Doris Lessing's Shikasta

Fabio Fernandes is a writer, translator, and editor.

The first time I became aware that science fiction could be something more than just adventure – in fact, that it should be much more than just adventure – was when I read Doris Lessing’s Shikasta. It was 1980, I was fourteen years old, and I begged my mother to buy it for me. She always was (still is) the most wonderful mom in the world, because she always encouraged me to read whatever I wanted (I remember that same day I also bought Einstein and Infeld’s The Evolution of Physics).

It was an thrilling, unforgettable day, which I suppose helped shape my reading tastes and prepared me to be the kind of writer I am today, worried with networks and spheres of social-political-economical influence and how technology alone doesn’t do anything to further the progress of humankind – people are the major impetus behind machines and systems. The story of George Sherban and the last days of humankind in the so-called Century of Destruction (I vividly recall the scene of the symbolic trial of the white race by an international youth tribunal) moved me deeply. I couldn’t go back after reading Shikasta; there would be no Asimov or Clarke for me for a while. I started reading more Brazilian authors (but most of them were incipient, with the exception of Jerônimo Monteiro and André Carneiro, authors of the 60s, this last one still alive though not writing anymore); the only Anglo authors of their generation I still read with pleasure were Frederik Pohl and William Tenn (I also read a lot of Robert Silverberg, Robert Sheckley, Frederic Brown and Chad Oliver). Then, the Cyberpunk Movement made its entrance.

I became identified with the cyberpunks in Brazil, a stand that almost cost me my hide – you couldn’t say that to a fandom still deeply rooted in our Big Three: Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. Heinlein was also a big hit, but not as much as the recently deceased master – who, I must say, I leave out of this discussion because I always saw him mostly as a fabulist, not a science fiction writer, and even though his stories were very American, I never saw any hint of prejudice in him. I always saw in him the same thing as in Faulkner – write about your town and you write about the world.

Even though my name is in The Steampunk Bible as a steampunk writer (who’d knew!), I guess I’m still a cyberpunk at heart, in the good, old Jamesonian sense of the word – always in search of a science fiction that gives voice to the so-called voiceless, that shows different is good, and the Other is only another name for yourself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *