I too saw the movie and enjoyed it immensely, especially the full immersion in the 3D world that was so well realised. I too felt a bit let down by the black and white moral juxtaposition of the final third, that lacked all nuance. Would it not have been much more interesting if the military guys were real people too? or the if the plot had focused on another element of the rich world?
Strangely, as in no one else I have spoken to thought the same, I thought that the film was most like The Mission, essentially a recreation of the moral conflicts that arise with colonisation; for any American or European audience the main such example in our collective history was the discovery and exploitation of the "New World". Indeed the culture on the Avatar world does share many features of the native north American ethos. The Mission has a much more nuanced plot around the religious justification for joining the natives in resistance, and perhaps a more realistic ending where this resistance is doomed to failure against the might of European expansionism. I remember first hearing The Mission as a radio drama that dwelt even more on this debate, that was curtailed for the more visceral and visual movie. Avatar does include a sort of coming of age subplot that works quite well in terms of engaging the audience in the culture.
As for Paul's plea for a cinema that celebrates the science of exploration instead of the blockbuster military show down, perhaps I could direct him to the excellent Mars trilogy of books by Kim Stanley Robinson. If these are ever dramatised, they will need to preserve that focus to really reflect the books.
Despite its flaws, so well described by Paul, Avatar is one of the best science fiction movies of recent times. But really good science fiction is always better a book, as no director can ever capture what people can imagine in their own heads.
On summer holidays finally got around to reading Colin Wells' book Sailing from Byzantium. It is a very interesting look at Byzantium's contribution to preserving Greek learning for three cultural groups:
This book isn't a good overview of Byzantine history itself, in fact it may be best to have read some of this first before reading this book. For the history I recommend the three volume history by John Julius Norwich (1, 2, 3), and the fantastic dramatisation of the fall of the empire in 1453 by Roger Crowley Constantinople, The Last Great Siege 1453.
Famously, an Irish soldier, MacMorris, in Shakespeare's Henry V exclaims:
Of my nation! What ish my nation? Ish a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation?
Traditionally the Irish media, on this day and indeed the rest of this week, 17th March St. Patrick's Day, we are often treated to discussions of what it means to be Irish. Whilst we are not yet as confused as the English/British seem to be (which is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, and I personally can claim British citizenship as well as Irish though I choose not to). However, there is certainly an impression that we Irish are becoming more confused as to our national identity.
The truth is that, as a comparatively young nation, coming into existence in the early 20th century, we have a recent written tradition that defines the national identity. This "Irish literary revival," the flowering of literature and cultural activity at the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th centuries, is now seen in retrospect as a fundamental part of the process of creating an environment where independence became possible. Although some of the literature of this period may now seems idealistic and distant from "modern Ireland," it is still a rich tradition to draw on. In combination with this more recent literary and cultural heritage, we have a long oral and written history going back two thousand years and more; the Irish language being one of the oldest written languages in Europe. I find that most Irish people are not fully connected with this, and that Irish language enthusiasts often promoted the wrong parts of this tradition.
For me Ireland now shares most aspects of a wider trans-national European culture. When I travel in Europe I always learn new things about its rich cultural heritage, but I still feel strangely comfortable in countries where I cannot speak a word of the native language (most recently for me Slovenia); but when I travel outside of Europe I definitely feel like a foreigner (for me most recently South Korea).
One could muse about how this common European culture was formed. Obviously the Roman Empire united much of what is now Europe (but not Ireland). Subsequently the Christian Church (particularly though its adoption as the state religion of the Roman Empire) provided a pan-European cultural norm that lasted until the end of the Middle Ages, and the Reformation introduced a new paradigm. Since then a common membership of a scientific and modernising culture, linked to the 19th century European empires (such as the British and the French) and finally the integrated European project that is the EU, has bound Europe together culturally. Indeed most European legal systems derive from Napoleonic models. Ireland, on the fringe of Europe, but part of the largest world empire of all, the British, was the first part of that empire to break away. This was a complete political schism in the end, neutrality during the second world war, rejecting the Commonwealth, whilst maintaining unique political and cultural links. In a way Ireland has much in common with Canada, Australia (and to a lesser extent India), all parts of the old British empire.
