The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


About Me

Hi! And thanks for continuing to hang out in my imagination. This page is a diverse collection of strange facts about me. Take a moment to look around. I hope you enjoy your visit.

What Have I Read This Month?

Here's a smattering of what I've read in the past few weeks...

Valens Legacy by Jan Stryvant 

The Valens Legacy series is a fast paced adventure story about a poor college student who discovers rather painfully that his dead father was a powerful enchanter and that wizards and lycanthropes are real. Bitten and transformed into a werelion, Sean must survive in this new world of the supernatural and uncover his father's secret work or follow his father into the afterlife. But Sean's father wasn't just an enchanter, he was a revolutionary trying to figure out how to end the enslavement of lycanthropes by wizards and now Sean finds himself picking up his father's life work as both a crusade and a necessity for survival.

These books are a lot of fun and I enjoy reading them. The plot is decently well thought out and there is plenty of action. Unfortunately, there is one major flaw in the world building. These books are in many ways all about lycanthropes. The hero is a werelion. His girlfriend is a werecheetah. There are werewolves, werehyenas and werefoxes, etc. But none of these lycanthropes feel any different from each other except in the most superficial of ways. And none of these people fight with their beasts in any significant way. Internal struggles to control the beast are an important element of this subgenre and its wholly missing--unless you count an increased appetite as struggling with the beast. This flaw doesn't kill the series, but it keeps it at the fun level when it has the opportunity to be more than that.

The Ring and the Flag and Fencing Reputation by William L. Hahn

The first two books of the Shards of Light series really show off the versatility of this author by adopting completely different voices for the protagonists of each novel. Captain Justin is a quiet, competent military man. Feldspar is an adrenaline junkie who will undertake to find out anything and "recover" anything so long as the task is dangerous enough to feed his addiction. Both men, in their separate books and through their independent resources, stumble upon the fact that an ancient evil is about to be unleashed on their empire and neither is of a temperament to leave the problem for someone else to resolve. 

These are fun, fast moving, very colorful tales of adventure in an incredibly vivid and deep fantasy world. 

The God Makers by Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert is best known for his extraordinary novel, Dune, but great as his magnum opus is, I've always loved a handful of his shorter works even more. The Godmakers is one of those great little gems. On the one hand, it’s an adventure novel, the story of Lewis Orne, a well-meaning, extremely bright young man who works for the Rediscovery and Reeducation Service trying to help planets reconnect with galactic civilization after the Rim Wars. In the opening chapters he prevents a military debacle on the planet Hamal and gets himself drafted into the more cynical Investigative Adjustment Service in the process. Roughly two-thirds of the novel has Orne investigating similar problems with Herbert dropping hints along the way that he is the god that the “makers” of the title have “made”—even if he doesn’t know it yet. The final third of the novel involves Orne going to Amel, a mysterious planet which houses the heads of all of the galaxy’s religions, both to find out why they are messing with galactic politics and to discover the limits of his own peculiar abilities. While is the adventure is wholly satisfying, the Godmakers is also a deeply philosophical novel as so many of Herbert's books were. He makes you think while he entertains you, which is probably why he’s so highly respected in the science fiction field.

Good Intentions by Elliot Kay

One of the first things you’ll notice about the novel is that there is a lot of sex in these pages. By a lot, I mean something like 30% of the book (maybe more) revolves around steamy action and the contemplation of steamy action. Usually when this happens in a novel I find myself skimming pages trying to get back to the plot, yet in this case, the sex actually is instrumental to the story.

Good Intentions is about a young college student named Alex who stumbles upon a weird crime while he is taking photographs for an art class in a cemetery in the middle of the night. Three men have brutalized and are about to start raping two women. Alex steps in to help them without realizing that the situation is much worse than he understands it to be. In the world of Good Intentions, magic is real and the would-be rapists are trying to bind an angel and a succubus to them through their black arts. Alex, thanks to his interference, accidentally receives the mystic bonds to the supernatural women.

Then things get really weird. Rachel is a foul-mouthed angel looking to fight much more aggressively against the hordes of evil than the heavenly host currently favors. Lorelei is a three thousand year old evil temptress who is quite relieved to no longer be bound to her dark master. Alex is a basically good guy with a past that proves to be much more complicated than it would first appear. The binding of these three beings subtly changes the balance of supernatural power in the Seattle area and leads them and Alex’s friends into a salvation-or-damnation level fight with the local supernatural community.

