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Midnight at the Well of Souls

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Nathan Brazil, a cargo ship-for-hire owner, detours from his route to answer a distress call. A hidden stargate hurls him and his passengers to the Well World, the master control planet for the cosmos created by the now-gone godlike race who designed the universe. Now someone wants to find the Well of Souls to seize control of all the cosmos--and it's up to Nathan to stop Nathan Brazil, a cargo ship-for-hire owner, detours from his route to answer a distress call. A hidden stargate hurls him and his passengers to the Well World, the master control planet for the cosmos created by the now-gone godlike race who designed the universe. Now someone wants to find the Well of Souls to seize control of all the cosmos--and it's up to Nathan to stop them.


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Nathan Brazil, a cargo ship-for-hire owner, detours from his route to answer a distress call. A hidden stargate hurls him and his passengers to the Well World, the master control planet for the cosmos created by the now-gone godlike race who designed the universe. Now someone wants to find the Well of Souls to seize control of all the cosmos--and it's up to Nathan to stop Nathan Brazil, a cargo ship-for-hire owner, detours from his route to answer a distress call. A hidden stargate hurls him and his passengers to the Well World, the master control planet for the cosmos created by the now-gone godlike race who designed the universe. Now someone wants to find the Well of Souls to seize control of all the cosmos--and it's up to Nathan to stop them.

30 review for Midnight at the Well of Souls

  1. 4 out of 5

    Terran

    Once upon a time, this was an incredible story for an awkward, introverted kid who didn't fit into any society that he knew. The vision of flying off to another world in which you could start again as any of a thousand possible different races was incredibly compelling. And the adventures and scope were captivating. For years, this series was clearly among my favorites, if not my favorite. After setting it aside for more than a decade, I came back and reread this book a few months ago. I expected Once upon a time, this was an incredible story for an awkward, introverted kid who didn't fit into any society that he knew. The vision of flying off to another world in which you could start again as any of a thousand possible different races was incredibly compelling. And the adventures and scope were captivating. For years, this series was clearly among my favorites, if not my favorite. After setting it aside for more than a decade, I came back and reread this book a few months ago. I expected it to have aged poorly, like so many fond childhood stories. I was rather pleasantly surprised to find that it did not fall apart completely. It actually held up rather well. The story was, of course, not nearly as deep as the teenage me thought it was, but it was tighter than I expected it to be from this vantage. It didn't compel me the way it did once upon a time, but it was still a lot of fun. I was glad that it hadn't lost all luster over the years. That said, it's still basically an adventure romp, with a neat world building and some pathos. My five stars are mostly in honor of a treasured place in my memory, more than because it is a towering monument to the field of SF. I would still recommend it, but don't expect to be picking up a monument like Tolkien.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brenton

    I'm not feeling particularly charitable to this book. It has some rather interesting ideas that keep the first half fairly intriguing and entertaining, but the writing and ham-fistedness of the morality play ruins it pretty thoroughly come the second half. The whole Well World concept is pretty unique for a plot device, and I would have been pretty satisfied if the book had stayed focused on the interplay between the people of the world and their surrounding environs. The questing portion of the I'm not feeling particularly charitable to this book. It has some rather interesting ideas that keep the first half fairly intriguing and entertaining, but the writing and ham-fistedness of the morality play ruins it pretty thoroughly come the second half. The whole Well World concept is pretty unique for a plot device, and I would have been pretty satisfied if the book had stayed focused on the interplay between the people of the world and their surrounding environs. The questing portion of the first two thirds or so was actually pretty engaging, writing issues aside, mostly because of the different aspects of the world itself. Unfortunately, this best part of the book is left pretty badly unexplored, and also suffers from a great deal of out of the blue, far too perfect exposition that really takes you out of the experience. The writing is...well, vintage sci-fi seems to sum it up. Were people so starved for unusual stories that they didn't care about purple prose and bland exposition and poorly-developed characters? I guess it never was too jarring, but I often paused over certain passages and sighed/chuckled at the poor/strange wording. I think what got my goat most was the last, say, fifth of the book or so. That's when the heavy-handed morality story comes in, delivered in over-the-top sermon form by the central character (also involved in a deus ex machina plot twist that is god-awful). I won't touch on spoilers, but it was so divorced from the main events of the story up to that point - the journey across the world, the intrigue between the two main groups of characters - that it just killed the story for me. Just killed it dead. If you have nothing better to do, it's at least interesting for the underlying concepts. Just don't expect to be dazzled by the quality of its writing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Swensen

