25

The film Avatar reminded me if this short story which I read, I think, in anthology from my school library in sixth form, c.1978/9. It was probably fairly old then most of their stuff was.

A wheelchair-bound paraplegic (possibly army veteran) man works on an manmade satellite orbitting a planet peopled by centaurs with a very primitive society. His job involves transferring his consciousness into a big strong male to control his body. The object is to obtain resources, advance their society or some such. Eventually the man becomes addicted to running free as a centaur (possibly there's a girl centaur). Finally he disconnects himself from his own disabled body permanently to live out his life as a centaur.

When I first read about Avatar my mind went straight to this story. Any ideas?

1 Answer 1

26

Call Me Joe by Poul Anderson.

From Wikipedia:

"Call Me Joe" is a science fiction novelette by American writer Poul Anderson, published in Astounding Science Fiction in April 1957. It later appeared in Anderson's 1981 collection The Dark Between the Stars. The Science Fiction Writers of America selected "Call Me Joe" for The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.

The plot involves an attempt to explore the surface of the planet Jupiter using remote-controlled artificial life-forms. It focuses on the feelings of a disabled man who operates an artificial body.

The following review notes the similarities to James Cameron's Avatar:

When James Cameron's Avatar premiered in 2009, it's story about a paraplegic who is able to remotely control an artificial creature so he could explore a hostile planet sounded familiar to many people–so familiar that there was talk about legal action. That's because the premise of Avatar seemed to be lifted wholesale from Poul Anderson's classic short story "Call Me Joe" (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1957).

James Cameron was very lucky on two points: 1) Poul Anderson was dead by the time Avatar came out and 2) he didn't nick material from Harlan Ellison again.

Be that as it may, "Call Me Joe" is what a science fiction short story should be. It takes a single fantastic idea, uses science and technology to give it verisimilitude, and then weaves a compelling story around it. As in Avatar, "Call Me Joe" involves a paraplegic man, Ed Anglesey, who is psychically linked to a synthetic being. In this case, the man is in a base on Amalthea, Jupiter's fifth moon, while the creature "Joe" is down on the giant planet's surface trying to prepare the way for a future colony with literally his bare hands because even the strongest Earth material disintegrates in Jupiter's harsh environment. Naturally, Joe/Angelsey is as rugged as the world he is attempting to conquer; a centaur with a prehensile tail and muscles borrowed from a Robert E Howard protagonist. Though trapped in a shattered body and confined to a wheelchair, Anglesey can still enjoy the life of the ruggedest of pioneers.

The only problem is that the machine that links Anglesey to Joe keeps breaking down. The K tubes that form the heart of the mechanism keep blowing out and once those vital and expensive components are gone, the project is lost. Enter Jan Cornelius, an expert in psionics who has come from Earth to determine what is causing the K tubes to blow out. Very soon Cornelius comes to the conclusion that the problem does not lie with the machine, but with the waspish and anti-social Angelsey. Is some deep-seated fear of Jupiter causing the feedback or is there something more sinister going on that imperils Anglesey's very identity?

Comparisons with Avatar are unavoidable and Mr Cameron's work comes off much the poorer for it. "Call Me Joe" is a much more economical and tauter work without the appalling layers of political agiprop. It also takes a much more mature approach with vivid passages showing the attractions of a life on the wild frontier of Jupiter as well as the philosophical implications of sharing you mind with another being. Anglesey is a true three dimensional character as opposed to the cipher of Sully in Avatar and we get a real chance to see the world through his (and Joe's) eyes–especially the unflattering way in which he perceives Cornelius, who Anglesey rapidly comes to sincerely hate as much as he hates his own crippled body.

Sorry, no blue-skinned noble savages, but 'Call Me Joe" does have an actual plot by an acknowledged master of his craft. To me, that beats 3D any day.

4
  • 2
    How could I have missed this controversy? Probably because Avatar was a turn off to me I avoided because... Well, I'd already read something far better. Thanks a lot for catching me up. Mar 24 at 20:34
  • Thought this must be a duplicate. Found the duplicate, but maybe the older question should be closed as a duplicate of this one. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/156252/…
    – user14111
    Mar 24 at 21:42
  • Moorcock fanbois can't help but prick up their metaphorical ears on seeing the name "Jan Cornelius", of course ... Mar 25 at 11:52
  • Mine did, Prime Mover, but after doing some research I found that "Call Me Joe"'s 1957 publishing date predates almost all of Moorcock's published writing except for his earliest short story work ("Sojan the Swordsman") when he was 17. It makes for a nice connection idea though, for sure.
    – CitizenRon
    Mar 28 at 16:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.