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Based on a now deleted question over at Worldbuilding, I was contemplating the various stories I'm familiar with that deal with the idea of maintaining the physical body while the mind or consciousness is in another world or a virtual world. Examples of these stories include:

Each of these stories dealt with the idea of how to preserve the physical body in different ways, but this post isn't interested in the specifics of how the body was preserved or the specifics of what happened to the mind or consciousness. This question is only asking for the publication date and story title of the earliest story where the condition of the physical body was dealt with in any way due to the mind or consciousness leaving the body.

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  • You'll be going a bit to beat the John Carter/Barsoom stories (first published 1912).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 16, 2022 at 18:52
  • @ZeissIkon That may be true, but I was surprised when my last question of this type received a response as far back as 1909.
    – JBH
    Nov 16, 2022 at 18:59
  • Huh, why the downvote? Is this question type no longer acceptable on Science Fiction & Fantasy? Was the question unclear?
    – JBH
    Nov 16, 2022 at 18:59
  • Does "maintaining" imply some method to actively maintain its health like an IV drip, or can it include stories where the body goes into a suspended animation like state and all that's needed are some steps to prevent it from being harmed or interfered with?
    – Hypnosifl
    Nov 16, 2022 at 20:27
  • @Hypnosifl Yes. It doesn't matter how the body is preserved, only that it was.
    – JBH
    Nov 16, 2022 at 21:05

3 Answers 3

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One I found fairly quickly (via Google) and which is older than Barsoom is "The Stolen Body", by H.G. Wells. This was published in The Strand magazine (same vehicle as most of the Sherlock Holmes stories) in 1898.

In short, after succeeding in astral projecting himself, a researcher finds his body (left behind in his flat) has been possessed by a malevolent entity -- and the story details how he seeks help from a friend, and the friend from a medium, to locate and regain his body.

Unlike many other astral projection yarns, Wells treated this as SF more than fantasy or horror.

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An early candidate: "The Ghost of Guy Thyrle" by Edgar Fawcett, published in March 1895.

Probably thanks to the influence of spiritualism and Theosophy, a recurring plot device in SF from the late 19th and early 20th centuries was "astral projection" where the mind can travel with an "astral body" separate from the physical body. The reference book Science-Fiction: The Early Years by Everett F. Bleiler (most of which is readable on google books) has a topic index which includes a bunch of entries for "Astral body", in most cases the plot summaries don't mention anything about care of the physical body, though it's possible there could have been something about it in the original story. But the summary for "The Ghost of Guy Thyrle" on p. 237-238 does mentioned that the titular ghost told his "false friend Vincent Ardilange" not to disturb his apparently dead body while he was astrally traveling, but Ardilange proceeded to have it cremated because he wanted to marry Thyrle's fiancee:

Thyrle's tale: He has long been experimenting with separating the psyche from the body and has isolated a drug that accomplishes this. He has used the drug several times, in each instance finding himself in this world able to see and hear, but imperceptible to others. He can also move anywhere almost instantaneously, simply by exerting his will. Confiding in his false friend Vincent Ardilange, he stresses that should he be found apparently dead, he will be only in suspended animation and will revive. Under no circumstances should he be cremated. ... feeling a burning sensation, Guy flashes back to earth and sees that Ardilange, acting from a combination of lust, greed, and fear (since he didn't really believe Thyrle's story) has had Thyrle's body cremated.

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Haven't got my collection to hand but there was an Eric Frank Russell short story (I'm nearly certain) where a time traveller to the future was brainwiped by misake. Out of guilt they put his body into a suspension tube and put him into a simulation where he thinks he is a cowboy having adventures. The story finishes with jealous maintenance workers staring at him in the tube because they can't afford full immersion like he has...1950s or 60s I'd say from memory.

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  • 2
    The story you're thinking of is "Spectator Sport" by John D. MacDonald.
    – user14111
    Nov 18, 2022 at 8:41
  • 1
    Thank You!!!! Of course it was - obvious with the benefit of hindsight :)
    – Sedition
    Nov 28, 2022 at 10:56

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