Yes, It’s Coincidence

I’m getting rather a lot of e-mails and other comments sent to me about Avatar, mostly because James Cameron has his main character’s consciousness zapped into a new, differently-colored genetically-engineered body, much like I have happen with John Perry in Old Man’s War. This has led people to ask if I’m somehow involved with Avatar and/or if James Cameron stole my idea and/or if I plan to sue that lousy James Cameron for stealing my idea. So, in no, particular order:

1. Yes, I’m aware of the consciousness-swapping thing in Avatar. No need to keep pointing it out to me.

2. No, James Cameron didn’t steal the consciousness-swapping idea from me. He’s been working on Avatar for something close to fifteen years now, i.e., long before I thought to write Old Man’s War (in 2001, in case you’re wondering). For the record, I didn’t steal the idea from him, either. The consciousness-swap idea has been around science fiction for a while now, you know.

3. As Cameron didn’t steal the consciousness-swap idea from me, quite obviously I won’t be suing him, haranguing him for stealing my idea or otherwise suggesting Cameron took anything at all from Old Man’s War. As far as I can tell from the trailers, any similarities between Avatar and Old Man’s War (or the ideas therein) are entirely coincidental.

4. And since a couple people asked, no, this single similarity between our two stories does not make it less likely an OMW movie will be made; indeed, if Avatar does smash-hit box office, that will be lovely for the chance that my book might someday hit the big screen, since it means military space action stories will suddenly be hot in Hollywood, and no one will give a crap if the movie based on my novel has a consciousness-swap scene in it too.

In other words: Relax, everyone. It’s a coincidence.

39 Comments on “Yes, It’s Coincidence”

  1. Oh, man, I’d *love* it if military space action movies became popular! Honor Harrington, Sassinak, etc.

    That would make my life close to complete. And now we’ve got more authors doing it lately – Mike Shephard (the latest Kris Longknife novel has a cute homage to Jack Campbell), Mike Resnick, David Drake, Tanya Huff, John Ringo (if you can keep the jingoism to a minimum), Elizabeth Moon, R.M. Meluch, etc. It’s a fantastic time to be a fan of this kind of sci-fi.

  2. Old Man’s War really deserves a mini-series. It could be the next Battlestar Galactica (minus the lame ending) in the hands of the right show-runner.

    Of course, the film I’m really waiting for is “The Android’s Dream”.

  3. Hrm. Hasn’t possession, domination, voodoo and other mystical consciousness control been around for millennia? I seem to recall legends of evil spirits that take over the shells of people who have been brought close to death (can’t remember the names, but possibly Germanic?) so, no, I don’t think anyone could claim first rights with respect to the really basic theory of a consciousness moving into a different body. Having said that, I don’t think anyone has ever told a story even half as good as those Mr. Scalsi has.

    Avatar seems to be much closer in spirit to Matthwe Woodring Stover’s Heroes Die series than anything from Old Man’s War.

  4. Not to mention that you cannot copyright an idea, only the specific expression or manifestation of an idea. Which is why any litigation that makes it as far as court involves a point-by-point comparison of the two works to determine if there are enough similarities to warrant a case for infringement. A boy attending wizard school? Sorry, no case. A boy named Harley Peter, whose parents were killed by an evil wizard, discovering that he has powers that can be used to stop said evil wizard from taking over the world and deciding how to use his powers with the help of an elderly mentor named Grumblegore? Mmmm …

  5. Now that I think about it, Grumblegore is a pretty good name. Maybe I can fit it into the novel I’m writing about a handsome sexy teenage vampire who becomes the talk of his high school …

  6. Actually, and I think I’ve seen the idea expressed elsewhere, Avatar reminds me of Poul Anderson’s “Call me Joe” more than Mr. Scalzi’s work.

  7. Paul @8 has it right. It has been pointed out on a few sf boards and on IO9 of the similarity between Avatar and “Call Me Joe”.

  8. Good to know that it’s coincidence. I have to admit that when I saw the trailer the other day, I thought of “Old Man’s War” and wondered a little bit.

  9. If OMW was made into a movie I would take a day off work and see every showing of it. I’m not kidding.

  10. I Will Fear No Evil was a brain transplant, not a consciousness transplant.

    I refer to the “inevitable body swap” — every SF so does it, eventually, I think. SG1 did it fabulously, I think.

    “Call Me Joe” is one of the classics; Simak did one that is, I think, even closer to Avatar, although I’m blanking on the title — but it also involved Jupiter.

  11. Hm, my keyboard is having problems. “every SF show does it.”

    The Simak story was “Desertion.” And there’s a nice wikipedia article aboutpantropy that mentions it.

