The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

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A History of India by Michael H. Fisher

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 26, 2022 at 7:10 AM

A History of India by Michael H. Fisher

I think that India proved to be too vast and complicated for a single Great Courses Text. Fisher gives a good try starting in prehistory and going to the present day, but I always felt like he was jumping around and rarely making connections between his topics. The first sixteen lectures are a highlights reel of events before the sixteenth century. Then he slows down a little, but I still felt like we were leapfrogging through history trying to cover just a smattering of events in the last five hundred years. The best part of the course focused on the twentieth century—especially when Fisher looks at India and Pakistan after they win their freedom from Britain. If nothing else, Fisher shows just how complex the subcontinent and its peoples truly are.

 

Black Orchids by Rex Stout

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 25, 2022 at 8:40 AM

Black Orchids by Rex Stout

I like the shorter Nero Wolfe mysteries even more than I do the full-length novels. They’re obviously more compact and that makes me feel like I can digest them more quickly and that deludes me into thinking I have a better chance to figure out who committed the crime—not that I came anywhere close to doing that in either of the two mysteries in this volume.

 

The heart of the first story is the black orchid of the title—someone has bred a perfectly black orchid and Nero Wolfe wants it. He is so obsessed that he actually leaves his home to go to the flower show and try to wrangle the flower from the owner. So Wolfe is on the scene when the murder happens and he is finally motivated to solve the crime when he figures out that his payment can be the orchids he so desires.

 

In the second, a woman is being libeled to the harm of her business and she wants Wolfe to put an end to it. Once again, Stout comes up with a great plot that would have been interesting even without the murder that always occurs somewhere in a Wolfe case. The clues were all there, but I didn’t come anywhere close to solving this one either—not that that dampened my enjoyment. It’s watching Wolfe work that makes this series so special.

 

The Odyssey of Homer by Elizabeth Vandiver

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 24, 2022 at 6:55 AM

The Odyssey of Homer by Elizabeth Vandiver

I’ve read The Odyssey more frequently than I have The Iliad. It’s always been primarily an adventure story for me and in addition to the text, I’ve enjoyed reading about the places that might have inspired the fabulous lands discovered in this poem. What Vandiver does in this Great Courses book is give you the substance behind the epic that makes it clear why this book has resonated with audiences for millennia and why the ancient Greeks turned to it again and again as a guide to proper behavior. For this is a book that explores in remarkable depth the meaning of what modern audiences would call proper hospitality. It also, and I’m shocked I never picked up on this on my own, depicts what happens to a land when all the fathers go away to war and never come back again. This is a wonderful exploration of one of the all-time great works of literature and is worth listening to again and again.

 

Hell for the Holidays by D.M. Guay

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 23, 2022 at 5:45 AM

Hell for the Holidays by D.M. Guay

This novel is a wonderful walking calamity slowly unfolding for the reader’s pleasure. It starts with our hero, Lloyd, enjoying some paid vacation for the holidays so he can escape the insanity that is his job where he keeps demons from escaping into our world. Then the problems begin. Too much snow is forecast on the night of his mother’s annual Christmas Eve Party. The in laws, who hate each other, all arrive early for Christmas because they fear that the snow might keep them away the next day and they want to be snowed in with the family. (They aren’t for the most part a festive group, so this is definitely a bad thing.) Then we learn that 13 murderers have escaped prison nearby and we just know they are going to show up for the party. Then Lloyd’s work colleagues (including the talking cockroach and a fairly nice giant centipede demon) also show up as does the snooty rich woman from the first book and you can see it all going downhill from there—and that’s before the trouble starts.

 

It’s over the top hilarity as Lloyd and his friends try to stop Christmas from being destroyed without anyone else finding out what they’re doing. Hell may have come for the holidays, but our heroes are determined to make sure we all still have a joyous Christmas Day.

 


Perry Mason 33 The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom by Erle Stanley Gardner

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 22, 2022 at 9:00 AM

Perry Mason 33 The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom by Erle Stanley Gardner

I’ve only read a couple of Perry Mason mysteries but this one was by far the most fun yet. It starts with Perry finding a beautiful woman on his fire escape who is trying really hard not to be seen or identified. He then gets pulled into the kind of case that wouldn’t be nearly such a big deal today. His client has divorced his first wife in Mexico and then gotten remarried. He thought she also wanted the divorce, but now she’s angry and is maneuvering to get control of his company from him and have him arrested on charges of bigamy. While Perry is doing an amazing job of managing this problem, a murder occurs upping the ante tremendously as everyone thinks his client is the murderer.

