I don't remember when I read this. At least 20 years ago but maybe more. Nor the length. Probably not a very short short story but whether a novelette or a full length novel I have no idea.

It was at the same time SF and fantasy, because the only thing I remember is that one of the characters, while in a spacesuit in the vacuum (SF!) was able use his "phantom-hand" (Fantasy!).

I think that at some point he had lost an arm and developed this strange telekinetic power which he interpreted as a "ghost arm". Later he was grafted an artificial arm, but retained his telekinetic power as a "third" arm that could penetrate matter and for instance wipe his sweat from his brow while in his space suit. I don't remember anything more, alas.

  • 12
    I bet it's Gil the ARM.
    – DavidW
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 22:53
  • @DavidW, probably yes. Wouldn't it be better to make this an answer? Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 22:53
  • 1
    Agreed, Gil Hamilton. Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 22:56
  • 2
    FYI, it is hard science fiction, no fantasy. It's explicitly stated in Ringworld (and implied in this book) that telekinesis in this universe is understood scientifically. Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 14:52
  • @user3067860 Thanks for this reminder. I had forgotten this "scientific" aspect of telekinesis
    – Alfred
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 5:37

2 Answers 2


I bet this is Gil the ARM, protagonist of a series of short stories by Larry Niven, collected as Flatlander (1995).

Cover of "Flatlander"

Gil, who works for a law enforcement organization known as ARM, lost his arm in an accident, and before he received a transplant, his latent esper talent manifested the symptoms of a phantom limb as an actual psychic appendage he could use. (Note that the new arm was a transplant, not a prosthetic.)

You may be remembering a reminiscence in "Death by Ecstasy" where he describes learning to use and live with his "imaginary arm":

I found I could reach through a cabin wall to feel for breaks in the circuits behind it. In vacuum I could brush dust from the outside of my faceplate.

At one point he is tied up and smokes a cigarette by grasping it in his "hand." Later in the same scene he reaches inside his captor's chest, feeling the surgical scars on the way in, and grabs his heart to stop it.

The only other story where Gil wears a spacesuit is The Patchwork Girl where he's solving a murder on the Moon. In this story he uses his "hand" to "feel" a hologram of a real moonscape, sifting through a pool of dust to see if anything is hidden there. (His imagination limits his esper talent to the shape and reach of an arm, but it is capable of analyzing something by "feel" that is not actually present as long as it appears to be "in reach.")

  • Sadly the original stories are not available in their original form (that I know of). "Flatlander" sort of hodgepodges the short stories together into a not -quite-consistent novel.
    – Stephen R
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 16:06
  • It might be my faulty memory, but as I recall it, his case was also unusual in that most esper talents manifested as only being able to exert minute amounts of force, but being able to reach over long distances, but due to him learning to use it while on his own, he has more strength in his "arm", but only as far as he could normally "reach". Still not full strength — I remember him describing picking up a light object with it feeling like holding a metal ingot — but more than just being able to brush something.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 14:25
  • 1
    @FuzzyBoots That's from "Death by Ecstasy:" By now you’ve got the idea I was holding it in my imaginary fingers. Most people have the same impression, but it isn’t so. I held it clutched ignominiously in my fist. The coal couldn’t burn me, of course, but it still felt like a lead ingot.
    – DavidW
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 14:34

Either Flatlander or The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton by Larry Niven

enter image description here

Flatlander is a 1995 collection of stories by American writer Larry Niven, all set in Known Space. It is the definitive collection of all stories by Niven about ARM agent Gil Hamilton. Many of the stories revolve around the theme of involuntary organ transplantation.

The book includes the stories Death by Ecstasy (formerly The Organleggers), The Defenseless Dead, ARM, The Patchwork Girl, and "The Woman in Del Rey Crater"—the only previously unpublished story in the collection.

The collection is essentially a replacement for a 1976 collection called The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton which contained only the first three stories. The Patchwork Girl was also published alone as a novel in 1986


  • 4
    This answer is correct and I did upvote it. But though I was told you posted it 11 seconds before DavidW, it is obvious he was still typing when you did. But you just quotes Wiki when he wrote a detailed one and, mostly, one hour ago he edited it to mention something gone when in a spacesuit (OK, so it was wiping the outside of the faceplate, not his brow, my memory was wrong) which was an clear clue. So I accepted his. Thanks anyway.
    – Alfred
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 7:16

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