    Midnight at the Well of Souls is an old-school piece of sci-fi, with a brilliant setting and a story that doesn't just examine the concept of what it means to be human, it kicks it over and scatters the pieces everywhere. Just so you know what kind of ride you're in for, the book opens with characters learning the true nature of the universe. From there, the protagonists are transported to an artificial planet divided into thousands of "hexes," each with its own unique form of life. Moreover, the Midnight at the Well of Souls is an old-school piece of sci-fi, with a brilliant setting and a story that doesn't just examine the concept of what it means to be human, it kicks it over and scatters the pieces everywhere. Just so you know what kind of ride you're in for, the book opens with characters learning the true nature of the universe. From there, the protagonists are transported to an artificial planet divided into thousands of "hexes," each with its own unique form of life. Moreover, the protagonists themselves are transformed into different forms of life, not just once, but multiple times throughout the story. It's not every day you read a sci-fi novel where your main character is a talking elk who runs around with a centaur, a talking bat, a giant sentient insect, and a sentient tree. Although Midnight features some interesting examination of character, the real star is the setting. The planet itself is one giant mystery to be unraveled, and despite a few clunky points in the middle, I found the journey a fun and satisfying one. Those familiar with Chalker's penchant for gender-bending and toying with sexual identity will also not be disappointed.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I haven't read this, and the following books in the series for years - I came across it in a 2nd hand bookshop for $1 and when I got home, I found that it had been autographed by the author himself! I really enjoyed reading it. The thought that the whole universe is just a mathematical equation is quite alluring. I also enjoyed the various lifeforms encountered on the Wellworld and Chalker is very good at describing what it would be like to wake up in not just a different body, but an entirely d I haven't read this, and the following books in the series for years - I came across it in a 2nd hand bookshop for $1 and when I got home, I found that it had been autographed by the author himself! I really enjoyed reading it. The thought that the whole universe is just a mathematical equation is quite alluring. I also enjoyed the various lifeforms encountered on the Wellworld and Chalker is very good at describing what it would be like to wake up in not just a different body, but an entirely different form of life.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    This one has sentimental value to me. I'm not sure it deserves five stars exactly, but this and the rest of the Well World series was special to me when I was a lonely teenager. I read a lot of Jack L Chalker's stuff back then. I've always had a deep, gut-level fascination with transformation and what it would feel like to be changed into an entirely different being. I've never encountered another author who does it as consistently well as Chalker did, but if anyone could point such an author ou This one has sentimental value to me. I'm not sure it deserves five stars exactly, but this and the rest of the Well World series was special to me when I was a lonely teenager. I read a lot of Jack L Chalker's stuff back then. I've always had a deep, gut-level fascination with transformation and what it would feel like to be changed into an entirely different being. I've never encountered another author who does it as consistently well as Chalker did, but if anyone could point such an author out to me, I'd be grateful. I'm always looking for books like that. There are others, like John Varley for example, who present a world where such transformations are routine and considered normal. I don't really care much for those since that takes most of the fun out of it. Besides, those tend to be idea books and I'm more into character-driven stories. As for the novel itself, it certainly is a unique and enjoyable read. The character of Nathan Brazil is mysterious and kind of intriguing. The concept of the Well World is truly innovative and fascinating. There is no end to what you could do with such a setting. In the course of the series that follows, though, Chalker could've done a better job of keeping notes. Sometimes details randomly change. There's no indication that this is part of the story but more likely because the author wasn't paying enough attention to what he wrote earlier. This doesn't happen constantly, maybe a couple times during the series, but it is annoying. Continuity must be guarded so the reader isn't jerked out of the story. Just saying. This is by no means a perfect book but it's still one of my favorites and, for me, those are always five-star books.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Read this in the Navy on Diego Garcia. What did it lead to. I own every Chalker book...around 40 and I've read all but about two of them. I even have a few letters he sent me when I mailed him some questions and the letters are on his MIRAGE Press letterhead. Chalker is not Shakespeare, but he takes you on a rollercoaster ride every time. Read this in the Navy on Diego Garcia. What did it lead to. I own every Chalker book...around 40 and I've read all but about two of them. I even have a few letters he sent me when I mailed him some questions and the letters are on his MIRAGE Press letterhead. Chalker is not Shakespeare, but he takes you on a rollercoaster ride every time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Trike

