Is Avatar ripping off Ben Bova’s “Winds of Altair”?

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[digg=]Everyone is dying to hype up James Cameron’s Avatar as the second coming of film. There really hasn’t been hype for a movie like this since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and we all know how that turned out. But is Avatar as original as everyone thinks? Not really.

This is the Avatar description from Wikipedia:

The story’s protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is a former Marine who was wounded and paralyzed from the waist down in combat on Earth. Jake is selected to participate in the Avatar program, which will enable him to walk. Jake travels to Pandora, a lush jungle-covered extraterrestrial moon filled with incredible life forms, some beautiful, many terrifying. Pandora is also home to the Na’vi, a sentient humanoid race that humans consider primitive, yet are more physically capable than humans. Standing three meters tall (approximately 10ft), with tails and sparkling blue skin, the Na’vi live in harmony with their unspoiled world. As humans encroach deeper into Pandora’s forests in search of valuable minerals, the Na’vi unleash their formidable warrior abilities to defend their threatened existence.

Jake has unwittingly been recruited to become part of this encroachment. Since humans are unable to breathe the air on Pandora, they have created genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrids known as Avatars. The Avatars are living, breathing bodies that are controlled by a human “driver” through a technology that links the driver’s mind to their Avatar body. On Pandora, through his Avatar body, Jake can be whole once again. Sent deep into Pandora’s jungles as a scout for the soldiers that will follow, Jake encounters many of Pandora’s beauties and dangers. There he meets a young Na’vi female, Neytiri, whose beauty is matched only by her ferocity in battle.

Over time, Jake integrates himself into Neytiri’s clan, and begins to fall in love with her. As a result, Jake finds himself caught between the military-industrial forces of Earth, and the Na’vi, forcing him to choose sides in an epic battle that will decide the fate of an entire world.

Sounds pretty cool. Unfortunately, that is the plot of Ben Bova’s 1972 novel “Winds of Altair”:
Winds of Altair Cover

The classic SciFi novel tells the story of humans trying to terraform the planet of Altair IV, where they cannot breath the air. The natives of this planet are a cat-like race (hmm, the Na’vi in Avatar look a little like cats) and Humans are able to transfer their minds into these cats in order to explore the planet safely. Throughout the course of the novel, the main character inhabits the body of one of these cats (just like in Avatar) and grows to side with the natives against the Military in the story.

The plots are almost identical. But will Cameron give credit to Bova for the story in Avatar? Doubt it.