Written in 1997 by the now-popular YA fiction author Scott Westerfeld, Polymorph is a short, fast-paced cyberpunk novel set in Manhattan in an alternate near-future.
Polymorph is about a shapeshifting mutant human, Lee, who spends her/his life moving from one night club and party scene to another, using a different face, body, gender, and identity in every environment. Lee has short flings with men and women Lee meets at each location, and Lee uses the polymorph abilities to repair Lee's partners' chronic illnesses and disabilities while they sleep off exertion and alcohol. One of these partners, Freddie, has severe carpal tunnel syndrome, which Lee heals stealthily. Freddie works as the operator of an online instant messaging service, masquerading as a user and interacting with the other users to keep them paying for continued subscriptions to the service. Lee appreciates that Freddie has experience with anonymity as a replacement of identity, and a strong bond forms between them throughout the course of the novel.
Lee's security in anonymity is shaken when Lee encounters Bonito, another polymorph - in fact the first other polymorph Lee has ever encountered, after a lifetime of believing him/herself to be the only one in existence. Bonito has ignoble intentions toward Lee, along with grand designs on taking over the largest software firm in the world by impersonating its founder, Ed King. Lee, Freddie, and their Deaf elite hacker friend Sam face a race against time to track down an enemy who can be literally anybody, before tragedy can strike. Lee also seeks to know more about the other polymorphs, hoping to finally develop an identity after living so long in avoidance of having one.
Polymorph is ahead of its time in terms of character diversity: it features disabled, Deaf, transgender, bisexual, gay, and lesbian characters prominently and favourably. It addresses racism and sexism, both of which are experienced acutely by Lee every time Lee shapeshifts and changes anatomy and skin colour. The book also confronts depression and suicide very frankly, including how they impact celebrities differently from laypeople. Through Lee, Westerfeld takes a critical eye to the role identity plays in modern society. Lee regards identity as a violent way people draw boundary lines between themselves and others, and Lee considers anonymity to be a moral imperative.
Polymorph currently is only available in print format, with no legal e-book versions available at the time of this writeup. Used copies can be obtained through online booksellers.
Iron Noder Challenge 2014, 11/30