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The Sea is Full of Stars

by Jack L. Chalker

This has to be for Marg and Joe Brazil and their son, Nathan, who didn’t know about me until after they named him, but who prove that all those folks who said years ago that “Nathan Brazil” was such an implausible name.

Now we know that Nathan Brazil is a Canadian. That’s a fact. A Canadian fact.

Sorry Nathan’s not in the book, but…

Now, then, any Mavra Changs out there?

Foreword: Slightly Different

In 1976, I wrote a book called Midnight at the Well of Souls, (which Del Rey books published in mass market paperback.) The book seems to have struck a near universal chord; it has sold an incredible number of copies in North America and continues to do so; it was a Penguin book in the U.K. and Commonwealth, and it has since been sold to twenty-seven nations and has appeared in German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian—well, lots of languages.

Being poor and just starting out in the business, I was suddenly faced with my second novel being a kind of bestseller for the new line, and thus I was urged to do a sequel. I hadn’t really thought about it, but they were offering a lot of money for me at the time (about the equivalent of what I’m being paid for a small nation reprint these days, but I was poor then), and I had a vast canvas and I was also able to write and sell other books, including nonseries ones, so I proceeded, introducing Mavra Chang and creating what became a five book saga. Then I stopped, and did other things, and had no plans to return in spite of entreaties by readers and publisher alike to do so.

Then, ten years later, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse at a time when I was riding high, and I discovered that it was kind of fun to revisit after all that time. Thus the three volume Watchers at the Well set arrived, and was very well received, including by a lot of folks who never even suspected that prior books existed.

When I went back to the Well, so to speak, I wanted to do something different. For one thing, I wanted to visit some of the underwater hexes. I also wanted to return to the Northern Hemisphere with its bizarrely different creations.

Unfortunately, the plot and the requirements that my two principal characters remain “human” really killed the deal. To divert them would be to lengthen an already long book.

If I were to do that, then I’d have to create a book that had no previous characters in it and was not, strictly speaking, directly part of the Canon.

Nathan and Mavra are not here. Do not look for them. They are not hiding, they will not show up in the end. In fact, much of the book takes place to the east of the eastern edge of that skimpy map, which, as anyone who noted that there are 1560 hexes on the Well World knows, shows barely a quarter of the surface of the Well World. Our creatures are new, our landscapes are new, and our characters are new. The Well, of course, remains.

Originally I was going to do two different books, which gave me the idea to call the set Tales of the Well World. It didn’t work out that way, and wound up being a two volume saga on its own. It is not really about the Well World, although it’s kind of fun to imagine what the Well might make you. It’s about Something Else, as you will discover.

This book will take you first to a whole new interstellar civilization, and from that point to the Well, but, again, with things going very wrong. Why aren’t Nathan and Mavra called? Well, you decide for now. Maybe I’ll tell you before this two-book, rather different adventure is done.

These are the last two Well World books for which I have any sort of notes or outline, so it is hard to say if this is the last or the latest Well World saga. You, to a large extent, will determine the answer, although I have other work to do. This one came out darker but more interesting than any of the others, and I’m content with it. I hope you will like it, too.

In the meantime, visit me anytime at http://people. delphi.com/jchalker/, and check on the sometimes active Well World newsgroup alt.fan.nathan.brazil.

Jack L. Chalker Uniontown, Maryland U.S.A.

November 18, 1996

Asswam Junction, Near the Crab Nebula

Monsters are not always so easy to spot, and when they walk among you they often do so with a smile, and when they become what they are underneath the glare, you don’t really know what’s happened. And when a monster has friends and followers and sometimes even worshipers, it can become far more than a single dark blot of evil on the fabric of time; then it has the capacity to suddenly rear off and carry even the most innocent straight to Hell, or to do even worse and take your own existence and extend Hell to that as well. This is a story of monsters and maidens and the walking dead. The fact that it begins on a starship only drives home the point…

He had the smell of death and the look of the grave in him. Everyone could sense it, almost as if he were somehow broadcasting the cold chill that those of any race who encountered him instantly felt.

He’d been handsome once, but long ago. Now his face was badly weathered, wrinkled, and pockmarked, and there was a scar on one cheek that didn’t look to be the result of a slip in some friendly fencing match. His eyes were deep, sunken, cold, and empty, his hair thick but silver, worn long and looking something like a mane.

It was eerie when he walked past the small group of passengers in the waiting lounge; they were of perhaps a half-dozen races, some inscrutable to others and tending to hold far different views of the universe and all that was in it, yet when he passed, every one of them reacted, some turning to look, some turning away, and some edging back as if the mere touch of his garment would bring instant death.

A Rithian watched him walk down the hall toward the vendor hall, its snakelike head and burning orange eyes almost hypnotized by the figure now going farther away. “I had not believed that he could draw so much more of the nether regions than he already had long ago,” it muttered, almost to itself.

The Terran woman shook off a final chill, turned and looked at the creature who’d made the comment. “You know him?” she asked.

“I knew him,” the Rithian answered, finally bringing its face back down to normal by distending its long serpentine neck and looking over at the woman instead. “At least, I have seen him before, long ago, and I know who he is. I am surprised that you do not, he being of your kind. He is certainly a legend, and, someday, he will be a part of your mythology I suspect. I hope he is not on our liner.”

She shook her head, trying to get a grip on herself. “I—I don’t think I ever felt anyone so—so evil.” She actually started to say “inhuman” but realized how inappropriate that would be in present company.

“Evil? Perhaps. It is impossible to know what he has become inside, and to what he’s sold his soul. But he is not precisely evil. In fact, he seeks an evil, and until he finds it and faces it and either kills it or it kills him, he cannot rest or ever find peace. He is Jeremiah Wong Kincaid. Does that name mean nothing to you?”

She thought hard. “Should it?”

“Then what about the scouring of Magan Triune?”

It was history to her, ancient history from the time of her parents at least, and thus the kind of thing you

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