The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


March to Other Worlds 2023

March to Other Worlds Day 1 Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Welcome to the March to Other Worlds 2023, 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 adventure stories to set the tone for the March, Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes.

My earliest memories of Tarzan are black and white movies starring Johnny Weissmuller that were rerun every Sunday morning. Weismuller was great in these movies, but if you read this book, you’ll have serious doubts as to whether he was really playing Tarzan. He had the physique right, and he was convincing in the water and mostly believable in the jungle. The problem is that he couldn’t speak English and Tarzan has a tremendous fluency with languages. You see, aside from being the perfect physical specimen of humanity, Tarzan is a super genius. He learned the primal language of the apes as a toddler, and as a child taught himself to read English by looking at picture books he found in his parents’ treehouse. Think about that for a moment. He was so intelligent that he taught himself to read a language he didn’t know by looking at a schoolbook designed for first graders. Later, he will learn to speak French, still before learning to physically speak English. And by the end of the book, he is fluent in three languages. He is by any standard amazing.

What’s also amazing is how good this novel is. It was originally published in 1912 but today still reads like a consummate adventure story. It’s engaging, there’s genuine tension, and the characters are all three dimensional even if some don’t initially appear to be. There are even some genuinely humorous scenes. And Jane Porter, one of the most famous love interests in the history of literature, comes off as a credible young woman in this first novel—with evidence of the spirit that will turn her into a heroine in later books.

I tend to think of this series as in the fantasy genre. Burroughs’ Africa is a world of the imagination, rather than an historically accurate place. Setting it in the realm of fantasy prevents any of those weaknesses from interfering with the story.

I can’t end the review without mentioning the brilliant (if controversial) conclusion to this book. Jane makes one of the stupidest mistakes in all of literature, getting herself freed from one loveless marriage engagement and immediately agreeing to another one even though she is actually in love in with Tarzan. Fans were understandably horrified by the unhappy ending, but Burroughs understood two important things that fans weren’t considering. This was a chance to demonstrate both the strength of Tarzan’s love for Jane and his extraordinary character. It also set the stage for an excellent sequel.

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March to Other Worlds Day 2 Godzilla vs. Kong by Greg Keyes

For the second day of the March to Other Worlds I’d like to venture into the territory of the kaiju—gigantic monsters whose very size makes them uncontrollable forces of nature. I read today’s book on a whim. I have not seen the movie, or any of the recent Godzilla and Kong movies except for Skull Island which I enjoyed very much. Frankly, I was not expecting very much from this novelization, but I am happy to say, that there is an awful lot here. This is a very well thought out book with a great premise and incredible fight scenes. It also offers the nostalgic joy of showing off not only Godzilla and King Kong but also Mechagodzilla. As if that isn’t awesome enough, the Hollow Earth theory is introduced and actualized. If you love monster movies or the old adventure classics, this book is just packed with material you will enjoy.

The basic plot is that Godzilla has successfully trounced the three headed Ghidorah and exerted his supremacy over the other titans and then disappeared for several years. He has become popularly viewed as a defender of humanity and scientists have noticed that since the titans arose ecological disasters like global warming and climate change have begun to reverse. But while most of the planet is sighing with relief, certain mega corporations continue to secretly (and some not so secretly) study the titans in an effort to make profitable scientific advancements. When Godzilla suddenly reappears and attacks a Florida city for no discernable reason, public opinion turns on him and supports a corporate madman who has publicly sworn he will destroy Godzilla. (That this madman also happens to own the corporate buildings Godzilla smashed doesn’t seem to raise the skepticism of almost anyone.)

The rest of the novel is an attempt by governments and corporations to figure out how to destroy Godzilla while three people try and figure out why Godzilla attacked Florida in the first place. The “destroy Godzilla” plan involves King Kong whose island’s ecology has been destroyed by humans. It also involves the Hollow Earth theory and a search for the origins of the titans and possibly all life on earth. The “find out why Godzilla attacked” group involves a lot of unrealistic cloak and dagger spying by two kids and a crazed podcaster—but this is a monster movie. It seems like fifteen-year-olds running around to save the day requires a much smaller suspension of disbelief than the monsters themselves do.

