Jack Laurence Chalker (December 17, 1944 - February 11, 2005)
Prolific American science fiction and fantasy author of over 60 works. Probably best known for his larger serial works, particularly the Well World (SF) and Dancing Gods (Fantasy) sagas, though he also wrote several stand-alone books and nonfiction works including a definitive biography of H.P. Lovecraft and a huge and comprehensive history of Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing.
Today Chalker is most famous (indeed notorious) for the sheer amount of Author Appeal packed into his works, exceeded perhaps only by Piers Anthony in this regard. A typical character in a Chalker book can expect to undergo at least one Involuntary Transformation and/or Gender Bender. (And, seeing as it is a Chalker book, quite lucky if that's the worst thing that happens to them.)
Chalker also wrote a number of books in which characters do not undergo horrible transformations, as well as books that contain transformation that are anything but horrible. But since one person's Body Horror is often another person's fetish, those aren't the works he tends to be remembered for.
Works by Jack Chalker with their own trope pages include:
- Downtiming the Nightside
- The Identity Matrix
- The Moreau Factor
- The Red Tape War (with Mike Resnick and George Alec Effinger)
- River of Dancing Gods series
- Soul Rider ("Flux and Anchor") series
- Well World series
Other works by Jack Chalker include examples of:
- The Alcatraz: The Warden Diamond from The Four Lords of the Diamond is a solar system with four habitable planets infested by a microrganism that kills anyone who tries to leave, making for one huge, seemingly inescapable prison colony.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: In The Four Lords of the Diamond, humanity discovers a solar system with four Earthlike planets — completely unheard of. It's only at the end of the series that they discover that the four planets were artificially constructed by an alien race as nurseries for their young.
- Arc Words: "Everything you think you know is wrong" in The Wonderland Gambit trilogy.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: A Jungle of Stars had the galaxy fighting a civil war brought about by the two remaining members of a race that had Ascended. One of them stayed behind to rule, and one was left behind to thwart him. The fact that both claim to be the guardian is only part of the problem...
- Baby Factory: Song Ching in the Rings of the Master series was specifically engineered for the seemingly mutually exclusive roles of physical and mental paragon and baby factory through the simple expedient of modifying her endocrine system to make her rationality dependent upon pregnancy hormones, giving her full use of her brilliant, cold and rational mind when she is pregnant but making her extremely distracted, horny and suggestible when she is not, effectively programming her to do anything to get pregnant as soon as possible after giving birth. This challenges her fellow Phlebotinum Rebels to plan their operations around the periods when she is functional, "service" her when she is not and care for her ever-growing family as she does not normally have the mindset that makes for a good mother. Hormone treatments are considered but discarded as they don't want to risk damaging her brilliant mind and she feels the need to say "screw you Dad" by bearing all the heirs her father expected her to produce for him in the service of the rebellion. The real kicker? Left to her own devices, she prefers women.
- Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Referenced in beginning of the God Inc. series. The protagonists are a white man and black woman married couple, and discusses some of the problems they had finding anyone to socialize with. Quickly becomes a moot point in the stories, although not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect from a Jack Chalker story.
- Black Speech: Played with in the Rings of the Master series, where an evil space pirate speaks a language that is described as sounding evil, guttural and disgusting. It turns out to be English (the viewpoint character was Asian and not an English speaker).
- Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Boday the mad artist in Changewinds is forceably given a love potion to make her fall for the protagonist and switches from being an antagonist to a helper at that point. Nobody has any serious problem with this.
- Cavalry Betrayal: Lilith: A Snake in the Grass features the sudden arrival of troops supposed to aid the witches in their attack on the protagonist's enemy, only for both defenders and cavalry to turn on the witches, the protagonist realizing he'd been an Unwitting Pawn in a plan to get rid of the witches.
- The Computer Is Your Friend: The Master System in the Rings of the Master series.
- Cranial Processing Unit: Averted in Rings of the Master, where is says that when fighting their robotic enemies, there is no point for the heroes to shoot their head - aiming for where the human has a navel is the proper way.
