Setting: The book was written in 1970, and while it’s set in the future (about 2030, as near as I can tell), on the surface it feels analogous to “The Jetsons”; The Jetsons were a cartoon expectation of the 21st century, and this book could be described as a literary expectation of the 21st century.
He’s hooked up to machines to live, and now that he’s attached to all of these wires, it’s not possible for him to die. He comes up with a legal scheme to help himself die; arrange a brain transplant to a younger body, and harnesses his wealth to this scheme – if it’s successful, he gets his money. If he dies as a result of the transplant, his fortune goes to all sorts of charities (to keep his grand-kids away from it).
The transplant works out, but there’s a “glitch”. The previous owner of the body still has some presence in this body, and can communicate with Johann. It sounds like a horror story, but it’s not horror in any way, shape or form. Simply perfect Sci-Fi.
One thing to note. Some of the social mores we are used to are not necessarily followed in this book. Clothing is optional in most cases, and when you do have to wear clothes, you’re supposed to dress as scandalously as possible. The main character (Johann) is a nearly 100 year old man, and his brain is transplanted into a 25 year old female’s body. Due to the youth (and attractiveness) of his current body, and the amount of money that he was able to “bring with him”, our new main character has no shortage of sex partners, and through most of the book, Johann is hopping from bed to bed (when she bothers to get out of bed at all). Male, female, groups, you name it, she does it; she did it; hell, she’s probably doing it right now!
There are quite a few deeper messages in this book, but if you pay too much attention to them, you’ll miss out on all the sex… and there’s a lot of it. Nothing is presented graphically at all, but once the main character (Johann, or later, “Joan Eunice”) is up and around after surgery, she still manages to find herself flat on her back on what seems like every other page.
On the alternate side, if you pay too much attention to the sex scenes, you might miss some of the hidden commentary. In particular, the masterful transitions between chapters; they’re a brilliant method that Heinlein used for (I think) 3 different purposes: 1: To acknowledge that time has passed in the story, and that the reader didn’t get to read through absolutely everything that happened, 2: To give you a sense of how important our characters are in the story – their status is covered in the “National News” segments between chapters, to give you a picture of how many people are aware of the ongoing story; 3: Heinlein was not bashful about making predictions about the future. The transitions are crammed with information about what he was expecting to happen in the future. Some of the events he refers to as “Current News” are, ironically enough, happening today. Heinlein has plenty to say about politics, the environment, capital punishment, contraception, religion, arcane social customs; he was truly a wonderful writer, and regardless of the main topic of his books, he was able to get his social commentary in without coming across as “preachy”.
Wrap-up: This is a wonderful book, and I’m not just saying that because of all the gratuitous sex scenes in here. This book explores quite a bit about psychology, multiple personalities, the power of physical relationships, religion, racism, and many other topics.
One thing that does get a bit awkward is that a lot of the social conventions that we’re used to are completely ignored. While Johann has almost a century of hetero-sexual activity, he’s quite quick to jump into bed with any man who comes along, rather than sticking with his original orientation. It’s quite smoothly explained within the context of the story (taking into account the presence of the consciousness of the previous occupant of his body), but it’s still interesting to see how he manages it. He doesn’t necessarily limit his selection of partners to just men though; evidently in Heinlein’s alternate universe, bi-sexuality is the norm, and everybody sleeps with everyone else, regardless of existing relationships. In a lot of cases, spouses are well aware of (and in some cases, complicit in) their partners activities. There’s all kinds of swapping going on – I think the only person who doesn’t have sex in the whole book is the illiterate African American preacher.
If you’re not scared off by Sci-Fi, I’d highly recommend giving this one a read. I can’t describe this book any other way, though… This is pure Sci-Fi, from one of the acknowledged masters of the genre. It doesn’t get any better than this, folks!
Grade: By my arbitrary scale, I give this book an A-.