Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack Chalker has been re-released as a CAEZIK Notable book. From the publisher: “CAEZIK Notables is a series of speculative-fiction books marking important milestones in science fiction or fantasy. Each book published in the series has a new introduction highlighting the book’s significance within the genre.” This gives me a more durable trade paperback format to read and re-read, so I can give my well-worn mass market paperback a rest before it starts shedding its pages like a tree in autumn. More importantly, it gives me a chance to talk about an author who never got the recognition he deserved in his lifetime. This novel has sold over 5 million copies worldwide. Jack Chalker’s name should be write large in the history of science fiction, mentioned alongside Dick, Le Guin, Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, but he is routinely denied the recognition he deserves.
This novel was originally a stand-alone, but its popularity inspired Jack to expand the near infinite possibilities the Well World provided into a series of sequels. Jack also wrote many other novels with mind-bending concepts similar to the Well World novels. Among these was a 1990s series called The Wonderland Gambit. You may not recognize that title, but you’ll recognize a movie called The Matrix. In my humble opinion, The Matrix was a direct rip-off of The Wonderland Gambit. Jack never received a single penny or any credit for any of it. Compare the two yourself and I believe you’ll see what I mean.
I don’t intend to write a detailed review here, this is more about the impact of this novel. Above I wrote about the mark it made on the world, even if it went largely uncredited. It also had a very personal impact on me. Midnight at the Well of Souls is all about transformation, as are most of the novels he wrote. As for my own experience with Midnight, I was a young adult when it first came out. I’d been a science fiction fan since early childhood, but this novel struck a note with me like no other. Perhaps it was because I encountered it at the point in my life when I was transforming from child to adult. In any case, it inspired me to read every novel he wrote as they came out, by my count fifty-five in all. I also had the privilege of speaking to him in person a couple of times. So when this re-release of Midnight came out, I knew it was time to finally speak about him here in this blog. If you’ve never read this novel, do so. I promise you won’t regret it.