Avatar and Science Fiction

I finally watched Avatar last night. I saw it in IMAX 3D. It’s really pretty easy to convince people to go see this movie, whether they’re science fiction fans or not. It’s an intensely beautiful and immersive movie going experience. It’s what I’ve wanted from CGI for as long as it’s been a going concern in cinema. It’s what I’ve wanted in a 3D experience ever since I first saw the Muppets in 3D at Disney World.

I lost count of how many science fiction tropes were woven into the plot and the visuals. I’m sure someone has made a list. I’m sure that’s annoyed many of my fellow science fiction fans. I choose to be excited by the prospect of being able to pepper the occasional “If you liked Avatar, you’ll love this” into my reviews. I’d be overjoyed if there were twice as many science fiction fans next year as there are this year. Just for fun think about how you’d describe the dragon riding in Pern to your “mundane” friend that loved Avatar. Think about how many other visuals science fiction and fantasy novels you’ll be able to explain by referencing the floating mountains, phosphorescent fauna and gas giant dominating the sky. For now, I’ll share 3 examples.

Harry the Crow by John Kratman

I listened to Harry the Crow on escape pod a few days ago. It’s a tale of tradition in the face of progress, as a “young” robot earns his place amongst a tribe of Native Americans. As I listened to it, it felt like a cross between Pinocchio and Dances with Wolves, which of course means I can evoke: “If you liked Avatar, you’ll love this story.” Harry the Crow is more tightly focused on a man and his son. A man torn between his role in a future society as an engineer and his place amongst his people. In any setting, a theme of acceptance and a theme of becoming real offer insight into both what we consider real and who we want to accept us.

Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman

Forever Bound is the second story in the forthcoming anthology Warriors edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Much like in Forever War Haldeman uses military service to explore interpersonal relationships and larger social themes. In this case we follow a fresh physics phd graduate that’s drafted to serve in a platoon that remotely controls giant mechanical soldiers. If you were fascinated by the titular concept of Avatar, you’ll love this deeper exploration of the theme. In Forever Bound the human warriors aren’t just jacked into the machines they’re controlling but also into the other minds in their platoon. The implications to the human psyche leave me thinking just as much about codependency as warfare. I highly recommend.

Lethe by Tricia Sullivan

I read Tricia Sullivan’s first novel Lethe (1995) in late November. That whole uploading memories to the trees bit in Avatar, was a central theme in Lethe. The scene with the glowing seeds covering Jake mirrored a scene in Lethe. Where Avatar uses the whole “connection to the earth mother” thing to explore a simple science vs religion debate, Lethe uses it as a chance to play with cyberpunk tropes in an alien environment apart from technology. At the time it was an important exploration as the cyberpunk ideas were shifting from fiction to reality. I’ll consider this a reminder to post my review.

~ by mentatjack on January 23, 2010.

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