I dream of towering waves, crashing down on cities. I dream of fire. I dream of a world cleansed of the filth of mankind by fire and water. I dream of a world that, in time, is allowed to begin over again.
No actual writing yesterday, but a metric shit-ton of email. I spoke with Vince about #55. I spoke with editors. All this speaking is via email, of course. I rarely employ my physical voice when speaking to anyone Outside. I looked through my preliminary schedule for Readercon 21 (I'll post it here as soon as I have the final schedule). When I'd made it through all the email, Spooky read "Tidal Forces" aloud to me. She'd not read the ending. I was relieved to find that the story works. The heat in the House was not nearly so bad yesterday, and is better still today.
My thanks to Ron St. Pierre, for letting me know that my novels are once again available in Japan for the Kindle. Which is good in terms of sales, but I still loathe the Kindle and, on some level, am utterly indifferent to the whole matter of ebooks. I'd much prefer people to read my novels as books.
Last night, we watched Avatar (second viewing; first since the theater). I love this film so much. Truly. My complaints remain few and far between. Sure, it's a pretty obvious reworking of Frank Herbert's Dune. If you're gonna steal, steal from the best. This time through, I couldn't help but think about how much better Will Smith would have been than Sam Worthington in the role of Jake Sully (and this might have silenced a few of the "race fail" naysayers). My only other significant quibble is a biological one.
There seems to be an evolutionary disconnect between the Na'vi and the rest of Pandora's wildlife (which is especially annoying, since the Na'vi are so much a part of their world). We see so many wonderfully realized species, thanators and dire horses and viperwolfs and hexapedes, and they form a convincing extraterrestrial ecosystem. All these animals are, in effect, hexapods. Now, here on earth, all land vertebrates are tetrapods. What this really means is that they all share a common ancestor (something like Tiktaalik roseae), and one of the major features of this common ancestor is that it had four limbs. That's why humans have four limbs, and why most terrestrial vertebrates have four limbs (biologists call these shared "primitive" characters symplesiomorphies). There are exceptions, where one set of limbs has been lost (whales, manatees, some squamates, etc.), or where a pair of limbs has been highly modified (as with birds and bats, whose arms function as wings), or where all limbs have been lost (snakes, for example). Now, assuming that natural selection and genetic mutation (these two things equal evolution) works the same way on other planets, I look at Pandora and I see a world where "vertebrates" have evolved not from a four-limbed tetrapod ancestor, but from a six-limbed hexapod ancestor. So...thanators and whatnot have six limbs. This is all well and good. Might have happened here on Earth. By chance, it didn't.
But...the Na'vi have only two sets of limbs, not the three they ought to have. In the film, we see one other "primate" species (this is, of course, only a species analogous to a terran primate, not an actual primate, as it shares no common ancestor with earthly primates). It's the six-limbed "lemurs" that Grace points out to Jake. Maybe the Na'vi are meant to have evolved from an ancestor like these "lemurs." Maybe not. We're never told. But...somewhere along they way, the Na'vi inexplicably lost a pair of limbs. This isn't impossible (see the examples of lost limbs above), but given the ecology of the Na'vi, it's very unlikely. An extra set of arms would come in very handy for an arboreal species, and would not have been selected against. Also, most Pandora species seem to posses "nostrils" in their throat, instead of at the front of their skull. But not the Na'vi.
My guess: Cameron knew that six-limbed, throat-breathing Na'vi would be too inhuman for humans to identify with, and so they have four limbs and breath through nostrils. Also, animating an extra set of limbs on all those characters would have made the production of the film more expensive and time consuming. So, Na'vi have four limbs, even though it makes no sense from a biological perspective.
Now, this hardly detracts from the film. It's only gonna bug zoology geeks like me...and it only bugs me a little. How many people even noticed that most Pandoran animals breathe through three sets of nostrils in their throats? It's very easy to become unreasonably pedantic about "getting the science right." My favorite example, someone who complained about a tiny detail in Danny Boyle's superb Sunshine (2007). I'll quote this bit from IMDb:
In the scene where four crewmen are forced to go into outer space, with no protection, Corazon states that the temperature outside is -273 degrees Celsius. This is not exactly true, because though outer space is near absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius) it is in fact about 3 degrees above absolute zero. She should have said -270 degrees Celsius, or 3 degrees Kelvin.
This is correct, of course. But who the hell cares? Not me, and I actually care about science. We're quibbling about three degrees, three degrees that would not have changed the story. My rule of thumb, get it right when getting it right doesn't interfere with telling a good story. The story comes first. Hence I put zeppelins on Mars in "Bradbury Weather," even though there was absolutely no way I could make the aerodynamics work (I tried for days, and even enlisted the aid of physicists). Zeppelins on Mars "look" damn cool, so I used them.
Anyway...didn't mean to go on for so long. But the mothmen and the platypus do love a good rant.