You've heard this a hundred times in films: "Allow me to slip into something more comfortable." It's a line that so overused it has become cliché. But take that simple statement and put it in the hands of a speculative fiction writer, and it becomes a springboard for excellent stories. How? What was originally meant to indicate a simple change of clothing (and yes, the anticipation of things to come) is simply extrapolated into the realm of the fantastic. What if, instead of changing clothes, you were changing bodies? Sounds implausible, doesn't it? Not so fast! A few books show that not only is it plausible, the idea of assuming a new body can be downright exciting and fun.
Lock In by John Scalzi
Lock In is a page-turning, near-future thriller that offers ideas that are both harrowing and mind-bending. It takes place after a widespread, contagious virus spans the globe. Most people remain unaffected by the virus, experiencing symptoms that resemble the flu. However, about one percent of those infected experience "Lock In," a state of total immobility. Lock In victims remain completely aware of what's going on around them, yet they cannot respond to any external stimulus. They essentially become living mannequins.
Over the next 25 years, society adapts to the new way of the world. Victims of Lock In, now called Haden's syndrome, are allowed to live out their lives in virtual reality environments. Soon, technology emerges that allows a Haden's syndrome victim to borrow someone else's body for a short period of time. That is, a so-called "Integrator" will, for a fee, loan out their body to an immobile client. But with new technology comes new challenges for society to deal with. For example, what happens when an Integrator commits a crime? Who's guilty, the Integrator of the client?
That's the central premise of Scalzi's gripping novel. A pair of FBI agents are investigating a murder in which one of the suspects is an Integrator. As if their task wasn't difficult enough, their investigation uncovers an even bigger crime, one that could not only have far-reaching implications, but also one that could change the very fabric of society.
Soulminder by Timothy Zahn
Though not a new story, Timothy Zahn's Soulminder finds its way into e-book format this month. It hinges on a near-future medical technology that allows doctors to trap the souls of patients nearing death. This capability is especially of interest to the technology's inventor, Dr. Adrian Sommers, whose life was changed forever the night he was involved in a tragic car accident that destroyed his family. His machine, dubbed Soulminder, might have saved his son had it been around. Somers bases his technology on the simple idea that a person's essence can be captured and held in stasis for however long it takes for the body to heal and be repaired like new. But like any technology, it can be used for purposes other than its original intent—both good and evil. It isn't long before people begin pushing the technology into new and unintended directions, like body-swapping, crime and the quest for immortality.
Zahn's Soulminder is less of a straightforward narrative than it is a series of interconnected stories, each examining the philosophical ideas behind the Soulminder machine. Its seemingly simple premise—that of capturing a person's soul—is used as a springboard for thought-provoking examinations around ethics, religion and the definition of life.
World of Fire by James Lovegrove
If you could "capture a person's essence," what would you do with it? James Lovegrove examines one possible idea in his new novel World of Fire. It takes place at the fringes of space, where humanity explores the far reaches of the galaxy for purposes of colonization. Here, an agent named Dev Harmer of the Interstellar Security Solutions organization starts every mission in a new body thanks to cloning technology. His latest mission takes him to planet Alighieri, the surface of which is perpetually covered in flames because of its proximity to its sun. Deep within the planet, safely away from the unlivable conditions of its surface, is a human mining colony whose job it is to gather a rare mineral called helium-3. Alighieri is thus coveted by the humans that live beneath its surface...but it's also valuable to a race of aliens who will stop at nothing to obtain the precious mineral.
World of Fire is the start of a new space opera adventure series and it sounds like a doozy. It's got exotic locales, intrigue, alien conflict, a race of artificial intelligences who serve as humankind's rivals, and great sense of wonder. Lovegrove himself elevator-pitches the book as "James Bond in space."
Dragon Princess by S. Andrew Swann
Fantasy readers need not feel left out of body-swap stories. Proving that the idea is not bound to the realm of science fiction—and showing that it can be lots of fun, too—is Dragon Princess by S. Andrew Swann. Its central character is Frank Blackthorne, a career thief whose latest heist did not end well. His failure left him on the run from a kingdom full of evil cultists. Blackthorne's salvation may come in the form of magic. He cuts a deal with Elhared the Unwise, the court wizard of the kingdom of Lendowyn. Elhared will help Blackthorne with his cultist problem (and give him lots of money, too) if Blackthorne will save Lendowyn’s princess from an evil dragon. Piece if cake, right?
Blackthorne, perhaps being a tad more inept than he'd like to admit, bungles the rescue attempt in an explosion of spectacularly misapplied magic. When the smoke clears, Blackthorne, the Princess and the dragon find themselves body swapped. Frank inhabits the body of the Princess while Princess Lucille finds herself inhabiting the body of the dragon. What follows is a most unusual quest that's a hoot to read.