November 16, 2005

Jack Chalker

Back when I was a more avid SF reader in the 1980's, the speculative fiction bookshelves were very, very sparse. The number of closed series that were all available at any given time was fewer than 20 at a typical bookstore (and I didn't have access to something like Powell's or a giant Barnes and Noble or Amazon), and so it was inevitable that I tried out one of the more prolific authors of the era, Jack Chalker. The only series by him that I've read is "Rings of the Master".

The idea is that a super-computer has taken over human civilization, turning the clock back to the middle ages and spreading humanity out to various planets around the galaxy. Rather than terraforming planets, the computer has changed the colonists to adapt to the planet. This has all been done to prevent self-destruction from some technologically advanced weapon, but it also stifles the qualities that make us human to some extent.

As this four book series develops, a group of talented humans discovers that the computer has a shut-down mechanism, but it involves finding and using five rings with microchips inside. So we have ourselves a Quest. But this is Chalker, not Tolkien, so instead of elves, dwarves, a rich history, entrancing characters and lyrical writing, we get shape changing, sex changing, body swapping, lots of alien sex and various explorations of one-off Earth cultures.

The overall idea is interesting, I'll grant, and like most people, I thought the first book showed promise. But the pace was incredibly uneven, and there were too many characters. Wait, no, there weren't too many characters. Tolkien had more characters, but I cared enough to learn about them and remember their names and what they were like. Chalker's characters undergo so many radical changes, it is hard to follow or identify with any of them.

Some people like this sort of thing, which I consider the weird, low-quality end of the speculative fiction spectrum. I think those are people with too much time on their hands, because especially nowadays, there is so much more good stuff out there. It pains me to think that I could've read another series equal in quality to at least equal Julian May's stuff, if not LOTR, rather than this, but I was a kid and didn't know any better. The fact that I got through it should tell you a lot about how much childhood is about killing time.

Chalker may have written some better stuff, but I'm not going to risk trying to find out.

Posted by Observer at November 16, 2005 04:12 PM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

I have some friends who read him, but never did myself.

I was fortunate to have access to a couple of good scifi bookstores in Spokane, so I didn't have to bottomfeed.

I will admit I'd much rather have wasted my youth playing a MMORPG like Clan Lord or World of Warcraft. That would have rocked!

Posted by: Humbaba on November 16, 2005 04:56 PM

I've always felt that if today's games, whether it be Diablo II, Clan Lord, WoW, Heroes III, Pokemon and various GameCube games, etc., not only would I have never gotten out of high school (let alone college), but I never would've had a girlfriend or any semblance of a life.

I got my own personal Mac during my third year of college, and I was lucky that there were only crappy games like Tetris for it at the time. Definitely no on-line stuff or even internet access for that matter. All I got in that vein were play-by-mail games like Earthwood from Game Systems, Inc.

My first real time-waster on the computer, which was probably the difference between A and B or B and C in a few courses, was on-line Diplomacy. That led eventually to electronic soccer simulations like Jeremy Billones' UEFL, and all that stuff definitely cost me an extra year in grad school at least.

Today, I still play too many games, but at least I can sort of control my impulses. Mostly.

Posted by: Observer on November 16, 2005 05:40 PM

Bah, you just didn't explore enough.

First, Chalker... He wrote the Nathan Brazil saga. Again, not the best writing in the world but reasonably interesting premise and a quick read. I won't do it the injustice of trying to summarize as it has been ages since I read them. If you can find a summary on-line or want to give them a few weeks you could get through the first 5 books of Nathan Brazil (a closed series) I imagine.

Second, computers... Like you, I would never have graduated (high school probably, but not college) if MMOs had been around. Too little impulse control... Strategic Conquest (StratCon) was around though. That should have eaten your brain but you apparently didn't find it. You'd have loved it. Kinda risk-like. Programmed only for the Mac. Spaceward Ho (also Mac-first) probably didn't come out until you were done with College though.

I suspect with a little work you might be able to find copies of both even today.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on November 17, 2005 12:00 PM

I've never heard of Strategic Conquest. Probably a good thing. I avoided Spaceward Ho until grad school, but my interest in that didn't last long. Good game, but it was a little too rock-paper-scissors at some point, and that got old.

I'll still pass on more Chalker, thanks.

Posted by: Observer on November 17, 2005 12:24 PM

I've always been a sucker for 4X games (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate). Spacewar Ho!, Reach for the Stars, Master of Orion, MoO II, I love 'em. Even the crappy ones sucked me in for days.

Posted by: Humbaba on November 17, 2005 03:25 PM

I sent our host some information about Strat Con. Looks like it is still out there. Hit him up for it if you are interested (I got my info from a simple Google search).

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on November 17, 2005 04:26 PM

I don't need Strategic Conquest info, I played v1, v2, v3, and v4. Many many hours, sometimes networked against others.

We had 3 Macs with an old AppleTalk network in the house we rented in college, so we played a lot of early network games like StratCon, RoboSport (awesome!!), Armor Alley (also awesome, a remake of Rescue Raiders for the Apple ][), a wireframe tank game like BattleZone that I can't remember the name of... Spectre? I think that was it. Anyway, loads of multiplayer network gaming back when PCs didn't have that option.

Posted by: Humbaba on November 17, 2005 07:07 PM

I was always more into single-player games rather than networked games. Wizardry and the like, level up your characters (with soft caps, not hard caps) and find progressively better items, was more my bag. I like the strategic games, like Risk or Civ II or Heroes III, but I was never much into PvP or network gaming until Clan Lord. Now I'm back to single-player stuff.

I alternate between Progress Quest kind of stuff and strategy games.

Posted by: Observer on November 17, 2005 09:05 PM

I've always been huge on turn-based strategy, especially 4X, but others as well.

For RPGs, the Rogue-like Mission: Thunderbolt was awesome.

for a review of the PC version.

Posted by: Humbaba on November 18, 2005 08:50 AM