The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


March to Other Worlds 2022

March to Other Worlds Day 1 This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

Welcome to the March to Other Worlds 2022, my annual look at some of the great science fiction and fantasy series, plus a few gems that really bring their audience out of today and ground them firmly in a new reality. For Day 1, I’ve chosen one of the all-time great classics of science fiction to set the tone for the March, Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal.

This book won the Hugo and it’s easy to see why. Conrad (of the many names) is a fascinating man and the immortal of the title moving through a vividly and poetically depicted post-apocalyptic earth which is supported economically almost totally be alien tourists fascinated by earth’s history and the near destruction of the planet in the Three Day War. There is depth of thought regarding this future society evident in almost every page and yet never once did I have that experience of wondering, “Why is Zelazny telling me this now? Why can’t we get on with the story?”

The plot revolves around a rich Vegan who wants to write a travel guide to earth’s most important sightseeing spots starting with Egypt and the Great Pyramids. Conrad is an official in the government agency in charge of protecting the historical monuments. He doesn’t want to play tour guide especially after it becomes clear that some of the humans who attach themselves to the tour want to see the Vegan die before he leaves earth. They worry that the alien’s real purpose is to lay the groundwork for the Vegans to buy up the rest of the planet.

This is where Zelazny truly shows his depth because much of the plot revolves around a political terrorist group who have embraced the ideology of Returnism—wanting all humans to return to earth and make it an independent planet again. Conrad actually started this movement and led the terrorist cell in an earlier life, but came to a point where he believed that it was not capable of achieving the Returnist aim and set about instead exploring other paths. As with many diasporas, most humans don’t live on the planet anymore and the sad truth the Returnists don’t want to face is that second and third generation humans who have never seen earth don’t want to return there at all. Their lives are elsewhere now, but the fanatics can’t give up the dream and have become certain that killing this Vegan is the key to earth’s eventual independence.

To achieve their end, they have hired a fascinating assassin named Hasan who, thanks to a quirky response to a longevity procedure, is also effectively immortal (at least he’s lived for a very long time as a young man). Conrad and he know each other well but now they are reluctantly on opposite sides of the Vegan problem.

As if this tension wasn’t enough, the post-apocalyptic earth is a very dangerous place with mutations giving rise to legends out of myth and other monsters. Overall, it’s just a delightful tale filled with Zelazny’s brush-stroke characterizations that hang in the mind years after you read the piece.

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March to Other Worlds Day 2: The Andrea Vernon Series by Alexander C. Kane

On Day 1 of this year’s March to Other Worlds, we looked at one of the great science fiction classics of all time. For Day 2 we’re going to take a look at an author who doesn’t take himself quite so seriously.

The Andrea Vernon books are a lighthearted parody of the superhero genre. They follow Andrea Vernon who has just become the administrative assistant to the head of the largest contractor of superheroes in the United States. As such, a significant portion of the book is dedicated to what you might consider the bureaucratic side of the superhero story. How do superheroes get recruited? How do you get groups of rugged individualists to do the jobs you need them to? (The phrase, “herding cats” comes to mind?) And what is a day in the life like for the administrative assistant to one of the most influential supers on the planet—a woman who (as a condition of her employment) Andrea is not allowed to ask questions.

If you say you don’t care about any of the above, then you haven’t read an Andrea Vernon novel yet. If you don’t think mind-numbing paperwork is funny, then once again I remind you that you haven’t read any books in this series. But it’s not all fun and games. Despite a very light tone that manages to highlight the absurd in every situation, there is some serious superheroing in these novels, If you like superheroes but are tired of authors who take the genre too seriously, you should definitely give Alexander C. Kane a try.

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March to Other Worlds Day 3 Legionnaire by Gilbert M. Stack

For Day 3 of the March to Other Worlds we’re going to turn to the fantasy series that inspired the original March back in 2020, my very own, Legionnaire.

I’ve been reading fantasy novels since at least the sixth grade when my mother bought me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. That interest led me to pursue degrees in history where I was introduced to many wonderous periods in the human past. Eventually, I began to wonder why most fantasy literature was grounded in something akin to the European Middle Ages and one morning while listening to Mike Duncan’s podcast, The History of Rome, I found myself wondering what a fantasy series based loosely on the Roman Empire might be like.

And that’s the birth of my Legionnaire series. My Aquila is not Rome, but it shares a lot with that historical entity—especially its culture, its internal political problems, its border troubles, and of course, its amazing legions. Aquila and its world also differs mightily from Rome in a few regards—most particularly the existence and widespread practice of magic and an empire which includes and abuts places very different than those the Romans actually encountered.

My initial ideas for the story revolved around the second and third books in what would become the Legionnaire series. I wrote the first short novel to introduce the characters and the border provinces of Aquila before the story would take me elsewhere. In doing so, I got to play with something you don’t see so much in medieval-based fantasies—the critical importance of well-disciplined soldiers (legionnaires in my case) acting under competent officers and operating in a military tradition with centuries of success behind it. I also got to show what happens when that discipline breaks down due to poor leadership. And I get to do all of this while exploring the culture of my legionnaires and their subjects in The Fire Islands. Throw in some truly monumental magic and a threat worthy of an epic hero and his companions, and you get the kickoff novel of a series I’ve come to love as much as I do any of the great works of this genre.

I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.

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The Fire Islands is free on Kindle Unlimited.

March to Other Worlds Day 4 To the Center of the Earth by Greig Beck

For the fourth day of the March, I’d like to turn deep into our planet with Greig Beck’s fascinating To the Center of the Earth. Beck has a knack for reinterpreting classic tales and making them modern and fresh with twists in discovery that make them uniquely his own. In this volume, he gives the reader a second look at Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, where two teams of cavers separately seeking to win a prize by going lower than any cavers have gone before sneak into a closed off cave system in Russia. One of the teams, however, has a much more ambitious plan than the other. They have uncovered evidence—some of it going back 500 years—that this cave system is actually an entrance to a hollow earth and as a result, as they descend deeper and deeper, both teams get a heck of a lot more than they bargained for.

In classic Beck style, the author spices things up by thinking quite carefully about how the ecology of a hollow earth would diverge from that of the rest of the planet. So we do not encounter dinosaurs but something far more unexpected and frightening. Also, unlike Verne, Beck has never been afraid to kill off his cast so once again the novel quickly moves into territory in which the question is who, if anyone, will survive the horrors he has created for his readers.

Yet the novel is not completely about the danger. Some of the elements are simply fascinating—even delightful—to think about. For example, there are tubes shooting deep into the earth in which gravity fluctuates. This permits the cavers to actually descend meaningful distances into the planet—one of many surprises which makes this adventure a wonderfully unique experience.

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March to Other Worlds Day 5 Mirkwood by Steve Hillard narrated by William L. Hahn

Now that we have found our stride in the March to Other Worlds, I want to offer you an adventure that feels like it could have come from the pen of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s called, Mirkwood, written by Steve Hillard with a fantastic audio addition narrated by William L. Hahn. The novel is based upon the idea that Middle Earth exists and that Tolkien had access to several manuscripts which became his published works. In addition, he had several more manuscripts that he did not publish, and the dark lord wants one of them (maybe all) destroyed as part of his “come back” strategy. He is trying to wipe out a tale of resistance to him by destroying a young hobbit woman who has a peculiar opportunity to frustrate him.

