Proteus Combined

And it’s more Charles Sheffield.

Raw Feed (1994): Proteus Combined, Charles Sheffield, 1994.

Cover by Barclay Shaw

An omnibus of Sheffield’s Proteus series.

Sheffield is known as a hard sf writer and has written some good hard sf – he’s certainly got the technical background for it.

However, I suspect (like James Gunn’s The Immortals) this story owes more to some fanciful playing with dubious, but popular notions of biomedicine than real science. Here Sheffield takes the 70’s notion of biofeedback to a bizarre level: the human form can actually be changed with the help of computerized biofeedback.

In Sight of Proteus, Sheffield develops the idea while wending a way through a complicated plot involving secret and illegal form manipulation for the benefit of man and space travel and alien contact.

There are catalogs that cater to fashion in forms, form change to prolong life, illegal forms that hero Bey Wolf searches out for the government, and conflict over the use of forms (“spacers” don’t like them), and the redefining of humanity as someone who can use biofeedback equipment at an early age.

I liked the plot element with some humans – under the influence of illegal form change equipment – being contaminated with Logian viral DNA and changing into aliens. Loge – and I have no idea if the purported pre-1975 science listed is real – is the planet that supposedly existed (according to Bode’s Law and evidenced by the asteroid belt and the calculated origin point of some comets) between Mars and Jupiter. Aliens lived on it as evidenced by transuranic elements.

The book was entertaining and slick but nothing real special. It was interesting to read this after just finishing Robert A. Heinleins’s Beyond this Horizon. This novel features a rather world-weary protagonist – Bey Wolf. It also, like Heinlein’s novel, features a world run with the help of computer trend projections and mathematical models, by a central administration. This world, though, is not faring very well though its bleakness is only sensed obliquely. It’s only saved at the end by the possibility of alien contact and its sociological effects.

Proteus Unbound was an engrossing read but nothing special. It tells of Bey Wolf’s downward spiral after losing the love of his life – the psychotic Mary Walton – and his struggles with the mysterious and brilliant Negentropic Man aka the Dancing Man aka Black Ransom. The best thing in the book was the bits with the “kernels” – Kerr-Newman black holes. I suspect this owes its origin to the idea of small black holes theorized in the seventies.



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4 thoughts on “Proteus Combined

  1. George Kelley June 21, 2019 / 6:51 pm

    Once again, thank you for saving me hours of reading time. I’ve had a copy of Proteus Combined on my shelves for years. Now, I think I’ll just donate it to SUNY at Buffalo’s George Kelley Paperback and Pulp Fiction Collection.

    • marzaat June 21, 2019 / 8:11 pm

      I liked it, but then I like Sheffield. However, I definitely wouldn’t consider it top drawer Sheffield.

  2. Paul Fraser June 24, 2019 / 6:11 pm

    I first encountered Sheffield in Galaxy magazine in the mid-70s and he was one of the high spots.
    I think part of this series appeared as a novelette—I recognise Wolf’s name—in Fantastic. Haven’t read anything by Sheffield in years.

    • marzaat June 24, 2019 / 6:19 pm

      I encountered Sheffield in Analog with his Trader’s Blood series (which I will not be reviewing since I never read the book collection of them). I see checking his ISFDB entry there is still lot of Sheffield I haven’t read which I need to correct.

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