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So I have a series of vague impressions and a couple of details:

  1. Pretty sure this was a book, not a short story.
  2. I probably read it in the '90s... maybe earlier.
  3. I think the basic plot was that there was a computer that was supposed to protect those under its care. It decided to do this by altering them genetically to make them plant-eaters, no real conflict/stress, etc. It didn't give them a choice in this.
  4. I have a vague impression their form ended up kind of like a horse or centaur-like.
  5. Hero crash lands or otherwise arrives in the jurisdiction of the computer. Hero changed.
  6. Hero ends up mating with a local girl (or a woman who came with him?).
  7. After they mate and she is pregnant, they 'nest' by (see title) building a house with some kind of substance that comes from their mouths.
  8. The process is kind of instinctive, they don't really have a choice or think much about it.

I assume the hero somehow manages to overcome the computer and escape etc. But... that's all I remember.

(Interesting what kind of stories the computer here is suggesting are 'similar'.)

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    This sounds like Jack Chalker's Well World series. Unfortunately, I haven't read any of it, so I'm not comfortable giving an answer.
    – Spencer
    Jul 9, 2020 at 13:37
  • Yes, I was a big fan of the world, so it’s possible I’m getting my stories mixed up. Jul 9, 2020 at 14:01

2 Answers 2

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After all the suggestions about Web of Souls, which I knew weren’t right but sounded so close, I went through Chalker’s bibliography and found it! Web of the Chozen!

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Plot of the Novel

The book Web fo the Chozen details the adventures over a period of several months of a lone starship scout, sent to travel the universe and find planets worth inhabiting. The scout, BarHolliday, discovers a planet called Petmos. He discovers the planet was previously colonized by a religious group called communards, yet he finds no traces of their colony.

Holliday lands on the planet, and a few hours later is attacked by a virus that transforms his physical body into a new shape: he now looks like one of the millions of herd animals he saw on the planet, a herbivore cross between a kangaroo and a mule, but with enormous bunny ears. Holliday then learns the horrible truth: the colonists were transformed into this new shape by the same virus, and call themselves 'The Chozen'. The colonists can still communicate, though sub-sonically, and one of their previous leaders, George, takes him under his wing.

Unwilling to surrender to his new condition without a fight, Holliday reasons that the virus is not native to Petmos, but was engineered by Moses: the AI supercomputer that navigated the colony ship to Petmos. That colony ship is still in orbit around Petmos, and Holliday realized Moses wants to use him, Holliday, to spread the virus to other colonized planets and transform other humans into Chozen.

Months pass, Holliday and George go through a mating season, and with their eggs, they manage to escape the planet. They try and reason with Moses, but when that fails, Holliday calls back to Earth for help. Earth’s response convinces him his previous employers see them and Moses as a threat and will try to eliminate all of them, so he, George and their two children, Eve and Ham, escape.

Finally they arrive at the solution for their dilemma: they would spread the virus themselves. That way, with all of humanity replaced by the Chozen, there would be no reason anymore for the humans to try and destroy them. The book ends after they successfully spread the virus on a colonized planet, proving their plan can work.

Thanks for all the suggestions!!

Plot from this website: https://www.academia.edu/26535797/Ecocritical_Look_on_The_Web_of_the_Chozen_by_Jack_L._Chalker

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    Have read a fair amount of Chalkers works, or thought I had :) +1 from me for finding this
    – Alith
    Jul 11, 2020 at 13:51
  • He wrote quite a bit. Jul 11, 2020 at 13:52
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As mentioned by @Spencer, there are elements that match the Well World series by Jack L. Chalker. To my memory though there are some elements mentioned in the post that don't :/.

  1. Pretty sure this was a book, not a short story.

Check - The original 5 Well World novels are definitely books not short stories, each is around 350 pages IIRC.

  1. I probably read it in the '90s... maybe earlier.

Check - The first book in the series "Midnight at the Well of Souls" was first published in 1977, followed by:

  • "Exiles at the Well of Souls" - 1978
  • "Quest for the Well of Souls" - 1978
  • "The Return of Nathan Brazil" - 1980
  • "Twilight at the Well of Souls" - 1980

The time frame would definitely fit, I remember buying these in the early 1990's.

(there were also 5 later novels that comprised 2 additions to the original Well World series and 3 to a related series "The Watchers at the Well" initially published between 1993 to 2000)

  1. I think the basic plot was that there was a computer that was supposed to protect those under its care. It decided to do this by altering them genetically to make them plant-eaters, no real conflict/stress, etc. It didn't give them a choice in this.

Check - There is both the Well of Souls, an artificial planet created by the Markovians (an extinct race of aliens with almost god like powers) that regulates the known universe in the series. When a person is transported to the Well World through a portal on one of the many Markovian worlds, they are transformed into one of the 1560 races that are the remaining "laboratory experiments" of the Markovians via the "Zone Gate" and wind up in the Hex of the race that they are transformed into.

There is also Obie,("Exiles at the Well of Souls") a supercomputer that is created by the computer genius Gilgram Zinder. Obie is built into a planetoid Obie has the power to alter the "Markovian equations" for any individual/small group or indeed a whole planet.

It's been a long time since I read Exiles and Quest for the Well of Souls, I don't recall a race of humans being made into plant eaters, but it would of been possible for Obie to do this IIRC.

  1. I have a vague impression their form ended up kind of like a horse or centaur-like.

Check - In "Midnight at the Well of Souls", one of Nathan Brazil's companions (Wu Julee or Wuju) is transformed into a Dillian, basically a Centaur (humans upper body with a horses lower body, hind legs and tail). Dillians appear quite often in the saga in most of the books. There is one passage in this book where Brazil has been turned into a stag like animal and he and Wuju "become intimate".

  1. Hero crash lands or otherwise arrives in the jurisdiction of the computer. Hero changed. and
  2. Hero ends up mating with a local girl (or a woman who came with him?).

Probable match - This could be the story of Mavra Chang, which begins in "Exiles at the Well of Souls" and carries on across the remaining books. Mavra is a pilot and in a way a niece of Nathan Brazil (it's complicated). Part of her story is flying a shuttle away from the planetoid that houses Obie, and crashing on the Well World. Mavra is changed into an animal (resembling a pig I believe), and has a local Well Worlder (who is about to die) transformed to be her mate. Or it could be Nathan Brazil and Wuju from "Midnight at the Well of Souls" as mentioned above.

  1. After they mate and she is pregnant, they 'nest' by (see title) building a house with some kind of substance that comes from their mouths. and
  2. The process is kind of instinctive, they don't really have a choice or think much about it.

No match - This bit I don't recall in the Well World series at all.....It could be conflated from another story or possibly from one the 5 later books, I haven't read them so I'm not sure.

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