Yet that is only a small part of this book, because most of the action doesn’t happen in Middle Earth, it happens here, in our world with flashbacks to J.R.R. Tolkien’s past and his decision to pass on these manuscripts. It’s a mystery story in which the young heiress to these manuscripts is trying to find out what they are and what happened to her grandfather who was their caretaker for so long. Oh, and she’s also trying to survive an assassin from Middle Earth who has come to kill her and destroy those precious manuscripts.

This is a tale of beauty and sophisticated layering of plot. Like the original Lord of the Rings which inspired it, I don’t think you can glean every depth of this novel in a single perusal so be prepared to enjoy it more than once.

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March to Other Worlds Day 6 Sphere by Michael Crichton

As we near the end of the sixth day of the March, let’s turn our attention to the ocean depths of our planet and Michael Chrichton’s fascinating novel, Sphere. Norman is a psychologist who thinks he’s being brought to a crash site by the FAA to help survivors only to learn that he is actually being involved in a possible first contact situation. Early in Norman’s career, he accepted a top-secret government grant to explore first contact scenarios. He hadn’t taken the idea seriously when he wrote the report, but now he is suddenly face-to-face with the probability that aliens exist and have come to earth.

To complicate things, the alien spacecraft they have discovered is 1000 feet under the surface of the Pacific Ocean in the middle of nowhere. As a result, the contact team—four civilians with military support—will be operating under even more tension than a first contact would normally impose. Crichton builds the tension excellently through each section of the novel until the team finally gets to the space craft they’ve come to explore. In addition to the external issues, there are growing personal conflicts within the team and trust issues with the military who are clearly not fully sharing their knowledge with the civilians. Finally, a storm moves in on the surface that forces the navy to retreat from the area totally isolating those beneath the surface.

Things really start jumping when the team discovers that the space craft appears to have been built in the future by the United States, but also contains an apparently alien artifact—the sphere of the title of the novel. One of the civilians, mathematician Harry, succeeds in entering the sphere, but can’t remember what he found there. Then strange things start happening. Sea life—at first benign—starts to appear outside the underwater habitat—squid, shrimp, jellyfish. And then the first of the crew dies horribly.

While everyone is reeling from this loss, the crew is contacted by video monitor with a code that appears to come from an alien intelligence. When they break the code, they find a childlike curious entity that gets angry when they want to stop talking to converse among themselves. Shortly thereafter, a giant squid attacks the habitat and more members of the crew die. Tension among the survivors keeps ramping higher. The habitat is fragile and is becoming unusable after multiple squid attacks.

When only three of the civilians remain alive, Norman figures out that all of the unusual events (alien contact, squids, etc.) occurred after Harry entered the sphere. He hypothesizes that the sphere gave Harry the ability to manifest material objects—basically anything he can think of. Norman further theorizes that Harry’s subconscious has caused the attacks by the squid and the contact with the alien. Harry is a danger to them. So he shares this theory with Beth (last remaining civilian scientist besides Norman and Harry) and they attack Harry, drug him and decide to keep him unconscious until they are rescued.

This appears to be the end of the book except that there is roughly 20% of the pages left. Manifestations continue to happen and Beth (who has been acting increasingly paranoid throughout the novel) tries to convince Norman that he also entered the sphere and that he needs to let her drug him so that he is not a danger to anyone. When he refuses, she grows enraged and tries to kill him, leading Norman to find evidence that Beth also entered the sphere. In self defense, Norman enters the sphere himself and now all three individuals have the power to manifest anything they can imagine.

This sets up a climatic ending in which Beth and Norman have to go toe to toe against each other with the superpowers they have gained. Unfortunately, Chrichton didn’t really think through the implications of their new powers and so the ending has some major flaws in it, but the journey to get here still makes this book an incredible read. And the last sentence, however, goes a long way to redeeming the entire storyline.

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March to Other Worlds Day 7: Wearing the Cape by Marion Harmon

For Day 7 of the March to Other Worlds, we are returning to the superhero genre, but where Alexander C. Kane was looking for laughs, Marion Harmon is much more serious in his approach. He thinks through the reaction of government, society, pop culture and so much more to the sudden existence of super powered beings and always gives us a remarkable tale.

I’m spotlighting book 3, Young Sentinels, today because it really showcases so much of what Harmon does well starting with the ultra-powerful super villain threat. The book opens with the Green Man—a super-powered eco-terrorist with the ability to make plant life grow and spread at remarkable speed. So new trees essentially “charge” across the parks, break up roads, grab and kill anyone in their paths, wreck property, overturn cars and basically try and turn Chicago into a forest. Stopping the growth across a front more than a mile wide and rescuing all the people involved would tax the abilities of the Justice League or the Avengers and it’s a great challenge for Harmon’s Sentinels. But it’s not the only difficulty they face in this story.

The Wreckers, a new group of super villains, has come to Chicago where they are targeting for execution known members of the Paladins—an anti-supers extremist group. The Wreckers powers are top-notch and dangerous and they’re not afraid of causing a lot of collateral damage in their attacks. To make matters worse, there appears to be a connection between the Wreckers and the mysterious mass murderer called the Ascendant, further complicating the Sentinels’ problems.

While all of this is happening, Blackstone decides to increase the fire power of the main team by recruiting a group of trainee heroes to be led by Astra. Technically, these new heroes-in-training will be blocked from most combat operations, but in the insanity that has become Chicago that is often impossible. With the city in constant danger the Sentinels are going to need all the help they can get to win this face off.

Enriching all the action is the growing cast of very strong characters and intriguing personal relationships that are Harmon’s bread and butter. One of the young Sentinels is a Merlin-type super who believes she is Ozma of Oz. Grendel is a shape changer who gained his powers the day he lost his family in the Ascendant’s first mass homicide. Megaton’s family has deserted him because they’re afraid of his new superpowers. These backdrops create intriguing problems for Astra to deal with that can’t be simply punched and kicked into submission. But that sort of depth is par for the course with Harmon. If you’re looking for some four color action in your reading, Wearing the Cape is the best superhero series on the market.

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March to Other Worlds Day 8 The Hunter and the Sorcerer by Chris L. Adams

As we enter the second week of the March, I’m excited to turn to the work of Chris L. Adams who takes his love of grand adventure stories and pours it into a short novel that plays homage to the old masters while producing a thoroughly modern tale.

Bru the Hunter’s whole life is falling apart. Gla, the worthless fire-feeder, has just tricked the tribe into thinking he killed Tysk, the mighty tiger, and now Bru’s love Oona is to be married to Gla. To make matters worse, when Bru objects, the tribe turns on him. Outcast, Bru doesn’t think things could possibly get worse, but he is about to discover just how wrong a hunter can be.

Kidnapped by an alien creature from an extraordinarily advanced society, Bru will be tortured into becoming something radically different than he began—an extraordinarily intelligent well-educated man. And that is where this story truly begins for to return to his people and the woman he loves, Bru is going to have to go head to head with the galaxy’s most advanced civilization. They haven’t got a chance!

I found a lot more in this novel than the simple adventure story I thought I was reading. So brace yourself! While there’s plenty of adventure, you’ll also find heaping helpings of culture clash, hypocrisy and prejudice, and ultimately you’ll be forced to think about what it means to be human.

