Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Perils of Pandora, Part III: Can Avatar be 'fixed?'

Following on my earlier analyses of James Cameron's Avatar, please let me reiterate that I actually quite like the film!  What's not to like about such a feast for the eye that's also packed with terrific action, and that tries so hard for goodness?  Well, as I have shown, it is that last part where Mr. Cameron inadvertently fails, delivering instead a blow to our confidence that we can become better people. That we can make a better civilization,

And here we ponder... 

== Is there a way out? ==

In fact, I believe Avatar's moral flaws could be fixed with only minimal alterations! Maybe five minutes worth of footage, added to a "director's cut," might alleviate many of the problems outlined in my earlier postings Part I: Why Avatar (Tragically) Fails to Make us Better and Part II: How James Cameron can set things right. 

Just five minutes.

Shall I give it a try?
            
Picture the beginning, as a crippled Jake Sully arrives at the human mining colony exploiting riches from Pandora -- riches that Earth desperately needs, in order to restore its former health. But there are tradeoffs, including an unscrupulous company and a suspicious-dangerous native population.

Only now, let's suppose that Earth civilization is not run by imbeciles who are ignoring history. Instead, our descendants run a generally moral society that established rules for decent treatment of the natives, to be enforced by an honorable governor and her staff.

Have I wrecked Avatar? Not really. Bear with me!
            
Let's posit that the Company chafes under the governor's restrictions, constantly conniving and conspiring to get around them. To provoke the Na'vi into a war they cannot win, exactly what happened repeatedly, in the American West.
           
Imagine in the film's first ten minutes, while Jake is literally getting his legs, we see hopeful signs. A meeting is underway, on one of the floating islands, where the good colonial governor is about to sign a treaty with moderates among the Na'vi...
            
Um, now there's a twist. Moderates among the Na’vi?
            
Why, I am talking about those among the natives who are guardedly curious, cautiously friendly, determined to preserve their world(!) but also willing to compromise and let Earthlings have resources they need to save their own distant planet. More like the Cherokee and Iroquois, these are the tribesmen who support Sigourney Weaver's school, though they demand Earth send children to Pandora who might be young and flexible enough to absorb Na'vi lessons, too.

            "No, you may not go anywhere near our trees!" they explain.
            "Give us drones and such to help us enforce this!
            “On the other hand, we sure find your spaceships fascinating.
            "And can we try to see if this avatar machine of yours works both ways? So we can feel what it's like to be human?"
            
All of this could be telescoped into just three minutes of screen time! Things look hopeful... too hopeful! And so the audience knows what to expect.
            
The conference island blows up!
            
The governor and her aides -- except Sigourney -- are dead. So are the Na'vi moderates.
            
The Company guy rubs his hands. Earth won't investigate too hard if he has a mountain-high stack of unobtanium waiting, when the next ship arrives.
            
At which point... the whole rest of the film can ensue almost exactly as-is!
            
Obstinate-immature company stooges versus obstinate-immature remnant Na'vi. And we root for the Na'vi, of course!  Because if we must choose between two packs of obstinate-immature jerks, let’s side with the underdogs who are defending their homes.
            
Only, while the rest of the movie proceeds, it is with this idea planted in the viewers' minds:

            It's a tragedy. We should have taken more precautions, sending more of our best and fewer of our worst. But at least there were real efforts to avoid this, by future humans who might do better next time, learning from this mistake.
            Now let's root for Jake and Neytiri and the obstinate wing of the Na'vi. Because obstinacy is called for now!
            
And none of this says that all of our descendants will be evil, all of the time.
            
Only slightly altering its lessons on tolerance and diversity and ecological responsibility, this would dramatically adjust the guilt trip so that it offers a patina of hopefulness, rather than utter despair for despicable humanity.
            
The moral would be keep trying instead of give up.
  
== A side note on scale ==

One of the most amazingly silly things about most sci fi is the assumption that a planet, is about the same size as -- say -- Cuba.

