12

I read this in the early 1990s when I was a teenager and I have no idea whether it was old or new at the time.

Changing your body involves going in to a tank of liquid. People wear bodies of many and various different types (probably chosen mainly for fashion reasons) but certain body types are prohibited although I don't really remember any of the reasons why.

The main character is persuaded by someone to change his body to an illegal type. Perhaps he becomes involved in some kind of secret underground organization. The new body is of a type that he has never seen before. The main thing that I remember about it is that it has a panel of lights built into the chest and after he has learned how to he is able to communicate with other people in bodies of this type at incredible speed by flashing these lights.

I've spent considerable time web searching with no joy whatsoever. I'd love to re-read this book... the image of the flashing-chest-array communication has been stuck in my head ever since I read it but I can't remember whether anything else about it was noteworthy.

14

I believe that is one of the first books in the Proteus series by Charles Sheffield.

You have a few of the details mixed up, but enough to recognize it.

  • The main character (named Behrooz Wolf) is with the Office of Form Change Control; he chases down illegal forms. (Illegal forms are usually ones that pose a danger to the user, such as not being able to change back. Sometimes, there are ones that are illegal due to being danger to society, but these aren't explained in detail, just alluded to.)
  • As you mention, Body changes are wide-spread, with BEC (Biological Equipment Corp) putting out catalogs of new forms regularly. This kind of change is referred to as "Purposive Form Change."
  • In the first book, he discovers that one of the pioneers of the whole process is involved in what appears, at first glance, to be a massive illegal and immoral research project.
  • Later in the first book, some spacers (those who live on the Moon, not Earth), are found, dead, in the Marianas trench, looking like horrid monsters, with huge, glowing eyes.
  • One of the main characters colleagues, having a theory as to what caused it (incorrect, as it turns out), extracts some material from one of the bodies, and injects it into himself. Entering a Form Change pod, he expects to be able to control the change and identify what was happening... Little does he anticipate the MASSIVE change that is triggered, due to the alien DNA that he has unknowingly injected himself with.
  • The form he ends up with is that of a native from a planet that used to be in Earth's system, but blew up, aeons ago; it is massive, and rather rock-like, and has a large panel up it's chest, that can glow in any color (well down into Infrared, and up to Ultraviolet), and can be modulated to display individual 'dots' (think pixels), each with it's own complete control over color. At full usage, he can transmit so much data (using each dot as a data line), that he overloads the massive telephone network they set up for him. (We later discover that another main character has also made the change, and they were testing the amount of data that they could send at one time, if they pushed it. The characters refer to it as 'Burst Mode.')

Incidentally, I may have which books had what confused; the first two were published as two books, but then as an Omnibus volume, which is what I read.

The Combined book 1 & 2 publishing

  • Fantastic! This is undoubtedly the book(s) I was looking for. Thanks for all the details - it definitely sounds like the sort of thing that I'll still enjoy 20 years later. – Ben Apr 13 '14 at 1:39

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