I’d also like to point out that the multi-talented Adams painted the cover to this novel himself—but did the idea for the novel come first or the painting? With someone as creative as Adams, even he might not know the answer.

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March to Other Worlds Day 9 Critical Failures by Robert Bevan

For Day 9 of the March, I’d like to turn to the LitRPG subgenre. LitRPG stands for Literary Role Playing Game and it seems to have developed after gamers started writing a bit too exactly about their games. Now let’s face it, a lot of literature out there has been inspired by role playing games. My own short stories in the Miss Pandora Parson series and my fantasy series, Winterhaven, both had inspiration from role playing experiences. The big difference between LitRPGs and those sorts of books is that LitRPGs usually have either people actually playing the game or include the dice roles or computer RPG calculations as part of the narrative.

In Critical Failures, we start with a group of friends playing Creatures and Caverns with a guy they’ve just met—Mordred the Cavern Master. Mordred is a super geek who can’t deal with the constant joking and ribbing of this group of friends. (To be fair, they are totally irritating, but Mordred still seriously overreacts.) Unfortunately for the friends (actually, that may be unfair, I have played with people who would have loved for this to happen to them), Mordred has a set of magic dice which he uses to send the players into the gaming world for real. So on the most basic level, this story is typical of the genre—players become their characters. But there are some significant differences that made this one of the most enjoyable LitRPGs I’ve ever read.

First, the real-world bad guy continues to be a factor even after he dumps them into his world. He still has the powers of a Dungeon Master (well, technically a Cavern Master, but you know what I mean) and he’s set on making life miserable for those who annoyed him—but really only for those who annoyed him. There’s a first-time player who was civil and trying to keep the peace who he actually helps on occasion, which makes Mordred more complicated than a simple bad guy.

Second, even after getting transported into the game world, most of the players can’t stop fooling around and teasing each other. At times this seems crazy, but it really makes the whole book a lot of fun and strangely more realistic. On one level they just can’t take what’s happened to them seriously. Add in that two of the players have chosen races that normally hate each other which causes interesting problems with the NPCs and that Mordred has some problems to deal with in the real world when one of the player’s sister and her boyfriend show up looking for her brother and this just isn’t your typical LitRPG. Finally, the ending was a complete surprise to me. It’s just wonderfully done giving me a lot of hope for the next novel.

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March to Other Worlds Day 10 The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert

For Day 10 of the March I want to turn our attention to one of my favorite science fiction writers of all time—Frank Herbert. Among his many passions as an author, he’s long beenknown for his interest in expanded consciousness and collective or hive minds, themes that show up at least in part in many of his novels (Dune, Destination Void, The Dosadi Experiment, Helstrom’s Hive, The Green Brain, etc.) and is of central interest in The Santaroga Barrier.

The setup for the story is handled quite efficiently in the first pages. Major retail and marketing firms are frustrated by their inability to penetrate the Santaroga Valley for their consumer goods. Almost everything used in the valley is produced there (there are exceptions like gasoline, but there is only one gas station in town, and it is run by a Santarogan). The retailers want in to Santaroga and they’ve hired psychologist Gilbert Dasein to do a market study on the valley to help them solve their problem. There is only one major problem. The last two people they’ve sent to do the same project have died from what appear to be genuine accidents—and yet Dasein and the reader are immediately left to wonder if something more sinister might be involved. Dasein has one major advantage over his predecessors that is undoubtedly the reason he was chosen for this task. His college girlfriend, Jenny, whom he asked to marry him, left him at the end of her studies and returned to her home in Santaroga. Dasein has a potential “in” that the marketers and retailers want to take advantage of.

Things are weird from the moment Dasein arrives. Outsiders passing through the beautiful valley on the federal highway do not feel comfortable there when stopping at its restaurants or lone hotel. Dasein gets a different response. He is almost immediately recognized as Jenny’s young man from school (despite the fact that he’s never been there) and sort of half welcomed and half not. While Dasein struggles with himself to keep an objective view of his surroundings, it is instantly obvious to the reader that he can’t. This valley is the reason Jenny refused to marry him. She wanted them to return to her home (a place she left for without him every weekend of their schooling) and he was too proud to simply give in to her wishes without a “reasonable” explanation of why they couldn’t set up their practice somewhere else. Now he has a chance to understand the mysterious hold her home has on her.

Then the accidents begin to happen. Gas leaks into his bedroom and nearly kills him. A dangerous fall caused by tripping on a turned-up carpet almost causes him to plummet to his death. Accidents? As more and more such incidents pile up, it’s really hard to believe that they aren’t part of a conspiracy to do Dasein harm, and yet, they honestly appear to have been accidents and sometimes Santarogans save him from the peril.

Where many people would have simply given up the job and left, Dasein doesn’t for two reasons. First, he is incredibly proud and stubborn. Second, there’s Jenny, the woman he’s in love with and who honestly appears to be in love with him. Yet Jenny is part of the Santaroga mystery, working in the mysterious co-op which seems to be at the center of the valley’s difference. Yet it’s Jenny’s friend who rescues Dasein when he breaks into the co-op and gets over-exposed to the mysterious Jaspers.

Jaspers (and it’s never quite clear just what it is) is the true heart of the Santaroga mystery. It’s consumed like a spice and its addictive and mind expanding. But it also becomes increasingly clear that it is something much more. It links Santarogans together at least on a subconscious level and when Dasein discovers what’s happening with the Santarogan children (and that many become brain damaged by the Jaspers) the town turns on him in a truly frightening way.

Jenny understands on some level what is happening, but no one else in the valley seems to be able to consciously credit that they are creating accidents to kill Dasein. It’s the most exciting part of the novel. Jenny has begged Dasein to leave because she loves him, he refuses, and weird things start happening and people start dying in situations clearly directed at Dasein. The reader grows to understand that the valley—jaspers—is protecting itself. The question is, will Dasein be killed, escape, or ensnared into becoming one of the Santarogans? It’s important to keep in mind that in many of his books Herbert isn’t interested in a conventional victory. You simply can’t predict how this novel is going to end.

Frank Herbert once said that he wanted half the country to think that Santaroga sounded wonderful and half to find it highly disturbing. At times, as a reader, I felt both ways, so I’d say he succeeded.

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March to Other Worlds Day 11 Live Free or Die by John Ringo

For Day 11 of the March to Other Worlds, I turn to the work of one of my favorite sf authors, John Ringo. Live Free or Die is a first contact story which sets the stage for both an exciting sf military series, and also for one in which the clash of cultures—a science fiction theme I find absolutely fascinating—becomes increasingly important as the series progresses.

Live Free or Die begins with an explanation for how aliens encounter and take over earth really without any particular difficulty, leading into what becomes known as the Maple Syrup War. It’s this initial war—fought over the one unique substance on earth that aliens actually want—which sold me on the series. But as the book progresses, it quickly becomes much more than that.

The central figure of the first book is an overachiever named Tyler Vernon. Before the aliens, Tyler was a science fiction writer with a movie deal. After the aliens, he’s working 5 minimum wage jobs and is still not able to make his child support payments. Then through entrepreneurial genius he discovers that one of the races of aliens find maple syrup intoxicating and he uses his knowledge as a springboard for a daring plan which he hopes will lead to driving a hostile group of aliens (the Horvath) who currently claim to own the earth out of the solar system.

