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Literature / Well World

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The setting for a series of science fiction novels by Jack Chalker, beginning with Midnight at the Well of Souls in 1977. The Well World is a planet-sized computer created by an ancient race that used it to expand and stabilize the universe; its surface is a series of 1560 hexagonal laboratories used to develop new sentient species with carbon-based lifeforms in the southern hemisphere and truly alien lifeforms in the north. Newly arrived space travellers are incorporated into the experiment by being automatically assigned to a "hex" and transformed into its dominant species. Control the Well World and you can theoretically control the entire universe. Of course, it's never that simple.

Main series:

  1. Midnight at the Well of Souls (1977)
  2. Exiles at the Well of Souls (1978)
  3. Quest for the Well of Souls (1978)
  4. The Return of Nathan Brazil (1980)
  5. Twilight at the Well of Souls (1980)
  6. The Sea is Full of Stars (1999)
  7. Ghost of the Well of Souls (2000)

Watchers at the Well side series:

  1. Echoes of the Well of Souls (1993)
  2. Shadow of the Well of Souls (1994)
  3. Gods of the Well of Souls (1994)

The Well World series employs the following tropes:

  • Action Survivor: Nathan Brazil. Despite being the immortal guardian of the universe, he's small, unimposing, and doesn't normally go looking for trouble. His survival is guaranteed but his integrity is not and he's been mutilated quite a bit over the years, and while the stuff he loses always grows back, it's a long and painful process. He only seems small in the modern era. He's only slightly less than average sized for a paleolithic human, and most of human history was spent in the paleolithic era.
  • All Myths Are True: Centaurs, fairies, and fauns are real alien races. Earth was created in seven (subjective) days. Nathan Brazil was Judas Iscariot, as well as the inspiration for the Wandering Jew.
  • Amnesiac God: Nathan Brazil in the first novel, before the Well restores his memories.
  • And I Must Scream: Nathan Brazil seems to like this as a way of dealing justice to villains.
    • The final fate of Juan Campos, the South American rapist drug lord from the Watchers at the Well trilogy. Nathan Brazil decides that a fitting fate for Campos is to be dropped into the body of a gorgeous, mute South American Indian woman, who has wandered a bit too close to the Campos compound around the time that the Family's henchmen are looking for some fun. To add squick to the matter, Brazil's Modus Operandi is to find people who have recently died, and bring them back to life with the soul of the person that he's dealing with. Campos, my boy, you are now a zombie sex slave for the family that you were once groomed to lead. And only you will ever know or believe it. Sleep well.
    • The fate of Elkinos Skander in the first book. He's dropped into the body of a deer-like animal on the home planet of a species of humanoid which hunts said animal in packs and eats it alive. Wanting to avoid such a grisly fate, Skander hurls himself off a cliff ... only to wake up in the body of another deer. Brazil made sure that he will experience death repeatedly, once for every person whose death he is responsible for. He has a fair body count to his credit. And the worst part: he doesn't know that it will, eventually, end.
    • The fate of Datham Hain, a drug dealer and slave trader. The Well transformed him into a female breeder of a giant insectoid species, called the Akkafians. Her new people brainwashed her into a loyal and adoring subject of the local warlord prince. When the group reaches the Well, Hain's only wish is to mate with her beloved Prince. Brazil grants her wish, transforming Hain into the most beautiful female Akkafian ever seen, and sends her home. When the rest of the group demands to know why the villain gets rewarded, Brazil explains that nobody told Hain that her new race's infants hatch from eggs inside their mother ... and eat their way out. Cue horrified and squicked expressions on every face...
  • Alternative Continuity: The Sea is Full of Stars— a series about a group of travelers to the Well World that doesn't include Marva Chang or Nathan Brazil, forcing the heroes to solve their dilemma without a walking Deus ex Machina.
  • Arc Words: The phrase "Until midnight at the Well of Souls" is found in all Well World languages. We learn why in the first book (that's when the Well is open for entry), but it isn't until the fifth book that we learn there is a much deeper but no less literal meaning lurking underneath.
