Book Review

The Sirian Experiments by Doris Lessing

book three in doris lessing's space opera quintet

(1981)

tw: body image, self-harm

It’s a week later, in which I have been for a second bike ride, hopefully easing myself back into exercising habits so that, one day, eventually, I can return my body to the point where it doesn’t make me feel sick to see it naked. Even the pale, ruddy, complexion of my scalp is repulsive to me. I put off shaving, I put off cutting my nails, I put off trimming my pubes, plucking my nipple hairs, exercising, drinking only spirits, y’know, healthier things, things I need to do.

Nothing happens, nothing changes, still, lockdown here restarts and I’ll just do as I have done the previous few lockdowns and what is approaching the previous few years and do nothing nothing nothing except read books and work and sometimes scrawl these fucking messages to myself on my phone while waiting for my increasingly more threadbare clothes to wash themselves in this grimey launderette opposite a food bank.

This third book in the series, and the one with by far the shortest title, is much more – at least, within my limited knowledge – trad sci-fi than the first two.

This one is about Sirius, the other major empire that is allied with Canopus, and they also do weird genetic sociological experiments on Rohanda/Shikasta/Earth.

This time, the narrative is more linear, telling the chronological (though still across hundreds of thousands of years) relationship Ambien II (one of The Five, Sirius’ ruling quintumverate) has with the Canopean Empire and with Rohanda (our planet innit), a major point of contention between them both.

As Shikasta showed, Canopus is an empire that has transcended physical death, and also established galactic telepathic communication, or something like that. There are not omnipresent, but they seem to outsiders to be near-omniscent.

Shammat, the corrupting aliens living on Earth and the reason why we’re all so mad, bad and dangerous to know, are accelerating their destruction of the planet, and even tho this causes masses of death and suffering, Canopus seems content to let Earth play out without much (tho obvs with some) interference. In this volume of the series, the representative from Sirius helps too, also dropping her consciousness into that of earthlings/Rohandans and preventing some mass atrocities, tho obvs not all of them.

I read this more slowly (because I had to work) than the first two, and I think it suffered for that elongation. Or maybe it suffered because it didn’t offer a comprehensive explication of what the hell Book Two had to do with either this book or the one that came before.

Eurgh. On to the next.

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