Much of the early maneuvering is between Vernon and the U.S. government which tries to seize the maple syrup to give it to the Horvath so they won’t bomb U.S. cities, but Vernon brilliantly outmaneuvers everyone, then goes on to use the maple syrup profits (he’s being paid in galactic currency) to begin creating a mining laser out of solar mirrors and figuring out how to get the Horvath out of our skies. He thinks big and watching him bring his ideas into fruition makes for riveting reading.

It's really an intensely creative novel that only gets better as the series progresses.

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March to Other Worlds Day 12 The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs

For the first time in the March to Other Worlds, I would like to introduce a guest reviewer. Chris L. Adams is a jack of all trades in the creative spheres (and probably in everything else). He writes fiction, serious research articles, and poetry. He paints phenomenally moving scenes (one of which he used as the cover of his book The Hunter and the Sorcerer which was spotlighted on Day 8 of the March) and extraordinary maps (see my Legionnaire and Winterhaven series). He plays the guitar (and I suspect writes songs although he hasn’t shared any with me yet). And, as you are about to discover if you read the next paragraphs, writes exceptional reviews of the books that move him. Here’s what he has to say about the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic, The Moon Maid.

This novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs is close to my heart, not only because it has long been a favorite, but because, as a young college student my home burned and, being a book collector, I lost a lifelong collection.  The next morning, I found a burned scrap of a book cover lying in the snow, a paperback with an incredible Frank Frazetta cover.  And I still have that scrap that I found back in 1990. Now, this story might not be “a tale as old as time” but this year it does turn one-hundred years old (the author began writing it in June 1922) so to post about it in Gilbert M. Stack's event this year is completely apropos. I’m talking about The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

So, how would you like to read a “timeless” story set in a world vastly different from the Earth (I’ll explain why I say “timeless” in just a sec)?  A classic which is the opening act to a three-part yarn (i.e., a trilogy) about a family line called Julian where the men can recall prior incarnations and—since time has no meaning and all time coexists—their future incarnations as well?  I’m talking about a story of a man’s love for an incredibly beautiful maiden who is captured by man-eating Vagas—the centaur-like creatures of the moon.  I'm talking about a world filled with races of men hounded nearly to extinction by another race whom Burroughs based on the Communists of Russia whose form of government, after the 1917 revolution, he didn't particularly care for.

The Moon Maid is the story of Julian 5th and is related to us by Julian 3rd as told to the personage of Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Ed enjoyed inserting himself into his own stories, acting as though his characters’ adventures occurred in real life with him becoming the purveyor of their chronicles).  But, we shall see that this novel is not only a wonderfully-creative, off-world romance (ERB loved romance and nearly all of his stories involve a love story, with his most famous couple undoubtedly being the time-incorruptible Tarzan of the Apes and Jane Porter) for this tale is very much the tale of the mutual hatred and dislike of Julian 5th and an unscrupulous, incalculably brilliant fellow officer whom fate repeatedly tosses in the path of Julian, with Julian constantly and effortlessly winning the laurels for which this man so greatly strives, whereat he is driven to a  more and more deeply seated hatred for the one he sees as his unfairly rewarded competitor—Julian 5th!

But . . . the moon?  Yes, by George.  ERB imagined in these tales that the moon was hollow, that the craters (which the inhabitants call hoos) are great holes, like the holes in Swiss cheese, that penetrate a crust several hundred miles thick, at which point we are in (not Pellucidar) but a hollow sphere—the moon’s interior!  Here the crew of our vessel encounters many strange adventures.  It is simply a fantastic story that I love, although I will admit that I have always liked The Moon Men, the tale of Julian 9th, is just a trifle better. 

My recommendation in reading The Moon Maid and its two sequels, The Moon Men and The Red Hawk, would be to find a copy of The Moon Maid: Complete and Restored (Bison Frontiers of Imagination, 2002) or The Expanded Moon Maid (Lulu Editions, 2014).  These editions restore some 18k words of text excised when these novels were initially published in hardback, missing text that was never restored until the Limited Edition of The Moon Maid (pictured) by B. H. Wood did so in 2000.

March to Other Worlds Day 13 Hot Money by Dick Francis

As we move toward the end of the second week of the March to Other Worlds, I’d like to do something that I’ve never done in this space before—spotlight a set of books placed firmly in the modern world, but inhabiting a space that many of us know very little about. The author of these books is Dick Francis a former champion jockey turned news reporter turned bestselling novelist. Francis sets all of his novels somewhere in the world of horse racing and it makes them utterly fascinating. Most of the books involve jockeys, but you also can get into horse transport, sales, banking, veterinarians, and more—just something attached to some aspect of the racing industry. Hot Money was the first Dick Francis novel I ever read and luckily for me it is one of his best. It's the sort of book you will come back to many times over the years and it inspired me to go out and read just about every other novel Francis wrote.

This novel is enjoyable on multiple levels. There is a great mystery here. Malcolm Pembroke is the mega wealthy patriarch of a dysfunctional family that includes the children from five marriages, three ex-wives and a bunch of grandchildren. Wife number five was murdered in the middle of divorce proceedings. The police suspect Malcolm, but now that someone is also trying to kill him, they will have to reconsider.

The hero of the story is Malcolm's son, Ian, an amateur jockey and the product of his second marriage. Ian is about the only family member who is not obsessed with getting his hands on his father's fortune. At the start of the story, he is estranged from his father because of his opposition to Malcolm's fifth marriage. Strangely enough, Ian's willingness to stay away and "risk" his inheritance makes him the only person Malcolm feels he can trust when it appears someone is trying to send him to an early grave.

This brings us to the second thoroughly enjoyable aspect of the story—Malcolm's children are all a bit crazy and it is tremendous fun, and ultimately quite heartwarming, to follow Ian as he attempts to get to know them well enough to figure out who is trying to murder Malcolm. He gets to know their troubles and their strengths and makes it possible for the reader to really value them.

Finally, it wouldn't be a Dick Francis novel if we didn't learn more about the world of racing. I find this utterly fascinating. If you stick with Francis through his other novels, you will find yourself with a fairly complete grasp of the English racing scene picked up painlessly by exploring his mysteries.

If you haven't tried Dick Francis before, Hot Money is the book to start with. If you've read the author and are wondering which book to read next, this one is it. And if you read it years ago, isn't it time you picked up and enjoyed it again?

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March to Other Worlds Day 14 The Best of Jerry Pournelle edited by John F. Carr

To close out the second week of the March to Other Worlds I’d like to turn our attention to one of Science Fiction’s greats—Jerry Pournelle who died back in 2017. I first encountered him way back in 1981 when I read a collection of stories called Black Holes which contained a novella by Pournelle titled “He Fell into a Dark Hole.” Something happened to my copy of the book over the years, but I never forgot that story. When e-books started to come out, I started looking for it again and finally came across this The Best of Jerry Pournelle audio book which features the story. It’s not the only good thing in this book, but I’m going to limit myself to talking about three of them today.

