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by Scott Westerfeld
Roc Books, 276 pages

Scott Westerfeld
Polymorph is Scott Westerfeld's first novel. He is currently working on Fine Prey.

Scott Westerfeld's Home Page
An excerpt from Polymorph

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Thomas Myer

Scott Westerfeld's New York City of the future is wired -- and I'm not talking stuff like Ethernet and plain old telephone system. Caffeine, morphine, adrenaline, amphetamines -- all these sluice the synaptic juice racing between dendrites. All around town, you can hear the sound of nervous systems locking and loading. A neurotic free-fire zone.

For a polymorph like Lee, gender and ethnicity, bone structures and muscles mix and meld and dance, obeying her will. One day she can be a nondescript but lovely Asian female, and at the moment of danger, a fanged avenger with a taste for blood.

For other characters, identity shifting is just as easy. Freddie, hired to "animate" text-based chat rooms, can manipulate his gender and personal background to anything that'll keep the marks on the money meter. All hail the anonymity of the command line interface -- none of this fancy video over the Net. He is a charming throwback to a simpler day when multi-user systems relied on utilities that sound more like gastronomic noises than high-powered filters: grep, awk, chown. Outside, the transvestite prostitutes stalk the street corners, adding further layers in the game of identity seek-and-destroy.

I asked Scott Westerfeld what was the driving force behind the creation of Polymorph. His answer was very illuminating:

I guess that the landscape of New York in the 1980s created the character. When I first moved to New York in the 1980s, I was amazed that it was such a richly textured city: layers of graffiti, legacies of immigrant influences, overlapping strata of big money and extreme poverty. I was obsessed with the fact that so many lives went on behind the vast grids of tenement windows. Especially since I had friends who lived in the big buildings on the Lower East Side, with their Yiddish and Ukrainian old folks, Hispanic families, and young Asians just then moving in. The same kind of multiplicity existed in nightclubs, where expatriate Euroriche, the kids of Asian immigrants, and suburban-born American transplants like myself mixed. To explore it all, you'd have to be a polymorph.

Polymorph really swings into action when Lee meets a second polymorph, and she realizes that she is not alone, that there are other polymorphs. This discovery ratchets quickly into a plot of revenge, ultimately transforming the most changeable, dynamic character you'll meet in a long while.

And did I mention the oh-so-cool Payday club, that every week moves to a new locale, mirroring the protean twists on selfhood, where hackers, slackers, and slummers caress the infrabass hip-hop? Or the epic operas based on international energy treaties, sung in Esperanto, and staged on giant chessboards?

And the sex! Brawny and flavorful like high-impact afterburner, except add the napalm. Westerfeld is a shining new star ripping across the horizon, and if we're lucky, he'll ascend to the zodiac of contemporary SF.

I could rant all day. If you liked anything by Wilhelmina Baird or Neal Stephenson, get down to your local bookstore and buy Polymorph.

Copyright © 1998 by Thomas Myer

Thomas Myer is an unrepentant vegan. He thinks pavlovian is a melodious word.

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