In “Mindswap,” Robert Sheckley plays with his favorite theme of man versus bureaucracy. Whether you are human, or some other form of intelligent life, there will always be obstacles to clog up your path to happiness. In the future, a popular form of recreation is to switch bodies with aliens from other planets. Sounds like a simple and fun thing to do, right? Well, maybe not. It’s a very funny premise that remains fresh and quirky since the novel’s first release in 1966.
Sheckley’s humor is not only unique in science fiction but it is unique, period. It is baroque, erudite, and absurd. At times, it rises to the level of poetry. Like a slam dance, you have assorted titles, rules, and terms fly in the air to demonstrate a world gone mad.
Mel Brooks used to love to claim that, when naming a funny character, the letter K was the funniest. Sheckley proves that wrong as his funny characters end up with the funniest names, K or otherwise. Consider Tom Carmody from “Dimensions of Miracles.” And consider this novel’s main character, Marvin Flynn. It’s both funny and memorable. And the name is stretched to its very limits as it is used in various wordplay throughout our story.
The very notion of reality is opened up for all it’s worth when you’ve got your main character literally leaving behind all he knows, including his own body. What could possibly be worth it? Nothing. But Marvin Flynn needs to see for himself.
The big joke here is that Marvin Flynn ends up engaging in a poor man’s alternative to a vacation to a truly exotic locale. He simply can’t afford to fly over and visit Mars. However, for a reasonable fee, he can temporarily swap his body with that of a Martian who seeks similar thrills on Earth. You know, it’s sort of like apartment swapping but on a metaphysical scale. What could possibly go wrong?
You know those vacations from hell? When everything goes wrong? Imagine you lose your luggage and need to make do. Now, imagine you lose your body. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? So, sit back and enjoy Flynn’s troubles. He does go on an adventure but it’s not what the travel agency had promised. If he’s lucky, he may learn to take better care of the things that matter most, like his very own mortal coil.
“Mindswap” is available through Amazon and you can find it here.
Robert Sheckley is the writer the cool kids know about. Everyone has heard of Douglas Adams. But it’s Robert Sheckley who first wrote the sort of absurdist science fiction that we associate with Adams. He became known for his satirical stories in sci-fi magazines in the ’50s and ’60s. And among his novels, “Dimension of Miracles,” published in 1968, is one of his best. Meet Tom Carmody. He’s a mild-mannered civil servant living in New York City. A likable urban professional suffering from pangs of boredom. That is until one day when he is awarded the grand prize in the Intergalactic Sweepstakes. Little does he know, his life will never be the same and, most likely, he will never see Earth again.
Once Carmody accepts the reality of having a visitor from another dimension at his door, it’s only a matter of a few more leaps of faith before he finds himself deep in outer space in the company of Melichrone, a god. This comes about after a mishap at the Galactic Centre leads to Carmody having no way to get home, unless perhaps he finds a way home. One of the funniest scenes in the book is when Carmody, an atheist, must come up with a new purpose for Melicrhone who has found being a god to be too limited, a job best suited for a simple-minded egomaniac.
With Melichrone’s help, Carmody makes his way to the next round of obstacles and challenges that lie ahead. These include meeting another god, Maudsley, who is potentially just as dangerous as Melichrone but also susceptible to being charmed. All the while, Carmody has the Prize in his possession, which brought him to the deepest recesses of space in the first place. The Prize is a shape-shifting entity that loves to chat with Carmody. It proves useful in getting Carmody out of trouble that it helped to create.
The name of the game to finding one’s way home is to pinpoint the right Earth since there are a multitude of variations. Pick the wrong Which, What, or Where, and you’ve landed on the wrong Earth. Carmody experiences a good bit of that. Each time, he has a safety word that allows him to try again. All he has to do is yell, “Seethwright!” That’s the name of the wizard who helps Carmody towards the end of the book. Of course, one Earth looks and feels very much like another Earth. It could be a matter of too high a concentration of the schmaltz and glitz of over-commercialization. When do you know when you have found just the right amount?
If Robert Sheckley were not compared to Douglas Adams ever again, that would be fine. Well, it does keep Adams on his toes. Better yet though, Sheckley can just as easily, and more precisely, be compared to Franz Kafka. There’s a dark and melancholic current running throughout his work. The good thing is that he can’t help but want to make you laugh and he does this quite well with an accessible style and a quick wit.
Robert Sheckley’s “Dimension of Miracles” is part of an ongoing collection of works reissued by Open Road. You can find out more here.