The Mercenary: Pournelle has a future history in which humanity’s star-spanning empires rise, fall, and rise again. This story takes place during one of the declines and involves a planet that has been given its “freedom” and is going through painful growing pains. The mercenary of the title has been hired to keep things from blowing up and then handicapped to make the job impossible. It’s a great story with a great ending.

The Secret of Black Ship Island: Set in Pournelle, Niven, and Barnes’, Legacy of Heriot universe, this novella focuses on the second generation of colonists while they are still kids finding out that the world is still very dangerous. I have some problems with this story. It starts with a death in which people who should know better refuse to admit that the death might be caused by a sea creature rather than a reef—even though there is a witness. This sets us up for more deaths the next year and it just rang a little hollow. Other than that, the action is good and there’s a lot of suspense.

And finally, He Fell into a Dark Hole really lived up to my recollections. Knowledge of black holes has been lost in this future as knowledge is suppressed on the excuse that it will keep national governments from creating new weapons of war. As a result, ships are occasionally lost as the gravity of the unknown black hole pulls them out of transit and holds them prisoner.

The protagonist of the story is a naval captain whose wife and son were lost on this transit line. When his father-in-law, an important senator, is lost on the same line, a theory is rediscovered that postulates the black hole and a rescue mission of sorts is put together. The mission is successful in reaching the black hole and the survivors have to figure out how to escape again. To complicate matters, the captain’s wife and son are still alive, but his wife has remarried thinking that she and her new husband would be trapped forever in the proximity of the black hole. It’s a great little story, but it would have been even better if Pournelle had slowed down once his hero reaches his family and developed that situation in more detail.

In addition to other stories and one of his science columns, there are truly wonderful passages in which authors who knew and worked with Pournelle talk about the man. If you’ve enjoyed any of his many novels, you will enjoy this collection.

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March to Other Worlds Day 15 Fugitive by Gilbert M. Stack

As we enter the third week of the March, I’d like to take a look at one of my own science fiction novels, Fugitive. For me, two of the themes I like best in science fiction literature are the exploration of the unknown and the clash of cultures. Like most authors, I usually have at least a half dozen story nuggets bouncing around in my head and eventually two or three of those nuggets will stick together to form an idea big enough to build a novel around and that’s what happened here. I took a young heroine, Jewel, from an extraordinarily wealthy and politically influential family who has successfully run away from home to avoid an arranged marriage, and put her in the middle of an extraordinary mystery in deep space—one that has the potential to shake the entire galaxy.

Now, before I go on about the mystery, I’d like to expand on the idea of the arranged marriage that is the impetus for everything that happens in this story. If you stop to think about it for a few moments, you will recognize that an arranged marriage is a fundamentally frightening concept especially when the intended bride and bridegroom have never even met. Man and woman are expected to bind themselves to each other for life in the most intimate of ways without having even the slightest clue if their personalities are compatible. Now add to the mix that my bride and bridegroom are from two completely opposite cultures—one hedonistic in the extreme and the other extraordinarily spartan—and you have an even more disturbing situation. Throw in horrendous consequences on a galactic scale if the marriage is not forged and you have psyche-breaking pressure being brought to bear on the young couple.

That is what Jewel is running from. Raised in an intensely capitalistic and libertine culture in which the elites think only of their own best interests, she is unable to come to grips with the sacrifice being asked of her and runs away—smack into a problem that threatens not only her continued freedom but ultimately peace in the galaxy. All of this might not matter if she were truly a daughter of her culture, but she was raised with this idea foreign to her peers that she has a duty to her family and cartel that requires her to worry about the wellbeing of others. And while the idea wasn’t strong enough to keep her from running away, it continues to influence her actions, a nagging conscience which keeps her from being the completely self-centered daughter of her self-interested parents.

The problem I had when I sat down to write Fugitive was that the opening mystery that was intended to set the stage and introduce Jewel kept growing in scope and importance until it became a novel all its own—changing the overarching story into a series in which I could take the time to fully explore the issues that inspired the first book.

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March to Other Worlds Day 16 Broken Time by Maggy Thomas

The best science fiction makes you think. It doesn't force you to do so, it tantalizes and teases your brain into working overtime, making connections within the plot of the book and thinking about the nature of things outside of it. I've read quite a lot of science fiction over the years but nothing quite like Broken Time by Maggy Thomas (pen name of Emily Davenport). On the surface it is the story of a bright young woman in the ultimate welfare state universe. There just aren't a lot of jobs out there except for the very best and brightest of people, and smart as Siggy is, she's just not quite in that category. So she takes a job on a planet far from home as a janitor in an asylum for the criminally insane. There she becomes the pawn of the asylum's director as he uses Siggy to try and draw out some of his notorious inmates, ultimately with disastrous results.

If that was all that Broken Time was about, it would have been a thoroughly enjoyable novel. But it's also about an alien race called the Speedies because they appear to experience time at a different rate than humans do. It's also about a bizarre cosmic anomaly in the area of Siggy's home world which has somehow taken a Speedy invasion fleet out of sync with the rest of the universe so that it is still traveling on the warpath more than a century after hostilities were terminated, still struggling to pop back into normal space and obliterate her planet. It's also about a brave young man who disappears in a "time pocket" when Siggy is a child and only she can remember him. And it's about the struggle to communicate with people and cultures that are vastly different from yours. And, well, I could go on for several more paragraphs trying to explain what this book is about. Suffice it to say, that I’ve read it several times and it still intrigues me. I have no doubt that someday soon I’ll reread it again.

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March to Other Worlds Day 17 Confessions of D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer

It’s quite popular these days to focus on the supervillain rather than the superhero, but that may be a little misleading in the case of my choice for Day 17 of the March to Other Worlds. Mechani-Cal is technically a villain, but he was driven to this position by the machinations of a so-called hero and the company that stole all of Cal’s inventions and got him blacklisted from working in his field. As a villain, Mechani-Cal is spectacularly bad, and yet, he just may be the world’s only hope to survive a dastardly plot by the Evil Overlord.

The novel starts with a bang and keeps exploding. In the opening pages we learn that Cal may be the last human being in the world still free of the mind control of the “bugs”—conquer the world scheme of the Evil Overlord that got out of control. The first part of the novel focuses on how Cal literally has to save the world—and then, once again, gets screwed by the supposed heroes who think it will not look good if a D-List Villain saves the planet instead of them. It’s exciting and intensely frustrating to watch Cal in action and then get driven back to villainhood by egotistical superheros who don’t actually appear to have any moral compass.

Yet Confessions is more than that. It’s also the story of Cal’s rivalry with Ultraweapon—a “hero” who clearly isn’t a good guy. Ultraweapon and his company are the reasons that Cal became a villain—they stole his armor ideas from him and blacklisted him so he couldn’t legitimately start over. And of course, Ultraweapon leads the effort to keep Cal from getting any credit for saving the world. Watching Cal try to rebuild himself and his life as a hero made for a great story—especially when it was the so-called heroes who were often his biggest problem.

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March to Other Worlds Day 18 Semper Fi by W.E.B. Griffin

The March to Other Worlds usually takes us to strange and exotic locations and cultures—today is no different, it’s just that the strange and exotic culture is the U.S. Marine Corps in the build up to Word War II.

