The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack



Review: Midnight Zone by JK Franks

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 27, 2020 at 8:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Midnight Zone by J. K. Franks

At the start of the Midnight Zone, the world is a more fragile place thanks to the AI war detailed in State of Chaos. America’s financial institutions have been damaged, confidence in government has been reduced, and the other nations of the world—enemies and allies alike—are moving to take advantage of America’s weakness. Unfortunately, those are only the obvious problems facing the United States as our heroes from the previous book become aware that the Janus AI from State of Chaos was only the opening gambit from a secret group of megalomaniacs determined to save the planet by reducing its population by a few billion people. And that’s not even the scary part!


These megalomaniacs have discovered that aliens—truly horrific monsters that inspired the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft—have visited our planet and they are trying to tap into the knowledge those creatures left behind to bring about their doomsday scenario. For most authors, that would be more than enough to drive his thriller, but J. K. Franks always takes his books to another level. He mixes modern science with Cthulhu and sends his teams to the remote corners of the world—the bottom of the Caribbean and the heart of Antarctica—to piece together the secret history of the planet’s first couple of billion years as his heroes try to understand how the monsters of the ancient past are returning to reek havoc today. Lots of authors have played with the Cthulhu mythos, but none that I am aware of have done anything like what Franks has pulled together in the Midnight Zone.


If you want a thriller that really pushes the boundaries of the imagination, get yourself a copy of the Midnight Zone.



Review: If She Wakes by Michael Koryta

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 23, 2020 at 12:50 PM Comments comments (0)

If She Wakes by Michael Koryta

Let’s start with the greatest strengths of this novel—it is intricately plotted from the opening page to the closing page with bizarre details introduced early on becoming absolutely critical to the resolution of the mystery. There’s also significant tension built over the course of the story and there are many times when it’s really difficult to see how the good guys are going to survive until the end of the book. And perhaps most amazingly, Koryta found a way to make a woman who can do no more than slightly move her eyes become the key to the entire tale. It’s absolutely amazing and I’m very glad I read the book to experience these strengths. My only complaint is that I felt that over all the novel was rather slow moving and I would have very much appreciated a more tightly edited storyline. There are great things in this book but I got tired of wading through the pages in between those moments.


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A History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 21, 2020 at 8:20 AM Comments comments (0)

A History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons

Supreme Court decisions factor heavily into American history, but I had never before read a book that focused on the history of the third branch of the government by itself. In 24 lectures, Irons both explores the major personalities that have shaped the court and analyzes the important decisions the court has made. But he also puts both the personalities and the decisions into their historical context and shows how politics of a given era have influenced the court—both in its composition and in the decisions it has made. A quick and interesting guide to the least known branch of the U.S. government.


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Review: Never Say Spy by Diane Henders

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 20, 2020 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Never Say Spy by Diane Henders

This “accidental” spy novel has a lot going for it. The heroine is a feisty woman in her late forties with an unusual array of skills and habits that are very helpful for the amateur spy. She can shoot a gun, she’s unusually aware of the space about her checking automatically for threats, and she’s decisively aggressive when the situation demands it—no paralyzing hesitations that most of us might suffer from when being attacked unexpectedly.


The mystery—especially the piece of technology that it’s developed around—was quite intriguing and I really enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on. I also believe that the author was completely fair in laying out the critical pieces of this mystery. There are a lot of coincidences, but they never felt like a deus ex machina sort of situation.


I do have two complaints, however, one minor and one major. The minor complaint is that there were many times when I thought the story was rather slow moving. A lot of time is spent in developing—let’s call it the social or non-spy life of the heroine—that I thought could have been seriously cut down upon. The major complaint is that the novel should have stopped nine or ten chapters earlier than it did. In order to give us one more totally unnecessary twist, the author had to make her up-until-then smart heroine have a lobotomy that dropped her IQ a solid one hundred points so that she acts in an absolutely stupid fashion that just wasn’t believable at all. The sad part is, it was totally unnecessary. She’d already given us a great and totally satisfying ending. Too bad she didn’t realize it.


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Review: Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 19, 2020 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster

Josie Bates was a hotshot defense attorney who won a difficult case only to have the defendant prove later to have been guilty at the cost of new lives. Shaken by her role in enabling the new tragedy, Bates has withdrawn from criminal defense work, but gets pulled back in when her old college roommate begs her to defend her daughter who is being prosecuted for setting a fire that killed a popular California judge who happens to be the father of the girl’s stepfather. No one seems to want to help Josie defend the girl and the stepfather is actually a prosecution witness against the girl.


The setting is bleak, and as you would expect from a novel in this genre, the actual circumstances of the crime are much more complicated and twisted than anyone realizes. This is a mystery about family relationships and the secrets within the family. But what’s not clear as the case advances is whether or not the weird family dynamics will justify the fire and the death, or prove the girl innocent.


Complicating the whole novel is that the governor of California wants to appoint the stepfather to fill the dead man’s seat on the judicial bench. Forster obviously wanted this to add tension to the trial but it was not realistic. There is no way the trial would have started before the decision of whether to confirm the stepfather as a judge was made or not and I thought that rushing the trial so that it was an issue damaged the credibility of the story.


