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Old Screeds


Wemics at the Well of Souls [7 May 16] A feline taur race in the writings of Jack Chalker

Jack Chalker was a prolific F&SF writer, especially in the '80s and '90s -- just in time for me to read him voraciously. His fiction was filled to the brim with all sorts of odd races, strange monsters, and characters morphing from one to the other. He's maybe most famous for his "Well World" books, set on a planet with some 1,600-odd sentient races.

So of course at least one of those races was a leonine centauroid! That's in "Shadow of the Well of Souls" (February 1994, Del Rey, ISBN 0-345-36202-0). Yes, Jack Chalker put wemics, called Gekir, into a Well of Souls novel -- but wait, there's more. These wemics are big and dangerous ... and they ride elephants ... and they talk like pirates! Here, enjoy!

Into the area strode a monstrous creature, in many ways the largest elephant any of them had ever seen, yet not an elephant, either. For one thing, it was covered in thick reddish brown fur from its small tail to its massive head, hanging down like some impossible fur coat. It moved very slowly on six tree-trunk-sized feet; the creature was probably unable to run or move at all quickly, but something that huge was an irresistible force that never needed to move quickly. Even its trunk was hairy, and on either side of the mouth, which was small only in relative terms, grew two very large, cream white, and dangerous-looking ivory tusks.

And riding just behind the massive head was a large orange and black catlike creature with a large, fierce head sporting protruding fangs, and a lower jaw and a mouth that was remarkably expressive, almost humanlike. The cat creature, too, was six-limbed, but the forward pair of arms, while fur-covered like the legs, clearly ended in some sort of hands, one of which held an ornate batonlike object. It also wore a sash that was equally ornate, from which hung a scabbard with an ornately carved ivory hilt that obviously led to a very large sword.

The cat creature tapped gently on its mount’s head, and the beast trumpeted loudly enough to wake the dead. It was clear that the pair was leading at least a small procession, and the sight of the strangers at the pool had signaled a halt.

“Who be ye and why d’ ye bear arms against the Gekir in the shadow of Basquah?” the cat challenged, the translation faithfully reproducing the archaic speech pattern. The voice was deep and seemed to have an underlying menacing growl, but it was also unmistakably female.

“Don’t do anything!” Mavra cautioned Lori and particularly the Dillians, who were hearing only very threatening animal noises and had their arms at the ready. “She’s just asking who the hell we are and why we’re here!” It was, after all, a proper question.

They had finally encountered the Gekir.

.....

The Gekir chief was off the high mount almost as the huge creature stopped near the pool and snaked its long, hairy trunk into the water. The Gekir’s motion was fluid, very feline, as if she hadn’t a bone in her body. The forward pair of big, thick, short-fingered hands were used in this instance as if they were forelegs. But once on the ground, the Gekir chief supported herself on her four rear legs and raised her short torso and long neck in something of a centauroid fashion, although even ripples of skin under the fur gave an impression not of Dillian rigidity but almost of liquidity. The hindquarters, however, were smooth, with no hint of a tail. ... Although quite low to the ground, the Gekir projected a sense of bigness and strength. Certainly the creatures were large, and their hands, with the retractable claws, looked both powerful enough and sufficiently dangerous to rip one of the big mammothlike mounts to shreds.

That's really the gist of the Gekir. The heroes meet them, travel through their territory, and then pass on. Nothing more, alas. Still, taur fans can find solace in the Well of Souls books ... centaurs figure very prominently in the series, showing up as major characters through most of the narrative. Us wemic fans have to be grateful for some crumbs ... but I *am* grateful! Thank you, Jack Chalker, and may your afterlife be as exciting as your novels are!


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