Bleak: The Story of a Shapeshifter by Ian Martyn
I wouldn’t call this absolute hard science fiction, but it’s definitely not soft. I’d say maybe 4 out of 6 on the hardness scale. More scientifically rigorous than, say, Star Trek but not quite 2001: A Space Odyssey either. It includes such things as FTL travel and shapeshifters (obviously) but these are purely scientific accomplishments in the universe of the novel.
In particular I was impressed at how the main character, whose name is Bleak, requires several days of exertion to fully take on a new appearance. So often these kind of abilities are almost instantaneous — in the blink of an eye there’s a whole different person standing there. I’m all for suspension of disbelief, but there’s just no way it can be that easy! It was nice to see an author with the discipline to avoid that comicbook-esque take on shapeshifting.
The tone was a bit less consistent. At times it felt like a dark, noir thriller. Some of the best writing in the novel can be found in those moments:
As he sat, a yellow overhead light nudged some of the shadows to one side.
But at other times the tone was more lighthearted and earnest. I think this dichotomy comes from the way the main character, Bleak, is depicted. At times he is shown as a badass warrior and at other times he’s a lovable chump. Of course, a character needs some depth and dimension, but I’d like to be able to figure out if I’m looking at Dirty Harry or Barney Fife.
The plot has a lot of action and moves along at a steady pace, although I felt it dragged in the middle. All around, though, this is an engaging adventure for hard science fiction fans.