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 reviews and 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...

Legion of the Undead by Michael Whitehead

This novel starts with a bite in the very first chapter and the feeding frenzy continues to the end of the book. A curse of zombies is released in Germania and very quickly threatens the whole Roman Empire. In many ways, this is typical zombie fare—a single source point of infection is vectoring across the planet—but it just doesn’t feel typical when you’re watching Roman legionnaires respond to the threat. The whole novel feels highly authentic as the legions struggle to come to grips with the walking dead. Then things get even more interesting as politics intersects the zombie crisis to make saving civilization—no, saving all of humanity—even more difficult. Strong and memorable characters that the author is not afraid to kill populate an unusual apocalyptic tale. My one serious complaint with the novel is the large number of typographical errors. I expect a few such errors in every book—especially self-published ones—but this novel was riddled with them to the extent that it seriously distracted me from the action.

The Militiaman of Garthset by Mark Dame

This novella is a little bit slow in getting stated but once it does it races forward at breakneck pace until the final pages. In concept, it is a rather simple coming of age tale in which a young man who lost his parents to orcs has to deal with the reality of fulfilling his dreams of vengeance. In practice it’s a lot more than that, reminding me of Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage as our hero, Randell, is forced to take stock of himself and decide what his life is going to stand for. This is an author who’s neither afraid to let his characters make poor choices, nor unwilling to let them suffer the consequences for their mistakes. If you like a lot of action, you’ll enjoy this good quick read.

Fierce Girls by Mike Adams

When Sergeant Molly Bennett kills two of the sons of world famous terrorist, Hassan Gul, she pokes a hornets’ nest. When she and Lieutenant Rick O’Brien kill Gul, himself, and two more of his son’s, the hornets’ nest bursts open and all hell breaks loose. This is the backdrop to Mike Adam’s exciting new novel, Fierce Girls, and the foundation of a whole new series with the same name as Molly and Rick have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

The action in this book is intense, develops quickly and plausibly, but not necessarily in a predictable fashion. That’s good obviously! I learned quickly I could never be certain what Adams had in store on the next page. The other highlight of the novel is the large cast of fiercely independent and deadly capable characters. O’Brien’s large family (grandmother, sisters, daughter) often steal the show from the two technical heroes—but that’s a good thing because I have no doubt that these women will be taking center stage as the series develops.

In summation, the future is a mixed bag in Mike Adams’ 22nd century universe. On the one hand, technology is becoming truly amazing, faster-than-light travel has been developed and humanity is colonizing a planet orbiting another star. But on the other hand, the threat of terrorism is worse than ever and much of it is directed at stopping the colonizing of that new world. This well-thought-out mix produces plenty of problems which provides loads of excitement in this novel and promises even more in the books to come.

Songweaver by DW Johnson

This is a very fast-paced novel with tons of action from the opening scenes right through to the thundering ending. The principal character, Shar (the Songweaver of the title), is a fascinating young woman intent on taking the world on her terms. Songweavers are minstrels with magical abilities. Shar is all of this but also a thief and an extremely skilled fighter. At first, her light fingers bothered me a little, but as her peculiar sense of honor and morality become clear, I couldn’t help but love her.

The big villains of this book are a group of slavers and, let’s face it, who doesn’t like to read about slavers being taken down hard. There’s also a large array of magical races and creatures populating these pages—a dwarf ranger who was easily my favorite character in the story, elves, centaurs, brownies, half-orcs, bugbears, and so many more—and Johnson does an excellent job of keeping them from being just the latest monster to cause his heroes problems.

If you like a story with strong moral imperatives where in Magnificent Seven fashion some unlikely heroes are called on to bring some justice to the land, then you should read Songweaver. I’m glad that I did.

The Forbidden City by Alexander Grant

I got this book hoping to see examples of superior generalship and great battles and it did not disappoint! General Leandros is both brilliant and charismatic and makes a very credible strategist, worrying as much about logistics and morale as he does about his actual battle plans. Yet The Forbidden City is much more than an account of war. There’s a fascinating mystery at the heart of this book with a handful of very clever plot twists and surprises that make it hard to put it down. I’ve read enough in this genre to think I know what’s coming next and I often didn’t. The book is a little slow getting started and the dialogue is awkward, but that’s easy to overlook because the action is more than solid. I’m definitely looking forward to the sequels.

Atlas of the Serpent Men by Chris L. Adams

This tribute to Robert E. Howard’s Conan starts on a strong note giving a very credible account of Conan facing off against a band of thieves. The crisp action pulls you right in and doesn’t let you go from start to finish. Adams has a real feel for everyone’s favorite barbarian. These are pages that feel like REH could have penned them.

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

When I was in ninth grade, I joined The Science Fiction Book Club and got a five-book-for-a-dollar deal as part of the introductory offer. I picked The Chronicles of Amber because it had a cool cover and the two volume set counted as one book. At the time I had never heard of Roger Zelazny, but after racing through the two-volume set, I would try and get my hands on everything he’d ever written. Yet even as I devoured his other works, I kept coming back to Amber. I’ve read the books a dozen times, listened to the audio version narrated by Zelazny, himself, played the RPG both in person and in an extended email version, composed my own stories imagining what would come next, and finally happily bought the e-book versions so I can continue to enjoy them again and again. This is one of the greatest adventure stories in science fiction and fantasy and if you haven’t yet read it you should stop reading this review right now and go get yourself a copy.

Like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Amber is really one novel broken into many parts, but unlike Tolkien’s masterpiece, Roger Zelazny took advantage of the publisher’s decision to present the work as five separate books to tell five different types of stories. Nine Princes in Amber is a Who Am I? tale. The Guns of Avalon is a straight adventure piece. The Sign of the Unicorn is about politics and intrigue. The Hand of Oberon is a story of manipulation. And finally The Courts of Chaos wraps up the adventure with a great journey which completes the hero’s growth while simultaneously providing an exciting and highly satisfying ending.

So take a visit to Amber, or, if you’ve already read it, return as if you’re seeking out an old friend. I’ve read it enough times to know that there’s something you’ve forgotten or missed that makes each reread make the whole work feel fresh.

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.