And what amazing monsters they are. King Kong and Godzilla are awesome. And they get two very big battles against each other, the best of which involves Kong leaping from battleship to aircraft carrier trying to get at Godzilla without drowning in the ocean. And the final battle—totally predictable by anyone who gives the matter five seconds of thought, was also outstanding.

This book was so much fun that I had to immediately go read the first novel in the series (which was also wonderful) and I hope that the producers will be making others.

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March to Other Worlds Day 3 Steel Gray Eyes by Gilbert M. Stack

For the third day of the March to Other Worlds, I would like to introduce one of my own stories, Steel Gray Eyes. The book focuses on one of the main characters of my Winterhaven series, Willem Lord Tavistock, the most respected knight in the land and a master of sword and lance without true peers. Yet, men do not start out universally respected and we know from conversations in Winterhaven that Willem almost didn’t become Lord Tavistock at all. I had long wanted to tell that story and in doing so give the reader a glimpse into the duchy a generation before all hell hits the fan and an epic fantasy adventure begins.

And so, I give you Steel Gray Eyes, the story of Willem of Tavistock, a young man with great technical skills but little experience to guide him in the use of his talents. While far from his home, he learns that his father has died in an accident and that his uncle has claimed the lordship of Tavistock. Old enemies and new sense weakness and are raiding his territory. Everything his ancestors have spent centuries putting together is about to be torn apart. To save the honor of generations of Tavistocks, Willem must claim his family patrimony. Standing against him are every greedy and faithless man in the honor. The only support he can find are his two teachers, his naked sword, and a pair of Steel Gray Eyes.

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March to Other Worlds Day 4 Novel Problems by George Morrison

Aliens always make up an important part of the March to Other Worlds. Sometimes they are invading, sometimes they are infiltrating, and sometimes, as in the humorous Novel Problems by George Morrison, they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The trouble has its roots in a man’s desire to publish a novel…

Jake writes really bad science fiction in which he includes some non-classified information about a missile defense system his company builds. His friends convince him to rewrite and get rid of the company info, but through a complicated series of events his original manuscript ends up in an agent’s hands who sends it to a contact in the military to vet. That contact, who is also working on the actual missile defense system, gets in a car accident and the sf manuscript and the real documents concerning the defense system get mixed together convincing the most inept group of military intelligence operatives in existence (think Monty Python doing a skit about inept government investigators) that there is a spy ring trying to steal their system. To make matters even worse, the sf manuscript has aliens in it and the investigators think that the aliens are also involved in the espionage plot.

What follows is a convoluted series of mistakes and other bungles that would make the aforementioned Monty Python actors proud. The investigators convince themselves that a serious plot is afoot that actually involves outer space aliens and they are determined to uncover it no matter how many idiots get in their way. The most competent people in the whole story are the dog and the third grader—oh, and the actual aliens who are trying very hard not to get caught up in this investigation.

It certainly is a crazy storyline and that’s what makes it fun.

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March to Other Worlds Day 5: Shards of Light by William L. Hahn

Fantasy literature is the heart of the March to Other Worlds and one of my favorite fantasy series of all time is William L. Hahn’s phenomenal Shards of Light. These four-books are set in and around the city of Cryssigens as it confronts a crisis of leadership. The emperor, whom the city reluctantly serves, has just been overthrown and replaced by a dwarven adventurer whom no elf wants to follow. To make matters worse, the new emperor had the utter gall to conclusively demonstrate that the former Overlord of the city was secretly leading a cult of demon worshippers. Now it’s time to pick a new Overlord who will determine whether or not the city will rediscover its peace and stability or erupt into chaos in a futile effort to gain its independence.

