I have very vague impressions of a book I must have read as a child/teenager in the 1980s (so probably published in the UK in the 1970s or early 1980s).

It featured a man who had been technologically enhanced with special powers that he could activate only for short periods (probably because they took a lot of energy), possibly by tonguing one of his teeth.  They gave him:

  • Much faster reactions; everything around him slowed down.
  • Greater strength/speed.
  • Metal fingernails/claws.
  • Possibly some sort of enhanced vision, too.

I think it described him engaging these powers as: He activated. or similar.  He may have been a mercenary type, who had paid a lot for them; they were rare or unique.

I don't recall any plot or other characters; it was probably a techno-action story.  (No magic, armies, warrior races, telepathy, vampires, or mutants, and I don't recall aliens or space travel.)  It may have been part of a short series of 2 or 3 books.

I'm afraid this isn't much to go on!  I'd completely forgotten about this book until recently, and my impressions are very hazy, so any of the above could be wrong.  (I remember enjoying it, though.)  I've not found anything I recognise on this site, or others; nor in lists of adult and young-person's SF for that period (so it probably wasn't a big-name author).  Does it ring any bells for anyone?

4 Answers 4


The Space Mavericks by Michael Kring (1980). Or possibly the sequel Children of the Night

The protagonist was "modified" on the planet Reega, for a hefty fee.

When I activate, I have fangs that are an inch long and razor sharp. I also get claws on my hands and feet that are three inches, all razor sharp. My strength is increased three times normal, and my reaction speed is boosted six times my norm. My eyes are also adjusted to infra-red or ultra-violet, whichever I need. I have ultraviolet projectors in my cheekbones that can be activated, if need be. I’m not sure how the fangs and the other stuff works, since the fangs and claws are silver bright, but if I’m relaxed, my teeth, fingernails, and toenails are normal. I knew that in my fight mode, my body was burning up calories like mad, since my metabolism was tripled. I would tire very quickly, unless I ate like a pig, and the food I ate would have to be very high in protein.

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  • 1
    That's it!!! How you got it on so little info, I'll never know, but I recognised the author and title immediately. (And I'm relieved that the little I did remember wasn't too far out.) Many thanks! — It turns out that both books are available on Amazon, with the first in Kindle format.
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 18, 2020 at 22:29
  • 1
    Good answer, which is almost certainly also the answer to this older duplicate with less information scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/147759/… Commented May 7, 2020 at 5:29

Could it be Timothy Zahn's Cobra series?

The books center around Cobras, elite soldiers augmented with bionic technology. These modifications include built-in weapons, sensory enhancements, effectively unbreakable bones, and their characteristic combat reflexes. These modifications to the human body are invisible to casual inspection, and allow the soldiers to appear as ordinary unarmed civilians, allowing them to be effective resistance leaders. However, most of the cybernetics are permanent, allowing Zahn to examine the position these individuals might fill in a society during peacetime. Their weaponry includes small lasers implanted in the little finger of each hand, an anti-armor laser that runs down the calf muscle of one leg and exits through a lens in the heel of their boot, plus an "arcthrower", a secondary weapon built into the fingertip lasers that delivers a high-voltage pulse, which disrupts nearby electronics. In addition, they are armed with a sonic weapon, which can produce sound at frequencies capable of shattering most objects. All of their weaponry is controlled by a "nanocomputer" that is implanted inside their skull. This computer also helps run the visual and auditory enhancers, targeting computer, automated reflexes, etc. Modifications include ceramic laminae over all of their bones (essentially rendering them unbreakable), as well as servomotors at the major joints, which augment strength and speed. The design of the nanocomputer renders it impossible to reprogram, and its location makes it next-to-impossible to remove without killing the Cobra.

Zahn is reasonably well known among Star Wars EU fans, but not as much outside of that.

