The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack



Occultober Day 4 Blood Ties by Gilbert M. Stack

Posted by Gilbert Stack on October 4, 2022 at 8:00 AM

Occultober Day 4 Blood Ties by Gilbert M. Stack

For the fourth day of this celebration of spookiness, I want to introduce one of my own novels—a book that I originally conceived as a humorous satire of the supernatural adventure, but found myself instead writing a much darker, more traditionally thrilling, novel.


One of the things that made Dracula so effective is that it began by taking an English man out of his normal setting and isolating him in what was effectively another world—Transylvania—home to Vlad the Impaler—a much more medieval than modern setting. In Blood Ties, I’ve tried to capture that sense of helplessness that comes from being dropped into a foreign environment way outside of a person’s comfort zone. Liz Dunn is a lawyer who has never quite recovered from a severe beating she received while protecting a client from a stalker. Now, she has to accompany her new client to the country of Carpathia right on the border of Transylvania so he can meet his only living relative—a reclusive uncle who is (unsurprisingly given the genre) much more than he seems. You see, the uncle wants to meet Ryan just as badly as Ryan wants to meet him—but for a far more nefarious reason.


Blood Ties is my tribute to the classic creators who invented the modern horror field. Vampires, werewolves, zombies—it’s all in here, including a little touch of Cthulhu.


You can find Blood Ties on Amazon and and free on Kindle Unlimited.


If you’re interested in Blood Ties, why not join the discussion on my author page at Facebook?


Occultober Day 3 A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

Posted by Gilbert Stack on October 3, 2022 at 8:00 AM

Occultober Day 3 A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

For the third day of Occultober I introduce one of my favorite classic tales, A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. A book I believe was his very last completed work.


I am a huge fan of Zelazny and have read most everything he’s written. My favorite of all of his stories is this novel. I read it every October, sometimes listening to my old audiobook cassette tapes in which Roger Zelazny reads the story himself, and sometimes reading it either in print or electronically. It’s a beautiful story and a tribute both to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and to many great works of literature and film focused on the late nineteenth century.


This is a tale of people who are drawn together to strive to open or to keep closed a gate to the realm of the Elder Gods on a Night in the Lonesome October when the moon is full on Halloween. This time, those gathering are Jack the Ripper, a witch, Dracula, the werewolf, Dr. Frankenstein, a druid, and many more. There preparations attract the attention of law enforcement and the Great Detective. All of this would be wonderful enough, but the genius of the story is that the humans are not the eyes we see through in the relating of this tale. The point of view and all of the interactions are between the animal familiars of those who will contend—a dog, a cat, a snake, an owl, a bat, a rat, and so on.


As the month advances, players start to turn on each other, winnowing the ranks as some position themselves to save the world while others play for power. There are twists, turns, and secrets aplenty here and I enjoy rereading this masterpiece every single year.


If you’re interested in A Night in the Lonesome October, why not join the discussion on my author page at Facebook?


Occultober Day 2: Princess of Wands by John Ringo

Posted by Gilbert Stack on October 2, 2022 at 8:00 AM

Occultober Day 2: Princess of Wands by John Ringo

For the second day of Occultober, I have chosen a book that is firmly in the urban fantasy genre, with an unusual twist. Rather than have paranormal powers, the heroine has only a genuine faith in the lord to protect her—that and a bunch of kicking martial arts and weapons skills.


Princess of Wands is a modern urban fantasy in which a soccer mom, Barb Everette, devout Episcopalian woman, finds herself confronting one of the elder gods from the Cthulhu mythos and after that gets pulled into an organization that helps the government handle Special Circumstances. The book is structured in three major (and one minor) parts and it moves very quickly in three of the four, keeping up a level of excitement while Ringo builds a fascinating world of secret investigations into things pretty much everyone believes the general public of the world is better off not knowing anything about.


Barb is a very interesting and unusual central character. She’s a military brat with extensive martial arts and weapons training, but she’s also a soccer mom with all that that implies. One day she gets fed up with her mundane existence and over her husband’s protests decides to take a weekend off for herself. She gets off her route and ends up broken down in a small town in the bayou which just happens to be the site from which a serial killer has been operating as he attempts to cause the manifestation of one of the elder gods. This is not a coincidence but, we assume, the result of the subtle influence of God getting Barb to the one place the world most needs her to be. The resulting action is well developed.


