kittiwake: (Default)
I won this coffee-table book in a raffle at this year's BookCrossing Unconvention in Nottingham. It contains lots of lovely photos of Northern Norway with accompanying text in four languages.

Twenty-odd years ago I went on the Hurtigruten, from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes near the Russian border and back to Bergen, and this book brought back some great memories. Maybe I should do the trip again, as I can see from the photos that things have changed. Places in the book that I remember from my trip include Torghatten, Bodø, the Lofoten Islands, Trollfjorden, Tromsø and the Arctic Cathedral,Hammerfest, Honningsvåg, Noth Cape, Vardø and the star-shaped fort, Vadsø and Kirkenes.

Norway is definitely on my list of places to visit again.
kittiwake: (dreams)
But on Friday, the scarlet lipstick you produced
as you prepared to leave me
Turned black on your lips;

On Saturday, your skirt was no longer orange;

On Sunday, the moon was blue;

On Monday, we crossed a city
Where contrite hymnsinging
Shook the stadium:
We could not tell
Whether the streetlights said Go:
Till we reached the no-speedlimit sign
Tears did not cease to run
Your eye shadow was not green but ash;
Tuesday, the sky was grey, with a black sun;

And today, at noon, there is no colour anywhere
Except the purple of your suspenderbelt

from "The Spectrum"

Published in 1969, this is a collection of ten short stories and one poem that appeared in New Worlds magazine. My favourites included "The Tennyson Effect" by Graham M Hall and "The Spectrum" by D. M. Thomas, but the story I liked most of all was "The Serpent of Kundalini" by Brian W. Aldiss. I have read a few other stories in which whole populations have been sent crazy, and seem to be living in a psychedelic, hallucinogenic world. In "The Serpent of Kundalini" Europe has been devastated by psychochemical bombs, but in other stores there have been some quite different causes for the madness.

He still heard breathing, movement of clothes, the writhing of toes inside shoe-caps. But these were not his. They belonged to the Charteris in the car, the undiscarded I. He no longer breathed.
As he huddled over the arrow, gulls tumbled from the cliff and sank into the water. Over the sea, the ship came. Up the hill, motors sounded. In the head, barefoot, a new age.
There had been a war, a dislocation.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
Voor's world. The planet had once seemed so open and welcoming - but perhaps my kind were never meant to - I shook my head vigorously as if I could so flip away that insidious conclusion. Each and every world which my species had colonized had had one problem or another. that quality of need for mastery, which was a birth-part of us, was always so awakened into life to set us hammering some very hostile planets into earth-homes. No world was ever a paradise without any danger. In fact such might have been far worse a pitfall for my kind than the worse stone-fire-airless hell. We would only have atrophied there - become nothing.

I don't usually read YA fiction, but I picked this one up at a BookCrossing meeting. I think I read one of more Andre Norton books as a teenager, but she wrote so many books that I don't think I will ever be able to work out which ones I have read before, but I am sure that I have never read Voorloper before.

Fifty years after the colonisation of the agricultural planet of Voor, settlements in the north start to be wiped out by the mysterious Shadow Death, leaving everyone dead except for a few small children, all second generation settlers. When Mungo Town was destroyed, the only survivor was a five-year-old boy called Bart, who was left with no memories of what had happened, His father Mac also survived because he was away from home when the Shadow Death struck, and after the tragedy Mac and Bart became voorlopers, nomadic traders whose goods are carried in covered wagons pulled by gars (draught animals native to Voor, similar to yaks but with three horns). For near ten years of my life I had known Witol, yet never had he given me this salute. We had often speculated, my father and I, as to the intelligence of the gars - now I believed I had proof that they were indeed more than just the bearers of burdens which off-worlders classed them as being.

The northern lands are now mostly deserted, but there are a few mining settlements, protected by force fields and Mac and Bart are the only voorlopers to trade with them, which gives Mac the change to investigate the deserted holdings while he is on his way to and from the mines. A young healer called Illo, who also has an interest in the Shadow Death, asks to accompany them as they head north into the wilderness, but a violent storm changes everything.

The story has lots of black and white line illustrations, so you can see what the gars look like and get a clear picture of how the colonists dress, but Illo is always shown with loose hair, even though the book says that she wears her hair tightly tied back as all the healers do. The cover picture is very misleading; featuring a water creature that appears in one short scene. It has "a webbed and taloned paw, larger than my own hand" and it is described as clambering onto the top of the wagon, so it is obviously nowhere near as large as the Godzilla-sized monster shown on the cover, and is probably more like the size of a large salt-water crocodile.

