The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack



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Review: The Scavenger by Aidan Lucid

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 13, 2021 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (1)

The Scavenger by Aidan Lucid

In this novella by Aidan Lucid, three friends encounter supernatural evil made all the more disturbing because it’s a twisted reflection of their own secret hopes and desires. That’s really what makes this novella so much fun. Lots of people have played with the “magical wish gone wrong” idea, but Lucid did it with far more finesse and subtlety than most writers. The wishes genuinely seem to be working out wonderfully, but when they go awry the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up and tingle. I hope Lucid will show us more of these three friends in future stories.



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Review: Kolchak and the Lost World by C. J. Henderson

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 12, 2021 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Kolchak and the Lost World by C. J. Henderson

What a delight to find a new adventure of Kolchak the Night Stalker. After the events of the television series, Kolchak finds his reputation as a journalist in the toilet, but he rebounds through his reporting on a human serial killer. That success gets him the opportunity to travel to Ecuador to do an article on a war between two rival drug gangs. Unfortunately, Kolchak quickly learns that much more is going on in Ecuador than he had realized. The drug gangs are fighting over access to a legendary lost city.


It was a tremendous amount of fun to “see” Kolchak again but frankly this was not the best adventure. The lost city and the events around it are just not explained fully enough to be satisfying, but the journey was good enough that I’d gladly give another new Kolchak book a try. Here’s hoping that there will be many more.


Review: Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 11, 2021 at 9:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny

This is one of Zelazny’s weaker stories, but still contains that spark of style which Zelazny fans have come to love. Fred Cassidy is a professional student. In his will, his uncle Al provided him with full tuition and a generous stipend as long as he remains a full time undergraduate student. So thirteen years later, Fred is still in college, brilliantly managing his course load and shifting majors to prevent himself from ever graduating and Zelazny successfully portrays him as an intelligent, very well informed, thirtyish man.


The novel opens with the appearance that the major conflict will involve Fred and his new advisor—an annoying man whose goal in life appears to be to force Fred to graduate—but it quickly takes a turn for the bizarre involving a lost alien artifact and the many people—human and alien—struggling to get their hands on it. They repeatedly threaten, harm, and kidnap Fred out of their certainty that Fred has the artifact even though Fred clearly has no idea where it is.


So there are a couple of little mysteries which Zelazny has fun with before springing this twist or that, all of which is quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, the structure of the novel was unnecessarily confusing with each chapter starting somewhere in the future and then jumping back to tell the story in “real time”. After you figure out what’s going on, this structure changes from confusing to irritating. It’s not a useful foreshadowing, it’s just annoying.


All in all, this is a fun book with a lead character firmly in the Zelazny heroic mode. As always, there are interesting ideas—this time mostly along the lines of what a diverse galactic civilization might look like. Yet it never quite captures Zelazny’s usual magic and turns into a great story.


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Review: Gaunt's Ghosts 2 Ghostmaker by Dan Abnett

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 10, 2021 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Gaunt’s Ghosts 2 Ghostmaker by Dan Abnett

Whereas the first book in this series was all Gaunt all the time, this novel focuses almost completely on the Ghosts who make up Gaunt’s regiment. It does this through a series of flashback stories, starting with the “founding” of the regiment and then highlighting specific ghosts so that the reader can get to know each of them better. The least successful of these stories for me was the first one, Ghostmaker, which tells how Gaunt pulled the Tanith First off their home world in the face of an unexpected attack by a Chaos fleet. This is the critical moment in explaining the complex relationship between Gaunt and his men. All through the first book they blamed Gaunt for not letting them fight for Tanith. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t satisfy. The fleet sneaks into the system, lands some chaos troops who are killing people, and Gaunt runs. Supposedly the whole world is lost (i.e. destroyed) and Gaunt decided that his regiment wasn’t enough to protect it. I had expected the planet to be destroyed by some sort of nuclear bombardment from orbit, but the enemy soldiers are on the planet and it just doesn’t make any sense that the wholly militarized Empire couldn’t get some relief forces to help save the day before an entire planet was destroyed by troops on the ground. I won’t say this often about Abnett, but I wish he had simply not written this story because to my mind, it makes the founding myth of the regiment ridiculous.