The second section of the book is much lower key, but just as interesting. Barb is brought into the U.S. organization that deals with Special Circumstances and learns a lot about people that are very different from her. They are a colorful group that don’t all get along with each other, but they are the best line of defense that America has for dealing with supernatural threats, of which there are many.


The third part of the book is the longest and the slowest. Barb is brought in on the investigation of a serial murderer with special circumstances. Her area of investigation is a science fiction convention, and Ringo has way too much fun going into the details of who attends conventions and what happens there. The excuse to do this is to identify suspects who might be the killer, but I’ve read the book four times and I still can’t keep track of the wide host of possible suspects. I would have liked this section to be cut in half. It’s good once all hell (literally) breaks loose, but pretty slow before that.


Finally, there’s a very nice extended epilogue in which Barb has to deal with a small but real problem at home.


As you can tell from the above, I love this novel. If you like supernatural investigations and combat, this is a good book for you to try out.

If you’re interested in Princess of Wands, why not join the discussion on my author page at Facebook?


Occultober Day 1: The Graveyard Shift by D.M. Guay

Posted by Gilbert Stack on October 1, 2022 at 8:00 AM

Occultober Day 1: The Graveyard Shift by D.M. Guay

Welcome to Occultober 2022! Over the course of this month, I’m going to introduce you to 31 books or series that play with the horrific and the supernatural—sometimes straight up and sometimes with dark humor. You know what I mean, these are the books that delve into the darker side of fantasy and fiction and often get downright spooky. So, secure your shutters and light the candles as you prepare yourself for 31 dark and stormy adventures.


And if you like what you see, please feel free to leave a comment, share the review, or even recommend a book you think I might want to feature in next year’s Occultober event. Let’s face it, anyone interested in this event will appreciate a good recommendation.


Now, to launch all of the spookiness for 2022, I have chosen The Graveyard Shift, the opening book of one of my favorite series. In it, author D.M. Guay manages to take the spookiest of settings—a small 7-11-esq market that is in actuality a gateway to hell—and make it a source of some wonderful dark humor.


Now, I should point out that I don’t usually get the comedy in most comedic books. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem in The Graveyard Shift. I was laughing from the first chapters and sharing the jokes with my son who would laugh uproariously at them second hand. Guay has a gift for the absurd and it really works in this first book of her 24/7 Demon Mart series.


The hero (Lloyd) is a loser. It’s not nice to say, but even he recognizes it. His major problem would appear to be pure laziness coupled with a remarkable lack of even a modicum of ambition. He seems essentially happy living in his parents’ house, playing video games, and going every night to a convenience store to sample one of their 100+ varieties of slushies. Oh, and I should also mention, that he is really, really, stupid. I’m not saying he has a low IQ, just that he’s really amazingly dumb—but weirdly enough, in a totally believable way.


So, here’s the set up. Lloyd goes into the convenience store where he has a schoolboy crush on one of the attendants who probably doesn’t know he exists, and while he’s there a demonic snake creature appears and tries to escape the store. Lloyd helps his fantasy crush stop this from happening. In addition to the snake creature, genuine magic is displayed. Keep this in mind for later.


The long and the short of it is that the store owner rewards Lloyd for his help by offering him a job at an extraordinarily good hourly rate. Since Lloyd is in desperate debt, and it will let him be near his crush, he accepts. It is very clear to the reader, and in all fairness, the demon hiring Lloyd tells him this, that this store is not a normal place. There are genuine threats to life and limb here. There are demons involved. But Lloyd immediately zones out on the training video and never does get around to reading his employee handbook which tells him how to survive these dangers. He also has a really hard time accepting that the supernatural is in play in this store. All of which produces hilarious situation after hilarious situation in a setting that is perfect for Halloween. It’s as if Lloyd just can’t process magic and the supernatural even when he keeps seeing it.


Guay also manages to show Lloyd growing as a person without having him overcome the qualities that have made him basically unsuccessful so far in life. So, it’s sweet when his mother’s sheer joy that he has gotten a job keeps him from quitting. And it’s also nice to see him starting to want the things that other adults around him desire. Oh, and I should mention that even though Lloyd thinks he is a coward, he’s actually intensely brave and steps up when he has to. And again, credit to the author, this is done in a very believable way.