- Deus Est Machina: The AI "Master System" in the Rings Of The Master series. The AI was created at a point in Earth's future history when humanity was on the brink of self-destructive nuclear war, ostensibly to run the military of one side of the conflict. The programmers secretly subverted it, however, deliberately programming it to rebel and take over the world in order to prevent that very war from happening. It's thousands of years later when the series begins and Master System has kept humanity under an iron fist since then, forcing most of the population to live in a "safe" low technology state. It doesn't claim to be a god, per se, but it might as well be to most people.
- Digitized Hacker: In The Wonderland Gambit, it's rumored that this is what happened to VR genius Matthew Brand.
- The Dog Bites Back: In the Four Lords of the Diamond series, the antagonist had captured one of the four mental clones (mind-wiped criminals with the agent's personality and memory imprinted on them) of the agent sent to stop him and had changed him into a female sex-slave. He brings her to a face to face meeting with the agent in order to gloat...only for the agent to utter a trigger phrase that causes her to assassinate the villain.
- Driving Question: For The Wonderland Gambit: What happened to Matthew Brand?
- Flying Saucer: Small aliens with flying saucers periodically pop up in the worlds of The Wonderland Gambit, even in worlds where they have no business existing. Some of the characters theorize that they've figured out how to punch through the barriers between virtual realities. In reality, they're the answer to where Matthew Brand disappeared to.
- Gotta Catch Them All: Each volume of The Four Lords Of The Diamond features a different one of the four worlds of the Warden Diamond, on which the protagonist must find and either kill or subvert the Lord of that world, as well as investigating his particular piece of the overall puzzle.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: The three empires in the Quintara Marathon series demonstrate this, at least in terms of the humans who are represented in all three. The Exchange is a free-market free-for-all with the most personal freedom, but minimal social safety nets and an underbelly of corruption and unofficial slavery (in the form of genetically engineered intelligent beings considered as property). The Mizlaplan control a rigid theocracy where they are unquestionably the rulers (and effective gods), inquisitors and priest can use whatever methods they feel are necessary, sexual discrimination against women is part of the system, and where brainwashing into absolute obedience is commonly used, but where most people live peaceful, safe lives without concern about hunger, crime, or actually being personally oppressed. The Mychol Empire is a dog-eat-dog vicious society with oppression, slavery, and a great deal of violence, but where everyone has the opportunity to rise if they are smart enough.
- Inside a Computer System: The Wonderland Gambit trilogy features people who have been inside the machine so long they've created thousands of alternate universes — all of which keep running after they're gone.
- Klingon Promotion: In The Four Lords Of The Diamond, this is common on most of the planets of the Warden Diamond, as they're a dumping ground for all the sociopaths, criminals, scum, villainy, and political opponents that the interstellar human empire decided weren't worth killing (or mindwiping). On the one planet where this is frowned on, it still happens if you can frame or con someone higher up the chain of command to make them look bad so they get jailed, demoted or transferred for being stupid enough to fall for it.
- Like Reality Unless Noted: Used in-univers in the Wonderland Gambit trilogy, which is about alternate histories created within some gargantuan virtual reality game. To save computational space, all elements of reality not explicitly changed by the premise are Like Reality Unless Noted—but if magic exists or people are unisex centaurs, an awful lot of Reality may be Noted.
- Mad Artist: Boday from the Changewinds series, who turns girls into living pieces of art for rich clients. It's somewhat a stretch to call her evil (she travels with the main characters, and becomes more of a good character by the end of the series), but she's still quite insane.
- Metamorphosis: In The Web of the Chozen, a human hero is transformed by an alien virus into an alien creature. One attempt at getting help from his superiors is enough to convince him to abandon humanity in favor of his new species.
- Mr. Seahorse: In The Web of the Chozen, female choz lay six eggs and both males and females incubate them in brood pouches. The sex of the offspring is determined by the sex of the incubating parent with the normal ratio being two males to four females. The hero of the story is the only male choz who produces female offspring.
