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Around the turn of the millennium there were a couple of stories in which mind transfer played a more or less important role.

With mind transfer, I'm referring to the transfer of an individual's mind (soul/consciousness/memories) into a new biological body when the old body is worn out (dying of old age or from wounds), with the new body being custom-made for this individual for this purpose.

Best known examples are probably John Scalzi's Old Man's War series and Battlestar Galactica. (I also remember reading a Star Wars short story where the Emperor used such technology to torture someone to death - being eaten alive by insects, IIRC - as punishment for failure and then transfer the man into a cloned body to continue his work, but I couldn't find that story anymore.)

The earliest occurrence of such mind transfer known to me is Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, published in 1971 but based on an earlier script from the 1950s (that was later published in 1983).

My question: Are there any stories previous to Riverworld that use this concept?

(Bonus question: any other remarkable stories with this concept from the 1980s and 1990s)?

What I'm not looking for:

  • Mind swapping of two individuals like in "Dear Pen Pal", SG-1 Episode 39 (2/17) "Holiday", or Buffy Episode 3 (1/3) "Witch" or 72 (4/16) "Who Are You".
  • Taking a copy of an individual's memory as a backup, to be inserted into a clone should the person die, but the clone has no knowledge of what happened to the previous instance between the time the backup was created and the person's death. (e.g. in "The Phantom of Kansas")
  • Mind uploading into a computer, a network, or a robot.
  • Temporal mind transfer and re-transfer like the alternative method of long-distance travel in Dark Matter.
  • Surgical, physical transplantation of the brain (or a part of it, like in Wolfgang Hohlbein's Der Thron der Libelle).

2 Clarifications:
The reason for the mind transfer should be that the old body cannot be used any longer (already killed, dying, or severely damaged), not just traveling purpose.
The new body should have been created for the purpose of being the new home for the mind. Take custom made for this individual as desired rather than mandatory; if that new body was one out of thousands of identical new bodies from a mass production, this would be barley within the spirit of the question, while hijacking another living being's body (like in Bingo's answer) is far out.

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    Does the 1950's Riverworld script feature mind transfer? Because if not, my opening guess would be 1967's Lord of Light.
    – jwodder
    Nov 6, 2019 at 15:58
  • FWIW, I think you're remembering the Kevin J. Anderson Star Wars novel Darksaber.
    – DavidW
    Nov 6, 2019 at 16:39
  • @jwodder I was thinking about that too, but I suspect it falls down on "the new body being custom-made for this individual."
    – DavidW
    Nov 6, 2019 at 16:41
  • My problem is point #2; eliminating any use of the clone/replacement body as a back-up actually seems to even rule out Riverworld, along with other stuff from the '80s like Sten and Voice of the Whirlwind.
    – DavidW
    Nov 6, 2019 at 16:45
  • Does this serial mind-transfer technology have to be available to society at large (Riverworld), or can it be restricted to a few or even a single individual (Sten)?
    – DavidW
    Nov 6, 2019 at 16:51

6 Answers 6

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If this question is taken narrowly:

With mind transfer, I'm referring to the transfer of an individual's mind (soul/consciousness/memories) into a new biological body when the old body is worn out (dying of old age or from wounds), with the new body being custom-made for this individual for this purpose.

-- then the Amaranth Society of Clarges in Jack Vance's To Live Forever (1956) is a close match. In this novel, when a person of high accomplishment is admitted to Amaranth, clones are grown, unconscious but with memories attuned to the original. When the first clone is ready, the original body is destroyed and the awakened clone, for all practical purposes, replaces it. This effectively ensures youth and immortality. The Amaranth maintains additional clones in reserve at hidden locations. If an individual is killed, another clone is awakened and released to replace the original, and again is considered to be a continuation of the original person. Because immortality has to be earned by accomplishment, Clarges is a brilliant but deeply driven society. For a summary of the plot, see Jonathan Goodwin's blog for January 7, 2012.

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  • Incidentally, "According to Tim Underwood, 'One night Frank [Herbert] and Jack [Vance] tossed around an idea for a novel and afterward flipped a coin to see who would write it. Jack won the toss and the book became To Live Forever.'" Source: David B. Williams Nov 13, 2019 at 17:23
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If it's permissible for the mechanism to be unexplained, then The World of Null-A (1948) by A.E. van Vogt seems to fit.