Griffin writes a very strange kind of military fiction. For most authors, this genre is all about the battles, but for Griffin it is all about the behind the scenes work that leads to those battles. In Semper Fi we primarily follow Kenneth McCoy, an enlisted Marine stationed in China before the start of World War II. McCoy has the misfortune of being chosen by four Italian soldiers as their target for payback after several Italians got injured in a brawl with U.S. marines. In the purest form of self-defense, McCoy kills two of the Italians with a knife and the marine corps, wanting to appease the angry Italian authorities, plans to court martial him for surviving. It’s obviously not a good look for the marine corps but feels very plausible as events unfold.

After getting extricated from his court martial, McCoy falls into intelligence work, and Griffin does a fabulous job of taking this sort of activity out of James-Bond-land and making it highly plausible. At the same time, the reader’s respect for McCoy continues to grow in part because Griffin counterposes him with two inexperienced officers who have neither his brains nor his commonsense.

After “Killer McCoy” is forced to shoot a significant number of Chinese bandits to save two of his fellow marines, he gets recalled to the U.S. and put into an officer training program. World War II has begun in Europe but the U.S. is not yet involved. Again, we get to see how the Marine Corps functions as the cast of characters grows and young men try and figure out what it means to be an officer and a gentleman as the country inches towards war.

The first novel ends with Pearl Harbor and the initiation of hostilities against the U.S. It’s an exciting page turner even though very little of the book actually depicts scenes of combat. For anyone who would like a behind the scenes look at how the military functioned in World War II, Semper Fi is a great book and The Corps is a great series.

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March to Other Worlds Day 19 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

You don’t have to leave the planet to find a great new world to march into. Alexandre Dumas has long been my favorite classical author. He wrote gripping tales of honor, passion, ambition, and justice (often disguised as vengeance). His plots are deep and broad, filled with intrigue, adventure, and humor. And while many of his characters, such as the musketeers of this novel, have become stereotypes of the culture, in this book you will see that they have in reality fully developed personalities. In truth, even though he wrote in the mid-nineteenth century, Alexandre Dumas is very much a modern author and his books are among the greatest works of literature ever written.

The Three Musketeers is one of his two most famous tales. In it, young d’Artagnan leaves home to seek his fortune among the musketeers of Louis XIII where he meets the three fascinating men of the title. All are brilliant in their martial skills and each is a tower of gentlemanly virtues. D’Artagnan joins their company and the four men have several adventures while a tale of grave injustice and evil is slowly spun out around them.

Dumas gives us high politics, daring intrigue, love and ardor, and of course, dashing adventures. His dialogue is extraordinary, his action scenes tense and exciting, and the depths of his characterizations are amazing. As the plot builds toward its conclusion the threat of tragedy and the quest for ultimate justice combines in a wonderful climax that truly tests the mettle of his heroes.

As if all of this is not fantastic enough, The Three Musketeers is a brilliant piece of historical fiction in which real events are woven into the narrative and brilliantly explained by the occurrences of Dumas’ fictional plot.

In conclusion, let me point out that movies, plays, television series, cartoons, and comic books have all been developed out of this famous novel. Trust none of them as not a one comes close to rivaling this epic tale. Take the time to read the original.

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Day 20 Fierce Girls at War by Mike Adams

Marching to Other Worlds naturally brings military-themed fiction to mind and Mike Adams’ Fierce Girls at War is one of the best military SF series I’ve ever read. It holds its own with top series like David Weber’s Honor Harrington and John Ringo’s Troy Rising. Stylistically, it’s a mix of serious infantry action and behind the behind the scenes know how of a W.E.B. Griffin novel. The result is an often gritty, always fascinating, exploration of earth’s first colony and its run in with a peculiar alien species called the Rift.

In addition to the tight military action, politics plays a very important role in this series, but not the traditional high level presidential-style politics. In the Earth of the future, terrorism continues to be a significant problem and much of the anger of the terrorists is focused on the growing interstellar economy. Adams deftly uses this movement not only to establish the foundation of his series, but to add plausible tension at every level of the interstellar enterprise.

Another of the strengths of the series is the multiple points of views from which the reader gets to explore Earth’s first interstellar colony. Not only are their multiple POVs in the colony of New Hope, but Adams gets the reader into the nitty-gritty of life on a starship as the great ships transit the vastness of space. There is also usually a couple of chapters in each book grounded in the cast members still located on earth.

The cast is the greatest strength of the novel. Adams opens the series by introducing three generations of the O’Brien family. The matriarch, Kelly O’Brien, is in charge of firearms training for the NYC Police Department. Her children are almost preternaturally gifted marksmen, the beneficiaries of a training technique invented by their deceased father. Rick O’Brien and Sergeant Molly Bennett quickly run afoul of the Hassan Gul terrorist organization by killing several of the chief terrorist’s sons and are eventually forced to leave the planet to keep from being assassinated. From this very exciting beginning the whole series unfolds.

At New Hope Colony, Rick and Molly carve out a place of influence for themselves in the colonial logistics office while the alien Rift begin taking covert steps to reclaim the planet they feel the humans have stolen from them. The Rift are an advanced, economically focused, alien species with very little experience of war. They do their fighting with primitive mercenaries who are physically durable and are indiscriminate carnivores. Over the early books of the series, the reader watches the colony and an approaching starship begin to pick up hints that something is wrong, but not quite putting the facts together before the invasion begins in earnest.

From this moment forward, the series moves into overdrive, as the invasion advances, the colony struggles to respond, and Rick and Molly, together with a group of some fifty high school girls, find themselves marooned in the dangerous back country of New Hope Colony, hundreds of miles from civilization and unable to contact the colonial authorities for help. With their communications satellites rendered inoperative, the colony can’t even communicate with the starships slowly making their way into system. The already high tension continues to ratchet up as the war continues.

If you’re looking for a well-thought-out military sf series with plenty of action, you should take a look at Fierce Girls at War.

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March to Other Worlds Day 21 The Garret Files by Glen Cook

As we close out the third week of this year’s March, I’d like to introduce readers to one of the most influential fantasy series of modern times—Glen Cook’s The Garret Files.

It seems unfair that Glen Cook should be the master of both the fantasy warfare genre (The Black Company) and the fantasy detective novel (The Garrett Files) but he undeniably is. Of the two genres, I suspect that the fantasy detective series is the most difficult. Not only does he have to have memorable characters whom the readers can love to cheer for (and against), exciting action scenes, magic that enhances the story without overwhelming it, and a believable fantasy back drop, he has to come up with a credible, multi-layered mystery. Cook does this in The Garrett Files by adopting the Nero Wolfe template with his character the Dead Man (four centuries in the grave but not ready to move on yet) playing Wolfe and his hero, Garrett, filling the shoes of Archie Goodwin (drinking beer instead of milk, but otherwise pretty much the same). Add in a growing cast of memorable friends and you have the recipe for outstanding mysteries in a remarkably fresh setting.

The first book in the series, Sweet Silver Blues, is one of my favorite Glen Cook books of all times. I’ve read it five or six times in the last three decades. It inspired my best friend to run an awesome D&D game that lasted eight years, and it leads to 13 mostly good sequels and countless copycats. The series is about Garrett, an ex-Marine turned private investigator in the fantasy city of TunFaire. There’s a lot of action, but there’s also a very good mystery and a surprisingly strong chord played on the heartstrings by the end of the book. The characters are memorable and the world is ever more fascinating.

