Monday, October 12, 2009

Classic Book Review - Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack Chalker

Midnight at the Well of Souls
(Book One of the Well World Series)
Jack L. Chalker
Del Rey / Ballantine, New York, NY
Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0345297695
Cover Art: H. R. Van Dongen
360 Pages

If you’ve never read anything by Science Fiction Master Storyteller, Jack Chalker, I suggest you immediately open a new browser tab, head over to B & N or Amazon, and purchase the entire Well World series. I’ll wait…

Back now? Good.

From the unique and creative imagination of Jack Chalker comes the Well of Souls.

Imagine a world designed by a long-extinct alien race using a planetary super-computer to xeno-form 1560 different hexagonal environments. Each “nation” is unique and home to a different intelligent alien, mythological creature, or sentient animal species. Hex 1, for example, may contain an earthlike atmosphere with citizens that resemble centaurs. Hex 2, in comparison, may harbor an alien ghostlike race that breathes and thrives on pure cyanide. Hex 3, a mountainous region, is populated by sentient giant wasps, Hex 4, a water-land dominated by mermaids. And so on…

Now, imagine your spacecraft has crash-landed on this planet and you’re forced through a zone gate (the Well of Souls) to be transmogrified into an alien species. And not just any species but the one best suited to your mental, genetic, and physical disposition as detected by the computer. You are then transported to your “home” Hex with your memories intact but buried inside an alien body. Now, survive…

This is the general premise of the Well World series. But wait, there’s more… The story begins with a monumental discovery followed by a series of murders. Mystery mounts when the murderer and a group of innocent, would-be rescuers are transported to the Well World. What follows is a combination of high drama, intrigue, politics and science all monitored by a planetary machine with a god complex. There are races of pure magic and others who hold secrets to super-science. Some are technologically advanced. Others have no resources whatsoever. Some are carbon based. Some are not. What do they all have in common? They’re all in search of the meaning of life and they lust for the power to control the Well World. Within the story you’ll encounter spaceships and evil dictators and scientists set on ruling and using the Well of Souls for their own purposes. There is slavery and debauchery, innocence and confusion, surprise and compassion, and love and hate. And that’s just the first few chapters.

The Well of Souls houses a thousand improbable well-gates built by a technologically advanced race (The Markovians) whose memory has been lost to time. Nathan Brazil, loner, space captain, enigma finds himself companioned by a mysterious mermaid, a bat-like man, and an impassioned female centaur. But Nathan Brazil's metamorphosis is more mystifying than any of the others and he’s beginning to regain a long-suppressed memory which may unlock a powerful secret at… Midnight at the Well of Souls.

Main Characters in “Midnight at the Well of Souls”

  • Nathan Brazil, an enigmatic freighter captain with a mysterious past

  • Datham Hain, a drug trafficker (“sponge” which causes an incurable, degenerative brain disease) and slaver

  • Wu Julee, Hain’s sponge-addicted servant transformed into a centaur

  • Elkinos Skander, a brilliant (and psychotic) archaeologist transformed to a fish

  • Varnett, an exceptional mathematician with an agenda of his own

  • Vardia Diplo 1261, a diplomatic courier transformed into a sentient plant

  • Serge Ortega, a former freighter captain reborn on the Well World as a six-armed half-walrus, half-snake being with political pull

The Complete Series:

Well of Souls
1. Midnight at the Well of Souls (1977) 5 out of 5 stars
2. Exiles at the Well of Souls (1978) 4 ½ out of 5 stars
3. Quest for the Well of Souls (1978) 4 ½ out of 5 stars
4. The Return of Nathan Brazil (1979) 5 out of 5 stars
5. Twilight at the Well of Souls: The Legacy of Nathan Brazil (1980) 5 out of 5 stars
6. The Sea Is Full of Stars (1999) 4 out of 5 stars
7. Ghost of the Well of Souls (2000) 5 out of 5 stars

Watchers at the Well
1. Echoes of the Well of Souls (1993) 4 out of 5 stars
2. Shadow of the Well of Souls (1994) 4 out of 5 stars
3. Gods of the Well of Souls (1994) 4 out of 5 stars

Entire Series Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

Related websites:

Wikipedia site:

Google Books:

Well World Wikipedia site:

Jack L. Chalker at BookRags:

Internet Speculative Fiction Database:

Baen Books page:

Unfortunately, it appears that Jack’s official website ( was abandoned sometime after his untimely death in 2003.

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

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