Monday, 25 June 2012
The Avatar II
Thus, Anderson's The Avatar curiously combines the mundane (Keynsian economics on Earth) with the fantastic (because the T machine is a gate through both space and time, the characters are unsure of the temporal relationship between their home planet and their extrasolar colony.)
Anderson's sympathetic characters are gungho for as much interstellar travel as possible as soon as possible whereas his odious political villain, Ira Quick, is for channeling all resources into social welfare, therefore delaying all interstellar exploration indefinitely. He sees the population merely as voters and as passive recipients of governmental policies without any capacity for collective action. Anderson, as always, presents a credible account of this character's personality and motives but nevertheless portrays him as unpleasantly unscrupulous and manipulative. I am bound to think that a third position would be possible, addressing social problems and improving conditions on Earth while valuing the scientific knowledge to be gained by interstellar contact.
Quick thinks, of interstellar exploration:
"The best and the brightest gone off in search of mere adventure, when they could be serving." (1)
How many things are wrong with Quick's view? Maybe Cavor and Bedford went to the Moon in search of mere adventure but Armstrong and Aldrin went as agents of a large government agency which must have had its own agenda and in fact did not follow up Apollo with any further interplanetary journeys. Secondly, scientific exploration is not "mere adventure." We can get that by scuba diving or mountaineering on Earth. Thirdly, some of the "best and brightest" in the relevant sciences will want to go into space but others will indeed stay at home and "serve." Fourthly, Quick gives no thought to educational or other campaigns to mobilize his "general public" and "the poor" to address problems that surely do need a collective response.
I have reread the novel to a point where Quick is self-righteously planning a final solution for the returned explorers whom he has concealed and incarcerated. Thus, even a reader who had, improbably, agreed with Quick so far would have to reject his next step with revulsion.
(1) Anderson, Poul, The Avatar, London, 1981, p. 103.