  • 1
    "not as much outside of that" I don't know if I'd agree with that; he contributed regularly to Analog and won a Hugo, plus he's written over 40 non-Star Wars novels. And his Thrawn trilogy got a lot of notice outside just SW fandom.
    – DavidW
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 13:41
  • Thanks for the answer, but I'm afraid none of that (nor the longer descriptions on Wikipedia) looks at all familiar. I don't recall any lasers or other remote weapons, nanocomputers, or any military connection. (And 1986, when the first Cobra book was released, seems a little late for the book in question.)
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 13:56
  • goodreads.com/book/show/681191.The_Blackcollar by Zahn is a bit earlier, 1983, but probably still not quite what you're looking for.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 14:14
  • @FuzzyBoots Again, thanks, but that doesn't ring any bells either.
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 14:29

A protagonist with such cybernetic enhancements, activated by touching certain teeth with his tongue, appears in the The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance. As evident from the title, however, that is not the major theme of the novel.

Per Wikipedia:

The Languages of Pao is a science fiction novel by American writer Jack Vance, first published in 1958, in which the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is a central theme. A shorter version was published in Satellite Science Fiction in late 1957. After the Avalon Books hardcover appeared the next year, it was reprinted in paperback by Ace Books in 1966 and reissued in 1968 and 1974. Additional hardcover and paperback reprints have followed, as well as British, French and Italian editions.


The planet Pao is a quiet backwater with a large, homogeneous, stolid population ruled by an absolute monarch: the Panarch. Pao's cultural homogeneity contributes to making it vulnerable to external military and economic pressures. The current Panarch attempts to hire an offworld scientist, Lord Palafox from the Breakness Institute on the planet Breakness, as a consultant in order to reform Pao. Before the deal can be concluded, however, the Panarch is assassinated by his brother Bustamonte, using mind-control over the Panarch's own son, Beran Panasper, to do so. Lord Palafox saves Beran Panasper and takes him to Breakness as a possible bargaining chip in his dealings with Pao.

Somewhat later, the predatory Brumbo Clan from the planet Batmarsh raids the virtually defenseless Pao with impunity, and the Panarch Bustamonte is forced to pay heavy tribute. To rid himself of the Brumbos, he seeks the aid of Palafox, who has a plan to create warrior, technical and mercantile castes on Pao using customized languages (named Valiant, Technicant and Cogitant) and other means to shape the mindsets of each caste, isolating them from each other and the general populace of Pao. To achieve this, each caste gets a special training area where it is completely segregated from any outside influence; the necessary land is confiscated from families, some of which have held it for countless generations — which creates some disaffection in the conservative Paonese population and earns Bustamonte the name of a tyrant.

In order to return with them to Pao incognito, Beran Panasper infiltrates a corps of interpreters being trained on Breakness. Mostly to amuse themselves, some of the young people create a language they call "Pastiche", mixing words and grammatical forms, seemingly at random, from the three newly created languages and from the original Paonese language. Palafox looks upon this development with indulgence, failing to realize the tremendous long-term significance.

  • Looks very interesting! (But not what I'm looking for, sorry.) Looks like it does for language something similar to what Iain M. Banks' The Player Of Games does for gaming?
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 15:55

I think this is The Stars My Destination by SciFi legend Alfred Bester. This book is also known as Tiger! Tiger! in the UK.

I don't want to give to much away because it's an awesome story, however: The story is about Gully Foyle a loser who is betrayed and left for dead which galvanizes him to go on a long journey of revenge and to improve himself greatly.

Indeed, later in the story he upgrades his body with many enhancements all activated by pressing a different tooth with his tongue.

He had several of the abilities the OP mentioned and he was limited by a power cell he had to replace in the small of his back. I.e. his abilities drained the battery.

  • Thanks for the answer, but it's not that (which I haven't read, though it's on my reading list). Winchell Chung had the right answer (which is why I accepted it); I remember reading both the Michael Kring books when I was young.
    – gidds
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 18:16

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