    (Sorry for the double post, but I can’t edit.)

  12. I would kill to see “The Warbirds” as a movie, and it’s the kinda novel that can be translated into 90 minutes.

  13. I think it shows much of a hodge-podge of ideas that this movie is when you even have to discuss this.

    Now to my eyes it looks like a mash up of Delgo and Call Me Joe.

  14. It had blue people in it. I have notes on a project involving blue people. I’m suing James Cameron and taking away all his sweet, sweet Titanic cash.

    First, I’ll have to stay up late and choose the right ambulance chaser. These things must be done properly, yanno.

  15. Actually, the person who might have a gripe is Dean Koontz; “Dark of the Woods” seems to have some points of comparison.

  16. . The consciousness-swap idea has been around science fiction for a while now, you know.

    I was going to say Mindswap would be a better example but someone beat me to it. [shakes fist] I refuse to be the first person in this thread to mention Piers Anthony’s Cluster books.

    The Simak someone referred is “Desertion” (part of City) but that involves bodily transformation, I think, not a mind-swap. Which is the Simak with “I share with you my mind”?

  17. And of course in Silverberg’s To Live Again, carrying copies of dead people’s minds is a status symbol and a good way to get one’s mind displaced by an aggressive revenant.

  18. Sean Eric Faganon @ 13:

    I Will Fear No Evil was a brain transplant, not a consciousness transplant.

    Sure, but in this context, does the brain/mind distinction matter?

    (Beside which, to respond in nit-picky fashion, the first transfer in IWFNE was a brain transplant. The second (and the presumed third, at the end) were consciousness transfers. Unless they were imaginary.)

  19. “Unvent” was the word knitting guru Elizabeth Zimmerman used. Basically it means to pat yourself on the back for coming up with something all by yourself in your own little room, but with the humility to recognize that your fellow human beings have been doing this sort of thing for millenia, and that you are probably not the first person to have “unvented” this particular technique (or story bit).

    Of course, Elizabeth Zimmerman probably invented lots of things – the woman was insanely talented, and a wonderful writer to boot.

  20. I was really looking forward to this movie. It was supposed to be something new different, groundbreaking and great. Then I saw the trailer. I think DANCES WITH ALIENS is a better title. The old guilt theme has been done and done and done. Isn’t SciFi supposed to be smart and not for people with stunted guilty intellects?

    However, if it helps Old Man’s War become a movie I’ll go see it a few times.

  21. The Audio version of Old Man’s War has John Perry with a mature-but-young man’s voice. And his old voice wasn’t too much different. And I liked that. The problem with making a movie of OMW is that I bet the green makeup doesn’t have audience appeal. I bet the story would have to be changed so that you could have a buch of hot 20-somethings running around looking really good. Until they’re blown up, hacked up, shot up, burned up…

  22. Re: Eastwood should be cast as John Perry

    Heck, maybe you can get him to direct it? He’s notorious for sticking to budgets, he’s not Ewe Boll, he even has science fiction cred having directed to sci-fi movies.

    For hawt young John Perry he’ll just cast his son Scott.

    sorry to have strayed so far a field,


    p.s. I’m sure that JC has looked at his work with a more critical eye, and even though it certainly borrows from others given how few new ideas are out there, I’m sure he’s aimed so as to miss a lawsuit like HE’s again.

  23. The earliest mind swap I can think of is Lovecraft, The Thing On The Doorstep. Though that’s a sorcerous evul mind-swap, not a tech mind-swap.

  24. Scott Eastwood is 23, has appeared in the films Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Pride (2007) and Gran Torino (2008). He has also modeled for Abercrombie. And yes, he IS hot.

  25. I agree with everything that Presenjeet says. Also, am I the only one that was looking for real saving-private-ryan action on Battlestar Gallatica, or does everyone just love that CSPAN in space love fest? Good call on the Casting of Clint Eastwood, consider also Kurt Russel for Old John? Maybe? Now I’m really staying, but I’m willing to give Avatar a chance.

  26. Opps I posted on todays blog about this topic.
    I was inadvertently a Blog-hole. Apologies.

  27. I must say I loved Avatar. I also epicly enjoyed Old Man’s War and its two sequels. They drew me in and made me enjoyably lose more than one night of sleep… in a row. I must say Mr. Scalzi that you are a writer with incredible talent and the ability to captivate people with what you write. I hope Old Man’s War is made into a movie, and that its two sequels are made into movies as well. I must say keep up the GREAT work. I shall endeaver to read them all.


    Andrew Head

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