That's about the range that one might expect a Na'vi riding a dragon might tell the tale about how his tribe beat the snot out of alien invaders.  Heck, let it be Texas! No matter. 

The point is that all the company really has to do is relocate to another part of Pandora, beyond the range of even dragon-riding news-bearers.  That's an inconvenience that could instead be an asset to good storytellers.  But we have to learn to think scale.
         
== A Futile Hope ==

Okay... back to my idea about those three-minutes at the beginning, to make Avatar a realistic and effective lesson, and not a berating ruiner-of-confidence.  So. Do I expect James Cameron to make this tweak?  

Of course not. All I can do is carp from the sidelines that "this coulda made it better"...
            
…and shrug as others attribute it all to jealousy.  Ah well.
            
Is that proposal the only alternative occurring to me, when I ponder this immensely entertaining and thought-provoking film? Of course not. There are scads of ideas, including a post-singularity riff that could explain so much of why Planet Pandora is the way it is, offering several double-twist, ironic surprises about humanity's interaction with the Na'vi.
            
Perhaps -- purely for entertainment -- I'll muse on these for you, another time.
            
None of which matters except for this key point...
            
... which is to plead with you. Look around yourself at the current flood of film dystopias and novels that wallow in apocalypse.
            
Hey, I enjoy a good fall-of-civilization tale and I have written some, myself.  But the current obsession-craze is just tedious. Heck, Avatar positively fizzes with subtlety and optimism, by comparison!  
           
Which makes our conclusion all the more painful. For James Cameron’s grand sci-fi epic could have spread confident determination to seek self-improvement – as individuals and as a civilization -- while delivering entertainment and mind-blowing vision to billions.  It tried hard to do that and came so-close!
            
Alas, instead, Avatar wound up undermining our confidence in humanity's ability to do that very thing. It did not have to turn out this way.


=======================

What follows in Part IV: A Speculative Addendum is not a formal part of my article, but just a writer having fun, playing in another fellow's sand box...



35 comments:

DavidTC said...

There's another way to fix the movie:

Make it clear that people on Earth do not actually know what's going on. Weaver's team has their communication monitored, and Earth is constantly being fed complete bullshit about how the Na'vi are all on board with what's going on, and what's going on is just grabbing a few of those floating boulders, in return for which the Na'vi get...uh...something.

Meanwhile, the corporation has created a few carefully posed pictures, all made right after first contact. Hell, use that as half the reason *for* the avatar concept...it's not like the public can tell the difference between the actual Na'vi and an avatar. Everyone look at this friendly smiling alien happy at our headquarters...whatever you do, don't count the fingers.

I think it's rather funny that *you*, of all people, didn't immediately leap to the problem literally being lack of transparency of what's actually going on. :)

Lucius Cornelius said...

David, it seems to me that Hollywood writers are lazy. It is hard to think of a plot that keeps a character in peril without resorting to the plot devices you described. But it is possible.

Consider, our hero calls for backup. The trained government professionals arrive (NCC-1701D and company). But the situation is challenging and the technology is not perfect. Our hero and the professionals have to work hard to overcome the problem.

This is not easy to write.

David Brin said...

DavidTC I like the notion of using avatar tech to fake friendly natives! Lucius, yes. Some good flicks show the hero in jeopardy DESPITE being members of a skilled society. In The Fugitive, a one-point MISTAKE was made... (which is fine)... after which society's competence IS the problem!

In "Ransom" the cops are competent. It's just that this time they are wrong.

Tony Fisk said...

