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Getting Real: Looking Back at Transplanted Life

What would happen if you woke up one day in someone else’s body?

I know, I know. Literally the entire genre of TG/TF is based around this question, and we could argue all day long about what would be a “realistic” outcome and never approach any kind of agreement.

Still, I always felt Transplanted Life, the blogfic run by Jason Seaver from 2003 until 2010 provided one of the most convincing takes. By keeping the events of the story firmly rooted in a kind of reality – while still allowing for suspense and intrigue – he was able to create a work that genuinely felt like it was happening.

In August of 2003, 30-something Martin Hartle is at a bar for a drink with some friends. Doing his wingman duty, he tells a random female patron “If [he] were a woman,” he would totally go for his buddy Kurt. The next morning, he is challenged to put his money where his mouth is when he awakens in this young lady’s body, stuck doing receptionist work in Boston while his natural form is on its way to Seattle, where he had been set to start work.

The character of Martin – who appears to the world to be 25-year-old Michelle Garber (and before long starts signing his/her name as Marti) – is very well drawn, by no means a stock “before” character, giving her a real perspective on the world he or she inhabits. Jay wasn’t the first writer to base his protagonist on himself, giving Martin his love of the Red Sox and cinema, but it’s not quite so common for a writer to be able to imbue a real three-dimensional persona into the fiction. Martin is fussy, maybe a little neurotic and tentative but open. His tendency to be perhaps overly rational and accommodating is the engine that drives the story, as he goes along with the “deal” that if he tries dating Kurt, he stands a chance of getting his life back.

Of course it doesn’t work out that way, since the story he has been told – that Michelle was a witch trying to teach him a lesson – turns out to be far from the truth, as the blog delves deeper into intrigue and conspiracy, stirring more and more body swaps into the mix.

The story is parceled out in (at first) daily posts that can be astonishingly micro. Part of the verisimilitude of the universe of Transplanted Life is that the story is unfolding before our eyes and before the viewpoint character really has a chance to process it. While there are occasionally pauses for big ruminations or developments, it is mostly comprised of small quotidian ones. “Today I saw Kurt again and we held hands.” “I ran into my ex.” “I decided to try wearing a bikini.” It can be quite refreshing, and enticing, how restrained the narrative is. Often the entries ars nothing more than commentary on that night’s BoSox game.

I also admire it for some of the choices it makes as a work of fiction – the setup gives Martin a specific life to live, an objective he thinks will help him solve his problem, and reasons to go about his business rather than just hiding at home. Likewise his “old self” is far away and very naturally cut off from the proceedings. Just because it’s striving to be real, doesn’t mean it’s not also a story, where the protagonist must face, and overcome, obstacles.

In late 2004, a stray Google search brought me fully into the world of TG writing. In the immediate ensuing era I read a lot of work, both good and bad, but nothing like this. I read a ton of stuff by people who were all about TG writing and made it clear in their work they had their preferred tropes, and the rest of thevworls just happened to be the stage where TG happened. It’s rarer to find something that happens to be a good piece of writing where the TG element is at its core and yet builds it from the ground up like any work of fiction you’d find on the shelves. It has that restraint, and yet unlike the mainstream TG stories I have groused about, doesn’t hold the concept at arm’s length either.

In recent weeks, I have been revisiting this work, although I haven’t made it very far (there is a lot of it.) The level of reality it is able to hit makes it feel very novel and fresh even when you spend half your free time on the TGFic continuum.

The problem that ends up coming for Transplanted Life, and later for The Trading Post (Jay’s second project that I later glommed onto as a contributor) is that you end up with a paradox of, if you are worried people might be after you, or you are trying to keep things hidden, you probably wouldn’t be publicizing it in a blog for all the world to see. It is very hard to do a Big Story in this format. A little bit of mental gymnastics are needed to square those two notions, and in the case of Transplanted, somewhat defeats the blog as it winds to its end. But while it lasts it’s quite a ride.

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