Sunday, March 26, 2023

32. Mindswap by Robert Sheckley

I took this book, I'll admit, purely for the cover (and it is a banger).  I wasn't even going to read it, but felt a need for a science fiction palette cleanser as I crush through my on-deck shelf of mostly mystery and thrillers.  Mindswap is of that New Wave science fiction age where the priority was on ideas over narrative, which I respect but recognize is just not to my taste.  I would add a sub-genre of "Irreverent Sci-Fi" of which I think Sheckley was one of the big players if not originator.  Elements of Irreverent Sci-Fi include tongue-in-cheek and self-referential humour, a nerdy, bemused distance from horrible things.  Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Discworld would probably be two big giants.

The story here takes place in a future where you can swap minds.  Our hero, Marvin Flynn, lives in upstate New York and really wants to travel so he does a mindswap but once in the martian body and on Mars, he learns that the martian he did a swap with is a scammer and has taken off with his body while another being is owed the body he is in.  Due to legal and bureaucratic rigidity, Flynn has 6 hours to find another body before he has to return the one he is in (and effectively die).  This begins an adventure that takes us to many weird worlds, including indentured egg-hunting, a trek through the Mexican mountains, a high fantasy rebellion and eventually coming full circle.

There are some genuinely funny moments, especially the language he uses in the high fantasy one where they are always going on about their various clothing.  It's just that we basically lose track of the overall story and even worse with any semblance of worldbuilding consistency so that Sheckley can explore various "ideas" and the characters can have side discussions full of logical fallacies and nerdy constructions that are probably stimulating to some readers, but not to this one.  I'm kind of dull and structured and like my books to have a solid narrative and situational framework.  Still, I have to appreciate that Sheckley is a really good writer, his satirical representations of various genres are quite spot-on and even small situations would sometimes get me caught up (and thus disappointed since they end up having no weight or stake).  I also recognize that when this book came out in 1966 stuff like this was pretty wild and fresh for readers of the time.  We are drowning in irreverence today, so I speak from a place of privileged glut.


1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

I enjoyed this when reading it as a kid, though even then it didn't quite measure up to the best of his work, some of which is deadly serious, and other examples more sophisticatedly funny...