But aside from the issues with the illustrations, and it being a YA novel, I did like it, especially the gars which are strong, reliable, loyal and intelligent.
kittiwake: (fantasy)
Sith clicked the phone off. She opened the trunk of the car and tossed the phone into it. Being telephoned by ghosts was so . . . unmodern. How could Cambodia become a number one country if its cell phone network was haunted?

As I progressed through the book, I realised that a large number of the stories were to do with death in one form or another. I suppose it could be a coincidence, but was there something about 2006 that inspired authors to write about death and its aftermath, or did the editor have an affinity for those subjects that predisposed him to choose those stories?

After fifteen stories about death in a row, I was thrilled to come across something more light-hearted when I read "D.A." by Connie Willis, but it was straight back to death and destruction for the last few stories. The only two stories that I didn't really enjoy were "A Siege of Cranes" which was quite gruesome (although I liked the jackal-headed men and their quest to perform funeral rites for the dead of the world), and "Sob in the Silence" which I would say was horror rather than fantasy.
kittiwake: (Default)
My name is White Fang, though of course that is not really my name. At least not any more. My name is really Dennis White, now. I like the old name better; it is more in keeping with the image I have of myself. But perhaps such an attitude is just a hangover from the time I was a pet. Some people would say that once you've been a pet, once you've grown used to the Leash, you're never quite human again- in the sense of being free. I don't know about that. Of course, it is more fun to be Leashed, but one can learn not to want it so badly. I did. And this, in one sense, is the story of how I did it.

It is sixty-seven years since earth was invaded by aliens, and two generations of men have been kept as pets in the Masters' kennels, on earth and throughout the solar system. The kennels are campuses where pets are raised and educated in lovely surroundings, and bred by the Masters' who want to improve their pets. Outside the kennels the dingoes, human beings who refused to become pets or were rejected as unsuitable, try to keep things going. The Masters do not have bodies, and appear to be some kind of electromagnetic beings. One of their first acts after the invasion was to take over all electrical generation, and they love auroras and flock to earth when a good display is expected, but when an unusual surge of sun-spot activity knocks the Masters out temporarily it gives the Dingoes a chance to fight back and try to wrest control of Earth back from the aliens.

I liked how this book was written in the form of the memoirs of White Fang, who was born and bought up in the kennels of the Masters. He explains that however unacceptable such terms are nowadays, he must talk of pets and puppies and the Leash since that is how he thought of things at the time. White Fang and his brother Pluto received their names due to a vogue among the first generation of pets for calling their puppies after famous dogs.

The cover picture doesn't really fit the story. It features a dog standing on its hind-legs, brandishing the broken chain attached to the metal collar round its neck, and two wolves sitting in the background. As the pets of the story aren't dogs but men, it is symbolic of the human pets breaking the mental Leash that controls them, but it still doesn't really work, since most of the pets were freed from the Leash unwillingly and would have preferred to remain pets. During the story we only hear of one ex-pet who plotted his own escape from the Masters and went Dingo.
kittiwake: (history)
That winter when he grew up, I enjoyed myself for the first time. I acquired consequence. To be needed and liked by two such popular characters as Papa and Hubert lent me an interest rather better than second hand. Maybe I was a parasite-but what a happy parasite, happy in their admiration and their kindness, happy in being their new joke.

I first read this book in the 1980s, but apart from feeling sorry for the large and unattractive Aroon, the only thing I remembered was the incident with the rabbit dish. But I remembered enjoying both the book and the television series based on it, and was looking forward to a re-read, even though it is a sad book and does hit some of my buttons. IShe may not be the most likeable protagonist, but Aroon is stifled by her upbringing in a family of poverty-stricken Anglo-Irish gentry, and always seems unlikely to escape it through marriage, but she doesn't deserve to be treated as a figure of fun by her family, even if she often seems unaware of the mockery. I don't think that Aroon's description of events is deliberately misleading, but she often misreads what is actually happening, and there are some things, such as her father's relationships with Rose and the Crowhurst twins, that I think she won't allow herself to see.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
"And just as Kit decided that perhaps it wasn't worth dying for a postcard of Amsterdam, his world exploded into a hurricane of white lace and scarlet silk, the mugger's gunshot going wide as the cos-play spun between Kit and the weapon, knocking it aside. Silver hair shook free and an ivory hair pin punched home, freezing a facial nerve as it ruptured the mugger's eardrum and entered his brain.