    Two sections, non-spoiler then spoiler. ——— I loved this book when it first came out in 1977. I was 12 and had just seen Star Wars. I’ve just reread it after 37 years and I still like it. I’m kind of amazed at how much of it I remembered. It’s clunkier overall but still pretty great. The whole concept is brilliant: a race of beings attains godhood by mastering reality and they look around and ask, “Is this it?” It’s the ultimate metaphor for consumer culture, but also for attaining your goals. Once Two sections, non-spoiler then spoiler. ——— I loved this book when it first came out in 1977. I was 12 and had just seen Star Wars. I’ve just reread it after 37 years and I still like it. I’m kind of amazed at how much of it I remembered. It’s clunkier overall but still pretty great. The whole concept is brilliant: a race of beings attains godhood by mastering reality and they look around and ask, “Is this it?” It’s the ultimate metaphor for consumer culture, but also for attaining your goals. Once you have all you need and you get what you want, you find the empty place is still unfilled. These creatures had utter mastery over the universe, over all space and time. Yet they felt something was lacking. So these immortal, omnipotent, omniscient creatures — called Markovians by the humans who discovered their abandoned worlds — decided to start over. They built the Well World to experiment with different types of creatures, creating thousands upon thousands of different alien races. Once those races were proved viable, they then created planets with evolutionary histories that would result in the designed creatures. The Markovians would then volunteer to live the rest of their mortal lives as these aliens, to see if the new variations might uncover that missing spark which left the Markovians spiritually bereft. The last 1560 races created were left on the Well World once all the volunteers had gone out into the new universe. Each race has a hexagonal homeland, called a hex, that is designed specifically for them. Lizard people live in a volcanic hex; mermaids live in a water hex; centaurs live in a pastoral hex; etc. Every kind of creature imaginable populated the Well World, leading to endless opportunity for stories about different societies. Giant spiders, bat-like peoples, insects, yeti, talking beavers, plant people — some fiercely individual, some having a hive mind, some densely populated, some sparsely. The variety is endless. It’s basically the cantina scene from Star Wars with an unlimited budget. And that’s just in the Southern Hemisphere, which is reserved for carbon-based life. In the northern hemisphere live truly bizarre creatures. Some that resemble floating paint smears. Energy beings who have a symbiotic relationship. Mobile rocks. Intelligent sparkles. Sentient crystals. The Markovians didn’t know what the missing ingredient might be, so they covered all the bases. The Well World itself is a giant planet-sized computer that keeps the entire universe running. And all of this is just the concept. It’s one of the coolest in sci-fi that I’ve ever encountered. The Well World from space: The story is a basic quest. Two people have figured out the underlying mathematical key that the Markovians used to control everything. One is the genius cloned product of an authoritarian world while the other is a brilliant but monomaniacal researcher who will stop at nothing to uncover the Markovian secret, and he despises these cloned communal humans, willing even to commit mass murder. They each understand enough to give commands to Markovian computers, but neither is evolved enough to be trusted with that power. But the thing is, the gates the Markovians used to in their experiment to populate the universe are still out there. Every so often someone will blunder into one of those gates and be transported to the Well World. It’s a one-way trip. Once you get there, you are given a basic overview of the place and then sent through the gate which connects to all the hexes. The Well master computer sizes you up and then determines which hex you would be best suited for, changing you into one of those creatures. You will feel totally natural in that body (it controls every aspect of the universe, so this bit is trivial) and you can understand the language and you’re given a young, fresh body. The ultimate do-over. If you wake up a six-armed walrus-snake (that’s a real species on the Well World, called Uliks: https://images.app.goo.gl/mFZPw81REzB...), it’s fine. That new body will feel perfectly normal to you. The problem now, however, is that those two guys who have figured out how to get Markovian computers to do what they want have now been transported to the Well World. They each want to access the master computer and remake the universe as they see fit. So the race is on. One thing SF is prone to is infodumps. I typically don’t mind them but I appreciate when they’re done well. Here they can be as clunky or as smooth as needed because every time someone wakes up in a new body in an unfamiliar hex they have to ask around to figure exactly what they are and how things work. Some of them have things fully explained to them while others have to figure it out on the fly. Chalker gets to use a variety of infodump styles because his concept is so flexible. Because there is a computer running everything, that concept even allows for what appears to be magic. It’s a form of Hard Fantasy because what seems to be magic is really just creatures being able to tap into the Well World computer and altering local mathematical equations to effect change. That’s what is so brilliant about the concept: it allows for every cool thing in the SFF genre, from teleportation to precognition to magical spells. The whole lot is just being able to hack the math that runs the universe. The concept also allows for both evolution and intelligent design. The Markovians evolved naturally, but their creations didn’t. As with allowing for things like FTL and magic, Chalker’s universe is a very “eat your cake and have it too” situation. Ingenious. Chalker said that his inspiration was the mystery of the missing Krell from the classic film Forbidden Planet. He used it as a jumping-off point for his tale of the mighty Markovians and their planet-sized computers. This scene in particular: https://youtu.be/HHXfMjp2zqI but also a bit of this: https://youtu.be/f2BYyeS-fIU You can see how Chalker took that idea and ran with it. Spoiler section: (view spoiler)[So the two smart guys are investigating a Markovian world and because they have a basic understanding of the math, the Markovian planet-brain they’re standing on recognizes their desire and the local gate transports them to the Well World. This is very bad, since they have the ability to figure out how to give commands to the computer that runs everything, which means they can commit genocide on a universal scale by remaking the whole shebang. Fortunately the Well World is smarter than the scattered planetary computers and arranges for the last surviving Markovian to come fix this mess. Enter Nathan Brazil, diminutive Jewish captain of a freighter plying his wares between planets. Back in the day I pictured Brazil being played by Dustin Hoffman, just to give you a visual. Hoffman is too old now, but there are plenty of younger actors who could do the job. Brazil variously claims that he’s the last Markovian, that he’s God, the one who created the Markovians, and that he’s no one in particular. There’s no way to tell. But what’s known for sure is that the Well recognizes him as its controller, transforming him into a Markovian, which looks like a giant slime-covered human heart with six tentacles and who smells like rotten meat. And he is millions of years old. So he might be a little crazy. And able to change literally anything in the universe. When he passes judgement on the various people who accompany him into the Well control center, you kinda hope he’ll be a Just and merciful god, but it’s by no means certain. I was super relieved that he is, ultimately, a good guy, who practices fair play and is rational despite everything. Putting three passengers on Brazil’s ship, Chalker gets to fill out the political system of his universe. Vardia is a clone diplomatic courier whose mind is erased after each mission. Datham Hain is a drug dealer who is a minor functionary of an interstellar cartel which is using an alien plant to control the leaders of numerous worlds. Wu Julee is Hain’s sex slave and sample to others; a living, desperate example of someone forcibly addicted to a drug that destroys your higher brain functions if you aren’t given the antidote. The clone worlds are basically communism taken to its logical conclusion. Hain and his ilk are corrupt capitalism pushed to its extreme. The underlying message is cynical: every political persuasion and society is rotten to the core, because the Markovians were spiritually bankrupt, and they are the source of everyone everywhere. But Nathan, sweet, sad, cynical Nathan, he’s the exception that proves the rule. He cares. He cares so much that it physically hurts him. He hopes for the best but expects the worst. I completely identify with Nathan Brazil, probably more than with any other character I’ve ever encountered. In the original paperback, it runs 360 pages. When we first encounter Brazil, he’s grumpily transporting his three passengers and a cargo of grain to a planet that’s suffered a cataclysmic food crash. Vardia is unaware it’s being used as a tool to assert political and economic influence over the planet in exchange for the grain supplies while Hain is on a mission to take over the planet’s rulers for his drug cartel. After everything is said and done, Brazil is back on his ship by himself while everyone else has had their deserved fates meted our to them. The last lines are, “He sighed a long, sad sigh. The memories would fade but the ache would remain. Whatever becomes of the others or this little corner of the universe, he thought, I’m still Nathan Brazil. Fifteen days out, bound for Coriolanus with a load of grain. Still waiting. Still caring. Still alone.” He ends up exactly where he began, a perfect 360-degree return. It’s heartbreakingly perfect. Again, Chalker’s concept covers all the bases. The people who deserve happy endings get them. The ones who deserve punishment get that, too. And Nathan exists in endless limbo, perpetually hoping but always alone. Hollywood ending but also not. Love it. I never could imagine how this might be pulled off as a TV series, but now with Avatar and the Marvel movies showing the way, this could be accomplished with CGI. It’d be expensive but man it would be epic. (hide spoiler)]

