Call Me Joe
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|Cover artist||Frank Kelly Freas|
Call Me Joe is a science fiction novelette written by Poul Anderson and published in 1957. 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 story was published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine by its editor John W. Campbell. It later appeared in Anderson's 1981 collection The Dark Between the Stars.
Joe is awakened in his den, when a pack of predators are attacking him. Using his great strength, and weapons made from sculpted ice, he kills the animals and, exultant, bays at the moon above him. A vital component shorts out, and "Joe" reverts to being a human, Ed Anglesey, wearing a special headset on a space station orbiting Jupiter. Anglesey furiously repairs the equipment to restore the connection.
It transpires that such equipment failures are happening more and more often. All technical attempts at repair have failed, and instead a psionics expert, Cornelius, is brought to the station to determine if Anglesey himself is the problem.
Anglesey uses a wheelchair and is bad-tempered. He dislikes all his colleagues and is disliked in return. He is allowed to stay on the station only because of his ability to establish a telepathic connection with and thereby control Joe, a creature designed to survive the hostile conditions on the Jovian surface. Cornelius conjectures that something in Anglesey's mind rejects or fears Jupiter, and the resulting feedback keeps destroying the delicate equipment.
Eventually Cornelius is allowed to share a session with Anglesey during an important part of the mission. A set of autonomous female Jovians, similar to Joe but lacking a human controller such as Anglesey, has been launched from the satellite and will soon land on Jupiter. Joe, still controlled by Anglesey, is to be the leader, and father, of a new race that will live on the planet. During this session, Cornelius becomes aware of a third mind – that of Joe himself. Anglesey's mind has been steadily transforming itself into Joe and shrinking in the process. Cornelius was looking at the problem from the wrong end – it was not Anglesey's fear of going to Jupiter and becoming sublimated into Joe's stronger character which was causing the blowouts, but his fear of leaving Jupiter and the freedom Joe's whole and healthy, though non-human, body allows him. Anglesey's existence is poor and constricted compared to Joe's, and the environment has shaped a personality that no longer wants to be human.
Seeing himself from Cornelius's perspective, Joe becomes fully self-aware. He ejects Cornelius from the loop and shuts down what is left of Anglesey.
Cornelius revives on the station next to the hollow shell of Anglesey's body. Far from being dismayed, Cornelius realizes that this is the way of the future. From now on people with diseased bodies and even the aged can be recruited for the Jovian program if they have the necessary talents. Eventually they will leave their bodies behind and become Jovians in the flesh, functioning as the priesthood of the new race.
At the time of the story's composition, conditions on Jupiter were not well known, although measurements of the planet's mass had revealed that it must consist largely of gases. Call Me Joe posits a surface at very low temperatures and exceptionally high pressures. Under these conditions water is a hard solid and methane a liquid, where both native and human-created life can survive. However, based on subsequent observations from space probes, it is believed (as of 2005) that the solid core of the planet is surrounded by regions of high pressure and temperature that would make any life, as we know it, impossible.
In popular culture
The premise of a paraplegic man whose mind remotely controls an alien body also appears in James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar, similar enough for some critics to have called for Anderson to receive credit.
- Call Me Joe title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Wagner, Thomas M. (1997). "SF Review: The Dark Between the Stars (1981)". SFReviews.net. Archived from the original on June 20, 2002.
- "Starstream #4 (1976)". Retrieved 6 December 2009.
- Davis, Lauren (26 October 2009). "Did James Cameron Rip Off Poul Anderson's Novella?". io9. Retrieved 4 November 2009.