4 out of 4 stars
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Transference by B.T. Keaton is set at the beginning of the 22nd century, when humans have the means to travel faster than light, but the biggest discovery was a way to transfer a person's soul into another body, a process called transference. The Church, led by the Prophet, controls the process, and that gave it an enormous power thanks to the possibility to transfer the soul of an old or sick person into a body that's young and healthy. It might be the other way around because the Church can use transference to reward or punish a person. The harshest punishment is the imprisonment on Eridania, a planet where prisoners work in the mining of a rare mineral crucial for transference technology. Barrabas Madzimure is one of the prisoners, known as the king of thieves, but who's really that man? When he faces execution for killing another prisoner, he claims that he has the soul of another man. An inquisitor is sent by the Church to establish the truth.
The idea of a mind swap, or a body swap, depending on the point of view, existed long before science fiction as a plot device originally connected to magical causes. Science fiction only updated the idea making up pseudo-scientific explanations that go from a brain transplant to a transfer of the mind contents like data are copied from a device to another.
B.T. Keaton used a variant of the mind swap concept, a soul transfer. A device is used for this process, so you could argue that his novel is science fiction. On the other hand, the reference to souls and the Church that controls it makes it look supernatural, so you could argue that this novel is fantasy. An adage formulated by British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, so maybe the contradiction is only apparent. I think that labels are limiting for novels that blur the borderline between genres such as Transference.
In this novel, the consequence of the soul transfer technology is a dictatorship of the Church that controls it. In fact, the story starts on the planet Eridania, where there's a mining operation that uses prisoners to perform dangerous tasks. One of the prisoners, Barrabas Madzimure, is due to be executed for the murder of another prisoner, but claims he has the soul of another man. That mystery starts a series of events with twists and turns. At first, the situation can be confusing, but the revelations offered throughout the story eventually make things clear. You need a little patience to understand the events: you can see it like a jigsaw puzzle that requires you to add a number of pieces before you can see an image that makes sense.
Barrabas Madzimure is the protagonist of this novel, but there are other important characters used by B.T. Keaton to offer more information about what's happening on Eridania and Earth. The novel is told in the first person by different characters, which is a bit unusual. Honestly, in a couple of occasions, starting a new chapter with a new narrator was a bit confusing, but overall I found it an interesting choice. The author used it to create vivid characters and offer a more complete picture about the novel's events and characters' perceptions. That's important also because this is a story where faces can be used as masks.
I have to warn you that brutality is a part of the story, and sometimes that makes it disturbing. There are bits of humor, but the drama element is dominating. That's because the novel is set in a dictatorship where authorities have the right of life and death over common citizens. In the prison on Eridania, prisoner beatings are normal. B.T. Keaton goes into details only when it's needed in the plot, so for example rapes are only mentioned. The common use of profanities is insignificant in comparison.
I liked the fact that the novel offered food for thought about a number of topics. For example, you can reflect about the fact that the control of transference causes suffering, identity problems, and an abuse of power. My only complaint is that the plot becomes a bit convoluted following the consequences of using transference. It's not really a big problem, so it didn't affect my final judgment. Transference is professionally edited, so I found no errors. For these reasons, my rating is 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend it to anyone interested in stories of search for freedom and identity.
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