The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack



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Review: Legend by David Gemmell

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 26, 2021 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Legend by David Gemmell

David Gemmell, may he rest in peace, was one of the great fantasy writers of our time and this is the book that launched his career. Gemmell had been diagnosed with cancer and says that he started this book to occupy his mind while he was in treatment. It’s unlike anything in the genre that I had ever read. A sixty-year-old legendary warrior comes out of a very short retirement to fight in one last helpless cause to try and save the Drenai people. Druss has been in every major battle for the past forty years, but none of the lost causes he turned around ever looked as bad as this one.


Gemmell gets inside the skull of his heroes, none of whom—not even Druss—are without serious flaws. This book will tap every emotion you have. There’s plenty of excitement, but there’s also outrage, and respect, and trepidation, and grief, and wonder, and horror as men and women struggle to find it in themselves to hold on one more hour so that millions of people they will never know have a chance to go on living.


This would be a remarkable novel for any writer to produce—but as a first novel it will just knock your socks off. And it’s only Gemmell’s first novel. He fought the cancer off long enough to give us at least a score more books and make a legend of his very own.


Review: The Mote in Andrea's Eye by David Niall Wilson

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 25, 2021 at 7:45 AM Comments comments (0)

The Mote in Andrea’s Eye by David Niall Wilson

Andrea has been obsessed with hurricanes since her father was killed in one while trying to help a neighbor. Where most people would express their obsession by frantically tracking storms on the news, and a few would go on to become full-fledged meteorologists, Andrea takes it a step further. She’d determined to figure out how to end hurricanes—to de-fang them, so to speak, and she’s got the brains that just might be able to find a way to do it.


The novel tracks her through decades, struggling to discover ways to steal the energy out of hurricanes and turn them into normal storms. In the course of her work, an unexplained event adds dramatically to the personal cost. Her husband, and the entire storm he’s flying through, abruptly disappear in the Devil’s Triangle. It’s bizarrely unexplained, but only serves to make Andrea push harder. Decades later she’s still at it when her husband—and the storm—abruptly reappear threatening the U.S. coast without warning.


This novel is powerfully built to tap your emotions and is truly exciting as Andrea and her team struggle to save lives. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. The way that Andrea’s husband—decades out of time—was handled is sweet and unexpected. But it needs to be said that the big question—why that storm disappeared and reappeared and why her husband returns in the state he and his plane are in is never explained—although there is a hint when radio signals from a decades-lost ship are momentarily heard from the heart of the Devil’s Triangle.


Review: Cry of Thunder by Joe Gentile

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 24, 2021 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Cry of Thunder by Joe Gentile

This novel is built on an interesting concept. Sherlock Holmes and Kolchak the Nightstalker both work on the same mystery even though they are separated by roughly a century. The mystery begins with the discovery of a gigantic bird in the old American west. The bird turns out to be a Thunderbird. It continues with Sherlock Holmes running a nice little investigation into criminal activity in London. And ends with Kolchak getting pulled into an investigation of that Thunderbird that lots of people want to stop him from completing.


This is a strange book. The individual parts are interesting, but after completing it, I find the connections confusing—especially between Holmes and Kolchak. It’s also not in any way clear to me why people are trying to stop Kolchak’s investigation. So I enjoyed seeing Holmes and Kolchak, but the story itself didn’t hold together for me.


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Review: Changeling by Roger Zelazny

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 20, 2021 at 12:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Changeling by Roger Zelazny

Here’s a Zelazny novel where it’s not clear for several chapters which of the main characters is the hero and which the villain. An evil sorcerer is killed at the beginning of the book leaving his infant son alive behind him. The victors are reluctant to kill a baby but also terrified of leaving a child alive knowing he is the heir to great magical power and could reasonably be expected to seek vengeance on those who killed his parents. Their moral conundrum is resolved when the wizard who aided the victors agrees to exchange the child (Pol) with one (Mark) on another world creating not one, but two, changelings.