The other stories are much stronger. I won’t mention them all, but I would like to highlight a few. Mad Larkin the sniper gets his day in the sun in “The Angel of Bucephalon” where we find him high in a church spire after having apparently abandoned his fellow soldiers. The whole story is a conversation he has with a stone statue. In it we learn that he needs pills to keep from hallucinating, but even with the pills, the only time he sees the world as it really is, is when he looks at it through his sniper scope. He comes off as a strangely timid soldier who is a simply brilliant marksman. And as the angel, playing the role of commissar, demands he defend himself against her charge of desertion and the punishment of death, he slowly gathers himself together, waits his opportunity, and assassinates the head of the chaos resistance force which the Ghosts had been sent to kill. It’s a very effective tale which will leave you loving Mad Larkin.


“That Hideous Strength” tells the story of dull-whitted “Try Again” Bragg, the strongest and mentally weakest of the Ghosts whom Gaunt puts in charge of a supply convoy that no one thinks can make it to its destination. Bragg is simply awesome—not only as a soldier who won’t quit and remains steadfast in his loyalty to Gaunt—but because we learn that “slow” is very different than “stupid”. It’s just a great story all around.


And finally in “Blood Oath”, Ghost Physician Dorden, oldest man in the regiment, and the only one who is unwilling to carry a gun, finds his values pushed to the limit when he’s told to abandon scores of injured men from a rival regiment because the whole army is retreating. War is an especially terrible place for doctors and we learn a lot about the physician that the whole regiment depends so heavily on. It’s a moving tale.


As a way to quickly introduce the Ghosts who will be the mainstay of this series, this novel is effective. But as a story on its own, it’s weak, probably because it’s not truly a novel, just a collection of loosely braided together short stories.


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Review: Gaunt's Ghosts 1 First & Only by Dan Abnett

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 9, 2021 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Gaunt’s Ghosts 1 First & Only by Dan Abnett

First & Only is the story of Commissar Ibram Gaunt—the man who led the critical action that won the most important victory in the first ten years of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade—the Battle of Balhaut. As a reward for his skill and valor, dying Warmaster Slaydo made the commissar a colonel and gave him his own command, the Tanith First, a regiment whose world was destroyed after they were mobilized and so they are the very last of their kind.


The crusade after the death of Warmaster Slaydo is bogged down in terrible intrigue between different factions of the imperial war machine—men who resent the fact that the new warmaster is the relatively young Macaroth. First & Only is a tale of that intrigue and of how Ibram Gaunt and his Ghosts get caught up within it. It’s also the story of a heck of a lot of battles that have the feel of World War I—a brutal slog with tremendous casualties on both sides.


The enemy are insane by any reasonable definition. Their minds and often their bodies have been twisted by chaos and the warp so that they are fearsome and often terrifying opponents. There is nothing respectable about the forces of chaos, but interestingly enough, there isn’t that much that is respectable on Gaunt’s side either other than the sense of honor, integrity and loyalty that he and his Ghosts adhere to. The Imperium is a fascist state—apparently driven to this condition by the demands of maintaining the never-ending war against the forces of chaos.


This is a solid story with a lot of military action and intrigue. It also does a great job of establishing the Warhammer 40,000 universe as a bleak and violent place. I first read this book roughly eighteen years ago and many of the scenes have remained vividly with me throughout all that time. It’s a good beginning to what becomes a great series.