Some nice ideas there. I haven't a lot of time to go into depth, but my suggestions: make whatever sours the conference less than an explosion. Grace is still towing the line, albeit reluctantly. Clear sabotage would have pushed her over the line, I think. Furthermore, a failure of the minds is lower key, could have occurred a while ago, and could be quietly slipped in as flashback in the sequels, now Grace has the time an inclination to pass on her knowledge (You really think Grace is dead? Possibly Weaver will be operating another avactor, but I think she took up a 'better offer' part way through the transfer)
You speak of planetary scale (what is Pandora's size? Avatar wiki suggests somewhere between Earth and Mars). Possibly the moderates are from far afield. It was a major undertaking to bring them together, and will take an even bigger one to repeat the attempt.
Another thought: Jake's brother may have had some innate diplomatic skills which Grace had been hoping to use: an aptitude for mind melding, perhaps?. SO, it would have doubly pissed her off when the Company produced the chief of Clan Jarhead instead (who has these talents in a raw from).

More later.

Randall Winn said...

While the problem of Cuba-sized planets is vexing, in this particular case it may be that the treemind can communicate with its peers, giving them the key information: dragons can knock down copters by grabbing their tails - and it's not even fatal to the dragons!

The way that the Na'vi themselves fought the Company forces in the air didn't seem terribly effective; individual heroes wreaked havoc on the capital ships but imagine how much more effective they would have been as a squad! And the land forces were simply target practice, IIRC, until saved by a horde of monsters that could shrug off any weapon an Earth human can carry. Presumably the other continents have them too, so if the tactics are communicated, it's just a question of whether Pandora can breed critter faster than Earth can ship helicopters.

Of course, I assume that the highly advanced information technology underlying the Memory Tree is associated with similarly advanced long-distance communications technology, but that may be mere Earthcentricism.

locumranch said...


After offering harm to the Na'vi in part 1, then it stands to reason that the humans will offer HELP to the Na'vi in part 2:

Hordes of social workers & grief counselors descend on Pandora and discover (to their horror) that the Na'vi are essentially unclothed, indigent,impoverished, uneducated & unemployed, and that the Na'vi exist so far below the federal poverty level that entire families are forced to live in trees without indoor plumbing, cable TV or proper utilities.

The alarm will go out and the appropriate federal agencies will spring into decisive action, assisted by charities, religious missions & NGOs, inundating the Na'vi with lipsticks, toasters, hot dogs, cell phones, blankets, schools and moral indoctrination, yet the poor Na'vi (being underprivileged and immensely ignorant about their poverty) either resist or remain unimpressed by human generosity, which in turn forces their human benefactors to establish the BNA (Bureau of Na'vi Affairs) that has the authority to treat the Na'vi like recalcitrant children, exploit their economic resources, isolate them on reservations & sequester their children in mission-style schools for THEIR OWN GOOD until the Na'vi are so well & truly 'saved' that they too believe that (pre-contact) Pandora was a "hellish mess (as) compared to the way things will be in the FUTURE".

Then, after a series of laws are passed to declare that Humans and Na'vi are EQUAL in every way, the Na'vi will also have the PRIVILEGE of joyous drudgery, corporate wage slavery, mandatory diversity training, hierarchical obedience and military conscription that will give them the OPPORTUNITY to die legless on some other hellish planet as the flag-bearers of some great star-travelling federation.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
Star Trek; and the progressive dream made flesh.

Best

Daniel Duffy said...

You're neglecting the most likely scenarios:

99% of the Na'vi get wiped out by diseases inadvertantly brought to Pandora by the Humans who failed to perfectly sterilize their equipment or where bio suits while on the surface (like measels, mumps, whooping cough, cow pox and small pox wiped out most of the Native Americans). The Humans marvel at a near empty world that is theirs for the taking.

And/or...

Humans get infected and wiped out by local microbes, again due to the lack of perfect sterilization procedures and bio suits - just like HG Wells' Martians (or evey European who tried to colonize tropical Africa prior to the invention of modern medicine).

This issue is always glossed over by almost every "let's land on the planet and walk around to explore it" SF story.

Daniel Duffy said...

Given that travel and communication in the Avatar universe are limited to the speed of light (no warp drive or hyperspace, their ship had a sub-light fusion engine and used hyper-sleep for the crew's extended voyage) the commander on the spot - for good or ill - would have to have nearly complete autonomy and powers of discretion.

