Jack Chalker’s Well World Books

The Well World books are . . . different.  Jack Chalker was an oddball writer.  Not a bad writer, but an odd one.  All of his books had an overriding theme: bodily change.  Well World is probably the ultimate example of this.

The basic theme of Well World goes thusly: an ancient progenitor race (The Markovians) created another universe–“our” universe.  They reached a “dead end” in their own universe and wanted to create a new one.  Within the new universe, they wished to have a race which would supersede their own.  To help implement this, they created the Well World.  It’s an artificial world consisting of 1560 “hexes”, each with their own environment.  Within said hexes were 1560 different artificial races.  Essentially, Well World is a giant laboratory for the Markovians to perfect their inheritors.

Humans (and other races) from “our” universe can get into Well World through teleportation gateways.  Once within, however, the only way to get out of the entry point is by teleporting into one of the hexes.  When you do, the Markovian super-computer turns you into one of the natives of the hex.

Moreover, every hex has its own physical rules.  Some have high technology, others have moderate and others have none.  The computer controls the physics within each hex.  Some are so odd that they have “magic” or something resembling it.  The hexes in the southern hemisphere are all carbon-based, oxygen breathing types.  The hexes in the northern hemisphere are so alien that they are separated from the southern hex by a giant equatorial wall.  The wall is also where one may access the computer.  The wildly different environments makes both travel and conquest hard–although not impossible.

Why the hell would you want to go to Well World, you ask?  Within the stories there are plenty of reasons.  One of the primary ones is that if you can gain access to the Well World computer, you can literally reshape reality.  In fact, once during the series the entire universe is “rebooted”!

If that sounds weird–you’re correct.  It’s really weird.  However, it’s not as unreachable as it sounds.  Chalker manages to personalize even the weirdest characters and makes even the oddest scenarios palatable.  The series has the highest technological level I’ve ever seen, but he keeps the stories and characters approachable.

The series takes place over a vast expanse of time.  And I do mean vast.  Epochs.  The only recurring characters are Nathan Brazil and Mavra Chang, who are essentially immortal. The rest consist of a rotating cast of characters.

Chalker’s penchant for reshaping characters like clay is in full flower here.  He warps, twists and reshapes everyone.  No one is safe.  Sexes change.  Species change.  Universes change.  You go from human to centaur to sentient plant and so forth.  Also, minds get altered, enhanced and enslaved.  I can’t recall any Chalker book where this does not take place.  In Well World it’s an absolute staple.

The staggering scope of the setting and some of the ennui which crops up can be a little overwhelming from time to time, but I would still heartily recommend these books.

Society: A Weird Lovecraftian Movie

Society is a bizarre movie.  Some might quibble with me labeling it “Lovecraftian”, but there are definitely elements that fit.

I saw this thing while stationed in Germany in the early 90s.  A lieutenant and I would regularly swap weird movies with one another to try to ‘out-weird’ the other.  He made me watch Naked Lunch and I made him watch this.  He won.

Society starts out weird and rapidly gets weirder.  The main character Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a member of a rich family in Beverly Hills.  However, he never feels like he fits in either with his family or wealthy society.  Not only is there an odd feeling of alienation, but he catches glimpses of bizarre, body-contorting imagery.  Is it in his mind?  Is he going insane.

Sis is very flexible.

A friend from school gives him a tape of his family in what sounds like a twisted orgy.  When he plays it for a therapist, it’s completely different and normal.  Corpses appear only to disappear when the authorities arrive.  Bill’s obviously losing his mind, right?

Not so much.  This movie was created by Brian Yuzna.  Yes, that Brian Yuzna.  Re-Animator and From Beyond Brian Yuzna.  So you know the explanation won’t be that simple.

It turns out Bill is adopted.  His family–along with most of the upper crust in Beverly Hills–are a different species.  They’re parasitical creatures that (literally) feed off the poor to survive.  Bill was only kept as a sacrifice for his adopted sister’s ‘coming out’ party.

No joke will do justice to this.

If this sounds like thinly-veiled social commentary about class structure–ding!  You’re a winner!  It definitely is.  This is where it somewhat parts from Lovecraft.  Howard would typically have the alien creatures be from inbreeding or from crossbreeding with aliens (The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Dunwich Horror).  Although I don’t think Howard would have minded this too much.  He didn’t concentrate so much on class as race.

Anyway, the analogy is about as subtle as a nuclear weapon.  Doesn’t matter so much, though.  This isn’t a movie that takes the analogy too seriously.  Plus, it’s incredibly weird

Worse than a Charlie Sheen party.

and surreal.  The ending ‘coming out’ party is not something you’ll be likely to forget anytime soon.  If you thought From Beyond was a mind-scrambler, just watch!

Highlights are the shower scene with sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings,) Bill’s new girlfriend Clarissa (Playboy Playmate Devin DeVasquez,) and Clarissa’s strange, hair-eating mother (Pamela Matheson).

Mmm . . . Devin DeVasquez.

I don’t want to give too much away, as half the enjoyment of this movie is being surprised at how fucking weird some of the elements are.  Did I mention it’s weird?  The final “Party” is worth the price of admission alone.

Go dig up a copy and enjoy.

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