Amping up the SF in “Avatar”

The last post noted how Avatar’s director and writer, James Cameron, left off a key piece of info that would have explained a lot of mysteries in the movie – that unobtanium was a room-temperature superconductor.  We’re still left with a fairly straightforward and somewhat old-fashioned story, at least compared to what literary SF has been doing. noted how much Avatar resembles Poul Anderson’s novella “Call Me Joe”, and that dates from 1957.

So how can we bring “Avatar” into the 21st century in SFnal terms?  Another commenter on io9 (sorry, can’t find reference) noted how oddly human the Na’vi are:

neytiri pose_800

Surprisingly sexy, maybe sinisterly sexy, for a creature from an utterly different evolutionary path.

All the other life on Pandora appears to have 6 limbs, but the Na’vi only have 4.   The others have vents in the their chests for breathing; the Na’vi have mouths.  The others have two neural links on their skulls, and they look like fronds; they have one and it looks like braided hair.  They’re sentient, but don’t appear to have fire or domesticated animals.

So they look human, too human.  By the time of the movie, the world-brain of Pandora, Eywa, has had hundreds of years to watch TV broadcasts emitted from Earth.  It could see that homo sapiens was headed its way, and would have been readying its response.  The Na’vi were lemurs swinging through the forest two hundred years ago, but now they’re humanoid tool users, just like the approaching enemy.  They’re suspiciously attractive, as if Eywa was trying to make creatures that would appeal to and maybe seduce the invaders.

After all, the galaxy is old.  Technological alien races could have swung through the Alpha Centauri system every few million years.  Eywa would have seen their like before.   As in Bruce Sterling’s seminal story, “Swarm”, Eywa could have evolved the Na’vi as a counter-measure to this familiar threat.

It seemed to work.  All the humans who worked closely with the Na’vi loved them, even though they were blood-thirsty xenophobes with the cultural sophistication of a second grade playground.  Several betrayed their own species for the sake of the Na’vi.   They actually let themselves be scanned by Eywa, thinking that they would become Na’vi.  Now it has access to everything that the marine Jake and the scientist Dr. Augustine knows.  Talk of an espionage coup!  Mata Hari had nothing on Neytiri.

By the end of the movie the humans have abandoned their planet-side base.  The remaining humans will be quickly scanned, and then Na’vi will set to work reverse-engineering all the human weaponry.  The human ships in orbit won’t be safe for long.

Will the Na’vi start building their own fleet of matter-antimatter starships to attack Earth?  They live near a gas giant – they have immense energy resources at their disposal.  Will the AI who is the actual power behind Evil Corp find a way to counter Eywa’s plan?  The scale of these movies could expand a lot.

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3 Responses to Amping up the SF in “Avatar”

  1. mtraven says:

    That’s genius, and inverts all the politics so it should make the critics happy.

    It suggests a way to one-up the CGI of the original– have the Na’vi mount a biological attack on Earth that has all the Pandoran life-forms sprouting out of skyscrapers in New York, rampaging through shopping malls, etc. Eventually defeated by a small cadre of garage biohackers.

    • jlredford says:

      re: rampaging through New York – I like it! The pitch meeting might go like this:

      Bored Studio Executive: OK, you’ve got three minutes.

      Me: So everyone loves dragons, right?

      BSE: Sure, a dragon on a book cover adds 17% to sales, 23% for YA

      Me: And everyone loves elves.

      BSE: Really?

      Me: Um, elf warrior princesses, that is.

      BSE: In stylish yet scanty costumes, sure.

      Me: But people don’t want that boring medieval setting. They want rayguns, they want spaceships! They want elves riding dragons above New York, swooping amongst the skyscrapers, blasting bankers! So here’s the setup. Evil Corp has been pillaging the elf homeworld for some reason. They finally throw off their oppressors and come zooming back to Earth, looking for revenge. Now there are hundreds of cool organic-looking Art-Nouveau-ish ships in orbit. They’re masters of biology, so their dragons can fly down from space if they get a deep breath first. They’re seeding the earth with spores that grow up into new monsters everywhere.

      BSE: That’d be hard on the art direction budget, but go on.

      Me: Enter our hero, a dreamy kid who’s kind of a loner. All he wants to do is tinker in his garage DNA lab, where he’s given his dog a voice box and his cat rainbow-colored fur. There’s the toy angle. He has lots of cute pets for the 8 to 12 audience. One of the spores lands in his back yard, and he figures out how to tame the resulting monster before it tears up his house.

      BSE: Merchandise, good.

      Me: Some noble military types find out what he’s done and draft him into the war, where he realizes that it’s all Evil Corp’s fault and that everyone should just get along.

      BSE: And the princess?

      Me: They fly off back to her homeworld together.

      BSE: OK, that’s an idea. Here’s a hundred thousand bucks to turn it into a concept. Have it to me Tuesday.

      Me: Done!

  2. dm says:

    John Varley’s Gaia also liked old movies, as I recall.

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