I read these novels in the late 80s or early 90s. In each book, they had to find one of a collection of things, which may have been rings, to do something or other like save the universe or whatever. They had the technology to transform someone to another form to match whatever was the dominant species of the current novel's target planet was, but for some reason, I think they could only transform once, so much drama ensued in choosing who would be the one transformed.

As another clue, my grandma bought me my first book in the series (not the actual first) because it had "Pirates" in the title, because she thought I would like a book about pirates, not realizing it was a deep-space science fiction series. I did like the series as an early teen, but I can't remember what it was and don't have my childhood library available to me.


This is almost certainly Jack L. Chalker's Rings of the Master series.

It consisted of 4 books:

  • Lords of the Middle Dark
  • Pirates of the Thunder
  • Warriors of the Storm
  • Masks of the Martyrs

It starts and ends on a future earth. To prevent an imminent (possibly nuclear) war, an A.I. developed by some of the best and brightest is put in charge of Earth. To prevent the A.I. from going rogue, a means to give humans control of the A.I. is developed - 5 rings that interface with the computer.

However, as the computer views humanity as its own gravest danger, it takes several actions. One such action is populating the galaxy; it develops technology that includes faster-than-light travel (of the "folding space" variety), and devices that can rewrite people's genetic structure - changing them into new species, often only vaguely humanoid, much less human - to minimize the need to terraform semi-habitable planets.

With that done, it greatly reduces Earth's population - and scatters those rings across the galaxy. They must remain in the hands of powerfully-placed individuals - but nothing says they have to know what they have.

The computer and the system it establishes become totalitarian, and restrict technology to the most elite individuals.

That's all prelude; the story actually begins hundreds or thousands of years later, when a small group of humans on Earth find all this out.

As you note, an individual could only be run through the transformation process once.

I haven't had success locating electronic copies, but the four books do exist as an audio book series.

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  • 2
    This is definitely the series. Couldn’t find the dupe. Feel free to close. – Mike A. Nov 20 '18 at 2:51

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