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ariana

    This was probably the most unique novel I'd ever read, and that's saying something, because I've also read John Varley's Gaea trilogy. The concept is just so original and alien, the latter of which is fitting, as it straddles the line between science-fiction and science-fantasy. Protagonist Nathan Brazil is a conundrum from the beginning, and Chalker weaves him and the other characters into the plot beautifully. However, sometimes Chalker's writing style leaves something to be desired (bulky sen This was probably the most unique novel I'd ever read, and that's saying something, because I've also read John Varley's Gaea trilogy. The concept is just so original and alien, the latter of which is fitting, as it straddles the line between science-fiction and science-fantasy. Protagonist Nathan Brazil is a conundrum from the beginning, and Chalker weaves him and the other characters into the plot beautifully. However, sometimes Chalker's writing style leaves something to be desired (bulky sentences, head-jumping), but overall, Midnight at the Well of Souls is an excellent book that leaves the reader wanting more of the peculiar Well World.

  9. 5 out of 5

    SciFiOne

    1983 Grade A-. Book Ws1. 2018 Grade B+ Chalker has one of the most incredible imaginations of any author I have ever read, and this blend of SciFi and Fantasy is rather amazing. The world described was covered with 1560 hexagons. Each had different living conditions and beings - incredible conditions and beings. There were six points of view, one for each of the six people who end up on the world - transmogrified into different beings in different hexes. No two were alike. There are two reasons th 1983 Grade A-. Book Ws1. 2018 Grade B+ Chalker has one of the most incredible imaginations of any author I have ever read, and this blend of SciFi and Fantasy is rather amazing. The world described was covered with 1560 hexagons. Each had different living conditions and beings - incredible conditions and beings. There were six points of view, one for each of the six people who end up on the world - transmogrified into different beings in different hexes. No two were alike. There are two reasons the story did not get an A grade this time. First it focuses of the coarse side of life - the bad things people do to one another, the worries and pains and sadness, the "mud" of life. It is not graphic, or gross, or even particularly vulgar but can be unpleasant at times. The second is the last third becomes a bit repetitive and at the end rather preachy. I still did not speed read very much but I skipped a few paragraphs in chapters where material was being repeated and skimmed the lecturing in the conclusion. The chapters after the conclusion are basically epilogues giving the fate of the six main characters, and they are superb. Is the book worth reading, absolutely. Is it worth reading a third time, I think so! (Technical note. The hexagons must have been irregular to form a sphere because regular hexagons make a flat plain. Chalker never clarified that and it bothered me at times but not very much.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    2Karl Tessier-Ashpool

    I picked up this book because the cover had a dinosaur riding an ichthyosaur across a desert and who wouldn't want to get in on that action? however, the scene depicted in the art occurs near the end and is not even described. it's just something that happens between chapters. disappointing. There's also the propensity of the author to always describe animals as having cavernous vaginas, like dude we don't need to know that. a stag does have sex with a centaur at one point though, so two stars. I picked up this book because the cover had a dinosaur riding an ichthyosaur across a desert and who wouldn't want to get in on that action? however, the scene depicted in the art occurs near the end and is not even described. it's just something that happens between chapters. disappointing. There's also the propensity of the author to always describe animals as having cavernous vaginas, like dude we don't need to know that. a stag does have sex with a centaur at one point though, so two stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Debrac2014