Lady Neku is a girl from a dying earth in the distant future, so far away that she doesn't know how far back in time she has come while running away from something terrible and forgotten. But she is also a teenage girl living on the streets of present day Tokyo, who is mysteriously in possession of a suitcase containing millions of U.S. dollars which she stores in railway station lockers. Like Lady Neku, bar owner Kit Nouveau is a runaway, not wanting to face up to his past or his present. He buys Neku a cup of coffee every day as she sits in the street near the Tokyo bar that he owns, and she saves his life when he is mugged in the alley behind his bar.

I have been thinking about how to describe the story without giving too much away, and it is difficult. Apart from the one time that Lady Neku cuts a hole in the air with her knife and disappears through it, nothing overtly unrealistic happens in the parts of the story set in the present day, and it is basically a convoluted tale of gangsters and the need to come to terms with your past. So I will just say that after a couple of narrow escapes from death, Kit Nouveau is advised that it will be safer for him to leave Japan for a while. This coincides with a woman who has always hated him tracking Kit down and asking him to come back to Britain to find the daughter she (or possibly her husband) refuses to believe is dead.

There are many ambiguous deaths in this book; suicides that may be murders or faked; and accidents that may be murders or suicides. Unless I missed something, it is never made clear who hired the original hit man who tried to shoot Kit in the alley. It doesn't seem to have been the Japanese gangsters, so could it have been Kate trying to have him killed but then changing her mind, or was someone else after Kit too? The author doesn't seem to be interested in tying up all the loose ends, so it is left to readers to make up their own minds and the book is none the worse for that.
kittiwake: (history)
Polly frowned. In a world scented with flowers and full of soft music, these sentiments jarred upon her.
'I don't see why it's got to be a sort of fight.'
'Well, it has. Marriage is a battlefield, not a bed of roses. Who said that? It sounds too good to be my own. Not that I don't think of some extraordinarily good things, generally in my bath.'


When his sister Lady Constance agrees to give his beloved Empress to the visiting Duke of Dunstable, for fear that he will trash the castle if he doesn't get his own way, the Earl of Emsworth turns to his brother's Gally's friend Fred, the Earl of Ickenham for help. Fred arrives at Blandings Castle disguised as distinguished psychiatrist Sir Roderick Glossop (who has been summoned by Lady Constance to examine the Duke), along with his nephew and a girl who is engaged to one of the Duke's nephews. As usual the story includes impostors infiltrating the castle, pignapping, a broken engagement, a jealous boyfriend getting the wrong end of the stick, and impoverished young men trying to get money from their richer friends and relatives. Uncle Fred is an alarming character who thinks it fun to try his hand at a confidence trick just to see if can do it, and is prepared to steal, cheat at cards and slip people Micky Finns, so for once I felt that Wodehouse's disapproving females could be right to keep their husbands and male relatives on a tight leash.
kittiwake: (mythology)
I have read this book a couple of times before and already knew who is murdered by whom, so this time I paid more attention to the historical characters who appear in this book. Karl Marx nearly gets himself murdered and George Gissing's real-life marital woes fit in well with the themes of this novel, while Oscar Wilde has a non-speaking part as a vain young author who makes sure he is noticed working in the British Library Writing Room. And of course there is music hall legend and pantomime dame extraordinaire Dan Leno, whose date of birth has been changed from 1860 to 1850, making him a teenager when his manager employs the young Limehouse Marsh Lizzie as a prompter in the mid-1860s, fifteen years before the Limehouse Golem murders.
kittiwake: (history)
In the uncertain light the cards describe a nocturnal landscape, the Cups are arrayed like urns, caskets, graves among the nettles, the Swords have a metallic echo like shovels or spades against the leaden lids, the Clubs are black like crooked crosses, the gold Coins glitter like will-o'-the-wisps. As soon as a cloud discloses the Moon a howling of jackals rises as they scratch furiously at the edges of the graves and fight with scorpions and tarantulas over their putrid feast.

There are two stories in this book, one taking place in a castle and the other at an inn, and in both cases the travellers spending the night there are struck dumb, and start to tell their stories to each other, using a pack of tarot cards. At the castle they use a beautiful painted tarot deck, and the stories are told one at a time, with each storyteller starting with a court card to represent him or herself, and then laying the cards down to build up the story, and intersecting with cards already laid down when they need to use the same cards. At the inn they are using a cheap tarot deck printed from wood-cuts, and everyone tries to tell their story at the same time, grabbing at cards that have already been laid down, rather than designing their story to intersect with them.