The protagonist, Gilbert Gosseyn, is killed in a hail of bullets and energy beams at the end of chapter V.

The blows and the flame tore at his vital organs, at his legs, his heart, and his lungs even after he had stopped moving. His last dim thought was the infinitely sad, hopeless realization that now he would never see Venus and its unfathomed mysteries.

Somewhere along there, death came.

And then wakes up in a copy of his own body on Venus:

A curious, heavy sound impinged upon Gosseyn's attention. It seemed to come from above him. It grew louder rapidly and became a continuous noise, like the roar of many smoothly operating machines.

Gosseyn opened his eyes. He was lying in half darkness beside the trunk of a titanic tree. He could see two more trunks dimly in the near distance, but their size was so improbable that he closed his eyes and lay quiet, listening. [...]

Himself being held up by the soil of Venus, solidly, strongly supported by the impregnable planetary base that was Venus.

The slow flow of thoughts changed. Venus! But he wasn't on Venus. He was on Earth. Memory awakened in a remoter section of his mind. The trickle of impulse-patterns became a stream, then a wide, dark river rushing toward a great sea.

"I died," he told himself. "I was shot and burned to death."

He cringed with the remembrance of hideous pain.

It is a mechanical process of some sort with custom-designed bodies:

The Machine's voice seemed to come from a long way off. "Your work is done," it said. "You have accomplished your purpose. Now you must give away to the third and greatest Gosseyn. It is possible," the cool voice went on, "that you could learn to integrate your extra brain in this body, given time. But there isn't time available. Accordingly, you must make way for Gosseyn III, whose brain will be integrated from the moment he comes to conscious life."

"But that's ridiculous," Gosseyn said jerkily. "I can't kill myself." He controlled himself with an effort. "Why can't this-this third Gosseyn come to life without my dying?"

"I don't know too much about the process," said the Machine. "Since I last saw you, I have been told that the death of one body is recorded on an electronic receiver, which then triggers the new body into consciousness. The mechanical part of the problem seems very simple, but the biological part sounds intricate."

Within the story the unnamed process isn't applied to any other characters, but there is no reason to assume it could not be.

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    As for your bonus question, you might try Don't Bite the Sun (1976) by Tanith Lee. "Nor can they die in any meaningful sense; when they do, they are resurrected in a body customised to their wishes."
    – DavidW
    Nov 6, 2019 at 23:28
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1946

in Henry Kuttner's novella The Dark World, originally published in the Summer 1946 issue of Startling Stories, the mind of Edward Bond from our Earth is transported into the body of Lord Ganelon in a parallel fantasy Earth that split off from ours at the time of King Arthur.

Read more about the story in this review.

enter image description here

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  • Does this really meet the requirement "new body being custom-made for this individual for this purpose"?
    – user14111
    Nov 7, 2019 at 12:03
  • In a sense, since it turns out that Edward originally was Lord Ganelon, so he is back in his orginal body, which must be considered custom-made for him. However, this is sort of an excuse - I didn't note nthat part of the question. In fact, I was looking for a different Kuttner story, which might fit the question better, when I came across this one. Nov 7, 2019 at 12:14
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    I've edited the title of the question to more accurately reflect the constraints in the body text, as you're not the only person who got confused.
    – Jacob C.
    Nov 8, 2019 at 21:11
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A Feladat (The Mission, 1971) is a novel by Hungarian sci-fi author Péter Zsoldos that details with the process of mind transference or uploading.

A Feladat originally appeared in 1971 in a daily periodical called: 'Népszava' in 100 parts. It was recently released as part of the Imre Sebők comic strip-collection, in 2015.

The Mission is a mixing of ideas and thought-experiments concerning “transplanted personalities,” human evolution, first contact, and advanced technology.

The plot centers around original crew members of an inter-space ship that because of some technical problems shall imminently die, but before that, they capture primitive humans (more caveman) from a nearby unnamed extra-solar planet and using a special instrument called a “consociator,” melds together their consciousness with the crew member's, turning the barely-articulate human into a sophisticated cybernetics expert in the blink of an eye. The crew member may be dead, but their minds (experience and knowledge) live on.

