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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

Proteus In The Underworld

Copyright 1995 by Charles Sheffield

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (2/5)

I first read this in 1999 and most recently on the 4th September 2006

The future is a very different place from now. It has been discovered that, with suitable concentration and in the appropriate environment, humans may consciously alter the shape of their physical bodies. This doesn't apply only to outward appearance - future humans can reform themselves at a cellular level to make dramatic physical changes.

Humans have taken on many forms. We are now able to live in many of the wildly-varied environments of the Solar system. There are humans with grossly enlarged bodies to support gigantic brains. There are cyborgs continually melding more machinery with their bodies. What can be conceived, can be tried.

In fact form control has become so central to human life that it is used as the sole determiner of humanity: the ability to express purposive form change shows us to be human. All humans are tested and those that fail the test are deemed subhuman and are culled.

Sondra Dearborn works for the Government in the Office of Form Control, She's got a problem. A child has passed the Form Control test and is therefore classed as human. This child however is a malevolent and deadly subhuman that should have failed testing, should have been automatically euthanized. So what's going on? How could the test have failed? If the test is no longer reliable, then God alone knows what sort of monsters have been unleashed.

Sondra will need to help to solve this problem, and to avoid getting killed while doing so. She'll have to recruit Behrooz Wolf, the legendary former Head of Form Control. She'll also need Robert Capman who is now living in the godlike Loglan form. Finally she'll need Aybee Smith, genius physicist.

She'll have to go up against Trudy Melford, the most powerful woman in the Solar system, Ms Melford is the boss of the biggest company the Earth has ever seen and is unlikely to treat Sondra gently.

This is an exciting mystery for the young adult reader. It's a common but worthy theme - what makes us human? I enjoyed parts of it, and I think this shape-changing idea is brilliant, but overall it didn't enthral me, and doesn't leave me with the sense of wonder that his earlier novel "Between The Strokes Of Night" achieved.

Loaded on the 25th January 2007.
Cover of Proteus In The Underworld
Cover art by Gary Ruddell

Reviews of other works with covers by Gary Ruddell:
Project Maldon
A Season For Slaughter