The first time I met Eric Drexler, I complained to him, “You’ve ruined science fiction for me.”  (He replied, “If it’s any consolation, I ruined it for myself.”)

The reason, of course, is that understanding nanotech means that the all the classic SF projections become so piddling and simplistic in comparison that any story set after, say, 2050, looks ridiculously anachronistic, as if it had been written by Jules Verne or H. G. Wells.

The more technologically advanced the presentation of SF gets, as in the technical tour-de-force of CGI that is Avatar, the wierder this double-exposure sense of “what universe was this written in” gets.  I won’t go into the very hackneyed plot — Dvorsky has a nice review here — or how a presumably star-faring civilization (the humans) happens to still be using Vietnam-era military technology (why aren’t the fighting machines at least teleoperated, or more likely, AIs?), or even why they aren’t mining the floating mountains for the antigravity mineral.  And who bred the Smurfs with the Gentle Tasaday?  (My guess is that Cameron is angling for an Oscar and wrote the story to appeal to the Gaian sensibilities of the Hollywood elite.)

Avatar isn’t anywhere near real SF — it’s fantasy.  Let’s take it on those terms.

But the thing about the movie as a whole that struck me was that that beautiful, gorgeous, magical world … was entirely artificial.  Synthetic.  Made up. Every single bit and pixel. Produced by a corporation using lots of expensive machines. We are standing at the dawn of the era where the worlds we can produce are better than the natural one we happen to have evolved in.  Storytellers always did that in the imagination;  now we can do it in photorealistic detail.  With nanotech, we’ll be able to do it with atoms instead of bits.  This century.  If you like it you can live there.  But only if we build it.

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