  • Assimilation Plot: The State, in an Alternate History where the Soviet Union never fell and Communism became the default human government, tries to make this a reality on many of its more "advanced" planets, engineering humans in birth factories to be physically flawless but mentally ant-like workers and on some worlds even hermaphrodites, so everyone's equal.
  • Author Appeal: Even a casual survey of Chalker's work will show that he was obsessed with the idea of humans changing their species and sex. The Well World books just gave him a justification for doing it on a massive scale. Not to mention the recurring cases of strong-smart-woman-turned-virtually-helpless-by-vision-or-reading-impairment-and-body-morphing. Seems to happen in the majority of Chalker's books.
  • Bat People: The Creit are giant humanoid bats. Their wings are purely that and useless as hands; they handle things with their prehensile feet instead. They have very keen smell, but are almost blind in daylight.
  • Bee People: Many hyper-communist human colony-worlds have begun evolving in this direction, although they haven't gone so far as to develop a single queen who does all the breeding (yet).
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Every hex on the Well World is inhabited by a different intelligent species. Some are familiar creatures from Earth mythology — cyclopes, centaurs, mermaids. Others are so alien that they have no counterpart in Earth lore, or even anywhere else in science fiction. In particular, Northern Hemisphere hexes are all inhabited by non-carbon-based lifeforms that often can't even exist in the same kind of air as carbon-based ones.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: The plant-like Czill reproduce by mitosis. The "twinning" process begins with increasingly severe dizzy spells, after which the Czill usually finds a good spot to root in and wait the process out. Over a period of ten days or so, they slowly grow a second body from their back. Eventually, the brain begins to duplicate, leading to increasingly confused and doubled thoughts until, at the end, the Czill functionally cannot think coherently anymore. Finally, the twins separate as entirely identical individuals, who then usually go on to different paths in life in order to develop fully distinct minds.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The Diviners and the Rels are the females and males of a single species, which in adulthood form into conjoined, symbiotic pairs. Rels resemble floating crystalline bowls with a set of wind chimes hanging beneath them, and provide movement, speech and sensory input for the duo. The Diviners resemble balls of moving lights carried in the Rel's bowl, can see into the future, and can fire beams that disintegrate whatever they touch.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • Nathan Brazil is effectively immortal and something like God, but most of the time he does not consciously realize it. On top of that, he's immortal but not invulnerable — he can be hurt to any degree but he'll never actually die, and eventually the Well will manipulate events so that he's rescued and recovers. He remarks that no matter what the disaster, he has been a survivor, no matter how awful the event was.
    • Brazil also has a tendency to bless other characters with suck, usually as a karmic retribution for something they've done.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Gypsy (Dr. Zinder) has learned to directly manipulate minor local aspects of the universal programming, without technological assistance— he claims that it's all done mentally using mathematics.
  • Complete Immortality: Nathan Brazil, among other names he uses; later, Mavra Chang.
  • Crystalline Creature: Rels resemble floating crystalline bowls, carrying a bowl of shifting lights — these being their Diviner mates — and with crystal wind chimes hanging from their bottom.
  • Disintegrator Ray: Diviners can fire beams from their bodies that utterly erase whatever they hit. Once they make contact, the target is simply gone except for a clap of air rushing in to fill the void.
  • Dismantled MacGuffin: In the last Well World series, the villains are attempting to find all the pieces of the dismantled Straight Gate. As it was an artifact of the Markovians, it was indestructible, so it had to be split up, scattered, and removed from the history books to keep it from being misused.
  • The Dreaded: Brazil, despite being an inoffensive sort, has the power to theoretically end the universe, and that terrifies everyone.
  • Emergency Transformation:
    • In Midnight at the Well of Souls, Nathan Brazil's soul is transferred into a deer-like creature when his human body gets fatally wounded. (Later, after he gets access to his powers, he obtains a new body for himself, but at the time it's expected to be irreversible.)
