Report on the Threatened City
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From the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Doris Lessing, a distinctive science fiction short story.
Unknown observers send reports on a city that is threatened with destruction. They gather information on the inhabitants and their behaviour. It soon becomes clear that this is far from an alien planet.
As in many of her acclaimed science fiction novels, in ‘Report on the Threatened City’, Doris Lessing uses the traditions of this genre to examine the world we know and human nature itself, from a completely new and often unforgiving perspective.
This story also appears in the collection The Temptation of Jack Orkney.
HOURS, YOU WILL ALWAYSHAVE A HAVEN WHERE YOUR THOUGHTS CAN DWELL IN LOVING HAPPINESS IN YOUR DEPARTED FRIENDS, WHO – … We are running very short of power. There is nothing more we can do. This mission must be regarded as a failure. We have been able to achieve nothing. We have also failed to understand what is the cause of their defectiveness. There is no species like this one on any other planet known to us. As the guards on our place of detention relaxed their vigilance, we simply
function of each geographical area is not controlled by its inhabitants but is controlled by itself. Each is engaged in inventing, bringing to perfection – and keeping secret from its own inhabitants as well as from the ‘enemy’ – highly evolved war weapons of all sorts, ranging from devices for the manipulation of men’s minds to spacecraft. Subservient Populations For instance, recent landings on their moon, much publicized by the geographical groupings that made them and followed
tolerated by them. Large numbers, everywhere on the planet, see craft like ours, or like other planets’ craft or war machines from their own or other geographical areas. But such is the atmosphere created by the war departments that dominate everything that these individuals are regarded as mentally inadequate or deluded. Until one of them has actually seen a machine or a spacecraft, he tends to believe that anyone who claims he has is deranged. Knowing this, when he does see something, he often
If they had said (or shouted or sung) that they had actually observed visitors from another planet (they had, in fact, sensed us, felt us) as structures of finer substance manifesting as light – if they had stated they had seen three roughly man-sized creatures shaped in light – no notice at all would have been taken of them. But if an individual from that section of their society which is especially trained for that class of work (it is an infinitely subdivided society) had said that he had
task to warn, to forecast, not its responsibility to suggest solutions. But this mechanism – the role of talk – is merely part of a much deeper one. We now suspect that a great many of the activities that they themselves see as methods of furthering change, saving life, improving society, are in fact methods of preventing change. It is almost as if they were afflicted with a powerful lassitude, a lack of vital energy, which must resist change, because it is so easily exhausted. Their infinite