Imagine an interstellar James Bond whose reputation as a master of disguise comes from his ability to inhabit different bodies as required. That’s Johnny Mayhem, “Man Without a Body”, and the hero of legend in stories by Science Fiction writer Stephen Marlowe (the pen name of Milton Lesser).
“Think Yourself to Death” is a Johnny Mayhem story, published in 1957 in Amazing Stories, and is set on the scorching Ophiuchus IX, a colonized planet populated by refugees from India that for a few hundred years had lost contact with the other human colonies before being rediscovered by the Galactic League, a federation of the interstellar colonized planets. Their isolation has made the native Ophiuchans naive and overly trusting.
Being an “elan”, or a bodiless sentience, Mayhem has the challenge of finding a fresh corpse to reanimate and inhabit every month, or more frequently if possible. Corpses tend to get a bit ripe after a few weeks, which also tends to blow his cover when he’s on the job.
Mayhem arrives on Ophiuchus IX to take a contract with the Galactic League to infiltrate a cargo operation named Denebian Exports. The Denebians are up to no good, but the Galactic League do not know what interest the off-worlders have in the desert planet. It’s Mayhem’s job to find out – in the body of a young woman.
The writing is heavy on dialogue, and some readers find that kind of narrative unappealing, but it does make for a fast read.
If you’re into the classic sci-fi genre, this is an entertaining quickie.