    • In Twilight at the Well of Souls, Mavra Chang's centaur body is permanently crippled by her enemies. Her allies then rescue her by transferring her mind and soul into the body of a pegasus. She also gets a new human body later, courtesy of the Well.
  • Enforced Technology Levels: Each hex has a maximum technology level — Non, Semi, or High — to simulate the availability of resources in that race's target biosphere. Technology above a hex's maximum level will simply fail to work inside that hex. Hex tech levels are not enforced on their species in the wider universe, however.
  • Expansion Pack Past: Nathan Brazil, which is sort of inevitable considering that he has (he says) rebooted the universe, and subsequently relived the whole course of all human history, at least five times.
  • Expandable Clone: Early in the first book, Vardia, having been turned into a Czill, undergoes mitosis and splits into two identical twins, each with a full set of memories and a copy of the original personality. Several chapters later, one of these clones is used to demonstrate the Slelcronian hive mind and its ability to absorb other vegetal intelligences into itself, a process that completely erases her as an independent entity. When he eventually learns about this, Brazil simply comments "Well, there were too many Vardias around here anyway." This is subverted, however, when Brazil decides that the easiest way to deal with the Slelcronian is to retroactively make it so that Slecronians cannot possess other plants, restore her personality, and send her back home to Czill.
  • Failed Future Forecast: Later revised as the universe is rebooted. In earlier Well World stories, communism spread to the stars, and there were even people who worshipped Marx and Lenin. After the universe was rebooted, the stories which (partially) took place on modern Earth noted that things are different.
  • The Fair Folk: An insectoid race that can abuse physical laws by their outstanding psychic powers, essentially making them magical for all intents and purposes. Brazil theorizes that the Well is cheating for them to make up for something they are supposed to have in their native environment.
  • Fantastic Drug: The alien organism called "sponge" is a (temporary) antidote to a brutal alien disease: a sort of brain-eating virus that reduces an infected person's brainpower (not their physical brain, but their ability to think) by roughly ten percent per day, until they no longer know how to eat, at which point they starve to death. A dose of sponge neutralizes the virus for approximately a day, then the deterioration starts again. It's the ultimate blackmail drug, controlled by a vast, ruthless criminal syndicate, and it's the secret behind the success of the Com system.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Nikki Zinder is one of the founders of the Olympians, the race that Ben Yulin created through Obie's powers. When the other founders figure out that they're all reaching their age limits, they go back to the Well World for one last life time. Nikki, on the other hand, uses cybernetics to stay alive and becomes a Brain in a Jar to continue leading her people. When you first see her in The Return of Nathan Brazil, she seems relatively sane until Mavra leaves the room. Then she goes on a religious rant and orders her people to make sure that Brazil doesn't fall into the "Evil One's" hands, before laughing madly and then begging in a child's voice for her father to come back to her, though she can't reasonably think that he's still alive. He is. He has to Mercy Kill her or her insanity will get in the way of saving the universe.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Entering the Well World induces transformation into one of that world's indigenous races.
  • Flying Dutchman: Nathan Brazil is an immortal wanderer, and is said in-story to be the likely inspiration for both the Flying Dutchman and wandering Jew legends.
  • Formerly Sapient Species: In the distant past, the human population of the Well World invaded the hex of a neighboring species, known as the Ambreza, with the intention of taking it over and using its resources to fuel their civilization. To defend themselves, the Ambreza imported a gas from a species in the Northern Hemisphere that interacted in such a manner with human neurochemistry as to cause people to regress to the mental level of great apes. After human civilization was reduced to a few feral packs of animals, the Ambreza simply moved in and populated the human hex. The process does not breed true exactly, but its reversal is slowed greatly by the lingering traces of the gas in the environment. The Ambreza figure that the packs will redevelop enough intelligence for language in about five hundred years, at which point they plan to move them to their old hex, where the world's master intelligence enforces a low technology level, and keep the humans' high-tech hex for themselves.
