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Identity Exchange

Entry updated 12 March 2021. Tagged: Theme.

The two-way version of Identity Transfer (which see). Although less plausible than one-way transfer in which the victim's personality is destroyed or suppressed, such identity swaps have a satisfying narrative neatness. The exchange of bodies and resulting forced education in another's viewpoint presents opportunities for Humour, exploited in such popular novels as F Anstey's Vice Versâ, or A Lesson to Fathers (1882; rev 1883), filmed at least twice as Vice Versa (1948) directed by Peter Ustinov and (1988) directed by Brian Gilbert; Thorne Smith's Turnabout (1931), filmed as Turnabout (1940) directed by Hal Roach; and P G Wodehouse's Laughing Gas (1936). Arthur Conan Doyle's short "The Great Keinplatz Experiment" (July 1885 Belgravia), in which the exchange is achieved through mesmerism (see Hypnosis), is also light-hearted. Edgar Fawcett handles the theme seriously in Douglas Duane (1887), as do Walter Besant in The Doubts of Dives: Arrowsmith's Christmas Annual, 1882 (1889). Ignatius Donnelly has his racist protagonist swap bodies with a Black man in Doctor Huguet (1891), as by Edmund Boisgilbert (see Race in SF). Another example from outside Genre SF is Horace Newte's The Ealing Miracle: A Realistic Story (1911).

H P Lovecraft extracts Horror from the situation in "The Thing on the Door-step" (January 1937 Weird Tales), and attempts rather unsatisfactorily to impose a horrific atmosphere on the Sense of Wonder evoked by "The Shadow Out of Time" (cut June 1936 Astounding; restored in The Outsider and Others, coll 1939), whose identity swap is combined with psychic Time Travel across a Time Abyss. Lovecraft may have been influenced by Barry Pain's An Exchange of Souls (1911), included in his library and containing an early example of an identity-exchange Machine intentionally constructed by a Scientist. H G Wells's "The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham" (May 1896 Idler), Jack Vance's "New Bodies for Old" (August 1950 Thrilling Wonder; vt "Chateau D'If" in The Narrow Land, coll 1982) and Fred Mustard Stewart's The Mephisto Waltz (1969) – the last filmed as The Mephisto Waltz (1971) – deal with the possibility of life extension via body swaps, with unfortunate results for the younger participant who acquires a much older body.

There are many further sf treatments. Mechanical identity exchange is used or misused to circumvent the law in Eric Frank Russell's "Seat of Oblivion" (November 1941 Astounding) and in A E van Vogt's "The Great Judge" (1948 Fantasy Book #3), a brief gimmick story which van Vogt expanded in much recomplicated form as The Mind Cage (1957). Another such machine is central to Angus MacLeod's The Body's Guest (1958). Psi Powers are invoked to effect repeated exchanges in Russell's Sentinels from Space (November 1951 Startling as "The Star Watchers"; exp 1953; vt Sentinels of Space 1954 dos) and in James H Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon story "Resident Witch" (May 1970 Analog). Stanisław Lem includes a comic riot of identity-swapping in Cyberiada (coll of linked stories 1965 Poland; trans as The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age 1974). The terminally diseased experimental subjects in Thomas M Disch's Camp Concentration (July-October 1967 New Worlds; 1968) cheat death by devising an identity-exchange machine and appropriating their jailors' bodies. The protagonist of Keith Laumer's The Shape Changer (1972) undergoes several unwanted transfers, to mildly comic effect. Alien visitors to Earth have the inbuilt ability to force personality swaps in Jack Chalker's The Identity Matrix (1982); the initially male protagonist enjoys his incidental Gender change and the ensuing Sex. Routine, reversible identity swaps have impacted Earth society – especially Crime and Punishment issues – in Kevin J Anderson's Hopscotch (2002).

Uses in Cinema of the identity-exchange device are more easily readable as fantasy, like those mentioned above, though some may present (almost certainly spoofishly) some sf justification; further titles include the two versions of Freaky Friday (1976) directed by Gary Nelson and (2003) directed by Mark Waters, All of Me (1984) directed by Carl Reiner, Face/Off (1997) directed by John Woo and The Change-Up (2011) directed by David Dobkin.

In Television, an identity-exchange machine is one of many devices used to disorient the protagonist of The Prisoner (1967-1968); the relevant episode is "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" (22 December 1967). Encapsulating the process whereby (in William Gibson's phrase) "the street finds its own uses" for Technology once evocative of unease or Sense of Wonder, Robert Sheckley's Mindswap (1966) opens with the premise that interplanetary or interstellar identity exchange has become a cheap and cheerful tourist alternative to Space Flight. [DRL]

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