In this fifth volume of her venture into space, the magnificent Canopus in Argos series, Doris Lessing uses the conventions of space fiction for the purposes of social satire in the tradition of Voltaire and Swift.
On duty in the Volyen Empire, planetary hotbed of unchecked emotion, Canopean Agent Incent, despite his training, has found himself deeply moved - and succumbs to one of the local afflictions, undulant Rhetoric. Incents Canopean colleague Klorathy goes to assess his condition at the Hospital for Rhetorical Diseases, sometimes known as the Institute for Historical Studies. It look bad. Tear flood down Incents face as he broods in self-accusation and a predisposition to heroism, yearning for a perfect world.
With talk of a coming Sirian invasion, Volyendestans are falling into the declamatory mode: We will fight them on the beaches, we willū mutters Ormarin, popular revolutionary spokesman and foe of tyranny for the oppressed multi-racial population. Klorathy has his work cut out for him as the eager victims of words are inflamed to the justice of their cause.
This high-spirited skit, evidently written with much enjoyment, not to say relish, draws a bead on a number of our sacred cows, political and social, particularly our self-flattering sentiments about emotion - good, we maintain, by definition. Incent is the legitimate descendant of Candide, whom Voltaire brought into being, it will be remembered, to look impertinently on the bright side of the Lisbon earthquake in 1746. Each new volume in this series has been different in style, theme, and above all, in tone, and this one takes off in yet a new, delightful direction.