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Robert Sheckley
Narrated by Tom Weiner
Blackstone Audio, 4 hours, 39 minutes

Robert Sheckley
Robert Sheckley was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in New Jersey. He went into the U.S. Army after high school and served in Korea. After discharge he attended New York University, graduating with an arts degree. He began to sell stories to all the science-fiction magazines soon after his graduation, producing several hundred stories over the next several years. During this time, he also wrote 15 episodes for the television series, Captain Video. He wrote 60 short-short stories that were read aloud by Basil Rathbone on Monitor Radio. His first novel, Immortality, Inc., was produced as the movie Freejack, starring Emilio Esteban, Mick Jagger and Renee Russo. He died in a Poughkeepsie hospital on December 9, 2005 following surgery for a brain aneurysm in late November.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Mindswap
Close To My Heart: The Scherezade Machine

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Ottinger III

Mindswap is a 1966 novel by Hugo and Nebula nominated author Robert Sheckley.  An absurdist tale that is a precursor to Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this zany novel tells the tale of one Marvin, a dreamer and poor college student who only wants to see the universe. Too cash-strapped to go the old-fashioned way, he decides to try the new technology of mindswapping by answering a personal ad. Mindswapping is a technique of the future in which two individuals, anywhere in the universe, literally swap bodies for an agreed upon time. But when trusting Marvin swaps bodies with a Martian, he soon finds himself an illegal guest. Meanwhile, the Martian who is borrowing his body has turned out to be a swindler and a jackanapes. Ordered to vacate his Martian flesh, Marvin is forced to a find a body on the black market just to stay alive. Listeners will follow Marvin as he jumps from one world to the next, each crazier sounding than the last.

Sheckley was known as a humorist, and his situational comedy is superb. Allowing his laughing pen full reign, Sheckley brings more and more wit with each passing moment, while also delving into themes of truth, right and wrong, and the nature of reality. Hapless Marvin is a character that any downtrodden young soul (or those who were young once at least) will easily identify with. Marvin is the gangly, silly, not quite cognizant young man just beginning to see what the universe is really like, and just how it can eat trusting young people for breakfast.

Readers raised on a steady diet of science fiction may find the story rather simplistic. The story is also full of a Marx Brothers style of humor that may not appeal to the modern palate. Written in 1966, there are of course some anachronisms, but surprisingly, the concept of mindswapping is only just a little bit closer today, leaving this novel still very prognostic. Readers who enjoy Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, or other broadly comical, witty, satirical, and slightly absurdist writers, will find this novel to be an early genre gem.

The story is quite a fun one, full of wacky adventures and Three Stooges-like comedy, excellently voiced by the talent of Tom Wiener. Wiener, whose voice credits include Ghost in the Shell, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the voice of Grimlock in Transformers: Robots in Disguise, gives each character an individual voice, even cadence, so that it is quite easy for the listener to follow the story. In fact, Weiner does so well, oftentimes, you might believe that you are listening to a full cast, rather than a singular reader.  Weiner paces the reading well, though in the car it is occasionally hard to hear the reading as Weiner pitches his deep baritone rather higher for feminine voices.

My one true caveat to this production is not the book itself, but in its format. The edition I reviewed came in MP3 format on a CD. Theoretically, this sounds like a good idea. Readers will be easily able to transfer the work to a computer without "ripping" it, and can play it on any CD player capable of playing MP3 CD's. Sadly, I owned no such CD player and was forced to place the MP3 files on my iPod. However, this took some doing, as finding the MP3's on the disc was difficult, then iTunes would not recognize them without some workarounds, and a project that should have taken five minutes, took two hours instead. I appreciate Blackstone Audio's catering to the digital age by providing an MP3 CD, but they may want to think about making them easier to use, possibly have one large file in the CD as well for those who upload audiobooks to their MP3 capable devices.

Copyright © 2010 John Ottinger III

John Ottinger III's reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in many publications including Publishers Weekly, Sacramento Book Review, and He is also the proprietor of the science fiction/fantasy review blog Grasping for the Wind.

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