This first novel revolves around Garrett being hired to find the woman his old army buddy has left a fortune too. She’s in a realm called the Cantard which has been the focus of generational warfare between the wizards of his kingdom and their enemies. From the very beginning multiple groups of mysterious bad guys are showing too much (often violent) interest in Garrett’s mission and Cook plays these competing plotlines brilliantly to keep the adventure both fast-paced and always interesting. But the reason I keep coming back to this novel is the last five sentences of the second to last chapter—the true end of a brilliant novel. With five short sentences Cook transforms a triumphant ending into one which makes you want to weep.

In doing so he gives Garrett a depth worthy of a hundred sequels.

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March to Other Worlds Day 22 Pandora’s Luck by Gilbert M. Stack

Pandora’s Luck is the first story I sold professionally, bought by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and published in the July/August 2006 issue. As you can imagine, the sale made me deliriously happy and strongly encouraged me to keep writing. Truth to tell, I hadn’t been thinking of AHMM when I wrote the story—I hadn’t been thinking of any publisher. Instead, I had this pleasant image in my mind that I laid out in the first scene—a well-dressed, proper young woman in the old west, walking into a tavern where no proper young woman had any business being, and a keg of beer simultaneously springing a leak and spurting foamy liquid all over the floor.

Miss Parson was the idea of a friend of mine, an enigmatic young woman slightly out of place in the old west because she makes her living playing cards. It’s a very difficult life for a woman on her own and she has a serious problem that has thrown her world out of whack and ultimately endangers her independence.

To tell the story, I invented bare knuckle boxer Corey “Rock Quarry” Callaghan—a young man travelling from town-to-town prize fighting for small purses, with his best friend and trainer, Patrick Sullivan. The three characters are brought together by William Steed a professional gambler and fight fixer who believes the only fair game is one he’s rigged so that only he can win. I’m sure you can imagine how that might be a problem for those who play against him.

What results is a fun story in which my three heroes attempt to extricate themselves from a very bad situation. But will Pandora’s Luck be enough to save the day?

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March to Other Worlds Day 23 Harbingers of Hope by William L. Hahn

I am a big fan of William L. Hahn’s writing. His Shards of Light books are one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. But if you’re looking for depth of world building, character development, and exciting fantasy action, it’s find a better example than Hahn’s Harbingers of Hope. 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!

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March to Other Worlds Day 24 Frontlines by Marko Koos

For the 24th day of the March, I offer the gritty sf military series, Frontlines, by Marko Koos. Koos’ has a very pessimistic view of the future of our planet. Most of the population survives on government subsidies with no hope for a decent future. One of the few paths to a better life is the military which can get a person off planet and eventually settle them on a distant colony. In the opening book, Terms of Enlistment, we follow Andrew through this hyper competitive military bootcamp and watch his hopes of escape get smashed as he’s put in the terrestrial army and used for crowd control. It’s all rather bleak with self-serving politicians both in and out of the military.

Things are finally starting to look up for Andrew when earth is suddenly confronted with a very hostile alien race that begins smashing earth’s colonies wherever they can be found. Earth is outmatched and we spend several books trying to slow the alien advance and save the planet. The action is always well thought out and highly exciting. While the overall picture is very bleak, there are moments of triumph to celebrate. And Koos never forgets that he’s writing about human beings who suffer from all the trauma they’ve endured to try to save their planet. It’s a very well written series, but not the happiest one.

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March to Other Worlds Day 25 Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein is one of the absolute greatest figures in the field of science fiction and Double Star is my favorite of all of his works. It’s the story of Lorenzo the Great, a down on his luck actor who gets roped into impersonating John Joseph Bonforte, the best-known politician in the solar system. Bonforte has been kidnapped and as a result is about to miss his adoption into a Martian nest (the first human to be so honored). This would be considered a great impropriety by the Martians and at the very least would drastically set back human-Martian relations.

The problem? Lorenzo hates Martians and just about everything that Bonforte and his Expansionist Party stands for. But he sticks to the job because he’s a professional with an exceedingly high opinion of himself, and because as the story continues, he grows to despise the dirty tactics of the men working to destroy Bonforte.

Heinlein builds tension not only through the impersonations, but through the behind-the-scenes personality clashes among Bonforte’s staff. What makes this novel amazing is how Heinlein uses Lorenzo’s basic ignorance in regard to politics and his instinctive prejudice against the non-human races to let him gradually impart his own feelings on the importance of universal civil rights. As Lorenzo learns more and more about Bonforte in order to perform what is always supposed to be just one more impersonation, he grows, becoming far less self-centered and truly respectful of the man he’s had to become.

The ending scenes of this novel are extraordinary as Heinlein brings our hero to the most important decision of his life—one we can sympathize with and pray we’d have the strength to do as Lorenzo did. It’s no wonder that this book won the Hugo.

To a modern audience, this book feels somewhat dated—not just in Heinlein’s imagining of the technology of the future, but in his understanding of the role women could play in his future world. I’m sure that when Heinlein made Bonforte’s female secretary a member of the Grand Assembly he thought that he was demonstrating the capabilities of women, but by modern standards his effort falls flat. Judged by his time, however, it is another example of his remarkable vision. In the end this book stands or falls on his development of the character of Lorenzo, and in my opinion, it not only stands, it jumps towards the heavens.

For those who are interested, Double Star was the focus of the Written Gems book group on Goodreads. You can read and join in the conversation here:

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March to Other Worlds Day 26 Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson

As we approach the end of the third March to Other Worlds, I like to introduce my second guest reviewer of the event, author and narrator, William L. Hahn. I’ve known Will and enjoyed his work for more than thirty years. He has an immensely creative mind which produced the Harbingers of Hope series (among many others) which I spotlighted on Day 23. Will insists that he doesn’t write books, he merely chronicles them, making me think of the experience in Mirkwood which we discussed on Day 5. Do these fantasy worlds really exist somewhere out in the multiverse? Will will have you believing they do. Here’s his review of one of the great books of fantasy literature, Lord Foul’s Bane, First Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson:

It’s hard to overestimate the impact this series had on me as a reader, and I know in my soul it set me up to write, almost thirty years after I first read it. In the late 70s and through the 80s, every fantasy title had a big banner headline on the back in italics that said, verbatim, “Best Since Tolkien”. Then in tiny print they added basically “The author’s Uncle Morty”.

But this is the one book that wasn’t lying.

Like LoTR it’s epic in scope, with an entire fantasy world threatened by an equally-evil but somehow more present, nearly human antagonist named in the title. Yet what Donaldson created went beyond the originality of new races, marvelous ideas about how magic works, and more. He brought us a human hero like I have never seen.

Thomas Covenant is a spectacularly untrustworthy narrator. Starting in our world, he’s been dealt a bad hand (half a hand actually) but he erases any chance that we’ll like him with his uber-cranky behavior. The man is furious, isolated with good reason, afflicted, and maybe worst of all, set in his ways. Drawn into a fantasy world and informed he’s the chosen one, Covenant simply refuses. Focusing only on his own survival, he resists every blandishment, rejects all coincidences between himself and the prophecy… and when he’s cured of his illness, he responds to the miracle by committing a horrible crime.

He's a total jerk. The Unbeliever.