    I enjoyed it but not enough to continue reading the series! Originally, the book's title caught my eye and the concept was interesting but the big reveal didn't surprise me. I enjoyed it but not enough to continue reading the series! Originally, the book's title caught my eye and the concept was interesting but the big reveal didn't surprise me.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Four space travelers enter a mysterious portal and are delivered to the Well World--an artificial planet, the surface of which is honeycombed with over 15000 controlled environments, each with its own native population. There they must embark on a quest to prevent two previous entries from gaining access to the world's control center and rewriting reality. The problem is that everyone who arrives on the Well World is given a new form and identity, and integrated into one of the native cultures. Four space travelers enter a mysterious portal and are delivered to the Well World--an artificial planet, the surface of which is honeycombed with over 15000 controlled environments, each with its own native population. There they must embark on a quest to prevent two previous entries from gaining access to the world's control center and rewriting reality. The problem is that everyone who arrives on the Well World is given a new form and identity, and integrated into one of the native cultures. There are interesting ideas here but in the end I felt like that was all there was. If you remove all the massive expository passages (often disguised as dialogue) there isn't much of a story left. Chalker's prose is also kind of clunky. It isn't a bad book, but it could have done with more refining. I enjoyed it for the feeling of pseudo-nostalgia it gave me (it reminded me of other works I'd read when I was much younger, particularly those of Piers Anthony and Alan Dean Foster--though Foster is much, much better.) I don't know that I will continue with this series, but I might give one of his others a try.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Soo

    Mini-Review: 4 Stars for Narration, 3 Stars for Story I found the idea of the Well of Souls to be really interesting and I enjoyed the different kinds of intelligent species that made up the various Hexes. I thought the author did a great job in hinting at who Nathan Brazil really was without saying it outright. However, when it all came out, I was underwhelmed by the delivery. I look forward to seeing what else happens in the series but I'm not in a rush to jump into it right away. Mini-Review: 4 Stars for Narration, 3 Stars for Story I found the idea of the Well of Souls to be really interesting and I enjoyed the different kinds of intelligent species that made up the various Hexes. I thought the author did a great job in hinting at who Nathan Brazil really was without saying it outright. However, when it all came out, I was underwhelmed by the delivery. I look forward to seeing what else happens in the series but I'm not in a rush to jump into it right away.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Russ Moore

    Imagine walking through a dark gate on an abandoned planet and waking up on a different planet as a walking pumpkin-headed plant-creature. Or a centaur. Or an enormous bug. Or even a six-armed snake-man. This is the premise of Chalker’s excellent Well of Souls series, one of my favorite set of SF books from my formative years. ‘Midnight at the Well of Souls’ is the first book of the series, and follows a familiar pattern: a group of characters – some likable, some not – are taken to a strange pl Imagine walking through a dark gate on an abandoned planet and waking up on a different planet as a walking pumpkin-headed plant-creature. Or a centaur. Or an enormous bug. Or even a six-armed snake-man. This is the premise of Chalker’s excellent Well of Souls series, one of my favorite set of SF books from my formative years. ‘Midnight at the Well of Souls’ is the first book of the series, and follows a familiar pattern: a group of characters – some likable, some not – are taken to a strange place, have some amazing experiences and finally arrive at a somewhat happy ending. The strange place is the mysterious ‘Well-World’ which was used as a testing ground for new races by a long-vanished elder race. Over 1,500 races remain, each in their own separate area on the planet. Here you will find all of the mythical beasts from legend - centaurs, mermaids, fairies – and some stranger things: flying bat-men, fast-running carnivorous vegetable-creatures, four-foot tall sand-swimming tyrannosaurs, and immobile hive-minded flowers. My personal favorite (in this book) is a symbiotic creature composed of flashing lights and floating crystals which eats silicon (what else?). The story is easily read, and the characters are enjoyable, if very shallow. I love really bad villains, and there aren’t any in this book. Chalker has a chance to build a really twisted mad-genius type in his character Elkinos Skander, but then removes him from the storyline, highlighting him only at the end when we are reminded of the murders that he committed at the beginning of the book. Similarly, Datham Hain is a powerful drug-kingpin bent on political control of whatever. He has so much potential to be a shining force of evil, but is brainwashed early in the story and directed like a robot, rather than freed to wreak his depredations on the world. And as a giant cockroach, no less. So close, so close. But the weakness of the villains is balanced (I guess) by the absence of heroes. There are none in this book. The main protagonist, Nathan Brazil, is an unassuming anti-hero, more like a latter-day truck-driver/beatnik. In fact, Chalker takes great pains to point out that Brazil isn’t a hero and is almost apologetic in his handling of him. There is one heroic act where the boy mathematician Varnett (as a giant winged gorilla) risks his life to save Brazil, but for the most part every one is a pawn. The real players and movers in the story (like Serge Ortega) don’t appear much and seem to fill the role of a faceless establishment. But forget the characters. The strength of this book is experiencing the amazing well-world, and ‘Midnight’ is a great introduction to the other books. It will leave you wondering what creature you would become if you were taken to the Well-World. Please, not the giant cockroach.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mir

    There was a stargate in this? Man, I really need to reread some of these adult books I read as a little kid.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Petersen

    Chalker creates an inventive world (worlds, really) but Midnight at the Well of Souls plodded along like scuba fins through mud. The story wasn't so much shown as told through long lectures and explanations by characters who looked different but all spoke in the same expository voice. Nathan Brazil, the story's main character, sounded more stilted than human (or Markovian, or whatever) when asking his traveling partner to stop for the night: “Not only am I too tired to go any farther, but there' Chalker creates an inventive world (worlds, really) but Midnight at the Well of Souls plodded along like scuba fins through mud. The story wasn't so much shown as told through long lectures and explanations by characters who looked different but all spoke in the same expository voice. Nathan Brazil, the story's main character, sounded more stilted than human (or Markovian, or whatever) when asking his traveling partner to stop for the night: “Not only am I too tired to go any farther, but there's no use chancing unfamiliar territory. Anything that might cause us problems is unlikely to be this close to the border, and we always have a convenient if chilly exit if we find any real problems.” Pretty boring prose but a nice array of variously motivated (if monotone) characters in a fanciful array of settings.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joshi

