The peculiarity of Cameron’s story is the suggestion embedded in the setting, as opposed to the action, that man’s conquest of nature may be a bad idea. Our heroine is not willing to go around conquering nature, she must be compelled to act; then the plot reveals that she is at her best when she fights for her life. She is indomitably unscientific: She does not want to learn anything.
She is a mother – the plot again follows the setting – she more or less adopts a little girl. The female instinct to defend her young, the mother’s desperate courage, is necessary for the human beings to survive in a hostile world. The plot adds a doomed father-like man who sacrifices himself. The Marines also excel in defensive warfare. They do not want to learn anything either.
Finally, the planet Acheron, a wasteland that man must transform into a garden. This attempted colonization fails, but it might have succeeded. Man must attempt the transformation. Man therefore needs science. Every world is like Acheron. If man is to have a home, a place where man can rest without fear, he must conquer the universe. Unfortunately, this opinion leads man to wage war against nature continuously, forever acquiring more weapons, deploying them to further acquire… Man is fated to act restlessly.
Science insistently identifies knowledge with power. This is the recklessness of scientific curiosity, the fascination with the unknown, especially the monstrous. Scientists forget to fear for their lives. Science never asks about right & wrong, but the question of justice is tied up with the urgency of human action. Science requires the illusion that perfect knowledge could be acquired. But knowing causes is not the same as overcoming them. What if this only teaches that man is helpless?
Our heroine seems to have learned something about the human beings that terrifies her. She saw human beings used as food & shelter; she saw corpses desecrated. Science taught her that diseases are animals. Her sense of justice compels her to save mankind. She is shocked & outraged that scientists could risk our extinction. She learns that scientific power is necessary to defend human beings, but necessity removes any illusion of immortality from her. Science has no sense of time & place. Our heroine had a taste of the immortality science bestows. She attempts to escape that timelessness. The unscientific is the political.
She learns justice from the basic facts of self-defense: The need for an association to fight a common enemy. But a terrifying enemy might excuse any outrage. Courage & justice look therefore to nobility, specifically the nobility of sacrifice: It protects the human being from the disfigurement of a harsh world.