What raises this book above the pack is the slow and credible character growth, especially of the succubus, Lorelei. It sneaks up on you and the book is worth reading for that aspect of it alone. Add in the hard-driving action, excellent supporting cast, fantastic surprises and general high quality of the writing and you have a book that will make you very happy there are sequels waiting to be read. 

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin

I first encountered Ursula Le Guin as a teenager in her Earth Sea Trilogy, a wonderful tale of magic with deeper levels I totally missed in my initial reading. The Lathe of Heaven is for a more mature reader dealing with themes like responsibility, hubris, compassion and love. This is the second time I’ve read the novel and it won’t be the last.

When the novel opens George Orr is an unassuming man with a problem. He’s convinced his dreams can change reality and he’s taking illegal drugs to keep him from hurting people while he sleeps. He’s put under the care of Dr. William Haber who’s skepticism quickly disappears as he begins to unethically abuse Orr’s gift through hypnotism and an experimental machine to remake the world into a better place where his own importance is recognized and the big problems—war, racism, overpopulation, etc.—don’t exist anymore. But Orr’s power works through the unconscious and Haber never quite gets the results he wants—not that he blames himself. Success is due to his genius, failure is the fault of the man he’s using his legal hold over to coerce into changing the world.

Orr’s effort to get legal help introduces the third and most interesting character to the story. Heather LeLache is a lawyer who becomes interested in Orr’s case and actually sees the world rewritten while she observes his therapy. The shared experience brings Orr and LeLache closer but can their growing friendship—hidden from Haber—survive an ever-rewritten world?

The ending of this novel is a painful one filled with growth and horror, but not without hope. This one will make your head spin.

Free Read - A Delicate Situation

In 2004 after I successfully defended my PhD dissertation, I decided it was time to get serious about my fiction and try to get something published. In January of the next year, I stumbled across a flash fiction contest at Chizine asking for stories dealing with memory, or maybe it was lost memories. (Ironically enough, I can't remember precisely which it was.) I knew nothing about Chizine, but wrote the following 500 word story and submitted it anyway. Since Chizine focuses on very dark horror, they weren't interested in this piece, but I've always liked it anyway. You can read it here.

A Moment of Grateful Recognition

Finally, I'd like to take a few moments to recognize some of the very important people in my life who inspire me and who challenge me to improve my craft.

My wife, Michelle, is the audience I most want to please. From the time we first started dating, she would sit with me while I read my stories to her, and there is no greater motivation than the opportunity to share the work of my heart with the woman I love. Now she's reading my Pandora stories to my son, Michael, and listening to them share my writing is an incredible thrill which simply cannot be equaled any other way.

My most loyal reader and friend of more than twenty-years is Scott Wight. Scott doesn't write himself but he runs fabulous roleplaying games which have honed his skills as a teller of tales. Every one of my stories has been improved by Scott's patient, thoughtful comments. He sees stuff that isn't really ready to be read yet, and not only doesn't complain, he always encourages me to send him more.

Marc Hawkins co-wrote the first two books of the forthcoming Among Us series with me, and the first novel in a new science fiction series, Fissures (also forthcoming). We've been friends since our Freshman year in college when he also started reading my work. Hawk has keen insight into characters and plots which he generously shares and, like Scott, I'm very lucky to have him as a friend and reader.

I learned more about writing from Raymond Hill than any other person. Ray is an extremely harsh critic, but after you realize he's not telling you to throw away your computer and not touch a keyboard ever again, you realize that he's almost always one hundred percent right in his observations. Ray taught me about believing in my imaginary worlds and how to bring the environment to life through the five senses. And I'm still waiting on your novel, Ray! I'm looking forward to reading a great book and sharing some heart felt comments in return.

Finally, I would like to thank Michael McQuillen. Mike and I were friends from the sixth grade until his death on November 4, 1994. We were best friends as kids getting together regularly to hang out, or go backpacking with the Boy Scouts, or play Dungeons and Dragons. But even though we drifted in college, we kept in touch and I sent him all of my stories. After his death when I was visiting his mother, she handed me a thick oversized manilla envelope with all of my stories in them. They weren't crisp anymore. The pages were curled and crumpled as if Mike had read them many times--not just the single reading you owe a friend when they share a work of their heart with you. It was a sign from above that someone out there enjoyed my craft as much as I did and I needed to continue pursuing it. So thanks, Mike, I'd like to think you're still reading my works up in heaven.