    Extremely unique premise, some dull stretches and the ending goes off the rails weird but very entertaining overall

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura Ruetz

    While I am familiar with the author, this one series is not one that I've read. This is classic throw back sci-fi and was a great read - a perfect blend of sci-fi and technology to create something really unique and engaging. While I am familiar with the author, this one series is not one that I've read. This is classic throw back sci-fi and was a great read - a perfect blend of sci-fi and technology to create something really unique and engaging.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This mid-70s science fiction work is a rather ambitious effort, which succeeds in places and fails in others, resulting in a somewhat mixed, but generally enjoyable, reading experience. In some ways it never rises much above the level of a standard boys’ adventure story, but within those rules it is both surprisingly complex and cosmic in vision. In the hands of a lesser writer than Chalker this would have been dreck, although in the hands of a better one it would have been a masterpiece. Instea This mid-70s science fiction work is a rather ambitious effort, which succeeds in places and fails in others, resulting in a somewhat mixed, but generally enjoyable, reading experience. In some ways it never rises much above the level of a standard boys’ adventure story, but within those rules it is both surprisingly complex and cosmic in vision. In the hands of a lesser writer than Chalker this would have been dreck, although in the hands of a better one it would have been a masterpiece. Instead, it walks a line just this side of pretentious mediocrity, with enough at least to intrigue me for a single reading. The premise of the novel is that an ancient race of beings called “Markovians” (who bear more than a passing resemblance to the “Krell” of “Forbidden Planet”) have created all sentient life in the Universe, as an outcome of their godlike technology and whimsy. Some human archaeologists, investigating their artifacts on a world known to have been a Markovian colony, stumble onto a portal to the “Well World,” which is a kind of cosmic menagerie in which each of the created species has its own preserve. After the initial party disappears, the first on the scene to investigate is Nathan Brazil, a rugged long-lived space pirate in the vein of Han Solo, and a motley crew of passengers from his craft. They all get sucked into the Well World as well. Now, here’s where things start getting weird (and I don’t think this constitutes “spoilers,” because I’m still dealing with the first 1/10th of the story here). Apparently, when folks manage to enter the Well World, they get a brief orientation in “Zone” (a neutral administrative area), then they get shoved through a transportation device that turns them into some other species from what they started as and teleports them to the sector of the Well World where those critters live. Apparently it makes them into something that fits their personality, but doesn’t worry too much about issues of gender or social standing in terms of the end result. Our various parties turn into tree-like genderless Czill, or giant insects, or mermaids, or centaurs (yep), more or less at random and are scattered all over the planet. Then, of course, they discover that they need to get back to Zone and, well… accomplish something or other, or prevent someone else from doing so at least. Unfortunately, with such a complex premise and so many moving parts, a lot of the more interesting concepts don’t get as fully developed as I’d have liked. The aliens are distinctly disappointing – after relatively cursory descriptions, we get almost no insight into their cultures or biological peculiarities, except when such directly impacts the plot. There is a reasonable attempt at a sci fi explanation for how fantasy creatures wound up on this world, and even for why magic works on some planets but not others, but little detail about the mechanics or specifics of it. There are some interesting allusions to an increasingly Communistic galactic human society, but this also remains mostly a kind of shadow, apparently intended to frighten good little individualist (not to say Objectivist) readers and let them see how badly things might go. The final problem I had was that it doesn’t seem to work well as the opening book of a series, but the ending fails to provide the closure of a stand-alone novel. The problem here is that the basic premise of the book deals with the fundamental question of the meaning of existence, which doesn't really work for an opener. I have no certain knowledge of this, but I suspect that it was originally envisioned as a much longer text which would give the complete story, but due to publishing standards of the day, wound up cut apart into multiple novels in revision. This would explain why the plot is so hard to track – a lot of it is deliberately being held back for future episodes. Today, publishers seem to prefer publishing overlong novels, and might well have left it alone. Or, I could be utterly wrong about all of this, and Chalker simply didn’t know how to kick off a series very well. As I keep saying, however, in spite of all this criticism the story moves along well under its own momentum and the very diversity of all the aliens and environments we encounter serves to hold interest from one chapter to the next. “I wonder what we’re going to find here?” is the recurring theme of the quest, and in that it reminds me of the better examples of classic Ray Harryhausen adventure movies. A film version of this would probably be equally baffling, but visually fascinating.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    I made the decision this year not to read novels over 250 pages, because I read so slowly, and I tend to lose interest. Plus, a lot of longer novels just really could be cut down a lot. But I started this one, and it actually kept me engaged. Big ideas. The plot certainly has a bit of "Forbidden Planet" element to - not copied at all, just in the same tradition. Anyway, it moves really well and is a lot of fun. No wonder this series was on every bookstore SF shelf I ever saw back in the 1980s. I I made the decision this year not to read novels over 250 pages, because I read so slowly, and I tend to lose interest. Plus, a lot of longer novels just really could be cut down a lot. But I started this one, and it actually kept me engaged. Big ideas. The plot certainly has a bit of "Forbidden Planet" element to - not copied at all, just in the same tradition. Anyway, it moves really well and is a lot of fun. No wonder this series was on every bookstore SF shelf I ever saw back in the 1980s. I'll probably read more from this series.

