Sharing your brain

Here’s a post by James Davis Nicholl: Get Out of My Head, about the somewhat uncommon SFF trope where a character permanently shares space in their brain with someone else.

Interesting! Especially because I’ve read most of these (and I swear I really will read Ninefox Gambit eventually).

Mentioned in this post:

Penric. Yay, Desdemona! If you have to share your brain with someone, or multiple someones, this is the way to do it. Awesome magic powers and besides, Desdemona is a nice person. People. Mostly.

Ninefox Gambit. I didn’t know this had the sharing-the-brain trope in it. Nicholl says:

Yoon Ha Lee’s Captain Kel Cheris, in the Machineries of Empire series, is both brilliant and expendable. She is therefore chosen as host to the stored memories of the noted military genius and homicidal maniac Shuos Jedao. She is not allowed to refuse. Cheris and Jedao manage to work out a modus vivendi, one that changes both in dramatic ways.

That sounds really neat! The book just ticked upward on my vast TBR stack.

Cormac  in Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series. I’ve never read that but listen to this:

[Cormac] is a mundane human with an inordinate talent for hunting and killing monsters. The American judicial system takes a surprisingly dim view of Cormac’s prudent custom of gunning down people he deems a threat and sends Cormac off to a stint in prison. A haunted prison, to be exact—at least of one of whose ghosts makes a compelling case that Cormac should serve as their new home.

That also sounds really neat! — and here is where it occurs to me that I apparently think this is a pretty snazzy trope. I didn’t realize I felt that way, perhaps because the trope is not all that common. But both of these descriptions make me want to pick up the book immediately.

Leland de Laal in Steven Gould’s Helm

The glass helm … was stored on an unclimbable mountain peak for very good reason. It is the last surviving imprinter, a device that downloads the knowledge and personality of a long-dead scientist and martial artist. It can also be configured to enslave others…

Ah, that one sounds alarming.

But not as alarming as this one:

Aleytys in Jo Clayton’s Diadem series. Wow, I read that a loooong time ago. I liked it, but I believe I eventually gave the series away, so not that much, I guess. Here’s Nicholl’s acerbic comment:

Aleytys didn’t agree to have the recorded memories of several dead people installed in her head. All she did was don a mysterious alien artifact without asking sensible questions like “Is this a powerful psionic device in which are stored the minds of the deceased?” or “Will I discover that, having donned this stupendous example of alien technology whose owners no doubt want it back, it cannot then be removed?” Yes to both! There’s probably a lesson to be learned here.

In contrast, Steven Dalt in F Paul Wilson’s Healer didn’t do anything wrong, stupid, or desperate. He just hid in a caver for a minute and wham! Permanent new person installed in his head. I read this a long time ago too. Pretty sure I still have a copy. I should re-read it one of these days.

Nicholl finishes off with Silverberg’s To Live Again, which I haven’t read; it’s an SF story where people voluntarily host the minds of the wealthy, who pay for the privilege, I gather.

Other examples? I have one, but this trope wasn’t as thoroughly developed in Mountain as it might be in, for example, a sequel:

Disembodied memory is kind of the thing. I would bet that in any sequel, Gulien’s secondary personality might be more of a thing. Especially because I have now noticed that I like this trope and would probably enjoy developing the idea. It’s not quite what previous Kiebas have experienced, but then Gulien’s initial experiences weren’t quite customary either.

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17 thoughts on “Sharing your brain”

  1. Huh. I have read all of those except for the Diadem series, although I remember some better than others. “Helm” made a big impression on me. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel. Colony ship makes it to new world, but with serious problems and not at all clear enough population to be viable. Crew mind-wipes all the sleepers and imprints them with a made up culture and “religion” focused entirely on ensuring survival. That is, agriculture, hygiene and such are enforced by mindprint. A handful of helmets are left with the mindprints of the crew to ensure continuing oversight. I liked it, but it’s a disturbing story on multiple levels.

  2. Okay, I could see that Winter has some brain-sharing aspects, although the Immanents are not like real actual people, exactly. And impact your personality more than your mind. But still, fine, that’s certainly in the same general ballpark.