The situation would be analogous to the sailing warships of the Napoleonic era who were out of communication for months at a time. One of the the things I picked up reading the "Master and Commander" series and the "Horatio Hornblower" books was the amazing amount of latitiude British ship captains of that era were given, provided they adhered to very broad and loosley written sailing orders.

Daniel Duffy said...

One other sin of Avater was showing Pandora with only one ecosystem (that vast jungle). A planet (actually a moon of a gas giant IIRC) that size would have polar regions, deserts, grasslands, oceans, etc.

Daniel Duffy said...

As for trading physical commodities across interstellar distances at sub-light speed, nothing could be more costly and uneconomic. Any civilization advanced enough to travel to the stars at a large fraction of c would be able to synthesize unobtainum easily back home. What the Humans landing on Pandora need to due is study this material, find out what makes it so unique, and beam this information back to Earth at a tiny fraction of the cost of shipping large quantities of the ore itself

There is only on commodity that can be traded economically at interstellar distances: information.

P.S. For fun I recommend Nobel economist Paul Krugman's paper on the economics of interstellar trade, and what time dilation does to the time value of money and interest payments:

http://www.princeton.edu/~pkrugman/interstellar.pdf

Alfred Differ said...

I've read Krugman's paper. As a piece of humor it works as intended. As anything else... well... this physicist is unimpressed. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

V Vinge dealt with the apparent lack of viral attacks on humans visiting a new world in one of his novels. Consider how alien our biology would be to life tuned to the locals. Our sexual reproduction method tries to produce the same effect here by scrambling things enough to give children a chance to get started before the parasites take up residence. We'd have much longer to deal with alien pathogens that were anything short of goo-generating nanobots.

Alex Tolley said...

I agree with Alfred - our biologies may be so different that we and the Na'vi would be unaffected by each others' microorganisms. Just a different genetic code alone would stop viruses, and even the smallest changes in amino acids, sugars etc would stop bacteria.

So I think we would most likely be able to walk around an alien planet with fear of infection. Macro-life is another matter entirely.

locumranch said...


Snarkiness aside for the moment, I'd like to point out the obvious conflict between the CQI-obsessed progressive mindset & the Na'vi:

Throughout the entire film, the human contingent appear to be reduced to 'human doings' rather than human beings because the purpose (raison d'etre) of every human individual, from Soldier to Scientist, is one of utility rather than mere presence, made especially clear by the disabled Sully who must justify his continued existence (from the get-go & on a scene by scene basis) by demonstrating his continuing usefulness to the human (and/or Na'vi) collective.

In contrast, the native Na'vi are are not required to 'do' anything in order to forward the plot because they are portrayed as intelligent 'beings' whose individual raison d'etre is one of mere existence, being described as necessary components in a fully integrated (non-competitive) global ecology.

So, my questions are this:

(1) At what point, if ever, would it be acceptable for Sully (or, any member of the human contingent) to become a 'human being'?;

(2) Is Progressivism, with its manifest destiny of graduated change, compatible with any type of fully-integrated ecology?; and,

(3) Is a Star Trek future, with its implicit reliance on a 'we try harder' inferiority complex, even compatible with human being-ness?


Best

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - let's turn your question around with a little history.
Are we more or less human than we were say 40,000 years ago? Given the vastly richer environment we live in and our time to think beyond survival, don't you think it is just possible we are more human?

In the past, humans decimated environments. Sometimes for the good of humans, sometimes bad. While we still despoil ecosystems, at least some of us decry that behavior and work to restore some environments.

Your questions seem to hark back to a mythical Rousseau-ian utopia. Remove those rose tinted lenses and see the past for what it was, not some romantic vision of a lost golden age.


Alfred Differ said...

I think it was in the last book (Children of the Sky) that Vinge had Ravna flipping epigenetic switches in the humans to make better use of local foods. Humans with that kind of capability would be untouchable even to the bugs on their home world.