  21. 4 out of 5

    The_J

    A classic revisited as well as shared with the next generation, thereby increasing the joy of the experience

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aelvana

    Nathan Brazil has had a long, boring life as a pilot, longer than he even remembers anymore. When a routine transport is interrupted by a distress call leading to the site of a mass murder, though, things start getting more interesting. Nathan and his passengers are pulled after the murderer to a place called Well World, a single planet with over fifteen hundred sentient races---and many of the inhabitants used to be as human as they. But can Nathan find the two he seeks when they could be anyon Nathan Brazil has had a long, boring life as a pilot, longer than he even remembers anymore. When a routine transport is interrupted by a distress call leading to the site of a mass murder, though, things start getting more interesting. Nathan and his passengers are pulled after the murderer to a place called Well World, a single planet with over fifteen hundred sentient races---and many of the inhabitants used to be as human as they. But can Nathan find the two he seeks when they could be anyone or anything? Tired of science fiction books that only have one species of alien? This book has many carefully drawn species populating a variety of environments, ranging from centaurs to human plants to bat-men and more. And it's easy to see how each race fits into its own environment, as well as its place in the greater community of the planet. The concept of Well World allows for Nathan and the others to see a good variety of aliens. The concept of Well World is also amusing from another angle, as it plays off of multiple definitions of the word well. That said, there were several things that bothered me about the book. The first was the sheer focus on sex. Granted, a race's reproductive mechanisms are an integral part of its survival, but it was a bit annoying to get the full physiological rundown every time a new species was introduced. And there's more to a happy ending than just getting to sleep together, or more to love in general than sleeping together. Another thing I didn't like was the tendency to sit the reader down for very long explanations. That's how the book started (a professor explaining everything to his students) and how the book ends (Nathan's giant speech explaining everything about everything). Every time a new race shows up, the book stops to explain numerous details that in the end weren't very relevant and at least could have been more interesting if presented in a different fashion. Also at the end, in order to give the backstory and motivation for several characters, they ended up talking about things that seemed very out of character. The final thing that grated on me was Nathan himself, or rather who he turned out to be. His role was easy enough to spot by about halfway through the book, but once he lays out all his cards several things stop making sense. The ultimate conclusion reads as more of a depressing philosophical rant about looking to ourselves for salvation because nothing else can save us, when at the same time he advocates having compassion on each other. And if the story of his origin is true, why would there be only one? Why not more? Why not fall in love with one person and change the future instead of the past? Or, conversely, why fall in love with only one person when he's supposedly got so much interest in everybody? Why is he so small and limited when he's supposed to be so much more? In the end it's really a difference of worldview. I disagree with several of the book's conclusions, and as the storytelling apart from that did not overly impress me, this probably isn't something I'd reread. I rate this book Neutral.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sphincterboy

    This was a really tough book to rate. I loved the world that the author created, but I don't think I can give the book higher than 3 stars, as the writing (Chalker abused adverbs throughout) and plotting was a bit clunky at times. That aside, I'll still probably try the next book in the series. This was a really tough book to rate. I loved the world that the author created, but I don't think I can give the book higher than 3 stars, as the writing (Chalker abused adverbs throughout) and plotting was a bit clunky at times. That aside, I'll still probably try the next book in the series.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Milewski

    Midnight at the Well of Souls begins Jack Chalker's Well World series. Tacking WORLD onto a concept was the freshest meme back then, and the Well World certainly delivers. When I picked up the book, I didn't expect much, but I found the prose style energetic, up-paced, and entertaining. This was a much better read than I was expecting. And like most of the SF of that era, it wraps itself up in one book. The story itself is a sci-fantasy. That's all due to the concept of the Well World, where many Midnight at the Well of Souls begins Jack Chalker's Well World series. Tacking WORLD onto a concept was the freshest meme back then, and the Well World certainly delivers. When I picked up the book, I didn't expect much, but I found the prose style energetic, up-paced, and entertaining. This was a much better read than I was expecting. And like most of the SF of that era, it wraps itself up in one book. The story itself is a sci-fantasy. That's all due to the concept of the Well World, where many different races live in hexagons on the planet's surface. They were all artificially created by a race called the Markovians, and the planet itself is run by a world brain. Thus, you have super-high tech appearing as magic, and many otherwise fantasy creatures, such as centaurs, mermaids, and hyper-intelligent concepts. (Really). Yet, that's not the story. That's just the concept. In the story itself, the passengers on a freighter, responding to a distress call, find themselves dragged into the Well World, given new bodies, and begin a race to reach the control center of the planet. To do that, each group must lie, cheat, steal, and cross alien and hostile hexes in order to get there first. The protagonist is a freighter captain, and inhumanly old Nathan Brazil, who doesn't much like what the human race has come to. Identical service clones are not his idea of a good time. When pulled into Well World, it soon becomes clear that there's more to Nathan than meets the eye, and he knows more about the Well World than he's letting on. The book has a little sex, but not graphic enough to bother with. If you're easily offended by inter-species sex, and all the possible variations of offended implied by changing bodies, which also means changing genders, then this might not be a good book for you. Even so, the risque is mild by today's standards, and I don't think that most folks would notice much.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Roxanne

