Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Avatar

I have commended Poul Anderson for celebrating life, both human and alien. In The Avatar, superior aliens observe Earth through terrestrial organisms which thus become their "avatars," retrospectively gaining memories even of organic processes that would have been unconscious at the time of their occurrence. Thus, author and reader are able to celebrate life at different levels.

Chapter I is two paragraphs narrated by a birch tree which tells us of times at which it had not been conscious:

"My leaves drank of the sunlight...danced in the wind...but I did not see or hear. Waning days turned me brittle golden..." (1)

As a summation:

"I was Tree." (1)

We will realize that the Others learn treeness through this tree.

Chapter VI, four paragraphs, is narrated by a caterpillar that became a moth. S/he, as an infant:

"...lived among riches: juice and sweet crispness in a leaf, sunlight warm or dew cool..." (2)


"My food was the nectar of flowers..." (2)

Later again, without yet understanding what is happening, we read how the moth became an avatar:

"...One gathered me up, taking me back into Oneness, and presently We knew what my whole life had been since I lay in the egg. Its mysteries were many. I was Insect." (2)

A better way to say this might be not that the tree and the moth become conscious and gain memories but that the Other gains memories as of having been them but then lives these memories to the full, as we live them vicariously through Anderson's words. If I were able to access and experience some of your memories, then I would have to distinguish between myself receiving the memories and the "I," really you, whose experiences were being remembered so I might then use the word "we." Since I am currently rereading the novel and have reached only Chapter VII of L, I will wait to re-encounter the remaining avatars in their chapters.

Meanwhile, in the longer chapters, Anderson, as expected, shows us human life on the future Earth and on other planets. He easily presents a period of global turmoil. Dan Broderson complains both about the Keynsian economics of the World Union government and about the utopian economics of the terrorists who murdered his first wife.

In yet another sense of "life," Anderson, as always, disabuses us of any presupposition that the ground on a colonized planet is covered with grass, as on Earth. Demetrian ground is:

"...clothed in bluish-green growth wherever boulders did not thrust forth - lodix like a kind of trilobate grass or clover..." (3)

There is much to appreciate before getting far into the plot of the novel.

(1) Anderson, Poul, The Avatar, London, 1981, p. 1.
(2) ibid., p. 55.
(3) ibid., p. 41.

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