What we would have to watch out for, though, is an identification mistake. Immune systems are learning systems, so we'd have to keep an eye out for our own system attacking us after fending off a critter that happened to have a protein expression that looked to much like one of ours. Still... anyone flipping switches like that would have that covered.

Jumper said...

locumranch, your post made me laugh, and I know it was meant to, so thanks. I like it when you show humor; very refreshing.
Re. your constant Star Trek griping, do you not remember how Shatner saw his role as very over-the-top, and waaay overacted it, tongue in cheek, mocking much of what you take way too seriously? I mean, he would end up challenging Jehovah to a fistfight, for crying out loud!

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: I don't think the Na'vi were portrayed the way you describe. They were rather flat and present mostly as a foil to show how bad the utilitarian humans were. No character was developed enough to avoid your general complaint, though.

Regarding Star Trek, I don't think the future portrayed in TOS and TNG are compatible with human-ness. The few the number of humans were in the later shows, the better chance the stories had of being compatible. There aren't many writers who portray humans the way I think we actually behave. Our host is a rare exception as far as I'm concerned.

DavidTC said...

The danger presented by planets like Pandora is, indeed, not the viral. Viruses cannot even possibly function if their DNA strands are even slightly different.

Bacterial is a maybe. But many bacteria can't even live inside multiple mammals, much less random other animals.

Parasites, or even just small animals, OTOH, could be a huge problem.'Oh, look, a space mosquito, but the anti-coagulant it tries to put in our blood just flat out kills us. Fun.'.

Bigger then that, but smaller than us (say rat-sized) ...generally those animals stay away from larger animals they don't recognize, although who knows how it works on an alien planet. But we'll probably be okay there.

And of course at some size, they'll be large enough to pose an obvious threat, but presumably we're smart enough to stay away from space cougars and space bears.

So it will be the insects and worms that kill us. Some random irrelevant species that decides to burrow into our ankles or nest in our ears. (The sort of lethal behavior that kills them too, so would have resulted in evolution sending them in another direction, but, duh, evolution is a bit slow and it will take out a lot of humans in the meantime.)

Likewise, you want to know something that could really screw us up? Alien *pollen*.

Randall Winn said...

Humanity has found three answers to the question "Is it more human to *do* or to *be*?"...

1. “To be is to do”—Socrates.

2. “To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.

3. “Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

...thus suggesting the gravest dangers an alien environment may pose would be earworms.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. The pollen doesn't even have to be alien. As long as it looks like s small invader our immune systems can go berserk trying to kill something that is effectively inert within us.

Maybe spores would be more interesting. Fungi can be quite annoying in the wrong location and some are difficult to kill without our immune system killing us at the same time.

Hmm... space worms. There are some real possibilities there since each of us looks like a planet (larger than Cuba!) to them. Warm, wet, mobile UV and predator protection... what could go wrong? 8)

Heh. I suppose one answer to the Fermi Paradox could be a belligerent race seeding space worms everywhere. Design them right and you could knock out water worlds with and without roofs. Our nematode overlords are known IQ drags, so getting around them is a way to shatter the glass ceiling too.

Tony Fisk said...

It definitely needed better plot writers, but one thing the defunct TV show 'Terra Nova' did well was the medical facility. A few of the teens had been 'experimenting' with cretaceous hooch, and getting some dino-sized tropical parasites as a result. (one aside to patient's girlfriend: "Keep turning this spool, there's about another three meters to go." Eeeww!)

Who needs Alien? We've got Guinea Worms!

Daniel Duffy said:
One other sin of Avater was showing Pandora with only one ecosystem (that vast jungle)
If you watch the sequence where Jake is rallying the tribes, you will briefly see a number of different habitats ranging from coastal cliffs, through prairie.

Alex Tolley said...

Parasites need to feed. So if our biology is different, the parasites will die or remove themselves if they can. Too much scifi horror has influenced these ideas.

