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Chalker, Jack L

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Editor, Fan.

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(1944-2005) US author and editor, though now very much better known for his fiction. He was active as a fan from an early age, and producer of a successful Fanzine, Mirage. As editor, he founded and edited the Mirage Press, which specialized in sf scholarship. His own work in that area began with The New H.P. Lovecraft Bibliography (1962 chap; rev vt The Revised H.P. Lovecraft Bibliography 1973 chap with Mark Owings) and In Memoriam: Clark Ashton Smith (anth 1963 chap), continuing with some studies and guides with Owings, who is sometimes listed as a pseudonym of Chalker, a confusion arising from his sole crediting for The Necronomicon: A Study (1967 chap), which was in fact collaborative. They also worked together on Mirage on Lovecraft (1965 chap) and The Index to the Science-Fantasy Publishers: (a Bibliography of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Specialty Houses) (1966 chap; rev vt Index to the SF Publishers 1979 chap). After the solo An Informal Biography of $crooge McDuck (July, November 1971 Markings; 1974 chap), Chalker moved his attention to fiction, only returning to his earlier interest twenty years later with a new edition of his 1979 Index, which though technically a revision of the earlier work was in fact ten times its length, and can pragmatically be treated as a new title: The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History [1991; for subsequent iterations see Checklist], still with Owings; The Science-Fantasy Publishers: Supplement One, July 1991-June 1992 (1992) with Owings and its sequels [see Checklist] continue the coverage (see also Bibliographies). In its mature form, Science-Fantasy Publishers is a central reference resource, and has been used throughout this Encyclopedia.

His first novel, an ambitious singleton Space Opera, A Jungle of Stars (1976), proved typical in that its opposing aliens (who are both ex-gods) represent through their conflict a form of populist argument about alternative utopian worldviews, and in that its plot concentrates on members of mortal races who have been recruited to do the superbeings' fighting for them in a kind of world-arena. This underlying articulacy and the plot-device of recruitment also mark his most successful single novel, Dancers in the Afterglow (1978), a complex and melancholy tale of oppression and enforced metamorphosis on a conquered colony planet, in which questions of power and morality are again asked with some ease, and the human need for freedom is answered (and at the same time deeply assaulted) by transformation tropes out of Science Fantasy and nightmare. Dancers contains in embryo almost all of the next decade or so of Chalker's prolific career, most of which was given over to the construction of large series. On the other hand, The Devil's Voyage (1981), which is almost Chalker's only associational fiction, deals with the ship that carried the A-bomb used on Hiroshima to its rendezvous, and which was subsequently sunk and its crew eaten by sharks; but also about the security scare caused by Cleve Cartmill's "Deadline", published in March 1944 in John W Campbell Jr's Astounding.

The first of the series which would dominate the rest of Chalker's career is the Well of Souls sequence, which begins with his second fiction title, Midnight at the Well of Souls (1977), The Wars of the Well: Exiles at the Well of Souls (1978), The Wars of the Well: Quest for the Well of Souls (1978), The Return of Nathan Brazil (1980), Twilight at the Well of Souls: The Legacy of Nathan Brazil (1980), the three-part Watchers of the Well subseries comprising Echoes of the Well of Souls (1993), Shadow of the Well of Souls (1994) and Gods of the Well of Souls (1994), and concluding with The Sea Is Full of Stars (1999) and Ghost of the Well of Souls (2000). In this series the dominant pattern of the Chalker multi-volume tale can be seen. Into a Science and Sorcery world which reveals itself in the shape of a game-board disguised as a Dystopia, recruited and metamorphosed mortals are introduced to find their way, usually stark-naked, to the heart of the Labyrinth, where godlings await them, and, perhaps, as a reward for the Godgame they have successfully played in these Zoo-like environs, grant them the true form they have always secretly wished to assume (the 1990s volumes of the sequence replicate this pattern). It is a pattern open to facile abuse (several of Chalker's fantasy series, as listed below, exhibit a strange monotony) but which remains exhilarating and innovative in his other major sf series, The Four Lords of the Diamond (omni 1983), which assembles Lilith: A Snake in the Grass (1981), Cerberus: A Wolf in the Fold (1982), Charon: A Dragon at the Gate (1982) and Medusa: A Tiger by the Tail (1983). The Quintara Marathon sf series – Demons at Rainbow Bridge (1989), The Run to Chaos Keep (1991) and The Ninety Trillion Fausts (1991) – further rehearses this material, though The Three Kings sequence – comprising Balshazzar's Serpent (1999), Melchior's Fire (2001) and Kaspar's Box (2003) – shifts the typical Chalker arena, where the usual god-like figures continue to manipulate, overstress and ultimately guide "subject" races, into the Far Future, refreshingly.

Of Chalker's infrequent later singletons, The Identity Matrix (1982) (see Identity; Identity Exchange; Transgender SF) and Downtiming the Night Side (1985) perhaps stand out; his short fiction, also infrequent, is represented by Dance Band on the Titanic (coll 1988). Chalker was a novelist of considerable flair, with an ear acutely attuned to the secret dreams of freedom mortals tend to dream, but was prone to sometimes gross and compulsively repetitive overproduction – though bad health slowed this down in later years. He will not be remembered for his second thoughts, which will fade into the backstory of the sf genre; his first thoughts will remain. [JC]

see also: Gods and Demons; Invasion; Paranoia; Pocket Universe; Skylark Award; Small Presses and Limited Editions; Time Travel; Virtual Reality.

Jack Laurence Chalker

born Baltimore, Maryland: 17 December 1944

died Baltimore, Maryland: 11 February 2005



The Well of Souls

The Four Lords of the Diamond

Soul Rider

The Dancing Gods

The Rings of the Master


G.O.D. Inc

The Quintara Marathon

Wonderland Gambit

The Three Kings

individual titles

works as editor



Science-Fantasy Publishers

individual titles


previous versions of this entry

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