These four books are simply wonderfully constructed. Each of the first three books focuses upon a different main character and each is told in a unique and distinctive voice. Captain Justin, a military commander opens the series in The Ring and the Flag on a mission to represent the new emperor for the election in Cryssigens. In the second book, Fencing Reputation, Feldspar, the adrenalin-crazed stealthic (and one of my favorite characters in all of fantasy literature) is hired to locate and steal a powerful magical item which could sway the election. The third book, Perilous Embraces, chronicles the efforts of the mysterious priestess, Altieri’s, efforts to keep her city from breaking into civil unrest. And finally, in the powerful conclusion, Shards of Light, the actions of all three characters will determine the fate of this important sector of the empire.

It’s a truly wonderful adventure.

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March to Other Worlds Day 6: Spiderman: The Darkest Hours by Jim Butcher

Superheroes form an important part of the March to Other Worlds and one of the most recognizable superhero universes is that of Marvel Comics and Spiderman is probably their premier character. I have to admit that I love Spiderman. I’ve read his comics off and on since the summer between third and fourth grade. Even before that, I watched the original cartoon series and have seen a great many of the ones that have come after that. I’ve seen many of the movies and read at least two dozen novels (probably many more) focused on the character. So, it’s with some authority that I say Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours is one of the best Spiderman books out there.

First off, Butcher gets the key Spiderman elements right—action, banter, and sense of responsibility. His Spiderman feels like Spiderman from moment one. He’s selfless, he’s heroic, and he’s smart.

Second, Butcher utilizes Peter Parker very well by giving him a problem that Spiderman can’t solve for him. Then he gives Mary Jane a similar problem—something Peter wants to assist with, but can’t solve by spinning webs or climbing walls. These problems distract Spiderman at critical times to the good of the story.

Butcher also does more with the Rhino than any author I’ve yet encountered. I’ve always like the villain, but Butcher made me like the man behind the villain even more. Add to that, he doesn’t ignore the fact that NYC is full of superheroes who might be expected to help Spiderman with his problems.

Finally, and I think most importantly in a superhero novel, Butcher presents a trio of supervillains who are truly fearsome—an excellent threat for Spiderman from start to finish.

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March to Other Worlds Day 7 Killer Chromosomes by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In 1971, Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir created The Destroyer, one of the most interesting adventure universes in literature today. On the surface, it is our planet, but secretly it is also the world of the Glorious House of Sinanju, a five thousand year old Korean House of Assassins who have mastered the Sun Source from which all martial arts are derived (they are pale copies of Sinanju). The books (and there are 150 of them now plus a spinoff series) focus on the current reigning master, Chiun, and his pupil, the embarrassingly (at least to Chiun) white orphan, Remo. Together, they save America (and sometimes the world) just about every novel while working for the ultra-secret U.S. spy organization called, CURE, run by the dour ex-OSS agent, Harold Smith.

After the first few books, the series took a turn away from strait Executioner style action and began to place science fiction elements into the series. One of the most successful of these insertions comes in book 32, Killer Chromosomes, in which scientist Sheila Feinberg recklessly combines several experimental DNA solutions in an attempt to prove how safe they are and turns herself into a sort of weretiger driven with a need to hunt and kill humans. Remo is sent out to find the beast and makes a critical mistake which leads to Feinberg almost killing him. He’s still good enough that he drives Feinberg off, but the shock to his system knocks him out of his Sinanju training (something Chiun describes as an amnesia of the body rather than the mind) and he begins sinking back into his ordinary human state—smoking cigarettes, eating meat, and plunging into a terrible depression.

Feinberg, meanwhile, is so impressed by Remo’s physical skills that she becomes obsessed with capturing him as a stud for a future race of tiger creatures. It’s not completely clear why she feels the need to do this, because she also begins forcing regular humans to imbibe her tiger formula turning them into werebeasts like her—creatures that begin hunting Remo.

While all of this is happening, Harold Smith makes several mistakes which cause President Jimmy Carter to lose faith in him—so much so that he tries to shut CURE down because Remo isn’t reporting in anymore. It’s tense and exciting from the first page to the last.

