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This is a story that I read in a sci-fi magazine in the mid-to-late 1980s, but it may have been published up to 15 years earlier, since I was going through several years' worth of issues at the time. I'd guess most likely a late 60s to mid 70s original publication.

I really only remember the premise of the story and not the main plot. The protagonist wakes up believing himself to be an alien who has somehow transferred his mind to a human host. He does some quick studying of the local culture and decides he needs to make some "improvements" to the host body (exercise, better clothes, contact lenses, etc.). I think maybe he also quits his job or drops out of college or something similar.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I think he either starts to remember a mission he was supposed to be doing, or he notices the activity of other covert aliens on Earth and decides they must be stopped. He then tries to derail these other aliens' plot. I believe he is successful, to everyone's surprise, because, at some point, it's disclosed that the protagonist is a normal (if nerdy) person who has been hypnotized into thinking he is an alien, as a sort of... vacation? self-improvement program? and everyone knows that aliens aren't real.

I'm pretty sure that he had undergone this hypnosis willingly, but there may have been some concern that he was taking things too far and was not willing to return to his normal personality before completing his mission.

I don't really recall whether the other aliens were real or just part of his hypnosis trip. In the end, he does return to his normal personality, but is a very different person due to his experiences as an "alien."

The only detail I remember other than the "makeover" was that the protagonist ran into some acquaintances who recognized him but whom he had forgotten. They may have known his from his prior work or school life. I think they were impressed by the change but confused or put off by being brushed off. Maybe one decides to help him with his current efforts?

Pretty spotty, I know, but I've had luck with similarly warped recollections here before. Anyone recognize this?

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  • This sounds familiar. I think I remember reading it 25 years ago or so. As I recall, it was part of a program to turn your life around, like hypnosis to cure smoking, that kind of thing.
    – Broklynite
    Jun 21 '18 at 11:58
  • @Broklynite - Yes! Now that you mention it, I think the protagonist first learns about the program through an advertisement at the start of the story.
    – Otis
    Aug 20 '18 at 15:34
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By happy accident, I stumbled across this story while looking for something else. It's "Marooned on Planet Earth" (1985) by Thomas Wylde. The only publication listed in ISFDB is the March 1985 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which must be where I had read it originally.

My memory was fairly distorted, so I'm not surprised that nobody recognized it. The fact that the protagonist is a normal person seeking the transformation voluntarily is established in the first lines:

"Why do you want to be an alien?"

Jeff Schuster smiled at the question. Wasn't it obvious?

The doctor leaned forward, perhaps to get a better look at Jeff's smile.

Jeff Schuster cleared his throat, and the doctor's head made a small anticipatory nod. But Jeff remained silent.

After a moment, the doctor said, "I understand. You feel helpless, out of control, yes? Adrift in a lifeboat, perhaps. Rudderless. Becalmed under a broiling sun, yes? You feel your life slipping away, dribbling out, escaping into thin air. You want a purpose for living. You want life to be an adventure. Yes? Is that it?"

Jeff's head had started to nod almost from the first and was by now rocking up and down emphatically. "Yes!"

The treatment involves begin given the illusion that the patient is an alien on a mission:

..."Sign both copies. In four months you'll return for an evaluation. Don't worry about remembering, it's all built in." He quickly unfolded Jeff's hundreds and gave the bills a snap, peering at them briefly in the window's light. "Very good." He glanced at the signed forms, pulled a carbon for Jeff, and shoved the rest into a drawer. "Relax!" he said. "The next thing you know, you'll be waking up in bed tomorrow morning. And when you do--"

"I'll be an alien."

"Guaranteed."

"With a secret mission."

"Absolutely."

The process is some sort of hypnosis:

The alienist's arm shot into the air and wiggled like a drunken snake. Then his fist opened and Schuster was staring into a battery-powered Hypno-lite®. Brilliance swelled to a fascinating conclusion.

And that was the end of Jeff Schuster.

Shortly after waking up, the "alien" Xgglm sets about improving the situation of his host:

Next he examined his unprepossessing host. Another mess.

Later, when he had consulted information storage devices in the nearby emporium called a "library," Xgglm confirmed that his adopted body was sheathed in excess poundage of subcutaneous gelatinous fatty cells. Fortunately, there was plenty of easily understood advice concerning the removal of this unhealthy mass, and Xgglm set about the task with enthusiasm.

