Archive for the ‘Martyn Godfrey’ Category

Godfrey, Martyn.  Alien War Games.  Richmond hill, ON:  Scholastic TAB, 1984

This is the third book I’ve read which describes an encounter of people from earth and an alien civilization in terms of alternating narratives, one human, the other alien; the other two, both discussed in earlier entries on this blog,  are Bruce Coville’s I Was a Sixth Grade Alien and Pamela Service’s Under Alien Stars.  The first two both involve aliens coming to earth, and deal with questions of how earthlings will deal with knowledge of a wider culture out there amongst the stars (although admittedly, that’s sort of buried by the front-and-centre opportunities for jokes and such in Coville and therefore only minimally significant).   But in this one, earthlings have come to an alien planet–which, intriguingly, puts the earth people in the position of being the colonizers and invaders.

In Coville and Service,  young people of both species turn out to have more in common than they first supposed, and are able, through their friendship and working together, to move past the potential disputes and disagreements of their elders.  And in both, that leads to great co-operation between two alien peoples, but also makes the human earthlings a smaller and less advanced partner in an interplanetary civilization–a necessary accepter of colonization by as more powerful group.  And for all the talk of equality and the movement of the plot from feelings of alien difference to acceptance of a basic shared similarity, it’s clear in both cases that the aliens retain the power and the humans must to some extent at least bend to their will (but of course, only after the events of the novel have revealed their basic core of recognizable and humane humanity).  In other words, allowing Us to recognize Them as being like Us allows Them to rightfully maintain power over Us and attempt to make Us ore like Them.  As I pointed out in my entry on Under Alien Stars, the colonialist implications of this are pretty obvious.  as all of that happens, furthermore, it’s clear that the apparent dialogue implied by the presence of two narrative focalizations is an illusion, and actually a bit of scam.  It’s obviously the human beings that readers will be more prone to identfiy with; and while the aliens learn to respect humans more than they did, the more significant message for human readers related to what the humans in the novel learn.

But what happens when the situation is reversed? Alien War Games begins with a prologue from the point of view of the central alien character, which means that the first sentence “The aliens have come,” refers ironically to the landing of Earth people, as viewed by outsiders.  That seems an invitation to identify first with this alien character, Darsa; and once the human protagonist, Gravis, is introduced, and turns out to be self-centred, petulant, and prone to racist assumptions about the aliens whom we already know are undeserving of his prejudice, the sense is confirmed that it’s the aliens whose side readers are likely to be on.  Sure enough, Darsa turns out to be strong, brave, selfless, etc., etc.–a perfectly identifiable-with heroine; and Gravis just continues to be a malevolent jerk who deserves and eventually gets his comeuppance.   So this novel, despite or because of its alternating focalizations, is as even more obviously one-sided than the other two novels; but, it;’s one-sided in favour of the aliens, who are more humane, and against the vicious, racist, human colonizers.

That’s significant, I think,  because the alien civilization readers are being invited to identify with and admire is described in terms that make it share many of the characteristics of North American aboriginal cultures, and because the relationships between the aliens and the earthlings are made to sound very much like those between aboriginal people and European colonists.  I suggested in my entry on Under Alien Stars that that novel might be read in terms of whiter/aborginal relationships; in this case that sort of reading seems almost unavoidable.   Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the author is Canadian; and the novel seems to replicate the themes and conclusions of many of the books I discussed in my essay on Canadian novels for young people with alternating narratives involving white and Aboriginal characters.   It identifies aboriginality with an understanding of the earth (or in this case, the home planet) and a cultural commitment to it.  It centrally involves disputes over land and where the natives will end up living and under whose control.   Gravis’s father tells him, “They’re pretty primitive, hunting and gathering most of their food.  We’re in the process of moving them onto specified homelands, so they won’t be much of a bother in the future”; and also, :”they do seem to be a simple and jovial people.”  All of this, and the implied identification with this alien species I discussed earlier, is bound to invite readers to identify with the aliens and perceive aboriginal values and lifestyles as superior to those of the conquering colonialist earth forces and their imperialist arrogance.

On the other hand, however, the earth forces are indeed more powerful, so that a tragedy of being conquered seems almost inevitable.  The novel does, however offer a way out of that, albeit very minimally–a friend of Darsa’s, who seems throughout to be the white Indian, the red apple who wants to learn the invader’s ways, become like them, and join the big world beyond (like the characters in the other two alien novels).  Throughout, that’s made to seem like a bad choice–Gravis, who befriends this character, makes it clear in his sections that he’s only using him to delude him, and Darsa, whom we admire, is constantly trying to talk him out of his co-option by the colonists.  But at the end, it turns out it was all a trick he was playing, to get the goods on the evil Gravis and reveal his underhandedness to more sympathetic earthlings, who will, we are told at the end, thus respect the alien culture more and work to treat them more fairly.  Just how that more fair treatment will not involve their gradual absorption into them or powerful colonial culture is not made clear, or indeed, even a subject that’s raised.   So once more, as in the other two alien novels, young readers are asked to identify with an underdog group doomed to become as much as possible like its other–but only after that other understands and adopts the underdog’s group better understanding of how to live in nature  and be at one with the planet.  Once everyone adopts what is understood as aboriginality, then the aboriginals can join the mainstream and be at one with powerful people who have co-opted and transformed their values into something less alien.  This is a pattern so prevalent in discourse by white North Americans about aborginals as to be almost universally present in all the alternating narrative novels with aborignal concerns.

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