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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 took his love of grand adventure stories and poured 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 World Day 9 The Black Company by Glen Cook

Glen Cook’s The Black Company is one of the classic fantasy warfare series of all time. I started reading the novels when it became a Science Fiction Book Club pick when I was an undergraduate. I read it and so did all of my friends and I continued reading the whole series as they were published.

So, it’s with some surprise that I only noticed in a recent reading that Cook carefully makes most of the major battles in the opening novel happen off screen. Let me say that again, it’s only in the final substantial chapter (the actual last chapter is more like an epilogue) that we see firsthand a major battle—which is strange for a book about a military company who is fighting throughout the novel. Most of the rest of the book focuses on the narrator, Croaker, and a few of his fellow members of the company acting more like a special operations force to frustrate the enemy.

The novel is broken into seven chapters, the first six of which read like short stories braided together with the last being the aforementioned epilogue. These stories tell of the last of the Free Companies of Khatovar—a four-hundred-year-old mercenary band which has kept its high standards of discipline and competence even as it falls into hard times. At the start of the story, they are under contract to a ruler who has managed to turn all of his people and his own army against him. Desperate not to go down with him, the Company betrays its principles, allowing the ruler to be assassinated, and signs a new contract with a dark wizard called Soulcatcher who is in service to the Lady, despot of a northern empire.

The Lady is fending off a civil war. On her side are ten dark wizards called the Taken—they were the baddest of the bad until the Lady’s husband, the Dominator, possessed them and forced them to his side. The Lady, the Taken, and the Dominator were defeated two centuries earlier by a mythical figure called The White Rose who, unable to kill them, trapped them. The prison held for centuries until a fool accidentally released the Lady and the Taken reigniting her dark reign.

Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that many of the Taken are acting against the Lady’s interests in the war in their own efforts to release the still-imprisoned Dominator and restore him to power. Despite remarkable feats by the Black Company, the Lady’s forces continued to be pushed back toward a final stand. The challenge for the Company is the recognition that all sides (rebel, Lady, and Dominator) represent evil and despotism with no “good” actors for the Company to support. So, they stick to their contract even though it’s not clear they should.

This is a solid novel with remarkable over-the-top magics adding color to the story, but not detracting from the very human interactions as the soldiers of the Black Company try to find their way.

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March to Other Worlds Day 10 Fugitive by Gilbert M. Stack

Two of the themes I like best in science fiction literature are the exploration of the unknown and the clash of cultures, and to spotlight these themes I’d like to take a look at one of my own novels, Fugitive. 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 started with my young heroine, Jewel, scion of an extraordinarily wealthy family who has runaway 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 11 The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

My next choice for the March to Other Worlds isn’t technically a science fiction or fantasy story although it does have elements of each. It’s The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu which was published by Sax Rohmer in 1913 and depicts a world that didn’t exist then and seems particularly strange to us now.

Right off the top it’s important to recognize that this is a truly difficult book for the modern reader. It was written just before World War I at the end of the British Empire—an Empire that embraced the philosophy in Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden”. Its protagonists, in fact, are unapologetically racist in their attitude with Smith in the first chapter stating that he is trying to save the white race and with Fu Manchu (the villain of the series) commanding a criminal enterprise that apparently includes (through threat and intimidation) every Asian on the planet. These attitudes are terribly jarring as they continually pop up throughout the novel and it’s difficult to keep oneself in the frame of mind of the early twentieth century English man who narrates the tale—a man who is encountering the “exotic” criminal strategies of Fu Manchu for the first time in England.

The protagonists are Smith (from the Foreign Office) and Petrie (a physician). They seem to have been loosely modeled on Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Petrie bungles around always in the thick of things but is totally ignorant of his foe and totally overwhelmed with admiration for Smith. Smith, for his part, fully recognizes the danger presented by Fu Manchu’s schemes, but doesn’t actually do much beside run from place to place throwing himself into the problems without any apparent plan. His success is more dumb luck than careful strategy (so the Sherlock Holmes comparison is obviously weak).