The next several chapters show both children not fitting into their new worlds. Pol is a wizard in a technological world whose untrained powers glitch technology, driving his engineer “father” crazy. Mark is a technological genius on a magical world—a world which thinks that technology is evil. Neither child is happy. Neither fits in. But it’s not until Mark is nearly killed by his neighbors, discovers an ancient teaching machine and still working factories, and vows vengeance on his assailants that the ancient wizard who exchanged the two kids decides it’s time to bring Pol back.


This sets up a battle between Pol and Mark, but it’s not a contest that the reader (or Pol for that matter) feels good about. The two should be friends and allies, but Mark is jealous and a bit paranoid and war between them becomes inevitable. This is a fun novel—not one of Zelazny’s greats, but a very enjoyable story just the same.


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Review: Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 5 Bloody Bones by Laurell K. Hamilton

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 19, 2021 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 5 Bloody Bones by Laurell K. Hamilton

Anita is recruited for a specialized zombie raising for which she is possibly the only animator in the United States that has a chance of performing the job without a human sacrifice. Bulldozers preparing the ground for a luxury hotel have uncovered and spoiled an ancient cemetery possibly proving that a recent court decision awarded the land to the wrong family and therefore making the sale of the land invalid. Anita’s job is to raise the cemetery and ask the zombies if any of them belonged to the Bouvier family. It’s a fascinating problem, immediately made more complicated when the lawyer who has hired Anita tries to bribe her to give the answer he wants.


Then the fresh corpses begin to be found and Anita gets called away from the paying job to consult with police who are afraid she’ll grab the headlines if they let her anyway near their case. Teenagers have been killed in terrible ways and Anita has never seen anything like it.


Then—all in the same night—a vampire kills a young woman in her home and Anita—legal Vampire Executioner—is pulled into the night hunt for the most dangerous predatory creature on the planet.


Things just go downhill for Anita from there and I haven’t even mentioned the fae connection to the case, or the negotiations with a new hyper-powerful vampire who is ruling the territory next to Jean Claude’s. This is an intense novel which expands the scope of the series to the land near St. Louis. It also teaches the reader some new and horrific things about vampires, and of course, there’s the whole fae thing.


The conclusion will push Anita further than we (or she) knew she could go for a fully satisfying story.


Review: Dread Brass Shadows (Garrett Files #5) by Glen Cook

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 18, 2021 at 8:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Dread Brass Shadows (Garrett Files #5) by Glen Cook

Garrett is a little slow in the fifth volume of the Garrett Files. Admittedly, there is a lot of confusing and even traumatic things happening around him, but he misses a crucial fact early in the novel that would have potentially shortened the book by about two hundred pages. Not that that’s a bad thing—those two hundred pages are fun, packed with mayhem and mischief.


The novel opens with Garrett’s on-again off-again girlfriend, Tinnie Tate, getting stabbed as she walks up the road to see him. There’s no reason that anyone can figure for the attack until a woman comes to Garrett seeking his help to find a missing book. It turns out that just about everyone wants to get their hands on this book, a magical volume whose pages are made of brass. Most of the people searching for the book believe that Garrett has it and they spend a lot of time trying to coerce answers out of him, sneak into his house, or just straight up kill him. Then mob boss Codo Contague gets involved and the stakes are substantially raised with all sides still trying to recruit Garrett or wipe him out of the fight.


Most of the usual support cast is absent for most of the novel. The reason is a little weak, but it gives Cook an excuse for his big blow out ending—the conclusion of which sets the stage for more problems in future novels.


The best thing about this book is the fate of the book—which contains one of those images Cook paints so well that has hung in my mind for the thirty or so years since I first read it.


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Review: The Maw by Taylor Zajonc

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 17, 2021 at 8:25 AM Comments comments (0)

The Maw by Taylor Zajonc

Having enjoyed a bit of caving in my high school years, I have always appreciated a good thriller set in an underground environment. The Maw is that and more. Milo is an historian who has all but killed his career by pushing a theory about how explorer Lord Riley DeWar met his end and getting involved in a romantic relationship with one of his students. Now he has a bizarre chance to fix both of these errors by joining a top secret expedition exploring a super cave in Tanzania. The expedition’s billionaire funder has a theory that, contrary to popular belief, DeWar met his end in this cave. More important to Milo, the student he had the relationship, now a well-respect physician, is also going on the expedition.


