Well World series
The Well World series is a series of novels by Jack L. Chalker.
The Well World series is largely set on a fictional planet named Well World. The Well World was constructed by an ancient alien species, known as the Markovians, who felt they had reached a dead end in their evolution. Volunteers were transformed into new, designed species. Once a species was deemed ready, it was sent out into the universe to begin evolving anew. The Well World is a planet-sized, reality-shaping computer that controls and maintains this new universe, which is layered on top of the much smaller, original Markovian one. By the time of the stories in the series, the Markovians have vanished, leaving behind the Well World, continually maintaining the new universe. The Markovian planets themselves contain the gateways leading to the Well World.
The Well World's surface is composed primarily of 1560 large hexagonal regions — called "hexes" — each with an independent and often dramatically different climate and ecosystem, that David Langford compares to the hexagonally tiled boards used in "hex-and-counter" forms of tabletop wargaming. Each of these hexes is a prototype environment for a planet that exists in the external universe, half of which, comprising the planet's southern hemisphere, contain carbon-based (or similar) oxygen-breathing life. The two hemispheres are separated by an impermeable wall that extends at least into the stratosphere. In the hexes that are bisected by the wall there is a separate gateway (the "avenue") to the Well of Souls, the control center for the computer.
The Well World computer also maintains a "tech level" for each of the hexes, making equipment of a higher level simply fail to work. High-tech hexes work as in the "real" universe, allowing any device to work. Semi-tech hexes allow simple machines to work, up to about the level of the steam engine, and any device using electricity will not work. Low-tech hexes allow no machines to work, and all effort has to be created by muscles. In some of the low-tech hexes, however, the Well World computer allows the inhabitants access to limited manipulation of reality, or “magic”. Vehicles that travel from hex to hex need to be equipped with multiple forms of power.
In addition to the hexes, the two polar regions, or "zones" contain maintenance areas, including a series of ambassadorial offices. These can be reached via gateways near the centres of each of the hexes, allowing easy transit from hex to pole for meetings and other duties. Newcomers to the Well World find themselves in the zones, where they are greeted by one of the ambassadors and then sent through a gateway. During this initial transit, the Well World computer transforms the traveller into a member of one of the many races, and sends them on to the associated hexes. From that point, the traveller is treated as a native of that hex.
In addition to the Well World, some of the action in the stories, typically the introductions, takes place in the multi-stellar human empire. In the early books this largely controlled by the Community of Worlds (the "Com"), where genetically engineered clones are widely used to form peaceful communist societies. In later books the Community has been replaced by the Realm, a confederation of over forty races.
Writer Max P. Belin observes that as a plot device, the Well World has its advantages and disadvantages. It enables the protagonists of the stories to travel "across mountains, grasslands, oceans, deserts, and forests" without the use of any magical means for moving from world to world (such as those in C. S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, which would be outwith the domain of a science fiction story) or inexplicable "hypertechnology". Rather, they travel under their own power from hex to hex. (With many hexes, it is possible to travel from one border to another in a matter of days, or sometimes weeks.) Since each hex not only has different environments and species — ranging from conventional classical mythological species such as centaurs, satyrs, and bigfoot to more esoteric science fiction species such as giant carnivorous insects and mobile plants — but also has a different, fixed, level of allowable technology — from non-tech and semi-tech hexes through to highly advanced technology that closely resembles outright magic — and since there are 1,560 of them, the author never need repeat situations and locations through the entire series of books.
The Well World also introduces extra plot elements. Since every person apart from Nathan Brazil, a major protagonist of several of the stories, is transformed into one of the Well World's own 1,560 species by the act of passing through the gateway on a Markovian world to the Well World, they have to cope with travelling companions who used to be human but no longer are, and all of the ensuing problems.
The Well World also forces the introduction of two other extra plot elements into every story. Since the only routes to the Well World from the outside are the gateways on the now-deserted and forgotten Markovian planets, every story has to incorporate their rediscovery in some fashion. Similarly, since there is no normal way off the Well World's surface from the hexes to either the original Markovian or the new artificial universe, every story has to incorporate an "escape from an escape-proof laboratory" of some kind for the characters to interact with the external universe. Further, the nature of the Well World as a set of laboratory environments, whose technology levels and ecosystems are forcibly computer-controlled, limits what can potentially occur therein.
Well World book series
The Well of Souls series
- Midnight at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1977 (ISBN 0-7434-3522-2)
- Exiles at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1978 (ISBN 0-7434-3603-2)
- Quest for the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1978 (ISBN 0-7434-7153-9)
- The Return of Nathan Brazil, Del Rey, 1980 (ISBN 0-345-28367-8)
- Twilight at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1980 (ISBN 0-345-28368-6)
- The Sea is Full of Stars, December, 1999 (ISBN 0-345-39486-0)
- Ghost of the Well of Souls, 2000 (ISBN 0-345-39485-2)
The Watchers at the Well series
- Echoes of the Well of Souls, Del Rey, trade paperback, May, 1993 (ISBN 0-345-38686-8)
- Shadow of the Well of Souls, Del Rey Feb. 1994 (ISBN 0-345-36202-0)
- Gods of the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1994 (ISBN 0-345-38850-X)
- Belin, Max P. (1989). "Infinity in your Back Pocket: Pocket Universes and Adjacent Worlds". In Slusser, George Edgar; Rabkin, Eric S. Mindscapes: the geographies of imagined worlds. SIU Press. ISBN 9780809314546.
- Jacob, Merle; Apple, Hope (2000). "Chalker, Jack § 240. Well World". To be continued: an annotated guide to sequels (2nd ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9781573561556.
- Langford, David (2005). "Games". In Westfahl, Gary. The Greenwood encyclopedia of science fiction and fantasy: themes, works, and wonders 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313329517.
- Smith, Curtis C., ed. (1986). "Jack L. Chalker". Twentieth-century science-fiction writers (2nd ed.). St. James Press. ISBN 9780912289274.