The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Reviews and More

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 or watched in the past few weeks...

The Dark Backward by Joshua Grasso

Grasso writes huge, complicated mysteries set in an early modern period in which magic and astrology, not science is the power that runs the world—and Grasso’s magics are very cool. The title refers to a magic book—the first magic book—which writes itself, killing people through its prose. It’s the macguffin of the story—everyone wants it and it’s fascinating to see how it propels the plot through at least a dozen twists and turns.

Fascinating as the magic and the macguffin are, however, this book is built on characters. The best by far is the thief, Magda, who never quits. She’s savy, motivated and with values that surprised me. She’s a great leading lady and easily carries the story, but she doesn’t have to carry it alone. Even bit characters in this tale come across as believable and interesting, and Magda ‘s supporting cast really adds vibrancy to the novel. The only character who disappointed me was the sorcerer, Hildigrim, and that’s only because he doesn’t get enough screen time. This one is worth your money!

Shards of Light by William L. Hahn

For those of you who have been impatiently waiting for this book to be published for the past six months, rest assured that it is worth every moment of anticipation. In Shards of Light, Hahn masterfully brings the plot lines from the three preceding books together into a climatic final novel that tops everything that came before it. There is more action, more mystery, and thankfully, many more revelations as the conspiracy is exposed. There are also several significant surprises and some important moments of painful character growth.

My favorite character coming into this book was Feldspar and he holds on to the top spot, but just barely. Captain Justin gains some important depth and Altieri—I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll settle for reporting that she grew mightily in my esteem. There are supporting characters which are also increasingly important, not the least of which is the Man in Grey whom I gather has a couple of books of his own which I will be reading soon.

There is a lot to praise in this concluding volume. Hahn has always impressed me with his ability to adopt different voices for his characters and he interweaves those voices effortlessly in this novel. Yet, he’s so much more versatile than that, moving from deft military actions to the spy-like efforts of Feldspar to the complex swirl of politics and religion which motivate so many of the powers in the city. Perhaps what strikes me most profoundly as I look back upon it is how rich Hahn’s Lands of Hope are in their history. I can’t stop here. I’m going to have to read the rest of them.

The Shadow Familiar by Joshua Grasso

This is a fast moving story that will grab your attention and refuse to let it go. At its heart is a magical mystery revolving around the possession of a young woman, but the closer our heroes Hilidigrim and Turold get to discovering the source of her affliction, the more complicated—and more interesting—the mystery becomes. Make sure you’ve got an hour free when you sit down to read this novella because you won’t want to put it down.

And Four To Go by Rex Stout

This collection of four short stories featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin is great if you’re looking for a quick mystery. Because of the length there are fewer loose ends to keep track of, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will figure out the villain because Stout doesn’t always play fair. It’s not uncommon for Nero Wolfe to have a piece of information that isn’t shared with the reader, such as the contents of the photograph Archie takes in Easter Parade. It’s also not uncommon for him to trap people into exposing themselves instead of using old fashioned detective work. That didn’t really dampen my enjoyment of the stories, however, because the heart of every Nero Wolfe mystery is the at times tense relationship between Wolfe and Archie. Stout’s created an archetypal detective pairing here that has recurred in many other stories. Wolfe never leaves his mansion and sends Archie out to do all of his footwork. Archie’s more than competent in his own right, but Wolfe is a genius and watching him pull the strings of the various players in the mystery is always a delight. While Glen Cook, in his Garrett Files, and now Dan Wickline, in his Lucius Fogg series, do it well, no one surpasses the master, Rex Stout.

Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein

One of the interesting things about reading classic science fiction is to see how accurately the author envisioned the future. Podkayne of Mars was first published serially in 1962 and it focuses on a young woman born and raised on Mars. Heinlein wrote many empowered women characters over his career and his heroine, Podkayne, is fairly typical of them. She is very intelligent, courageous, and dreams of a career in what is still considered a “man’s field” in Heinlein’s future. This is a vision of the future of women that made a lot of sense in 1962, but falls short of what women have achieved in the twenty-first century. So it’s very interesting but doesn’t quite feel right.

The plot is classic Heinlein and would have fit well with any of his young adult novels. Podkayne is intelligent and sure of herself, but slowly comes to understand that she still has a lot to learn. When politics, of which she is quite innocent, intervenes she finds herself a pawn in an effort to change the future of the solar system. But Heinlein’s heroes don’t remain pawns for long and Podkayne is no exception. Taking the future into her own hands, she acts. It’s an entertaining look at the future from five decades ago, but the saddest ending I can remember in a Heinlein novel.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

When I was in high school, my best friend used to mention what a wonderful book this was, but for some reason I never borrowed it from him to read. I had thoroughly enjoyed The Riddle Master of Hed and its sequels, but inexplicably that didn’t prompt me to read this one. What a mistake that was. I just finished the book some 35 years later and it is a masterpiece—a totally beautiful story lusciously written.

McKillip is one of the few fantasy writers I have ever read that manages to create strong pacifist-leaning characters who deal realistically with the heart-wrenching turmoil of their days. This is a book with unexpected twists and turns, intense love and hatred that lead to heart-wrenching character growth. It was so obviously a labor of love to write and will be a treasure to reread again and again. Take the time to experience this one. You won’t regret it. 5 stars

When It Falls by Jan Stryvant

The fifth book in the Valens Legacy addresses one of my two principle complaints with the series. I don’t know if this is a retro-fix or was planned from the beginning, and I don’t care. Stryvant provides a workable explanation for the incredible magical abilities that Sean has acquired over such a short period of time. There is still far too little stress on the beast within the lycanthropes for my tastes, but ultimately that’s the author’s choice.

This series is engaging and I greatly look forward to each new volume, but the books also feel rushed, which explains why I keep giving them 3 or 4 stars. Stryvant needs to slow down a little and take the time to seriously revise/polish his books. While I’m sure all of his fans appreciate getting a volume of the series every six weeks or so, I always find that giving yourself a little time for a serious rewrite vastly improves the quality of the novel. So I like the series quite a bit. The characters are diverse and interesting. The action is well thought out. But they could be substantially better if the writing wasn’t quite so hurried. 4 stars

A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman

Thief of Time was the first Tony Hillerman novel I ever read and it remains one of the best. It starts with a wonderfully creepy scene in which a researcher into the Anasazi peoples discovers a couple of dozen little frogs who have been tethered by a string tied around their legs so they can’t hop away. Then she finds out she’s not exactly alone in the deserted ruins and well…I don’t want to give too much away. After the opening scene, it becomes a fairly typical detective story as Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police each find themselves looking for the missing woman. To find her, they have to learn a decent amount about the illegal trade in Anasazi pots which I also found fascinating. The tension builds as Leaphorn gets closer and closer to discovering what happened to the woman. There are good surprises and a solid and exciting climax.

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.