The pictures on the cards are used to show what is happening in the story, but since a card can stand for many different people, places or events depending on the context, the story is also told in the storyteller's gestures facial expressions, and in the imagination of the people watching the story unfold on the table. Sometimes the cards seem to be telling well-known stories from mythology, or from Shakespeare, but is that just what the writer is reading into the cards put down by the other travellers?

This was a re-read for me, and for some reason I enjoyed it much more this time. I found these stories and the storytelling more interesting, so perhaps I was just more in the mood for this type of book.


Reviews of Books 31 to 33 cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge.
kittiwake: (sf)
The ship swooped through the turbulent chromospheric crosswinds, tacking on the plasma forces by subtle shifts in its own magnetic shields ... sailing with sheets made of almost corporeal mathematics. Lightning fast furling and thickening of those shields of force -- allowing the tug of the conflicting eddies to be felt in one direction and not another -- helped to cut down the buffeting dealt out by the storm.
Those same shields kept out most of the screaming heat, diverting the rest into tolerable forms. What got through was sucked up into a chamber to drive the Refrigerator Laser, the kidney whose filtered wasteflow was a stream of x-rays which clove aside even the plasma in its path.
Still, these were mere inventions of Earthmen. It was the science of the Galactics that made the Sunship graceful and safe. Gravity fields held back the amorous, crushing pull of the Sun so the ship fell or flew at will. The pounding forces of the center of the filament were absorbed or neutralized, and duration itself was altered by time-compression.


Sundiver is set less than thirty-five years after First Contact with the Galactic Civilisation. Virtually all space-faring species were uplifted into sapience by a patron race, so humanity's lack of a patron race is unusual and their status is increased by having two client species of their own, having recently uplifted chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins, and not everybody in the galaxy is happy about that. There are two groups of humans who have very strong opinions on the subject; the Skins, who believe that humanity uplifted itself through evolution, and the Shirts who are certain that we were uplifted by an alien race and then abandoned by them.

This book is basically a detective story. Jacob Alvarez is invited to join the Mercury-based Sundiver project because the crews of the expeditions ships have started seeing strange things on their trips into the sun's chromosphere, ghostly figures that seem to be herds guarded by shepherd who sometimes transform themselves into humanoid shape and seem to be trying to communicate. Are these sun creatures real, and if so, could these sun creatures be humanity's lost patrons? It's a good mystery story, and I liked the aliens, especially Kant Fagin and Bubbacub, but the human characters were less so. Still, I am looking forward tot he rest of the series.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
Kaye and Mitch had protected Stella like a rare orchid throughout her short life. Kaye knew that, hated the necessity of it. It was how they had stayed together. Her daughter's freedom depended on it. The chat rooms were full of the agonized stories of parents giving up their children, watching them be sent to Emergency Action schools in another state. The camps.
Mitch, Stella, and Kaye had lived a dreamy, tense, unreal existence, no way for an energetic, outgoing young girl to grow up, no way for Mitch to stay sane.


As I had copies of both books, I decided to read the sequel straight after finishing "Darwin's Radio". I found myself much more interested in what Dicken and Augustine discovered in the 'new children' school, than in Kaye and Mitch lying low to avoid their child being taken from them. Although it was never stated in the book, I think the main reason that Kaye dumped Mitch as soon as he was no longer useful for protecting the family, was because he was showing signs of depression, and she didn't want another husband with mental health issues after her experience with Saul. So them getting back together again later made no sense to me; in fact, nothing about their relationship rang true. And why the obsession with Mitch's hands - yes he used to be an outdoors Type who worked with his hands, and now he isn't - I get it!
kittiwake: (sf)
"Will you have the meeting?"
"I'll call it. In the Bishop's chambers."
Ender winced.
"The Bishop won't meet anywhere else," she said, "and no decision to rebel will mean a thing if he doesn't agree to it." Bosquinha laid her hand on his chest. "He may not even let you into the Cathedral. You are the infidel."
"But you'll try."
"I'll try because of what you did tonight. Only a wise man could see my people so clearly in so short a time. Only a ruthless one would say it all out loud. Your virtue and your flaw-- we need them both."