The pollen is an interesting issue however. The mere shape might trigger immune reactions.

locumranch said...


As portrayed in the film, the Na'vi are the epitome of the well-adapted & well-adjusted 'Noble Savage' who fills an ecologically specified niche in a happy, sustainable & conservative fashion, whereas the invading humans demonstrate the poorly adapted, maladjusted & chronically dissatisfied characteristics of the progressive who desires self-betterment in the insatiable fashion of the anorexic who desires infinite thinness.

When is the progressive happy? Never.

The progressive can never rest; his ideal is unattainable; and Continuous Quality Improvement is an unending death march.
____

Alex:
Please clarify the term 'more human'. Is an aardvark 'more human' than a vole? Is a modern man 'more human' than an ancient one? I think not. 'Human' is a qualitative term; 'More' is a quantitative one; and the two can never mix.

Jumper:
Like Adam West in Batman, William Shatner made Star Trek 'camp' & rescued it from NexGen pretentiousness. And, yes, he did challenge God to a fist fight in 'Who mourns Adonis, Season 2, Episode 4.
___

Best

Daniel Duffy said...

"When is the progressive happy? Never"

- Locumranch

"Happiness is for pigs"

- Aristotle

DavidTC said...

Parasites need to feed. So if our biology is different, the parasites will die or remove themselves if they can. Too much scifi horror has influenced these ideas.

Uh, yes. I said the parasites would die.

This would not stop them from *taking the human they infected out with them*. Especially an *alien* parasite, which could easily have any number of toxic chemicals in it, like small amounts of nickel or some sort of acid or whatever. Earth-based parasites usually can be safely absorbed by their hosts, but we can't assume they for aliens.

This is, of course, something that evolution would take issue with, but I doubt we'd be happy they were killing us even if they'd *eventually* evolve to recognize and stay away from humans.

And parasites are rarely smart enough to 'remove themselves' if the environment is inhospitable. That *itself* is a sci-fi horror trope, used as an excuse to get mind-control parasites out of people. In reality, parasites normally just get in place once, and that's it. And they send out eggs or offspring from that position. When the host dies, they die. If it was a bad position, they die before reproducing, and the next generation is presumably a bit more selective about their host choices.

A.F. Rey said...

C.J. Cherryh had an interesting alien deadliness in one of her novels (the name of which escapes me): a carcinogenic atmosphere. I can't recall if it was from chemicals in the atmosphere or from spores and pollen.

locum: not to be pedantic (but succeeding spectacularly anyway), Wikipedia lists "Who Mourns for Adonis" as being broadcast in Season 2 as Episode 2. :)

Alex Tolley said...

When is the progressive happy? Never.
The progressive can never rest; his ideal is unattainable;


That is how progress is made, being dissatisfied with the status quo. Perhaps best exemplified by Cabal in the final speech in the Korda film of "Things to Come":

"for MAN no rest and no ending. He must go on—conquest beyond conquest. This little planet and its winds and ways, and all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him, and at last out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time—still he will be beginning. . . . If we’re no more than animals—we must snatch at our little scraps of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more—than all the other animals do—or have done. (He points out at the stars.) It is that—or this? All the universe—or nothingness. . . . Which shall it be?"


Is a modern man 'more human' than an ancient one? I think not. 'Human' is a qualitative term; 'More' is a quantitative one; and the two can never mix.

"Humaness" can be quantified as a set of vectors of attributes. So we can say an adult is more human than a baby and in turn a baby is more human than a fetus.

Alex Tolley said...

"As portrayed in the film, the Na'vi are the epitome of the well-adapted & well-adjusted 'Noble Savage' who fills an ecologically specified niche in a happy, sustainable & conservative fashion"

*Portrayed* is the important word, because in reality their existence wouldn't be idyllic. As we have seen with terrestrial peoples, they usually quickly acquire the products of modern society and appreciate medical help. That may come with a price, but clearly individuals make choices that they believe improve their lives.

