Jack Laurence Chalker (December 17, 1944 – February 11, 2005) was an American science fiction author. Chalker was also a Baltimore City Schools history teacher in Maryland for a time. He also was a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association and was involved in the founding of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society.
Career and family life
He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Some of his books said that he was born in Norfolk, Virginia although he later claimed that was a mistake; he attended high school at the Baltimore City College. He earned a BA degree in English from Towson University, where he was a theater critic on the school newspaper The Towerlight. In 2003 Towson University named him their Liberal Arts Alumni of the Year. He received a MLA from Johns Hopkins University. He intended to become a lawyer, but financial problems led to him teaching instead; he taught history and geography in Baltimore public schools from 1966 to 1978. He was also a lecturer at the Smithsonian Institution, the National Institutes of Health, and numerous colleges and universities, mostly on science fiction and technology.
He joined the Washington Science Fiction Association in 1958, and in 1963 Chalker and two friends founded the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. He attended every World Science Fiction Convention, bar one, from 1965 until 2004. He published an amateur SF journal, Mirage, from 1960 to 1971 (a Hugo nominee in 1963 for Best Fanzine), producing ten issues another journal, Interjection, ran 1968-1987 in association with the Fantasy Amateur Press Association. Also, He founded a publishing house, Mirage Press, Ltd., for releasing nonfiction and bibliographic works on science fiction and fantasy.
Chalker was married in 1978 and had two sons.
His stated hobbies included esoteric audio, travel, and working on science-fiction convention committees. He also had a great interest in ferryboats, at his wife's suggestion, their marriage was performed on the Roaring Bull, part of the Millersburg Ferry, in midriver.
Chalker and science fiction
The writers he liked to read included Eric Frank Russell, James White, some Philip José Farmer, the early work of Raymond F. Jones and Robert A. Heinlein, Jack Vance, and others too numerous to mention. From January 1965 to November 2004, he missed only one World Science Fiction Convention.
Chalker's awards included the Daedalus Award (1983), The Gold Medal of the West Coast Review of Books (1984), Skylark Award (1985), Hamilton-Brackett Memorial Award (1979), as well as others of varying prestige. He was a nominee for the John W. Campbell Award twice and for the Hugo Award twice. He was posthumously awarded the Phoenix Award by the Southern Fandom Confederation on April 9, 2005. In 1967 Chalker founded the Baltimore Science Fiction Society and he was a 3-term treasurer of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Chalker was also the co-author (with Mark Owings) of The Science Fantasy Publishers (third edition in 1991, updated annually), published by Mirage Press, Ltd, a bibliographic guide to genre small press publishers which was a Hugo Award nominee in 1992. The Maryland young writers contest sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society was renamed “'The Jack L. Chalker Young Writers Contest” effective April 8, 2006.
He is perhaps best known for his Well World series of novels, but he also wrote many other novels (most, but not all, part of series), and at least nine short stories. Many of his works involve some physical transformation of the main characters. For instance, in the Well World novels, immigrants to the Well World are transformed from their original form to become a member of one of the thousands of sentient species that inhabit that artificial planet. Another example would be that the Wonderland Gambit series resembles traditional Buddhist jataka-type reincarnation stories set in an SF environment. Steven Chalker announced that Wonderland Gambit might be made into a movie, but supposedly its close resemblance to The Matrix resulted in the project being shelved. At the time of his death, Chalker left behind one unfinished novel, Chameleon, and was planning to write Ripsaw following Chameleon.
Illness and death
On September 18, 2003, during Hurricane Isabel, Chalker passed out and was rushed to the hospital with a diagnosis of a heart attack. He was later released, but was severely weakened. On December 6, 2004, he was again rushed to hospital with breathing problems and disorientation, and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and a collapsed lung. Chalker was hospitalized in critical condition, then upgraded to stable on December 9, though he didn't regain consciousness until December 15. After several more weeks in deteriorating condition and in a persistent vegetative state, with several transfers to different hospitals, he died on February 11, 2005 of kidney failure and sepsis in Bon Secours of Baltimore, Maryland.
Some of his remains are interred in the family plot at Loudon Park Cemetery, with the remainder distributed afterwards off a ferry near Hong Kong, a final ride on White's Ferry on Father's Day 2007, and on H. P. Lovecraft's grave (on December 17, 2005).