The events of "Ender's Game" are three thousand years in the past, but Ender and Valentine Wiggin have spent so much time travelling between planets at near light speed, that they are still in their thirties. Ender became a Speaker for the Dead, someone who speaks the truth of a person's life at their memorial service, not whitewashing their life, but getting to the heart of who they were and why they acted as they did.He started by speaking the life of the Bug... Queen, whose race he destroyed and of his bother Peter, and many other people since Ender have chosen to become Speakers for the Dead. So when an inhabitant of the planet Lusitania, the home of the only other intellgent alien species ever discovered, request the services of a Speaker for the Dead to speak the life of a man killed by the Piggies, they do not realise that the first Speaker for the Dead, the author of the "The Hive Queen and the Hegemon", is coming.

I found it hard to get into this book because to start with I did not like the main characters, but I gradually warmed to most of them. I have always liked stories where anthropologists, linguists or archaeologists are studying alien species, whether living or long-dead, to try and figure out what makes them tick. It gradually became clear that the policy of trying to avoid cultural contamination of the Piggies, by neither asking or answering questions, has caused nothing but misunderstanding and heartache on both sides, and that we can never hope to share the galaxy with alien species unless we open ourselves fully, and really come to understand each other's culture and customs. So the moral of this story is not exactly subtle, but it was enjoyable all the same.


Reviews of Books 24 to 27 cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
It made him sorrowful, but Ender did not weep. He was done with that. When they had turned Valentine into a stranger, when they had used her as a tool to work on Ender, from that day forward they could never hurt him deep enough to make him cry again. Ender was certain of that.
And with that anger, he decided he was strong enough to defeat them- the teachers, his enemies.


I found the story of Ender's training really quite sad, how he was deliberately isolated from his fellow students and made to believe that no adult would ever come to his aid. But it's not easy to believe that they would have left the safety of earth to a bunch of pre-pubescent children, however intelligent and well trained they were. it seems inconceivable that they had not been able to find suitable adult soldiers to defeat the Buggers. So although the story works on an emotional level, I kept being pulled up by how ridiculous and far-fetched it was.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
If he weren't obsessed about Elvis, he'd be obsessing about something else. At last Elvis is a positive role model. I obsess about him myself sometimes, dressed in that black leather jumpsuit.
'Positive role model? Heavy drinker, pill-popper, philanderer?'
'We all have our foibles, Lydia. If Elvis drank stinky green tea and went to bed at eleven-thirty, do you think he would have been a rock and roll legend?'


Unfortunately I didn't really like this one, and if the author wasn't going to be doing an author talk at the BookCrossing Unconvention this year, I probably wouldn't have bothered finishing it.

Electra, the daughter-in-law, is a warm and vibrant woman, and a night-owl who uses eleven-thirty as an example of an early bedtime, but I didn't really warm to her, her husband Adam, or their family and friends, or care about their problems. Electra'a best friend Lydia, with her inadequate mothering style and bratty son, was especially annoying.

Reviews of Books 7 and 8 cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
I have gleaned this much from my fraught fellow workers: I've been assigned Bethany Krall as one of my main cases because no one else wants to deal with her. As the newcomer, I have no choice in the matter. Bethany has been labeled intractable by everyone who has dealt with her so far, with the exception of Joy McConey, whose notes are not in the file - very possibly because she never wrote any. While I'm not exactly nervous about having Bethany Krall on my list, I am not enthusiastic either. My perspective on physical violence has shifted since my accident. I now want to avoid it at all costs, and have taken every possible measure to do so, with the exception of having my strangulation-length hair cut short, because I'm vain about it. But perhaps with Bethany Krall on my list I'll be visiting the hairdresser after all: according to the case notes, my new charge is something of an extremist in the aggression department.

What I like about Liz Jensen is that her books are all unique - she's not one of those authors who keeps on writing the same book over and over again. In this one, a psychotic teenage girl, who has been incarcerated in a secure psychiatric hospital after murdering her mother, starts predicting catastrophes such as eruptions and earthquakes after her ECT sessions. Her previous therapist has been suspended for getting sucked into Bethany's 'fantasies', and now her new therapist, wheelchair-bound Gabrielle Fox, is also starting to believe her.

Gabrielle starts a relationship with a local physicist, Frazer Melville, who becomes convinced that one of Bethany's visions shows an event that could exacerbate global warming and cause devastation on a global scale. Their fight to prevent the accident that will tip the planet into chaos, takes place over an unbearably hot summer and autumn, against a background of rising religious fundamentalism, and establishment disbelief.