Alfred Differ said...

Progressives have a way to be happy. Just give them a chance to tell you where you've gone wrong.

[/end snark mode]

David Brin said...

Alfred, I'll take hand-wringing "we've got to get better!" progressives over dominionists who chuckle that the world is about to end, anyway, so why bother trying to improve anything? And oh, how wonderful the happy-happy schadenfreude that 99% of humanity will suffer horribly and then for eternity when the prayed-for end comes!

Locum's strawman that progressive liberalism seeks to crush diversity is typical shout-the-opposite-and-folks-may-believe-it! The funny meta is that he bases his objection on a LIBERAL value - diversity - that he then accuses liberals of violating. Snort!

David Brin said...

onward

Unknown said...

There's another way to fix Avatar:
Just change the one line/scene where Giovanni Ribisi's character says they need the Unobtanium to sell and say that "we need the unobtanium to fight the aliens which are on their way to attack/colonise planet Earth."

This future "attack" is from a 3rd alien species which is known to be on route to Earth. Now the mercenaries attacking the village/tree/Na'vi to get the unobtanium to protect their friends and families on Earth, not just because they are being paid.

Raising the stakes this way deals with a lot of the ethical problems David raises in his blog posts but also sets up a great sequel where the Na'vi volunteer to travel to Earth, kick some alien but and save the day.

Just a suggestion.

Elentar said...

My rewrite:

Unobtainium is not a mineral, but a composition of common elements formed into a complex lattice structure that makes it ideal for computation and storage--basically, an undifferentiated super chip that can be interfaced with a nervous system without harm. All attempts to manufacture it have never been able to produce more than a few milligrams of unflawed material.

When our hero arrives, he calls Pandora a shithole, and the Colonel is outraged. The Colonel has gone completely native, and says that Pandora is his home and he intends to die there. He has banked his money towards the construction of his own Avatar, but he won't take that step as long as his own body remains fit, because he knows he will never want to leave the tank.

Fortunately the local company head shares his love of Pandora--a good thing, because they have a U.N. observer who is grading them on native relations and ecology. Both the executive and the Colonel are in favor of what they call the bio-hypothesis; the unobtainium on Pandora is being created by the native plant life. This means that they should be able to grow and harvest unobtainium by transplanting native trees to other worlds, rather than strip mine it on Pandora. The Navi believe that this is the case as well; they call unobtainium 'mind stone' (for people with a rustic lifestyle, they don't seem to be very primitive.) The heavy concentrations of unobtainium at the base of the home tree and the spirit tree support this. To eliminate the alternative, the mineral hypothesis, the company head departs for a sister moon shortly after the movie starts, with most of the personel on Pandora, to see whether a barren moon with the same chemical composition also has unobtainium. The Colonel, of course, refuses to leave Pandora.

Most of the story does not change, except for occasional updates from the local executive that they cannot find unobotainium on the other moon. Then news arrives from head office that a transplanted tree on another world is producing unobtainium. The Colonel announces this triumphantly to the Navi, with celebrations all round.

Then a more dire announcement arrives. A mercenary mining fleet has just entered the system, led by a former company executive with the intent to mine all of the unobtainium under the home and spirit tree. They can gather almost three trillion dollars worth of unobtainium in two weeks doing this. The Colonel tries to tell them that the unobtainium under the spirit tree is useless to them--it is already differentiated with the memories of the Navi. But they don't believe him. The personnel on the other moon cannot interfere; they are living under an atmospheric bubble that can be punctured with a single shot, with the loss of nearly all hands.

When the mercenaries arrive, the battle unfolds very much as it does in the movie, except that the Colonel and the few remaining company personnel on Pandora fight for the Navi. The Colonel is paralyzed in the battle. When the mind transfer is completed in the end scene, the Colonel is there in his new Avatar, and he smiles, knowing he can transfer to his Avatar.

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