So Milo, with no experience in caving, joins a trip that is figuratively going to the center of the earth and everything goes wrong right from the beginning. The billionaire has not shared all of his information with his team. Another expedition between DeWar’s and their own has found the cave and tried to seal it with explosives. There is also evidence that native peoples with stone-age level technology have impossibly found their way thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface millennia before the current expedition. Something unusual exists in this cave and it is changing the explorers in ways that are both exciting and terrifying. Cut off from the surface both by a hemorrhagic disease infecting the camp and a huge storm, the explorers find themselves seeking to understand a mystery that dates back to the beginning of the human species while surviving tremendous challenges thousands of feet below the surface in utter darkness.


This sort of novel usually promises more than it can provide, but not in this case. Zajonc has put together a remarkable mystery that truly does explain why humans are different than all the other species on this planet. And he accomplishes this while conveying the claustrophobic terror of trying to survive without support deep in the bowels of the earth. It’s a truly remarkable accomplishment.


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Review: Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 4 The Lunatic Café by Laurell K. Hamilton

Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 15, 2021 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 4 The Lunatic Café by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Lunatic Café is an (almost) all lycanthrope story. Shapeshifters have appeared in the series before, but this is the first time that we start to peek into their peculiar and highly disturbing society. From the opening pages when Anita is hired to find a man’s missing wife (she happens to be a werewolf), to her discovery that her boyfriend, Richard, is in a life and death struggle for control of his pack (a struggle he does not seem to be able to credit is really life and death), to the discovery that many other shapeshifters have gone missing, to the remains of a body ripped to shreds by a werewolf, Anita is confronted by lycanthrope-centered problems at every turn (and that doesn’t even mention the highly disturbing snuff film). She also begins to learn a little about the problems each of the lycanthrope species contend with—both with each other and simply surviving in a world that is extremely hostile to them.


At the same time, a two-hundred-year-old vampire has set her sights on capturing the love of Jean Claude and she sees Anita as competition even though Anita is desperate to be rid of the Master of the City. She seems to think that the best way to be rid of Anita is to kill her—and she’s crazy enough that Jean Claude’s threats only seem to motivate her to do the job more quickly and brutally. Oh, and did I mention that everyone’s favorite assassin has returned to St. Louis on a job that even the most devoted adherent to law and order will cheer him on to complete?


This novel has two scenes that have often recurred in my mind over the past nineteen years since I first read it—that’s always a sign of powerful writing. It also has a very disturbing relationship evolving as Jean Claude—fearful of losing Anita even though he has never actually had her—forces her to begin dating him on an equal basis with Richard to give him a “fair chance” to win her heart. If she doesn’t, he kills Richard. I know that Hamilton wants this love triangle to come into full existence, but this stalker behavior is really troubling and I’m frankly surprised Anita doesn’t decide to simply kill Jean Claude after he makes the threat. (Edward would gladly help her do it.) She justifies her decision not to off this threat to her life and happiness by saying that a twisted part of her loves Jean Claude, but in no other part of the series thus far does Anita allow herself to be bullied except here. It’s the first significant characterization weakness I recognize in the plot. It’s almost like Hamilton was reading those 1990s romances in which the man has to utterly humiliate the woman early in the book so she can hate him before she falls in love with him. It didn’t make sense then and it still doesn’t now.


There’s also one other character who I thought was poorly drawn. There’s the legendary swan prince, a hunter so callous that he was cursed to turn into a swan to make him learn to be gentle and kind. This fails (he’s still callous), but the now immortal hunter should have become a super-hunter in his human form. He seems to have given up this side of his personality, when I would argue that being able to recover from any wound would have enhanced his ability to pursue his martial endeavors.


All of that being said, this book is simply packed with action and will keep you racing through the pages from beginning to end.


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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.