  • Formulaic Magic: The Great Equation. A couple of supercomputers are capable of warping reality retroactively (that is, those who didn't see the change actually happen are incapable of realizing that anything changed) by "altering" the Equation, which basically is reality. By moving a few numbers in the equation, the result — that is, our reality — changes to suit.
  • Freak Out: In the second book of the second series, a fairly subdued version happens to Alowi, as she insists on being called from then on out when she's afraid that her husband is dying and realizes that she loves him. The fact that she'd been male (and very straight) until not long before the wedding played into that as well.
  • The Fog of Ages: In the first book, Nathan Brazil is so old that he's forgotten most of his life, including his own origins; it all comes flooding back when he comes (back) to the Well World.
  • Gender Bender: With the power of the Markovians (and Obie) to manipulate reality, gender is as fluid as any other personal trait. This leads to many characters changing gender, both on the Well and off it. Some do it more than once.
  • Gender Rarity Value: The Olympians are a subspecies of Transhuman Aliens specifically created to exploit Gender Rarity Value to fulfill a male villain's harem fantasies— fantasies that backfired spectacularly.
  • Handy Feet: The Twosh are bowling pin shaped creatures with only two limbs, which they use as hands or feet as the situation requires.
  • Hermaphrodite: Several species, mostly aquatic, as well as variant humans.
  • Hive Mind: The Slelcronians, a species of sapient, sessile plants, communicate using symbiotic insects that can relay memories and thought between them. As a result, no individuality exists among them; all Slelcronians are essentially cells in a single giant, diffuse brain, sharing all experiences and thoughts.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Those hex names which aren't shout outs or nonsense words. Like "Wasdamaddah".
  • Humanity Ensues: Inverted when various human characters are given alien forms and come to take on attributes of those forms.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most of the stories are "[X] Well of Souls". The two that aren't are The Return of Nathan Brazil and The Sea is Full of Stars:
    • Midnight at the Well of Souls
    • Exiles at the Well of Souls
    • Quest for the Well of Souls
    • Twilight at the Well of Souls
    • Ghost of the Well of Souls
    • Echoes of the Well of Souls
    • Shadow of the Well of Souls
    • Gods of the Well of Souls
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: Nathan Brazil, which he actually considers a mercy, since if he hadn't been, he'd have outlived a lot of mortal descendants by now.
  • Insectoid Aliens: The Akkafians are a species roughly resembling eight-legged, four-winged insects in the same generally size range as human beings. They eat their food live, stinging it into quiescence during the meal, and live in a rigidly hierarchical society modeled after a feudal monarchy.
  • Lady Land: The Olympians, a matriarchal society of transhumans that evolved, ironically enough, out of a failed attempt to create a society based entirely on male harem fantasies. (The ten-female-to-one-male birth ratio proved to be a bad idea in retrospect.)
  • Laser-Guided Karma: If you make it to the Well of Souls with Nathan Brazil, better hope you were a good person.
  • Last of His Kind: Nathan Brazil, although he keeps changing his story about what his kind is exactly.
  • Lizard Folk: Marquoz starts life as one of a small saurian fire-breathing race. After reaching the Well World, he is reborn as a Hakazit, a race of huge armored dinosaur-like war machines.
  • Magic Versus Science: In some hexes the differing laws of physics allow "magic" of various sorts, which is in fact all just the Magical Computer doing its thing.
  • Mass Teleportation:
    • All the Markovian worlds are connected to the Well World by a network of one-way teleporter Gates. When Nathan Brazil needs to transport an entire planetary population to the Well World, he uses spacecraft to get them to Markovian worlds, then the Well Gates do the rest. The Gates prove able to teleport over a thousand people at a time.
    • The Well World's outgoing Gates are able to transport tens of thousands of people to their new worlds at once.
    • The supercomputer Obie is able to teleport himself and his asteroid home anywhere in the cosmos. Exactly how he does this is unclear, but it involves reversing the field on the big transceiver that he normally uses to alter reality on a large scale.