The Graveyard Shift is not the spookiest of books, but its firm setting in the supernatural make it the perfect book to launch this year’s Occultober.


If you’re interested in The Graveyard Shift, why not join the discussion on my author page at Facebook?


When Plants Attack by Rebecca E. Hirsch

Posted by Gilbert Stack on September 30, 2022 at 7:45 AM

One day before the start of Occultober, I have a book of real world phenomena scary enough to be fiction.

When Plants Attack by Rebecca E. Hirsch

Plants are supposed to be the passive, attractive, stationary life forms that make up your grass or offer you shade or decorate your yard. However, there are a few that reject that ornamental role and take a more aggressive view of life. No, this isn’t Day of the Triffids or some other scary sci fi or fantasy story. It’s a short overview of a handful of plants that either seek out their food or decide they’re just not going to wait and see what sun, wind, and rain bring to them. It’s absolutely fascinating. There are plants that trap their prey, plants that crawl about looking for a meal, and plants that have all sorts of ways of punishing animals that decide to eat them. This is a fun book for the not too squeamish.


Harbingers of Hope by William L. Hahn

Posted by Gilbert Stack on September 29, 2022 at 7:20 AM

Harbingers of Hope by William L. Hahn

This is a towering work of fiction that reads much better as a complete work than it does in smaller installments. It’s the Tolkienesque story of the Lands of Hope—at peace for millennia—on the cusp of a renewal of their great war with the forces of Despair. The fulcrum upon which this story is built is Solemn Judgement, a fascinating young man of deep convictions whose outsider status permits him to see the weaknesses in the Lands of Hope that its long-term inhabitants are blind to. That blindness is the crack that the forces of Despair intend to exploit to reignite the war and Solemn Judgement is the best “hope” to stop that from happening. Yet Solemn is a flawed hero as well which makes his efforts endlessly fascinating.


I read this omnibus because I had encountered Solemn Judgement in Hahn’s Shards of Light series and absolutely loved the enigmatic character. But there are many more intriguing characters in this story—a prince struggling to keep to the path of honor and avoid a senseless war, a band of adventurers seeking their fortune through the extermination of evil, and an intriguing knight whose religious devotions mask a serious problem in the city of Conar. And there are so many problems for the many heroes to tackle—including a lich and a demon seeking to bring their own brands of hell to the world. Add to all of this Hahn’s willingness to kill off characters in Game-of-Thrones-like fashion and you’ll be reading late into the night to learn what happens.


Harbingers of Hope is the sort of book that High Fantasy was meant to be—exciting characters engaged in inspiring deeds in a world that is riddled with history and budding with many more stories waiting to be told. You won’t regret reading it!


The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Stewert Johnson

Posted by Gilbert Stack on September 28, 2022 at 5:55 AM

The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Stewert Johnson

This sort of book tends to do three things—and Johnson does all of them extremely well. First, it gives a little bit of biographical information on the author, helping the reader to understand how she was inspired to become interested in her field. Second, it gives a historiography of the great scientists who came before her, showing how they helped to create the modern field of study. And finally, it shows how our understanding of the field has advanced, and in the case of Mars, Stewert spends a lot of time going through the many missions to the red planet that have expanded our knowledge.


Let me end by saying that there were a lot more missions than I understood there to have been, and since I have been interested in Mars since reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury, this came as a big surprise to me. I’m sure that most people have heard of Mariner, Viking, and Pathfinder. But did you know about Observer, Global Surveyor, Climate Orbiter, Polar Lander, the Rovers, Phoenix, and more?


It's an interesting book for anyone who is curious about how we know what we know about Mars.


The Fate of Rome by Kyle Harper

Posted by Gilbert Stack on September 26, 2022 at 8:40 AM

The Fate of Rome by Kyle Harper

Most people think that all of the broad outlines of the ancient world are already known to historians, but in that last fifteen or twenty years an important new understanding of the problems that beset the Roman Empire is adding considerably to the debate over why Rome fell. I first became aware of this debate about ten years ago when scholars started to note that an event referred to as the Justiniac Plague was not a relatively isolated event in Constantinople but a crippling empire wide event on a par with the Medieval Black Death. Since then, much new information has come out and in this book, Kyle Harper looks at the related issues of climate change and disease in the last few centuries of the Roman Empire.