Excerpt of the Comic-Strip-format adaptation of Péter Zsoldos' 'A Feladat' (The Mission) 1971.

Excerpt of the Comic-Strip-format adaptation of Péter Zsoldos

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  • This story does not fit because the new bodies were not created for this purpose. Scince that condition might be easily overlooked in the original question and you wrote your answer before my clarification, I won't downvote your answer, though. Nov 7, 2019 at 14:41
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1939: "Sculptors of Life", a short story by Wallace West, first published in Astounding Science Fiction, December 1939, available at the Internet Archive. The theme of the story is described precisely in the question title: "mind-transfer to a biological body custom-made to replace a worn-out/dying body." It may not be the earliest story on this theme, but it beats Jack Vance's 1956 novel To Live Forever by 17 years.

The story is mainly set in the laboratory of Frank Sixfourtwo and Marion Onethreenine, a husband-and-wife team of "life sculptors" who have just finished creating new bodies for the financier Henry Wharton and Princess Anne Libenscu of Rumania. Wharton is getting a duplicate of the athletic body he had as a youth:

"Take this body I've just finished for Henry Wharton—"

"The richest man in the world," she interrupted sourly.

"And the oldest. He told me all about it last month when he was in here with his bodyguard having his measurements taken. Back in 1980, when Professor Franck discovered his method for physiological duplication, it was a terrifically costly process. Wharton was a millionaire even then, and his gambling instinct led him to take the chance when his health broke down. In the four hundred years since then he's worn out six bodies. You'd think he'd have the decency to get bored, accept euthanasia, and let someone else have a chance. But no, he sits at his desk sixteen hours a day, ruins his digestion with synthetic foods, and pyramids his fortune up and up—and up."

"Until he owns half the world," added Marion.

"And every seventy years, on the dot, he comes round and orders a duplicate of the splendid body he had as Yale football star in 1940. There it is. All done. Frank nodded toward the other table, upon which lay the semblance of a powerfully built, handsome young athlete.

The princess, who drinks a lot, has ordered a new body with a "special liver job":

"Look at her!" she raged as she blinked the tears out of her blue eyes. "The best job I've ever turned out. Perfect! With a liver Mother Nature couldn't duplicate and a heart that's good for a hundred years. I've given her the final tests and she hits on every synapse."

[. . . .]

"It's pride of craftsmanship, I suppose. I just can't bear to think of the way Princess Anne's going to treat a thing that I have made. Look at the last body I did for her. It was perfect, too, but she ruined it—absolutely ruined it, in only twenty years. And now she has the nerve to ask for a rush job so she can look her best for that reception to the British dictator on Thursday. I work my fingers to the bone and I won't even get thanked. The union's going to hear about this!"

The process of creating new bodies is not described. There is this about the mind-transfer process:

"Step up your brain power and answer carefully. Why is it that, although we can make bodies as easily as salamanders can grow new legs, we can't animate those bodies without transferring living personalities into them?"

"Because, silly, all thought is a chain of relations and we haven't yet discovered how to create an initial thought which will start the brain ticking. In other words, we don't know how to generate a spark for the engine we've made. We've got to transfer the ignition system from an old engine."

"Correct. So we record an impression of all the past experiences and acquired knowledge of the person to be transferred on the cortex of the brain we've made, use the Franck Exciter to switch the psyche, soul, or whatever you call it, onto its new track, wake the new body, destroy the worn-out one—and collect our pay."

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In H.P. Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness, from 1931, a character has his mind transferred to a small cylinder, seemingly as a punishment. Granted, this is kinda the opposite of:

when the old body is worn out

And we don't know if the cylinder was organic (even if just inside). But it does show that the aliens from Lovecraft's myth are able to transfer minds, and given their technology they might have given a useful body to their victim if they chose to do so.

There is a discussion about that not being a mind transfer, but a brain transplant, since another character mentions that his friend's brain was in the cylinder. The mechanics of the whole thing are confusing, but I think it is at least related enough to a mind transfer to be worthy of a mention here as an answer.

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