  • Master Computer: The Well World is one for (almost) the entire universe.
  • Mermaid in a Wheelchair: On land, the mermaid-like Umiau move using electric wheelchairs unless they wish to crawl about.
  • Mermaid Problem: The mermaid-like Umiau are hermaphroditic, not shy about that fact, and not at all interested in sex outside their species.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: All Entries on the Well World have to deal with this to some extent, since the Well changes them into new forms that are nothing at all like their old ones. To help them adjust, the Well sees to it that the new body contains all the instincts and other pre-programming that the person will need to survive in their new body. Even so, there's always a period of adjustment that ends with the Entry becoming "naturalized" and fully comfortable in the new body.
  • Mister Seahorse: Literally (via Mix-and-Match Critters).
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Justified as lazy Markovians cribbing each other's work.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Brazil has at various time claimed to be God, the last member of a race of Precursors, or an ordinary human who was tricked into becoming the caretaker of the universe. It's actually the second one.
  • Named After Their Planet: A variant. Each species of the Well World is named, directly or indirectly, after their native hex, such as the Czill of Czill or the Murnies of Murithel.
  • Neuro-Vault: In Midnight at the Well of Souls, Vardia Diplo 1261 is, for the most part, a human cassette reel— a Neuro-Vault with legs. A message is encoded in her head, to be shuttled to another planet's embassy, where the vault is unlocked, and she's basically written over with the base "Diplo program".
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: A naga-like species with six arms and six breasts, though these were later retconned into glands for storing water.
  • No Sex Allowed: Taken to extremes by the Comworlders, most of whom are genetically or biochemically engineered to never hit puberty.
  • Now What?: Every group that makes it into the Well confronts this to one degree or another.
  • One-Gender Race: The Czillians, a species of sentient, parthenogenic plants.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: The original series has Dillians and Rhone (which are the Well World and out-in-the-Universe versions respectively) as more-or-less the classic model,albeit with horse ears, and only about the size of big ponies. They lead a primarily pastoral and communal existence in a low-tech hex, where they live in small villages scattered among fields and forests. Dillians who made their way to the Mediterranean area of Old Earth were responsible for myths of centaurs. Dillians also appear in the Watchers at the Well series; there, they're stated to have become a smoother synthesis of hominid and equine than the classic centaur.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Ghlmonese are basically small, roughly humanoid dragons: bipedal, intelligent, able to breathe fire.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The Faerie are a species of glowing insect-like beings with humanoid faces, living in colonies consisting of many tiny lesser specimens and a single large queen. They are native to the hex of Ivrom, where the local rules of physics give them abilities that are, for all intents and purposes, powerful magic. They are cruel and manipulative beings, delighting in tormenting and transforming unfortunates who stumble into their clutches, and once threatened to overrun a great deal of the Well World before the Markovians acted to limit them to their hex. Faeries who made their way to Old Earth were responsible for myths of fairies, witches and evil spirits.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: The Umiau are an alien species of aquatic mammals that just happen to look remarkably like traditional mermaids. They have long, fish-like tails with humanoid upper bodies, both of them light blue in color. Their hair is silvery, their ears shell-like, and their noses have flaps of skin that close to keep out water. They are air breathers, and as such prefer relatively shallow habitats and are tolerant of both salt and fresh water. They resemble women but are hermaphrodites, who alternate yearly between producing an egg and incubating another's. Umiau who made their way to Old Earth were responsible for myths of mermaids.
  • Patchwork Map: The surface of the Well World is divided into regular hexagons, each featuring its own environment, often startlingly different from its neighbors in climate, biome, atmosphere, gravity, or even achievable tech level, with no apparent separating mechanism other than force walls that just about anyone can shove through without noticing, due to the reality-warping technology of the Markovians. Environmental conditions — air composition, temperature, weather, biomes, even gravity sometimes — cut off perfectly and sharply at hex borders. Seasons don't match up, either; the first on-page border crossing has the characters stumble out of a raging blizzard into a calm day, and then turn back to watch the blowing snow churn behind an invisible wall. It's entirely conceivable to have such borders between frozen wastelands, volcanic hellscapes, lush forests, barren deserts, and weirder environments.
  • Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs: The Markovians killed the dinosaurs because they'd evolved naturally on a planet that was earmarked for the Markovian-designed human race.
  • Plant Aliens: The Czillians are bipedal sentient plants. They are a lot more plant-like and a lot less humanoid then many of the other examples.
  • Plucky Girl: Mavra Chang absolutely refuses to give up despite all of the Body Horror inflicted on her — seemingly crippling mutations and body modifications only seem to make her even more determined. Hell, Mavra's probably at her most dangerous when she doesn't even have any hands.
  • Power Perversion Potential:
    • Obie's a supercomputer hooked up to a Matter/Energy/Matter converter and planted inside a planetoid big enough to house a small town. He can give you anything you want, as long as he knows how to make it, and has a big transmitter capable of altering entire planets to a person's specifications. He's also capable of traveling to anywhere he knows the coordinates of within minutes. Upon hearing of Obie's full power, Nathan Brazil himself said, "to hell with porn," and upon seeing Obie in action, Brazil was rather disturbed.
    • One of the first acts of Ben Yulin, the villain in ''Quest for the Well of Souls', upon gaining control of Obie is to capture two of the woman characters and transform them into what he considers female perfection as well as program them to be his sex slaves. He keeps doing to this to all the other characters he captures, increasing the size of his harem, with plans of doing the same to entire worlds.
  • President for Life: In Twilight at the Well of Souls, Marquoz is re-made by the Well into a Hakazit, a species of large, powerful, reptilian warriors. The Hakazit have a truly unique form of government: The Supreme Lord is an absolute dictator — but the office is passed on only by Klingon Promotion, and every other Hakazit in the entire hex spends their spare time trying to find a way to assassinate him and become Supreme Lord in turn. The current Supreme Lord is fifty-seven years old and has held the position a little over three years. In his lifetime there have been sixty-six other Supreme Lords. The historical record for holding the position is nine years, three months, sixteen days, five hours, forty-one minutes.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Murnies, a species of large, headless humanoids with faces in their chests, live in a tribal society that, while extremely violent, also prizes honor. They are extremely hostile to outsiders, attacking and trying to kill anyone who enters their hex, but greatly respect those who fight against them valiantly. In the first book, the characters trying to cross Murithel win their respect by enacting a daring plan to run headlong across it while setting a wildfire to cover their tracks and, when caught out anyway, by engaging in a furious running fight until they physically collapse from exhaustion. Had they surrendered, the Murnies would have killed and eaten them; however, their display of courage and honor impressed them enough that they took them in and healed them instead.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: The Well World itself. Not only is it a planet sized computer that has been functioning for millions of years since its creators disappeared, but if true Ragnarok is at hand,you can just Ctrl-Alt-Del the thing and reboot the entire universe.
  • Reality Warper: Anyone who gains access to even some of the power of the Well World computer (or develops an analogous system). The human-built computer Obie has the power to warp a planet. The Well is the operating system for the Universe, and has been rebooted several times (thankfully by the good guys).
  • Resurrection/Death Loop: In Midnight at the Well of Souls, one of the villains ends up being placed into the body of a deer-like animal on the home planet of a species of humanoid which hunts said animal in packs and eats it alive. Wanting to avoid such a grisly fate, he hurls himself off a cliff... only to wake up in the body of another such creature. Brazil made sure that he will experience death repeatedly, once for every person whose death he is responsible for— and he has a fair body count to his credit. However, the villain in question doesn't know that this will, eventually, end, and is thus made to think that he will be forced to experience this forever.
  • Retcon: Brazil's origin story changes a lot over the years, explained in story as a combination of Shrouded in Myth and Brazil being a habitual liar.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Even in semitech hexes, sophisticated weapons are often useless, so people who travel a lot tend to carry things like swords and crossbows, which work anywhere. Some of the non-tech species are as sly and sophisticated as anyone, despite their enforced primitivism.