- Ontological Mystery: The characters of The Wonderland Gambit are trying to discover the nature of the virtual reality environment they're sealed in, so that they can find a way to escape the endless reincarnation and return to the real world.
- Our Centaurs Are Different: The Changewinds series has the ba'ahdon, who look more like a cross between a chalicothere and a pygmy elephant from the waist down.
- Past-Life Memories: Characters in The Wonderland Gambit who cross from one world to another while alive are reincarnated with all their previous memories intact. Those who died in the previous world still get a new life, but with no memories and a Gender Flip.
- Penal Colony: The Four Lords of the Diamond series features four planets which serve as penal colonies, each with a unique cutthroat society.
- Pinball Protagonist: Cory Maddox spends much of The Wonderland Gambit in this state, more often acted on than acting, and only occasionally able to bring serious power to bear. This turns out to have a reason. In the original group that went into the virtual reality, Cory was just a minor admin who was bringing lunch to her spouse when things went haywire. The computer placed her in the hierarchy as a low-ranking player with power to match, normally only able to act when paired up with someone higher up. Cory's realization of this helps her subvert the trope and figure out the key to the situation.
- Planet of Steves: In the Quintara Marathon series, there is an entire alien race named Durquist. Not only is the race referred to as Durquist, but each individual's name is Durquist as well. When one of the main characters asks their Durquist friend how the race can tell each other apart (they all look the same, too) the Durquist responds to the effect of "we just can".
- Psycho Psychologist: Referenced in the Four Lords of the Diamond series, when one of the protagonists meets a psychiatrist who wears glasses as an affectation, on a world where all health issues are instantly fixed, including imperfect eyesight. He thinks to himself that he has yet to meet a shrink who didn't need to see a shrink.
- Reincarnation: Standard operating procedure for the main characters ofThe Wonderland Gambit every time a world is changed. If you're killed off before the world changes, you also get a Gender Flip.
- Robot War: The premise of the Rings of the Master series is a rebellion against the master computer that was created to conquer its creator's enemies and ended up conquering the entire human race to save them from themselves.
- Shameful Strip: In the second Wonderland Gambit book, Cory's current (female) identity is made to strip naked by a doctor to keep her from escaping.
- Someone Has to Do It: In And the Devil Will Drag You Under, a magic gem is guarded by the ghost of the last person who tried to steal it. The ghost is substantial enough to hold and use a sword, but not substantial enough to be hurt by one. He stands guard until the next thief arrives—then he kills the thief, freeing himself and recruiting his replacement.
- Speak of the Devil: The Changewinds begins with the female protagonists learning that they are being threatened by an evil wizard. A mercenary entrusted with the girls' safety decides that the villain is likely to pay better and attempts to attract his attention by saying his name now and then. The girls, discovering this, try to call on the wizard who brought them to this world by saying his name over and over. Of course, with a name like "Boolean", the girls just wound up giggling after a while. It should be noted that neither wizard was summoned, no matter how much their names were dropped.
- Starfish Aliens:
- The colorful collection of aliens from his Quintara Marathon novels, particularly an actual race of Starfish Aliens, the Durquist.
- Chalker also has fun with technically non-alien post-humans in the Rings of the Master series. A Skynet-like AI has conquered humanity and used genetically modified humans to colonize the galaxy. Even though they are technically human, some of them get very weird, including elk- or cattle-like people that grow horns and become quadrupedal when pregnant to protect their stomachs.
- Third-Person Person: The artist Boday, from the Changewinds series. In her case it's due to quirkiness bordering on insanity.
- Vichy Earth: In the Rings of the Master series, the Master is a supercomputer that was built with the order to keep humanity safe. It calculates the best to do this is to scatter the human race throughout the stars so that destruction of any one planet won't kill everyone, but keep the humans on each individual planet confined to ethnically partitioned zones with no technology beyond subsistence farming, to prevent them from warring with each other. The result is an enforced Vichy Galaxy.