We effectively rejected our own language in the period of our greatest austerity after the great hunger (the Famine of the mid 19th century); Irish speaking families brought up their children speaking English in the hopes of enabling emigration to English speaking Britain, America, Canada and Australia - an implicit emigration for opportunity policy (a default mode of operation for Ireland up to the 1990s) that could be argued has worked given the strength of the resultant Irish diaspora. In the census' taken since 2000 the Irish population is increasing for the first time since the huge blow of the famine when nearly half of either died or emigrated.
Now Ireland is the poster child of the EU - look what we can do - transform an agriculturally dominant stagnant economy with most of its children leaving to work abroad (Ireland in the 1980s) into a globalised economy leading the world in terms of ICT and biotechnological innovation (with the help of our American friends) - a bridge between Boston and Berlin, a model of the 21st century state, in balance with the external forces that threaten to rip many counties apart. And of course the EU has prevented further war in EU (except for the fall-out in Yugoslavia, and that was before it was partially absorbed into the EU).
Of course, if you actually count the unbroken years of operation of a democratically elected government Ireland is actually one of the older nations in Europe, but we think of ourselves as young, perhaps this is the anthropomorphic use of the American cultural ideal of the teenager and the young?
So, to help those lost souls searching for the core of Irish identity, in the honourable tradition of weblog listings, I offer up this list of books and poems that each have something to say on the topic, whether directly or indirectly. In no particular order, and each with some personal musings, I give you:
The Táin Bó Cúailnge has survived in two main recensions. The first consists of a partial text in the Lebor na hUidre (the "Book of the Dun Cow"), a late 11th/early 12th century manuscript compiled in the monastery at Clonmacnoise, and another partial text of the same version in the 14th century manuscript called the Yellow Book of Lecan. These two sources overlap, and a complete text can be reconstructed by combining them.Well, you just have to read that don't you?)
In researching this post I found this excellent site: Island Ireland. This an excellent resource for Irish literature, with many useful links. Note that I've updated this entry over 17th and 18th March, as I filled in the details of why I like each text...
"Below is a Science Fiction Book Club list most significant SF novels between 1953-2006. The meme part of this works like so: Bold the ones you have read, strike through the ones you read and hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put a star next to the ones you love."
Cannot beleive that Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian series isn't listed - but it does say post 1953! See my previous posting on this....
Looks like an excellent book:
Who controls the Internet? A book review at kierenmccarthy.co.uk
I have recently been re-reading a seminal science fiction series that I first read in my early teens. It is always interesting to revist such books. Now, I know that these pulp fiction books, originally written (and often published in serialised form) in the period 1911-1943 have been critiqued for their implicit sexism and racism, and for naive views of politics. I will certainly not seek to defend them against such charges! Nevertheless, I associate them with my childhood pleasure of reading a good action yarn, a real page turner. Now the first three books in the Martian (or Barsoom as Burrogh's natives call it) series have very simple "rescue the girl" plots, all involving the hero John Carter of Mars, who becomes Warlord of Mars by the end of the third book. The fourth features his son, and the fifth (the one I'm just about to start) I remember as having the most satisfying plot, involving an early version of a live chess match where the pieces must fight for control of the square. Burroughs of course invents his own version of chess for this, called jetan, played on a board with 100 squares coloured yellow and black. Anyone interested in the history of science fiction or fantasy should read at least this one book in the series, if not all 11 books!
The Internet seems to have a good few resources on Barsoom, the coolest being a Barsoom Map mapping Burroughs' locations to modern maps of Mars:
Here are links to the 11 books in the series at Amazon.co.uk (various paperback editions):
The WikiPedia entry on Barsoom usefully points out "The American copyright of the five earliest novels has expired, and they can be found on a number of free e-text sites. The Australian copyright of the remainder, not including John Carter of Mars (1964), has also expired and they too can be found online."
This is a period of history that really facinates me and includes: on Europe's western shores the Christianisation of Ireland, and the subsequent Irish missions to Britain and the rest of Europe; in Britain the rise of Anglo-Saxon dominance in England and its missions to Europe; and in the east the emergence of the Byzantine Empire, in continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire, and its battles with encroaching the Persians and others. This book covers all of these issues through the lens of how the practice of Christianity in Europe developed and formalised after the fall of the Roman Empire (i.e. the Western Roman Empire).