  • Sand Worm: Ghlmon, a desert hex, is home to sandsharks, huge beasts resembling whales that swim through the endless dunes.
  • Seers: Diviners can see into the future and predict what events will have what outcomes, with one major blind spot — no Diviner can ever see ahead of time the consequences that will lead to its own death.
  • Second Law of Gender-Bending: The Well alters the mind of anyone passing through it just enough to make them comfortable in their new forms, which means that nobody really objects long-term to finding themselves as the other gender — or, just as often, as a hermaphrodite, or a neuter, or whatever else.
  • Series Continuity Error: The details of exactly what's in each hex of the Well World, and what each hex is named, are not always consistent from book to book.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Well World is divided into two parts. The Southern Hemisphere is for carbon-based lifeforms, and a lot of those are quite starfish-looking. The Northern Hemisphere is for non-carbon-based ones, and those are just plain weird.
    • Among the Southern races are the Slelcronians, a species of sapient plants. They resemble large but otherwise regular flowers, which think and communicate using symbiotic insects. These relay information between individual plants, joining the entire Slelcronian population into a huge species-mind like so many neurons in a brain.
    • Among the Northern species are the Diviners and the Rels, respectively the females and males of a single race, which in their joined adult form resemble a ball of lights on top of a floating crystalline platform; the male provides locomotion, senses and speech, while the female can fire disintegration beams and see into the future. They eat silicon, and one member of their kind considers a huge, barren desert to be the only tolerable environment it encountered south of the equator.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: An experimental weapon tears a hole in reality that just keeps widening, erasing everything inside it.
  • Steampunk: In certain hexes, technology is limited to steam.
  • Stumbling in the New Form: Discussed and explicitly averted: when an Entry is remade by the Well into a new form, they are given whatever knowledge, motor reflexes, etc. that they might need to feel comfortable in their new form, including knowing how to eat, drink, walk, and talk.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Serge Ortega asserts that the universe contains only three kinds of people — scoundrels, hypocrites, and sheep — and that he is therefore proud to be a scoundrel.
  • Time Abyss: Nathan Brazil, who is several times older than the universe.
  • Transformation Ray: One of the main manifestations of the Well's reality warping powers.
  • Tuckerization: Many hex names are shout outs to people that Chalker knew in SF fandom and the publishing industry.
  • Wandering Jew: Brazil again, and he's been wandering for at least a billion years.
  • Wave-Motion Gun: The entire universe is actually a simulation running on a gigantic computer called the Well of Souls. Humanity figures out how to hack it to a minor degree and builds "Zinder Nullifiers" for use in a major intergalactic war, weapons that basically reformat a large region of space into a default empty vacuum state. The war gets a bit heated, the Nullifiers are overused, and the Well World starts suffering a progressive memory fault that will eventually destroy the entire universe unless our intrepid heroes are able to get into the Well of Souls' control center to fix it.
  • What If God Was One of Us?: Maybe, but also practically yes. Nathan Brazil's real origin is never stated, and several of the characters wonder about him: is he really God, the last Markovian, or a construct of the Well itself? At the end of the day, it doesn't matter, because once he's in the Well Computer, he is a deity. The last book reveals that he is indeed the last Markovian. This is essentially the plot of the first novel, where the adventuring party reaches their goal only to discover that one of their own members is effectively God after they get there.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: The significance of the phrase "midnight at the Well of Souls"— the six gateways to the Well open at local midnight. That was the time the shift changed, and it was the only automatic access left in the system.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Brazil, in his darker moments. But what do you expect from someone who's been forced to destroy and recreate the universe at least five times?
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Look at the partial maps of the Well World and the data given in the text. Try to extrapolate the possible numbers of hexes. 1560 is not a possible result.

Alternative Title(s): Midnight At The Well Of Souls