman from zone three marry a man from zone four).

Hmmmm... sex, power, and the rights of women in a science fiction novel? You can bet I was intrigued. So I read Canopus In Argos and while I can't say I was captivated, I did find her style unique and the subject matter quite interesting.

And get this... Yesterday, Doris Lessing found out she won the Nobel Prize for literature. Her reaction, 'Oh Christ! ... I couldn't care less.' Later she explained, 'I can't say I'm overwhelmed with surprise. I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off.' Was she excited about fame and glory? The cash prize? No. 'I'm very pleased if I get some new readers. Yes, that's very nice, I hadn't thought of that.'

I interpret her unusual response to mean that Lessing finds reward in the actual process of composition and ability to share her stories and sentiments with readers. And I understand because sorting out and exchanging ideas here with all of you is by far the most satisfying aspect of blogging. So now that I've read her reaction to winning, I can honestly say...

Congratulations Doris Lessing, but Nobel Prize aside, I want to be like you when I grow up!


More like this

all sorts of science fiction

what are you fav. authors?

re: ladies, i like sheri s. tepper, nancy kress and c.j. cherryh. octavia butler and joan vinge too.

I vote for Madeleine L'Engle, who managed both fantasy/science fiction and regular human relationships in her books - and even managed to bring in some excellent marine life ;)

well, if you include fantasy the samples pace gets quite a bit larger ;-) in any case, i like l'engle, but her stuff is a bit too gene wolfeish for me if you know what i mean. i like start hard sf or epic fantasy more than hybrids and mixes & matches.

"Lessing finds reward in the actual process of composition and ability to share her stories and sentiments with readers"... That is usually how I find your writings too.
Congratulations to Ms. Lessing.

I've just ordered the book based on your recommendation. Thanks! Since you're interested in the classics you might be intrigued by Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos. Science fiction and Greek mythology, how could you go wrong? Please pass along any other recommendations you have.

I nearly forgot to mention that another great female sci-fi writer (who isn't usually thought of as one) is Margaret Atwood. Her recent book Oryx and Crake is a brilliant exploration about the future of biotechnology set in a dystopian world. And, of course, her classic The Handmaid's Tale ranks up there with 1984 and Brave New World.

Interestingly, I had the entire Argos series for a long time. I never got to reading it, yet the books disappeared in one of the annual library-sprucing events. Perhaps I should get them again and read them this time around.