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Shifted: Shapeshifters in Modern Sci-Fi and Fantasy

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Everyone has felt the desire to become someone or something else at some point in their lives. That’s why we have holidays such as Halloween, where people can dress up as something completely “other” – and often, these are creatures that don’t exist in the real world. That desire for transformation is prevalent in modern fantasy and science fiction novels, and oftentimes we see it in the form of “shapeshifters” – people who are able to switch back and forth between their human forms and one or more bodies.

Shapeshifters have taken the form of werewolves, vampires, and aliens who come to terrorize people on Earth. Often, these have come with a connotation of fear and malicious intent, that sense that these beings are here to cause harm. The difference between these traditional representations of shapeshifters and their modern sci-fi and fantasy counterparts, is that the characters in the latter don’t have to be evil. Often in fact, shapeshifting gives the protagonists novel special powers that allow them to save the world or help the people around them.

Take for example the fantasy novel Shapeshifter, by Holly Bennett, which tells the story of a girl who has been forced to run from a group of hunters because of her ability to transform into a wild animal. Sive, the protagonist, finds her shapeshifting abilities to be more of a burden than a way to terrorize people. She ends up however, overcoming her struggles and finding strength in who she is. This type of plot line is characteristic of many modern shapeshifting science fiction or fantasy novels, which see the ability to transform as something of a blessing and a curse.

Several new sci-fi and fantasy novels have explored themes relevant to shapeshifting in various ways. The Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs, focus on a protagonist who can shift into the body of a coyote at will, and those stories detail her interactions with the people around her – which include a werewolf, a gremlin, and a vampire. Moon Spell by Samantha Young, tells the story of an adolescent girl that is in the midst of transitioning out of the shadowy underworld where she was raised as a werewolf. Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson, is a science fiction novel about the delicate relationship that forms between a group of shapeshifters and the rest of the human race. Nimona is a graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, who writes about a heroine with the ability to change her appearance at will and a villain with plans to destroy the inhabitants of a world filled with fantastical creatures such as dragons.

There you have it, shapeshifting and storytelling go hand in hand. Now it’s your turn, embrace your inner shapeshifter, and become one of the shifted!

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