Poul Anderson? Arthur Koestler? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement has been called Anderson’s Law and Koestler’s motto:
I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.
The words have been attributed to the prominent science fiction author Poul Anderson and the influential literary figure Arthur Koestler. What do you think?
Quote Investigator: In April 1957 Poul Anderson published a novelette titled “Call Me Joe” in the magazine “Astounding Science Fiction”. The story concerned a paraplegic who was given the task of psionically controlling an artificially constructed creature who was located on the planet Jupiter with its challenging environment. The tale has been reprinted frequently and appeared in prestigious collections of the “Hall of Fame” and “Masterpieces” variety. Curiously, the plot and situation displayed several parallels with the enormously popular movie “Avatar”. 1
One character named Jan Cornelius complained that he was visiting the satellite research station near Jupiter on a simple mission that should only take a few weeks, but he was required to spend 13 months waiting for a return spaceship to Earth. A scientist on the station named Arne Viken replied as follows. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2
“Are you sure it’s that simple?” asked Viken gently. His face swiveled around, and there was something in his eyes that silenced Cornelius. “After all my time here, I’ve yet to see any problem, however complicated, which when you looked at it the right way didn’t become still more complicated.”
The popular modern version of this quotation differed slightly. The original employed the contractions “I’ve” and “don’t”. Also, it used the phrase “the right way” instead of “in the right way”. Arthur Koestler did include an instance of the saying in one of his books in 1967, but he did not claim credit; instead, he ascribed the words to Poul Anderson.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- Website: io9, Article Title: Did James Cameron Rip Off Poul Anderson’s Novella?, Article Author: Lauren Davis, Date: October 26, 2009, Website description: “io9 is a daily publication that covers science, culture, and the world of tomorrow”. (Accessed io9.comon June 15, 2015) link ↩
- April 1957, Astounding Science Fiction, Edited by John W. Campbell Jr., Call Me Joe by Poul Anderson, Start Page 8, Quote Page 12, Published by Street & Smith Publications, New York. (Verified on paper; great thanks to Dennis Lien) ↩