    The first in the "Well World" series. I accidentally read the second book first, so I wanted to go back and catch up before moving on in the series. Honestly, though, if I'd read the first book first, I'm not sure I would have wanted to keep reading the later books. I *would* have, because it's Jack Chalker, but he kind of blew his wad too early here--Nathan Brazil's character development and ultimate identity are kind of a huge deal to just drop into the first book in a series. That said, I alr The first in the "Well World" series. I accidentally read the second book first, so I wanted to go back and catch up before moving on in the series. Honestly, though, if I'd read the first book first, I'm not sure I would have wanted to keep reading the later books. I *would* have, because it's Jack Chalker, but he kind of blew his wad too early here--Nathan Brazil's character development and ultimate identity are kind of a huge deal to just drop into the first book in a series. That said, I already read the second book (which doesn't include Nathan Brazil except as a side note) and I'm interested in finding out what happens to those characters, so onward I go. (As a side note, Chalker seems to have caught a case of Niven Syndrome, as evidenced in Niven's later Ringworld books, in which the writer sets up major plot points just so he can make different species of aliens have sex with each other. I mean, I know Chalker has a dirty mind from his other books, but the cross-species stuff is new and inventive. Still not as bad as Niven, though.)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Three and a half stars to be more precise. I have been wanting to read this series for decades, but had never come across the first book. Now it is available as an audiobook. I'm afraid I found it a bit confusing with so many characters in so many different alien guises constantly changing their species and genders as the story progresses, I often had to shift gears, rewind and re-listen to figure out which character's point of view we are experiencing at any moment. Other than that major complic Three and a half stars to be more precise. I have been wanting to read this series for decades, but had never come across the first book. Now it is available as an audiobook. I'm afraid I found it a bit confusing with so many characters in so many different alien guises constantly changing their species and genders as the story progresses, I often had to shift gears, rewind and re-listen to figure out which character's point of view we are experiencing at any moment. Other than that major complication, it's great 1970s semi-hard SF loaded with the pulse pounding sense of wonder and huge concepts that are sorely lacking for me in much of today's SF. I look forward to the rest of the series, but after a short break. This volume needs to germinate and breathe for a while in my memory first, It is self contained, so it should be no problem to wait a bit before moving on to the next one.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    An amazing feat of world building, and Chalker made the best of his love of body-changing. People who come to the Well World are transformed into one of the 1,560 sentient species living there. The personality conflicts already existing among before them before they arrive, play out in a race to control the Well of Souls. Brilliantly imaginative with a strong, disciplined structure and human sympathy. One of two rereads tied as favorite Science Fiction Read of 2012. 2016 read: I have read my copy An amazing feat of world building, and Chalker made the best of his love of body-changing. People who come to the Well World are transformed into one of the 1,560 sentient species living there. The personality conflicts already existing among before them before they arrive, play out in a race to control the Well of Souls. Brilliantly imaginative with a strong, disciplined structure and human sympathy. One of two rereads tied as favorite Science Fiction Read of 2012. 2016 read: I have read my copy to death and bought a new copy in the middle of this. I have the audio versions of the next two in the series, so those are on the schedule. Alas, the books after #3 aren't available in audio.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Anderson

    Well of Souls stuff isn't my favorite by Chalker, though it's what he's most well-known for, I think. I'll label it as Sci-Fi, but has many fantasy aspects, and some outright magic. The concept of Well World (and the universe history) is very neat, and a lot of fun. I guess I'll give the series as a whole a 4, might deserve a 3. I don't remember individual books, just the series as one large story. I have reread this, and a lot of Chalker series many times, but I don't think it's rereadable for mos Well of Souls stuff isn't my favorite by Chalker, though it's what he's most well-known for, I think. I'll label it as Sci-Fi, but has many fantasy aspects, and some outright magic. The concept of Well World (and the universe history) is very neat, and a lot of fun. I guess I'll give the series as a whole a 4, might deserve a 3. I don't remember individual books, just the series as one large story. I have reread this, and a lot of Chalker series many times, but I don't think it's rereadable for most people.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    [2018 reread] some people have comfort food, some a favorite movie, blanket...I have comfort books. They stand the tests of time, are always enjoyable regardless of my age or changed perspectives. When I have a lot on my plate, and this time around also a couple of heavier reads in parallel, I will sometimes divert with one (or more) of those comfort books. Might need more diversion...! [2012] An all time favorite. Imaginative. Intelligent. And so open to follow ons(obviously, given the four plus [2018 reread] some people have comfort food, some a favorite movie, blanket...I have comfort books. They stand the tests of time, are always enjoyable regardless of my age or changed perspectives. When I have a lot on my plate, and this time around also a couple of heavier reads in parallel, I will sometimes divert with one (or more) of those comfort books. Might need more diversion...! [2012] An all time favorite. Imaginative. Intelligent. And so open to follow ons(obviously, given the four plus three plus two that did follow...).

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    This was a fun ride, though as a book, it stands more on its ideas than its plot. Everything that outsiders think science fiction is is in here. Weird aliens, weirder sex, complicated plots that don't explain everything, it's all here. However, the plot device of the well world works well enough to keep you reading in search of what weird thing will happen next, right up to the british dinosaurs at the end. Overall fun, and worth reading. This was a fun ride, though as a book, it stands more on its ideas than its plot. Everything that outsiders think science fiction is is in here. Weird aliens, weirder sex, complicated plots that don't explain everything, it's all here. However, the plot device of the well world works well enough to keep you reading in search of what weird thing will happen next, right up to the british dinosaurs at the end. Overall fun, and worth reading.

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