Review: Muted Veil by Elizabeth Hamilton-Smyth

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 7, 2021 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Muted Veil by Elizabeth Hamilton-Smyth

Hamilton Smyth takes what might have been a routine mystery story and turns it into an extremely tense adventure by creating a heroine with an unusual personality disorder. Frances is obsessed with her personal privacy—so much so that she takes medication to help her control the anxiety her disorder causes her. Unfortunately for her, the modern world is not kind to people who don’t want others knowing what they are doing. Google and its corporate pals spy on everything. The government keeps humongous volumes of information on all of us. Cameras mark our cars’ comings and goings in the streets. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when you start thinking about shopping, banking, and everything else we do.


Frances decides to leave England and resettle in a small town in southern France to escape everyone’s prying eyes and live quietly with her four cats. She plans her escape in meticulous detail and carefully settles into her new property where she hires (for cash) a handyman to fix up the house and put a fence around her land. Then things go crazy. A new boisterous neighbor buys the house next door and immediately starts intruding on her property. He claims the fence is on his land and his building plans would steal from Frances her sense of safety from prying eyes. She reluctantly engages a lawyer to fight his plans and he physically threatens her.


Now this is the part of the tale where a normal person would go to the police and lodge a complaint—but Frances can’t do that. Police keep records and her disorder doesn’t permit her to get help in the normal fashion, so she has to figure out what is going on and find a solution to her problem on her own.


All of that (Part I of the novel) is great! It’s fast moving, engaging, and suspenseful. I was particularly pleased that I solved the mystery on my own (I don’t always do that) and was shocked by the eventual solution to the problem. Unfortunately, Hamilton-Smyth then spends the next two-thirds of the novel giving details on how the problem that caused the land dispute occurred. I thought all of this was implicit in what Frances discovered in her investigation. I would have much preferred the author to show how Frances—with her peculiar disability—handled the aftermath to the solution to her problem with her neighbor. I see no way for her to keep the authorities from becoming involved and the stress this would have caused her would both further stoke the reader’s sympathy and create a different kind of drama. Perhaps Hamilton-Smyth will show us that in a later book.


That being said, the basic mystery is a very good one and the decision to go with a heroine suffering from Frances’ disability was ingenious. This one is well worth reading.


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Review: Where There's Smoke by Craig Halloran

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 6, 2021 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Where There’s Smoke by Craig Halloran (Supernatural Bounty Hunter 3)

Halloran comes up with yet another monster rarely seen in urban fantasy novels to make this one of the most exciting books in the series yet. Sidney Shaw is becoming obsessed with the Black Slate files even as her superior (and ex-boyfriend) in the FBI is isolating and ridiculing her for her successes because he thinks being the first person to successfully complete Black Slate missions will damage her career because it involves the supernatural.


Sidney moves forward with her new case anyway and quickly discovers that there are personal prices to be paid for confronting these bad guys. Her sister and niece are kidnapped by her latest quarry and this leads to a long and involved end game scenario against a very cool monster. As if this wasn’t enough, there’s also a big surprise at the end. This one is good all around.


I received this book free from Free Audiobook Codes in exchange for an honest review.


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Review: Wolfbane by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 4, 2021 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

A great new edition of a classic SF Tale

Wolfbane by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

This novel was written in the 1950s by two of the greats of science fiction—Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. As one would expect from two such authors, it is filled with humongous ideas and images that have reappeared repeatedly in the genre since then. The earth has been conquered by aliens who have never appeared on the planet—only sent their pyramid machine to carry out their will from the heights of Mount Everest. The Earth, itself, has been ripped out of the solar system and placed in a new orbit around the moon which has been turned into a miniature sun which needs to be reignited every five years. Most of humanity didn’t survive this and now there are perhaps a hundred million humans left, most of whom have become “sheep” who follow the course of life laid out by the aliens—one in which greed is gone and people spend a great deal of their time in meditation. Occasionally, meditation attracts the attention of the pyramid and the meditator is teleported away to an unknown fate.