And STILL you start to root for him. I cannot begin to explain why but it happens, maybe a literary version of Stockholm Syndrome but it’s true magic to read this book.

It’s an entire series. It has the long arc that epic fantasy fans crave, it never fails to move and satisfy. I saw elements familiar (city under siege) and new (Giants who sing to make magic). And I needed a dictionary next to me as I read because the man’s vocabulary is fearsome.

I could go on, but don’t need to. It’s been closer to forty years now, and still, it’s the Best Since Tolkien. Just read it.

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March to Other Worlds Day 27 Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

For Day 27 we turn to the darkest world of this year’s march. In comic books, it’s common for heroes to have an alternate earth adventure in which the bad guy has won, or the apocalypse has happened, or zombies have overrun the planet. That’s what we have here in Ex-Heroes, except that this is Clines “real” world. The zombies have come, basically won, and now the few remaining heroes are just trying to help everyone else survive. However, their problems are greatly magnified over the challenges of survivors in shows like The Walking Dead because there are still super villains out there and the zombies haven’t altered their plans to take over the world—they’ve just given them new tools to use to further their dreams of conquest.

The story advances both in the “present day” and in occasional chapters that detail how the zombies rose and destroyed civilization. Lots of people die, including my favorite hero. Because it’s a zombie story, it should not be a surprise that many of them return fighting for the other team, so to speak. Overall, I did not find any surprises in this tale be it the origins or the super villain plans and powers, but it is still a very good story. After all, everyone knows what Galactus is going to do and yet there are still many good adventures featuring him.

If you want a new twist on the superhero tale, Ex-Heroes offers an interesting mix of genres that provides a fresh setting.

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March to Other Worlds Day 28 War Eagles by Debbie Bishop and Carl Macek

As we approach the end of this year’s March, I want to spotlight a truly blockbuster adventure. Back in the late 1930s, the director of King Kong started planning War Eagles as his next block buster film. Then World War II intervened and the project languished for decades. It helps to know this background to fully appreciate this novel. It’s a big cinematic adventure waiting to find the screen. The heroes are larger than life, but more importantly, the images are bigger and more vivid than the mighty King Kong who reinvented the silver screen. And what are those images you may ask? Nazis developing super-science weapons for a sneak attack on America, Viking warriors riding gargantuan eagles in a time-forgotten land of dinosaurs, and of course, those same Vikings fighting Nazis over the skyline of New York City.

This book is a heck of a lot of fun. It starts a little bit slow but once the Vikings enter the story it chugs along at a heroic pace. There is a ton of action and colorful confrontations. Narrator William L. Hahn pulls out all the stops adding theatrical sound effects to his wide repertoire of voices which adds a completely appropriate cinematic feel to the entire story. If you’re looking for some genuinely heroic fantasy, you should try War Eagles.

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March to Other Worlds Day 29 The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

When I was in high school, my best friend used to mention what a wonderful book this was, but for some reason I never borrowed it from him to read. I had thoroughly enjoyed The Riddle Master of Hed and its sequels, but inexplicably that didn’t prompt me to read this one. What a mistake that was. I finally rectified the error some 35 years later and it is a masterpiece—a totally beautiful, lusciously written story completely worthy of a spot in the March to Other Worlds.

Sybel is the very young master of fantasy beasts—a powerful sorceress who has long been disinterested in the world. That disinterest partially ends when she is asked to raise a child who is a pawn between warring factions in the surrounding kingdom. Her possession of the child drags her into some very nasty affairs which threaten her existence and her beasts.

McKillip is one of the few fantasy writers I have ever read that manages to create strong pacifist-leaning characters who deal realistically with the heart-wrenching turmoil of their days. This is a book with unexpected twists and turns, intense love and hatred that lead to heart-wrenching character growth. It was so obviously a labor of love to write and will be a treasure to reread again and again. Take the time to experience this one. You won’t regret it.

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March to Other Worlds Day 30 We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

For the second to last day of the March, I’d like to introduce a book that is based on a unique (at least to my experience) idea, which is a wonderful thing to discover in SF or any genre. Bob dies in the twenty-first century just after having arranged to have his body frozen, gambling that medical science in the future will be able to fix whatever killed him. Unfortunately for Bob, the government of the future declares that corpsickles are property with no rights. Bob’s brain has been scanned and transformed into a form of AI that is in competition with other AIs to be in charge of an interstellar space probe. If he loses the competition he will be shut down and his “life”, such as it is, will be over. This was by far the most interesting part of the novel. I loved every page and couldn’t wait to read the next one.

After Bob wins the competition and escapes the solar system, the book slowed down a little. It stayed interesting, but not at the breakneck pace of the first portion. Bob clones himself, using 3D printers to make new probes and lots of other equipment. He also has to deal with the problem of competing probes from other nations on earth. And ultimately, he has to deal with the survivors on our home planet after it destroys itself in a nuclear war.

This is a great book. No two Bobs share precisely the same personality and it’s fun to watch how each quirky new AI both is and isn’t the Bob we met in chapter one. They have a lot of interesting problems to deal with as well. Overall, the tone of the book is light and sarcastic and it is loads of fun.

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March to Other Worlds Day 31 Winterhaven by Gilbert M. Stack

Wow! March has come and gone again with tremendous speed. To close out the month, I’d like to take a look at a fantasy series that has been with me for roughly 35 years, my Winterhaven series.

Fantasy novels tend to revolve around a very small cast of characters whose actions move mountains and determine the fate of worlds. The scale tends to be grandiose right from the beginning—destroy the one ring or find the Sword of Shannara. Even if the heroes are men or women of modest birth, the action often depends on the decisions of a few great individuals. I had been wondering for years if there wasn’t a different formula on which to build a fantasy epic. I wanted the grandiose scale, but I wanted to take my time to build up to the world shattering challenges. Phrased a little differently, I always wondered why the entire universe had to be at stake in every Doctor Who episode. So I invented my duchy of Winterhaven with two main goals in mind—craft a tremendously exciting story on a less than global scale and add a touch of realism by showing how great deeds depended on a large cast of people doing their small but pivotal part. In doing so, I hoped to bring to life not a trio of intrepid adventurers but a duchy’s worth of players.

So Winterhaven became the tale of a massive political struggle to pull the reins of power away from the lord-constable who rules the city and into the hands of the conniving Lord Maldon. Both men depend upon a host of great and minor lords to maintain themselves, and Maldon appears to have subverted a great many of them to his cause Yet, each man and woman acts in his own perceived interests, and many are just as cunning as Maldon as he leads the duchy into its first major war in a generation.

At the same time, and equally important, is the story of a young knight and his brothers and sister trying to make their way in a world that doesn’t quite fit them. The knight is investigating a horrific crime that has the potential to shake the city to its core. The siblings are caught in the center of the political struggle, trying to support their uncle, the lord-constable, while slowly uncovering evidence that the threat facing them is far graver than the political struggle everyone else thinks they’re fighting.

What results from these two major plot threads is a standalone novel that launches my Winterhaven series. It’s packed with intrigue, military clashes, betrayals, fell magics, and a few men and women who find themselves on the sharp end making choices that will determine the fate of the entire duchy.

I hope you’ll take a look at the book.

I’m sure you will enjoy it.

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