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Mindswap    by Robert Sheckley order for
by Robert Sheckley
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (1966)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Serge Fournier

Originally published in 1966, Robert Sheckley's Mindswap reads like a cross between Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Alice in Wonderland. It all begins on Earth, some indeterminate time in the future when Marvin Flynn - who has an itch to travel the galaxy but lacks the funds to pay for it - reads this classified ad in the Stanhope Gazette: 'Gentleman from Mars, age 43, quiet, studious, cultured, wishes to exchange bodies with similarly inclined Earth gentleman. August 1-September 1. References exchanged. Brokers protected.'

Pulse racing, Marvin begins exploring the possibility of mindswapping with Ze Kraggash. He visits the body-brokerage agency in New York, where he's examined thoroughly, introduced to the fine print, and warned of the perils of the Open Market, the Twisted World, and of metaphoric deformation (a 'form of situational insanity'). Of course, the reader knows that poor Marvin is bound to encounter all three in the course of his adventures.

Almost immediately upon his arrival on Mars, Marvin is arrested. Turns out that Ze Kraggash is a criminal who has sold his body more than once, and there is a prior claim - Marvin has six hours to vacate the corporeal premises. Seeking a way out - or rather back in to his own familiar form - Marvin consults Martian stumblebum detective Urf Urdorf, who proudly informs him that he has never yet solved a case and that 'one of the strangest runs of bad luck that I have ever heard of is statistically due to break.' Urf advises Marvin to 'stay alive' while he digs into the case.

On the Open Market, Marvin finds a job hunting for rock ganzer eggs, and is soon in the body of a Melden in the Ganzer rain forest. After an uncomfortable conversation with an egg, followed by a terrifying encounter with an adult ganzer, he visits the Hermit, who only speaks in rhyme. He dispatches Marvin to Celsus V, where gift giving and receiving is a cultural imperative, his new host body has just received a black gift, and time's ticking out.

Soon afterwards, this strange story turns even more bizarre, after metaphoric deformation causes Marvin to move in succession through Wild West, Mexican and Medieval scenes. Of course our meandering hero does finally find himself back on Earth in his own body - or is it? As in all classic SF, Sheckley injects a final twist into his hilarious interstellar romp.

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