The Avatar Syndrome

The Avatar Syndrome

By Harvey Shepherd

A review of The Avatar Syndrome by Stan I. S. Law

Published on May 1, 2006

The Avatar Syndrome
Stan I. S. Law

INHOUSEPRESS
$24.95
paper
310pp
0-9731827-5-5

That some combination of advanced technology and ancient spiritual practice becomes important in the future evolution of humanity is a common theme in science fiction, including some of my own favourites of the genre: James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. The Avatar Syndrome gives us another take on this theme. For Montreal readers there is the added interest of locales in and around the city, including the Montreal Neurological Institute.

Stanislaw Kapuscinski is an architect with several important commercial buildings in Montreal to his credit. The Avatar Syndrome is his latest of some 16 books, mostly self-published. He uses the pen name Stan I.S. Law for his fiction. In the new novel, Eastern meditation techniques, spiritual lore, and state-of-the-art brain-scan technology are elements in the development of the young heroine into an “avatar” of Law’s vision of what it could mean to be human. A harrowing episode of sexual abuse also plays an important part. All this could be the basis of a gripping and challenging novel, but Law’s execution of his ideas does not, alas, live up to their promise.

For one thing, Law has not overcome the challenge he set himself in writing the dialogue. The many potential pitfalls an author faces in this area are compounded in a novel of ideas like this one. You are all too likely to wind up with a strange mélange of technical dissertation and stage directions, which is what we often find in The Avatar Syndrome. The novel also suffers from Law’s inattention to point of view as a narrative technique – that is, the issue of whether his story is to be told from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator–that of the hero, for example–or that of some secondary figure like Holmes’s Dr. Watson.

The Avatar Syndrome attempts to be a psychological novel of a kind that almost demands to be told in the last of these ways. In some of the more effective passages, this is what Law does. We witness the dramatic evolution of the heroine through the bewildered eyes of her engineer father who, like Dr. Watson, is an intelligent but somewhat unimaginative man. However, Law undercuts the effective development of psychological suspense with ill-timed indulgence in omniscient narration and premature glimpses into the mind of the heroine with regard to important but secondary issues of the plot. We are confusingly permitted to see some things through her eyes but not others.

There is also a confusion of genres, especially early in the novel. Lengthy pasages read like attempts at political and social satire, and are not particularly effective. Kapuscinski (I use his real surname advisedly) is all too ready to step from the wings, perhaps ill-concealed behind one of his characters, and give us the benefit of his low esteem for federal and provincial politicians, the pharmaceutical industry (appropriate target for social criticism though it is), “dilettantes” in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, religious fundamentalists and pro-life crusaders, the obese (fat pro-lifers really get him going), the elderly, and even the quality of Quebec French. His brand of techno-mysticism seems impregnated with a sort of social Darwinism and a great-man view of history.

The Avatar Syndrome would have benefited from far more rigorous editing. Still, it does provoke thought on some of the important issues of the day. mRb

Harvey Shepherd is a freelance writer in Montreal.

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