It's a pity that Gabrielle is not a more sympathetic character and that her actions and relationship with Fraser Melville do not really ring true. She is still severely traumatised by the accident that left her paralysed, and I think that her previous employers were right in saying that she was not ready to return to work. She blows minor events out of all proportion and does not believe that Fraser Melville really loves her (maybe that accounts for the strange way she always refers to him by both his names).
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
I said, 'Suppose the lady won't want me for her maid? Why should she want me?'
But he had thought of that. He had thought of everything. He said he meant to pass me off as his old nurse's sister's child-a city girl come on hard times. He said he though the lady would take me then, for his sake.
He said, 'We'll write you a character-sign it Lady Fanny of Bum Street, something like that-she won't know any better. She never saw Society doesn't know London from Jerusalem Who can she ask?'


Very little is what it seems in this book. I was aware of one of the twists before I started reading it but everything else came as a surprise.
kittiwake: (Default)
"Try this," Anhil said, putting a coconut-topped chocolate donut on a small plate in front of Richard. He looked at Richard and the donut with great intensity, as if this were the donut that would fix Richard, as if there were certain donuts that were better for certain ailments, as if a donut could have curative powers.

I remember thinking that this book sounded good when it was chosen for the Richard & Judy Book Club in 2007, so I was pleased to see it turn up at a BookCrossing meet-up.

Richard Novak has withdrawn from life, although he doesn't really believe his housekeeper when she says he hasn't left the house in months. A suspected heart-attack shocks him out of his stick-in-the-mud ways and he gradually starts to reconnect with life.

It may be full of LA angst, but I enjoyed it once I had got used to it being written in the present tense.
kittiwake: (mythology)
"This is Penumbra Fields," said Heath. "It sort of grew up around the railway station. Commuter town, I think they call it. Lots of people with a house here work in the City, even though it's a long trip. Only come back on weekends, most of them."
The idea of fairies living in commuter towns didn't sit right, but Theo couldn't think of any reason why it shouldn't be so


Theo Vilmos has always drifted through life, but when he finds a notebook in which the great-uncle he never met appears to be telling the story of about visiting a magical land, things start to get odd and he finds himself in the middle of a looming war between the Flower lords who rule Faerie.

Unfortunately, Theo is a bit slow on the uptake and never sees the hole in the story. as the goblins would say. And when he does ask the right questions, he never remembers the answers when he needs to. He is low on emotional intelligence too, not really understanding the relationships between the people around him.

The copy I read is really badly printed. The contents page has the page numbers for every chapter set to 00, and whenever a word contains an accent mark (such as naïve and cliché), the accent is printed after the letter rather than as part of it.
kittiwake: (sf)
Canopus in Argos: Archives
Re: Colonised Planet 5
Shikasta
Personal, Psychological,Historical Documents Relating to Visit by Johor (George Sherban)
Emissary (Grade 9)
87th of the Period of the Last Days


The first witness was brilliantly chosen. (From a certain point of view.) She was a delegate from Shansi Province. A girl of about twenty. She was, of course, well-fed and neatly dressed and looked healthy and at once the atmosphere lost tension. We are not popular. That is the penalty we have to pay for our superiority!

This book takes the form of an academic text for first-year students of Canopean Colonial Rule. It covers the whole history of Shikasta from prehistoric times, and it is clear from the start that Shikasta is Earth.

Initially the Canopeans had high hopes for the planet Rohanda, the fruitful, the thriving. But their long-term project to mould the physical and spiritual development of its inhabitants was spoilt when Rohanda came under the influence of the criminal planet Shammat, and the link to Canopus was severed. From then on, Rohanda was known as Shikasta, the broken, the hurt one, and however much the Canopean agents tried they were unable to undo the damage caused by Shammat. I found the middle part of the the book very depressing, with the Canopean agents tell the story of various humans whose lives were sent off track by the power of Shammat. It was so depressing that I nearly gave up reading, but luckily I didn't as the final third of the book was the most involving.

There are other ways of accessing Shikasta, but Canopean agents who need to be there for the long term are incarnated as humans, and they enter Shikasta via Zone 6, where souls wait to be reborn. Some agents live a whole human life without remembering their true identity and purpose, but when Johor is incarnated as George Sherban, he spends his life working with youth groups around the world, culminating in a youth congress that conducts a mock trial of the white faces for the evil they have done in the past. But the Canopeans don't want to lose the Europeans' wide genetic diversity, and the Chinese contingent doesn't realise that every aspect of the congress is being manipulated to leave the delegates wondering why they are trying the white races, when it is the Chinese who now run everything and patronise the other races 'for their own good'.

And there was just one casual comment somewhere in the book that made me think that the Canopeans might not be quite as altruistic as they appear.

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