    Allan, Helm sounds kinda good but yes, kinda disturbing. What would really happen, I think, is the initial programming would be offbase in some super-important way and thus disaster would ensue. People think they know what’s necessary for survival, but I’m not so sure…

  3. I have not been impressed with Steven Gould’s writing, though I haven’t read any of his books in years.

  4. It’s a trope fairly common in anime and manga.

    I know I read the Diadem series, but remember absolutely nothing about it. Bounced off Nine Fox and also generally from Gould. Have enjoyed some Penric more than others.
    Agree with Pete that Winter hits close to it, and maybe the Keeper characters who fit the roles, too. Although that’s more at an unconscious level than I think James or Rachel were looking for.

  5. I Will Fear No Evil
    by Robert A. Heinlein

    Johann Sebastian Bach Smith is immensely rich; and very old. His mind is still keen, so he has surgeons transplant his brain into a new body; the body of his gorgeous, recently deceased secretary, Eunice.

    But Eunice hasn’t completely vacated her body…

  6. Andrea K Host has this a bit at the end of Medair, also in The Sleeping Life, also in Stray (that languge thing, based on someone’s brain, iirc), and especially in And All the Stars.

  7. Does Terra Viridian in McKillip’s Fool’s Run qualify? Once it happened it was permanent.

    Oh, Mary C, I read and enjoyed The Princess Seeks Her Fortune .

  8. I read ‘The Host’ by Stephenie Meyer. Not as bad as I feared, but way longer than it needed to be. I thought it was odd when the initial inhabitant of the body fell in love with one man and the new inhabitant fell in love with another and they bickered over whose turn it was to kiss their boyfriend. A bit silly sometimes.

  9. Diane Duane’s Door Into Shadow has one of the main characters sharing her head with all the generations of deceased dragon memory characters. As she is not a dragon herself, this is challenging.

  10. Wow, I should have remembered so many of those. I can’t believe neither Nicholl nor I thought of I Will Fear No Evil … and I can’t believe I didn’t remember the Medair duology or Door Into Shadow.

    Poor Terra Viridian! That isn’t the way I’d want to share my brain.

  11. A while back you mentioned fairy tale retelling. Here is another straight one:
    The Princess Seeks Her Fortune, by Mary Getelli.
    The basic tale is of the Dancing Princesses (cursed to dance in Elfland every night.) There is a twist–it’s not the princesses who are so cursed. But more interesting is the milieu. The tale takes place in a land of fairytales: the Princess takes a job at The Inn, where many such tales have happened. Getelli manages to retell dozens of tales from dozens of countries in the course of a fairly short novel. It is a fascinating book. She also wrote one of a regency sort of world set at a University of Magic. But interestingly, the Catholic church plays a big role here…and one type of magic is forbidden: diabolism. Demons are leaving evil books around as temptations. And the main character is under a demon’s curse that he wants to get out of…without being burned at the stake for a false charge of diabolism. (A Diabolical Problem.)

  12. I haven’t gotten to the Dancing Princesses part yet, but I’m actually reading The Princess Seeks Her Fortune now. It’s going slowly because I’m pouring most of my time and attention into a WIP of my own, but I really like how roughly a million fairy tales are being retold along the way.

  13. I am amused by the notion of a properly brought up princess in a land of constant fairytales. A proper princess is studious, knows how to bake, sew, clean, and does volunteer work for the poor–in addition to her other duties, of course. Otherwise, she comes to a bad end. Also: watch for Chekov’s gun.

  14. In the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller there are several instances of sharing one’s brain.
    The most obvious example is Daav, who’se wife Aelliana died saving him, but as they had a spiritual connection he hung on to her essence and now she shares his mind.
    But there are more hidden instances and hints of such sharings, but also of dominations of one mind by another throughout.
    In the Crystal duology prequel, imprinting devices exist and can be used for good and for bad ends, to temporarily or permanently alter people’s brains, memories, personalities and skills. There are also crystal/energy dragons who can telepathically (soul)bond with people.

    In the Liaden universe main series the evil Department of the Interior uses a remaining imprinting device to take over agents, and some disembodied dragon(soul?)s can mentally coexist with some priestesses or witches, and continue to battle against the forces behind the DoI imprinting. There’s a hint these might be leftover soulbonds from the previous crystal universe, and that such a soulbond is what makes a person a witch.

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