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Canopus in Argos: Archives


'She is muscling in on our act': Shikasta
Doris Lessing Writer
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Now, that story had an amazing history, because it was seen as a kind of... a cosmology, a new religion... and actually I started a religion in America by accident. There was a whole group of people in... the middle of America set up a... Shikasta, commune waiting for the boss... God to turn up, and... and it was no good my writing to them and saying, look, you know, it's a story, I didn't mean it to create a religion. No, no, we understand you, you are just testing us. But I'm glad to hear that it has now dissolved. So that is what happened to Shikasta – it got... it had all the energy of these three great sacred religions behind it.

And then, having done that, you see, the other interesting thing was that I was then accused by the science fiction writers of writing sci-fi, and I quote, 'She is muscling in on our act'. It had never occurred to me that I was writing science fiction, but there we are. So what was I to do with this book? Now, this is what is interesting. The mere idea of the archives which could take anything, if you come to think of it, the archives were superior star culture can  take anything from all the inferior star cultures, so that I instantly was able to write something that I'd been trying to write for years.

You know, it's like The Fifth Child – I had wanted for years to write this story of completely different – whatever you want, it turned out to be zones when I wrote it – and how they affected each other, how they influenced each other.

British writer Doris Lessing (1919-2013) was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her novels include 'The Grass is Singing', 'The Golden Notebook', and five novels collectively known as 'Canopus in Argos'. She was described by the Swedish Academy as 'that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny'. Lessing was the 11th woman and the oldest ever person to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: America, Shikasta, The Fifth Child

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2007

Date story went live: 21 October 2011