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Review: State of Chaos by J.K. Franks

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 18, 2020 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)

State of Chaos by J.K. Franks

Sometimes you just get lucky. J.K. Franks’ novel, Midnight Zone, looks absolutely fascinating to me, but I decided to start with this first book in the series to make sure that I knew everything I was supposed to when I started the next book. Now, all I can say is, “WOW!” State of Chaos is an amazing ride that had me hooked from the very beginning straight through to the final page.


This book has everything a good thriller needs and a heck of a lot more. There’s a war between two rival AIs. There is first contact with an alien species. There’s a plot to create a coup within the U.S. government which will have the unavoidable side effect of killing many millions of people. And there are a few decent people dragged into the plots and conflicts that are trying desperately to keep Armageddon from happening.


On top of all of that, Franks has clearly thought very carefully about all the issues involved and pulled together a highly credible setting. These are events I could imagine happening in the modern U.S., which is quite an accomplishment since it involves two AIs, aliens, and a lot of high-tech break throughs.


The book is called a Cade Rearden Thriller, and frankly Cade, with his military training and multiple personalities is a great character, but there’s nothing in this first book to make you think he’s the only main character—i.e. the character the whole series will be built on. That’s because the rest of the cast from the friendly AI, Doris, to the teenagers she recruits to help her fight the war, to the handful of critical military personnel and scientists fighting to save humanity, are also great characters. I hope very much that they appear in the next book as well.


State of Chaos is an amazing experience. If you like high octane thrillers, strap on your seatbelt and give this novel a try.


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


Review: Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy by David Kyle Johnson

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 17, 2020 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy by David Kyle Johnson

Free Will, Time Travel, Pacifism, Euthanasia—these are only a few of the topics that David Kyle Johnson introduces to the reader through the use of science fiction movies and television shows. It’s frankly an inspired way to help people to both engage in important philosophical topics and to show them that philosophy is very present in the major issues of our life. On that level alone, this book is well worth reading.


Yet it’s not the only reason to pick up this Great Courses volume, because Johnson also introduces you to many great science fiction movies and series and, in the event you have already seen them, helps you to see them in a new way. In doing so, he’s given me a new appreciation of many shows I was familiar with and encouraged me to go out and experience many others.


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Review: The Mercenary's Daughter by Joe Gazzam and Jessica Therrien

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 16, 2020 at 12:40 PM Comments comments (0)

The Mercenary’s Daughter by Joe Gazzam and Jessica Therrien

What do you do when you discover that everything you thought you knew about your father is a lie? He’s not a boring salesman. He’s a covert agent taking on tasks for money that the U.S. government wants to be able to disavow if they go wrong.


This is the situation that Tara and her brother find herself in when they get news that their father had died while on a business trip. Unfortunately for their father’s government handlers, the news comes before the government can stop them from discovering a secret office in their house with an arsenal of weapons and a mission plan that appears to show that their father snuck into Cuba to extract a criminal by extra-legal means. Tara, an ex-Marine, and her teenaged geeky brother decide to go rescue him.


Frankly, from the moment the two enter Cuba, the novel lost all plausibility for me. It was fun, but nothing seemed even remotely realistic. That being said, the authors carefully set up a cliffhanger ending that was very successful—so much so that I’d like to read the next book to see what happens.


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Review: Just Try Not to Die by Gareth K. Pengelly

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 15, 2020 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Just Try Not to Die by Gareth K. Pengelly

Many monster-hunter-style series are built around a sort of chosen one—a hero in the making who will protect the world from nefarious supernatural creatures. Pengelly’s Brian Helsing series is just this sort of book with one major twist—Brain Helsing has no traditionally heroic qualities and apparently no aptitude for learning them. While geeky and not-unintelligent, he hasn’t an athletic bone in his body and he doesn’t have the mindset that one traditionally associates with the sort of person who would go seek out monsters threatening civilization. In fact, he’s so not the hero that the good guys have to physically coerce him into training and going on missions.


So it’s an unusual sort of book and it takes too long for the story to develop, but Pengelly does manage to weave Brian’s unheroic nature and past into a solution for the ultimate problem in the novel in a convincing and frankly touching way. Everyone who’s watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer or read anything in this genre has wondered what they would do if they were chosen as the slayer. This book offers a more plausibly realistic answer to that question than many of us would wish was true. It’s a fun read with a lot of potential to be even more so as the series progresses.


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Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove

Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 14, 2020 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove

Sherlock Holmes is renown for his keen analytical mind and his amazing powers of deductive reasoning. He’s a detective totally grounded in the physical world. So, what would he do if he was confronted by a mystery not of this world? More to the point, what would he do if confronted by the mind-bending otherworldly entities of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythologies?


If your first thought was—Holmes would either die quickly or go insane—this would not be a good novel for you. But if you think instead that after eliminating the impossible, he would turn to other explanations, no matter how improbable, then you are going to enjoy this book.


Lovegrove suggests that a significant portion of Sherlock Holmes career was spent protecting the world from the entities that humans weren’t meant to know, and this first novel was a compelling and exciting read. I’d like to see more.


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