Did James Cameron Rip Off Poul Anderson's Novella?

Illustration for article titled Did James Cameron Rip Off Poul Anderson's Novella?

James Cameron's Avatar has been championed as an attempt at original science fiction storytelling in film amongst a sea of remakes and adaptations. But Cameron may have borrowed some of the key aspects of his tale from author Poul Anderson.

Reader Goldfarb pointed us to Call Me Joe, a novella written in 1957 by Golden Age science fiction writer Poul Anderson. Many fans of Anderson suspect that the story was an important influence on Avatar, and some are calling for Anderson to be credited on the film. And it's easy to see why.

Like Avatar, Call Me Joe centers on a paraplegic — Ed Anglesey — who telepathically connects with an artificially created life form in order to explore a harsh planet (in this case, Jupiter). Anglesey, like Avatar's Jake Sully, revels in the freedom and strength of his artificial created body, battles predators on the surface of Jupiter, and gradually goes native as he spends more time connected to his artificial body.


Now, there's nothing wrong with being inspired or influenced by other writers, and Cameron has mentioned a host of influences for Avatar: Dances with Wolves, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Rice Burroughs. But it's odd, given some remarkable similarities in the plots, that he doesn't appear to have mentioned Anderson as a specific inspiration.

Should the similarities between Avatar and Call Me Joe cause problems for Cameron, it wouldn't be the first time. After The Terminator came out, writer Harlan Ellison sued the production company for plagiarizing two episodes he wrote for The Outer Limits. Even though Cameron took Ellison's ideas in a very different and novel direction, the company settled with Ellison, who is now acknowledged in the film's credits.

Avatar may be, by and large, an original film, much as The Terminator is. But there may be firmer roots beneath his story than Cameron has acknowledged thus far.

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Anderson's story isn't so original itself - there's a similar Clifford Simak about a research station on Jupiter where human minds are transferred to artificial alien bodies to explore the surface and then "go native".

As a writer friend of mine says, ideas are a dime a dozen. It's the execution that counts. So exploring the surface of an alien planet using avatars is not new - so what? the film will succeed or fail on its own merits. #avatar