Mind you, the ideas in the novel are intriguing. The concept of the Well World, for example, is fairly original and has a lot of potential for easily delving into many different cultures and alien races. Unfortunately, the idea is not explored nearly as well as it could be, and is really only a superficial device to serve the plot... such as it is. The different alien cultures and races of the Well World are only explored thinly, with no sense of richness or history in it. The different races seem to be created for their wierdness factor than any actual examination of different cultures.
What's worse is the story itself isn't all that great. Remove the concept of the Well World, and you have a fairly standard quest framework. The main character has a "mysterious" (but rather predictable) origin, but his personality is still a carbon-copy hero from any swashbuckling space opera. Think Han Solo and you've pretty much nailed him. The other characters only seem to act as foils for how his story is told. Throw in some alien sex here and there, a standard "universal translator" device to get over the problem of different languages, and end with a very predictable conclusion, and what the story amounts to is... not much.
Without the concept behind the story, it's really pretty bland. The plot moves along sluggishly, with several blatantly obvious passages of exposition masked as character dialogue.Read more ›
Other reviews will give you the plot in more detail. I simply want to recommend Chalker the writer. I've read pretty much everything he's published and I always look forward to his new books. This, though, is certainly one of his greatest. It's a great shame that mainstream SF critics have ignored or impugned his work because it's as good or better than a lot of the dross that's out there (and I include some of the so-called masterworks that have been swathed in awards). Thankfully he has a loyal legion of fans that have followed his career.
And this is also a great prequel to the War of the Well which is told the four volumes that followed this one. You don't have to read them all, as this a stand alone novel, but if you enjoy this one as much as so many others have then you'll certainly want to read more about Well World and the War of the Well novels are also superior entertainment on a large scale.
Basically, try anything of Jack Chalker's. He's an underrated master of the fantasy/sf genre.
Look also for The Four Lords of the Diamond series, The Rings of the Master series, the Dancing Gods novels and his lone short story collection, Dance Band on the Titanic.
The War of the Well is told in Exiles at the Well of Souls, Quest for the Well of Souls, The Return of Nathan Brazil and Twilight at the Well of Souls.
Dont wait. Go seek them out. You won't be disappointed.
The story's hero is freighter captain Nathan Brazil, a human male who is noted to be a maverick and a loner in "an age of extreme conformity." While carrying a motley collection of passengers on his ship, Brazil answers a distress call. Soon he finds himself on the Well World, a bizarre planet divided up into hundreds of biospheres and home to hundreds of different civilizations. Oh, and each newcomer to the planet can expect to find him- or herself transformed into a different species! "Midnight" charts the odyssey of Brazil, his allies, and his enemies across this strange and wondrous world as they seek the answer to an ancient mystery.
"Midnight" is a novel of ideas as well as a fun and exciting adventure; Chalker deals with such issues as history, drug addiction, crime, social organization, literacy, and more as the story unfolds. Chalker cleverly delves into the life cycles and sexual behaviors of the various Well World species, which include intelligent plants, a centaur-like race, and many more. The motif of transformation, including gender-changing, is intriguingly handled throughout the story.
Chalker makes reference to "Alice in Wonderland" at one point in the book, but the book, curiously, reminds me more of L. Frank Baum's classic Oz tales. And Chalker's vision of science, civilization, and history reminds me a bit of a less horrific, more light-hearted H.P. Lovecraft. Overall, a lot of fun, and written in a very engaging prose style. If you like this book, try "Lord Valentine's Castle," by Robert Silverberg.