Why was the third century so difficult?—cooling temperatures and a consequent rise in diseases like small pox which devastated both the population and the economy. Things got a little better during the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine before the temperature dropped again and disease returned to ravage the land. Justinian’s attempt to reconquer the west might have been doomed to failure anyway, but it didn’t help matters to have unusual volcanic activity cool the earth and set the stage for a surge in bubonic plagues that lasted at least two centuries. It’s hard to defend your new lands when the size of your legions is now one-third what it had been with no way to recover the numbers. It’s hard to keep funding your government when the tax base has just plummeted (leading Justinian to raise taxes to impractical levels).


This is a fascinating book with perhaps a little too much detail for the casual reader. It doesn’t lessen other issues that are discussed as contributing to the fall of Rome (like poor leadership) but it certainly goes a long way to show that the earth itself played a heavy role in bringing down the west’s most successful empire.


The King Beyond the Gate by David Gemmell

Posted by Gilbert Stack on September 25, 2022 at 8:50 AM

The King Beyond the Gate by David Gemmell

Two generations after Legend and the Drenai peoples are in crisis again. They have a tyrant ruling them with an iron fist—a particularly frightening iron fist in that it is backed up by magically created combinations of man and beast called joinings. Gemmell focuses his story on a grandson of the barbarian king Ulric and the Earl of Bronze from the last book—a half breed who fits in nowhere but is a brilliant strategist and warrior. He gathers former companions in arms to kill the tyrant and ends up trying to plan a defense against the tyrant’s legion and his joinings.


This book does not reach the emotional heights of Legend, but it’s still a superb story with great personal battles and large-scale military action. The mystical “thirty” appear again to aid the defendants, this time facing Black Templars instead of barbarian mystics. All in all, this is another wonderful novel in which we get into the hearts and souls of men and women trying to save their world from cruel oppression. As Gemmell is still willing to kill just about everyone he puts on the page, the ending is quite painful to read. You’ll care about the people dying and worry tremendously about every character.


1901 by Robert Conroy

Posted by Gilbert Stack on September 19, 2022 at 7:20 AM

1901 by Robert Conroy

A little-known fact about the military buildup of Germany at the end of the 19th Century is that contingency plans were developed for a German invasion of the United States of America. At the time, Germany had the best army in Europe (and probably the world) and America almost didn’t have one. Germany also had a larger and more modern navy than the United States so it’s short-term prospects in a war with the U.S. looked good. In 1901, Conroy has come up with a justification for Germany actually launching the attack and then in a delightful bit of alternate military history, takes the reader through the course of the war.


I was a little frustrated in the beginning because I didn’t think Conroy understood how vast the resources of the U.S. in 1901 were and how implausible it was that Germany could prevent a massive buildup against their invasion, but it quickly became apparent that Conroy had respectably built these factors into his plan of war. He also effectively shows the peace faction, many of whom had staunchly opposed absorbing the former Spanish empire into the U.S., causing trouble for the president and adding tremendously to the risks if the growing U.S. army suffered a major defeat.


There are a lot of other things to like about this novel as well. The role of the British struck me as highly credible. The technology issues that would still be around (in our world) in 1914 were even more of a problem in 1901. There are tremendous leadership problems to be resolved (and the solution made me laugh with delight). Conroy also does some very nice work with the U.S. navy in this book and I thought his depictions of Kaiser Wilhelm II fit well with what I have read about the man, as did his characterization of Theodore Roosevelt.


On the other hand, there were two things about this novel that I didn’t like. The first was that President McKinley was very reluctant to declare war on Germany even after they invaded. This just isn’t plausible. Yes, McKinley was slow to declare war on Spain over actions in Cuba which he doubted justified going to war over, but that is highly different than a foreign power without provocation landing an army on Long Island. Even Woodrow Wilson would have rushed to declare war under those circumstances.


The second thing I disliked was how much time was devoted to the two romances in the novel. Nothing against romance, I read them occasionally, but this was a book about a war that might have happened and they were a huge distraction.


Overall, I was quite glad I read the book and I am adding Robert Conroy to the list of authors I’d like to read more of.