He also learned that the brain of the beast--which he was forced to use--contained a vast and easily manipulated data storage and retrieval system, virtually empty at present. He commenced filling it with the contents of the library, for it was impossible to know this early in the game what information might lead to his escape.

Xgglm concluded he might require an added measure of strength, so he put himself on a program of exercise and muscle building. As the body neared the maximum of its potential, Xgglm took it outside to cooks its skin in the ultra-violet--a "tan" being highly prized by the natives.

His mission is apparently nothing more than the need to get off the planet, which will require a ship that can't be manufactured with current technology. To that end, he seeks out a local UFO enthusiast club, where he meets someone that he knew from high school:

The group called itself the Extraterrestrial Propulsion Society, and was concerned with the location of alien spacecraft. There was no doubt--judging from the incredible accounts--that these flying saucers (as they were frequently called) were precisely what Xgglm sought.

Within minutes he was on the Hollywood Freeway in his new Corvette. He got off at Roscoe, and was soon traveling east into the hill of Tujunga.

It was noon and the sun was hot, the air spicy with sage from the chaparral. He pulled up in front of the house listed in the newspaper.

...

"Who?" said Xgglm, rapidly searching his memory files. Jeff Schuster... Jeff Schuster...

"Beverly Newton," she said. "We were in high school together. But then you were... God, you look great now."

Xgglm grinned the grin he learned from Indiana Jones.

The group has a rumor of an actual downed spaceship that supposedly crashed into a mountain but left no trace. (This is already established to have occurred.) The protagonist is unafraid when the craft is discovered and enters it hoping to hijack it for his own purposes. He manages to do so, bluffing the UFO's pilot (called Bob in the story) that a tire gauge is some kind of weapon.

Bob self-destructs after ordering the ship to leave Earth, and the light of the true alien's immolation triggers Jeff's return to his normal self. Far from being transformed for the better, he immediately reverts to old habits of thought:

Then he remembered the alienist and the hypno-therapy and the startling morning he woke convinced he was Xgglm and marooned on the planet Earth. Well, he had made it off the Earth. Congratulations.

...

He closed his eyes and tried to force himself back into the persona of the alien whose name whose name he couldn't pronounce, to recapture the cosmic sense that the world was new and mysterious and full of promise, that life was an adventure-- And when he opened his eyes he was... Jeff Schuster.

Naturally he fainted.

The story is only about 12 pages long. It is available at the Internet Archive, for those interested.

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  • Congrats! Don't forget to self-accept, of course.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Aug 18 '20 at 11:36
2

A story with a similar plot line is 'The Color of Space' by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

-SUDDEN PANIC-
It was a week before the Lhari ship went into warp-drive, and all that time young Bart Steele had stayed in his cabin. He was so bored with his own company that the Mentorian medic was a welcome sight when he came to prepare him for cold-sleep.

The Mentorian paused, needle in hand. "Do you wish to be wakened for the time we shall spend in each of the three star systems, sir? You can, of course, be given enough drug to keep you in cold-sleep until we reach your destination."

Bart felt tempted -- he wanted very much to see the other star systems. But he couldn't risk meeting other passengers.

The needle went into his arm. In sudden panic, he realized he was helpless. The ship would touch down on three worlds, and on any of them the Lhari might have his description, or his alias! He could be taken off, unconscious, and might never wake up! He tried to move, to protest, but he couldn't. There was a freezing moment of intense cold and then nothing. . . .

You can read it for free here.

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  • Took a look at the story (thank you for the helpful link), and I don't think this is it. It was definitely not a standalone novel, and I don't think it was a serialized novel, either -- just one story.
    – Otis
    Dec 24 '17 at 21:54
-1

Possibly "The Groundstar Conspiracy".

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  • 5
    Please can you add more details to this answer, e.g. a link to the story you're referring to and some explanation of why it fits the question asked? See also our guidance on answering story-ID questions.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 24 '16 at 14:42
  • I looked into this, and I'm pretty sure that's not it.Thanks for the suggestion, though.
    – Otis
    Aug 30 '16 at 19:16
  • This is a film, not a book. Although it was developed from a novel ("the Aliens" by L. P. Davies) there's not a strong match
    – Valorum
    Nov 21 '16 at 22:19

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