That’s all the initial setting and things only get grander in scope and scale after that. Before the novel is finished we’ll see an alien world, humans melded to machines, hive minds, and so much more. The action revolves around a man, Glen Tropile, who fancies himself a wolf (capable of acting out of self-interest) but doesn’t truly seem to be either wolf or sheep. Tropile is what makes this book so interesting and is Pohl and Kornbluth’s foil for comparing facsimiles of a Marxist civilization and a more libertarian society—neither of which appear to have what it takes to help humanity escape from and survive its alien conquerors.


This is a great book and deserves to be more widely known, but it isn’t the easiest read. Writing conventions have evolved over the last sixty years, so be prepared to give it your full attention to maximize your enjoyment.


Review: Starfall by David Reiss

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 3, 2021 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Starfall by David Reiss

The notorious Dr. Fid emerged triumphant once again after the events of Behind Distant Stars, but the price was horrendous. For the second time in his life, Fid failed to protect the life of a younger sibling, but this time, there is just the smallest of chances that he can rectify his error and bring Whisper safely home again. So Fid totally rearranges his life to give one hundred percent of his attention to the task of rescuing his sister, and woe be it to any foolish hero or villain who dares to get in his way. And yes, you guessed it, it’s the heroes who are going to be the major problem this time.


Reiss has clearly been thinking of this last book at each stage of writing the first two, because all of the components of Fid’s life come together perfectly here. His unbreakable will, his towering genius, and—just like some of the heroes he most despises—his willingness to go to any extreme to achieve his aim. In this last book, we get to learn once and for all who Dr. Fid is and whether or not he has actually accomplished anything with his crusade against false heroes. The fact that it is not a world at stake but “only” the life of one little girl makes him both more awe-inspiring and more endearing than ever before. Reiss has found a way to answer once and for all the question of whether or not Fid is actually better than the false heroes he’s dedicated his life to bringing down and I think every reader will be totally pleased with the answer.


Yet, that was not the part of the book that brought tears to my eyes. Fid is not the only person tested in these pages. And perhaps his legacy will ultimately depend upon whether or not any of the self-proclaimed heroes out there really meet the standards they proclaim. Fid, of course, expects them all to fail.


This is a supers trilogy to stand with the absolute best in the genre. My only complaint is that it appears Reiss is finished with the story.


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Review: Behind Distant Stars by David Reiss

Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 31, 2020 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Behind Distant Stars by David Reiss

The notorious Dr. Fid returns with something of a public relations problem. It turns out that saving the world—even when you had to beat the heck out of a ton of super heroes to do it—softens your image as the baddest of the bad. Add to that a couple of unfortunate instances caught on tape—like saving a falling cat—and the world is asking if Fid has had a change of heart. Could he be becoming the thing he hates the most—a super hero?


Fid, being Fid, decides to use this confusion to pretend to become the hero in question, just so he can further expose how unworthy heroes are of the public’s respect, but in doing so begins to learn that the world is much more complicated than the black and white image he has clung to throughout his career and the journey he has started down might just be more true than he wants it to be.


It’s amazing that a novel that is as heavily psychological as this one is, could also be packed to the gills with amazing action scenes. David Reiss has given more thought to the armored hero / villain than the creators of Iron Man ever did and the reader benefits tremendously from this care on his part. Plus, Fid is a scientific genius to put Tony Stark and Reed Richards to shame and this time he really has to put his IQ to the test as he struggles to unravel numerous complicated puzzles in both his heroic / villainous career and his personal life.


Add to that his developing relationship with a couple of heroes you know he wants to like, his touching guardianship of Whisper, a child AI who oh so obviously reminds him of his long dead little brother, and even his deteriorating relationships with the villains of the world who are convinced he’s going soft, and you have a wonderfully well-rounded novel filled with action, mysteries, and genuine personal growth.


Part of the strength of the series is that I’m really not certain where Fid will end up in his personal journey, but I’ve already started the next book so I can find out.