 

Now right from the beginning, I think it should be noted that this book didn’t need a murder. The original problem, managing the client’s problems with his (at least in Mexico) ex-wife, was excellent and totally had my interest. I was almost sorry to see the murder because it changed dramatically the nature of the legal problem. But that being said, the courtroom drama was equally fascinating. There’s a humorous element as the prosecutor and his assistant are constantly maneuvering to humiliate Perry (and we, the reader knows Perry is going to win out in the end). They go so far as to (unethically in my opinion) try to get the bar to come down on Perry for doing his job as a defense attorney. But in addition to the normal legal troubles, Perry also (again) has to deal with a client who won’t tell the truth to him, making it ten times as hard for Perry to adequately defend him. Then consider the red herrings... I freely admit that I didn’t figure this one out—but I should have.

 

The African Experience by Kenneth P. Vickery

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 21, 2022 at 8:50 AM

The African Experience by Kenneth P. Vickery

Here’s a wonderful overview of mostly Sub-Saharan African history from the dawn of humanity to the present day. That’s a heck of a lot of material to cover and Vickery does a masterful job of exploring the highlights of early human existence, Africa in the pre-colonial period, the colonial period, and the post-colonial struggles. Vickery also struggles for balance in his presentation, so this is neither overly romantic nor overly negative. All in all, it’s a fascinating overview of huge continent and the people who inhabit it.

 

Why Economies Rise or Fall by Peter Rodriguez

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 20, 2022 at 7:10 AM

Why Economies Rise or Fall by Peter Rodriguez

Peter Rodriguez manages to talk about global economies without getting bogged down in all the “isms” like capitalism and socialism. He looks at the major economic events of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and explores both success (the Japanese Miracle, the Asian Tigers, China, India, etc.) and failures (Japan, China, Latin America, etc.) (And yes, I realize some of those nations are in both lists.) It’s a fascinating exploration of various successful roads to the top and why the same models didn’t work for everyone else. There’s also some warning about how economies can take a tumble.

 

Destroyer 52 Fool's Gold by Warren Murphy

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 19, 2022 at 6:30 AM

Destroyer 52 Fool’s Gold by Warren Murphy

This is the best Destroyer novel in several books. Chiun and Remo look like the master ultra-human assassins they are and they have a mission which shows off their skills nicely. The main plot revolves around an ancient plaque inscribed with the writing of a lost South American kingdom of traders that is found in a cave in the U.S. and tells of a mountain of gold hidden somewhere. The world is instantly interested and Remo and Chiun get the job of guarding the U.S.’s expert in the language as she tries to decipher the texts. A rival house of assassins is trying to get their hands on the woman so their employer can find the treasure, so Remo and Chiun have their work cut out for them. And that’s where this book shines the brightest. As one would expect from the Master of Sinanju and his apprentice, Remo and Chiun are never really worried about their rivals—only about whether they can keep their charge alive.

 

There’s also a subplot revolving around the CURE computers getting dumped into the computer of a Hollywood screen writer. The subplot was ridiculous, but gave Harold Smith something to do while Remo and Chiun were on their mission, and gave Murphy a chance to satirize Hollywood again.

 

This one is just loads of fun.

 

Faded Steel Heat (Garrett Files #9) by Glen Cook

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 18, 2022 at 6:55 AM

Faded Steel Heat (Garrett Files #9) by Glen Cook

Be warned, this is a good story, but only if you can get past the first fifty pages. During those pages, I set the book down four different times and wasn’t certain I wanted to pick it up again. After those fifty pages, Cook spends less time on annoying banter and starts to develop a mystery that is centered at least in part on the Weider family who often appear on the borders of Garrett’s other adventures. The Weiders are a very wealthy family of brewers who strongly support hiring veterans. The problem? Some people think they should only be hiring human veterans. Trying to help them drags Garrett into politics as a new human rights group (remember this is a fantasy world with elves, dwarves, ogres, etc.) is stirring up trouble with just about everyone.

 

It's a solid adventure with quite possibly the most interesting villains Garrett has faced off against yet. But there are drawbacks—the aforementioned banter is often just annoying and the parrot continues to take up way too many pages and is just flatly irritating. The novel slows down again for the last thirty or so pages, but overall this book is a sign that the Garrett Files are finding their proper feet again.

 

Gotrek and Felix 12 Zombieslayer

Posted by Gilbert Stack on May 17, 2022 at 6:00 AM

Gotrek and Felix 12 Zombieslayer

Victory was turned into an even worse danger at the end of the previous book and now Gotrek and Felix must turn the tide of a zombie apocalypse if they are to save the Empire. And just in case stopping a constantly growing army of the living dead isn’t hard enough, they also have to find a way to keep Snori Nosebiter from finding his doom because he’s lost his memory and will be damned if he dies before he recovers it.

 

Sadly, it isn’t just the traitors who have gone over to chaos that makes stopping the horde harder in this novel. There are also plenty of humans with the weaknesses of cowardice and greed to further complicate Gotrek and Felix’s lives. Fortunately, the pair are finding close friends to stand by them in what is one of the best books in the series.