The actual adventure story is only “all right”. There are death traps (some of which were very serious) for our heroes to escape. And there’s a lot of worrying and running about, always a step behind Fu Manchu. There’s a love interest introduced for Petrie which serves mostly to get Petrie and Smith out of their problems. But overall, plot isn’t a strong point in the story (although it’s easy to see how the many deathtraps attracted the attention of the many film makers who have tackled this series).

Why then are people still reading this book more than a hundred years later? The answer is simple—Dr. Fu Manchu is a wonderful villain. To continue the Sherlock Holmes parallel, he’s Moriarty, but with more intelligence, greater reach, and frankly, more ruthlessness than Sherlock Holmes’ foe. He is a fantastic bad guy, worthy of superhero comics. He’s always several steps ahead of Smith and Petrie and frankly, it’s difficult to come to any conclusion other than that he allows them to survive the book because they are somehow furthering his plans. He also has a strong sense of honor that is the only limit on his success. For example, he seems completely committed to telling the truth. His disdain for modern weapons like guns also adds an exotic element to his character. Remove Fu Manchu and this would be a very dull tale.

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March to Other Worlds Day 12 The Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson

For the twelfth day of the March to Other Worlds I have invited Guest-Reviewer Will Hahn back to share his thoughts with us. Last year, he reviewed Lord Foul’s Bane. This year he returns to Stephen R. Donaldson’s work with his novel The Mirror of Her Dreams. Here’s the review:

As a writer who did the bulk of his fantasy reading in an earlier generation, I would have to say that the Mordant’s Need series, beginning with this volume, is the finest heroic fantasy tale I ever read. And it came on the heels of Donaldson’s incredible epic fantasy series Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever a few years earlier. I did not expect this later effort to even be as good. It’s probably better.

In The Mirror of Her Dreams, Terisa is a sheltered daughter to an uncaring wealthy businessman, who has given her everything except purpose. She crams her apartment with mirrors to continually show her own reflection, as Terisa staves off the suggestion that she doesn’t really exist.

And then a handsome fellow stumbles through one of those mirrors and begs her to come back with him to save the world.

{I will not give spoilers, I will not give spoilers, I will NOT…}

The story that unfolds is incredible for several reasons, all of which were revelations to me. First off, Donaldson resolutely pins himself to Terisa’s PoV; much as you’re screaming to see any hint of what happens with the many characters she meets, you don’t get a sniff. And as with Thomas Covenant, Terisa is such a frustrating narrator! Coming to a medieval kingdom beset with multiple threats, where all magic is quite literally done with mirrors, she takes no active part in helping because she doesn’t believe in herself. The Imagers of Mordant generally think that creations seen in their mystic panes do not have souls and are not worthy of equal treatment. Only her hopeless admirer, the handsome bumbling apprentice, Geraden, is convinced she is the savior; he can’t even get her to agree!

The entire premise of Imagery, how magic is done and its secrets guarded, is beautifully handled and will have you salivating for more details wherever you can find them.

But most of all, the story has simply everything. Action and adventure galore, including fights with magical beasts and duels between master swordsmen. An enormous mystery about who the kingdom’s enemies truly are, and what they’re up to. Intrigue around a monarch and his chief wizard, both evidently mad as hatters. Not a little spicy romance, close to erotica, as everyone agrees Terisa is incredibly attractive (except of course, for herself). Donaldson weaves every major kind of genre fiction together—fantasy, horror, sex, thriller, mystery—and yet it’s always an intact tale, completely true to itself and dancing around the tropes and cliches you’d expect to be there.

Readers as well as writers need to put this book on the nightstand. I dare you not to buy the second one, you won’t be able to put it down.

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March to Other Worlds Day 13 Honor Bound by W.E.B. Griffin

Sometimes the most interesting “other worlds” are right here on planet earth—in this case the country of Argentina during World War II. During the war, Argentina played a role similar to that of Berlin during the Cold War. As a neutral country favoring the Nazi regime, it was the focus of a great deal of clandestine activity during the war as it struggled to maintain its neutrality while both the Axis and the Allies maneuvered on its territory. This is the backdrop to W.E.B. Griffin’s Honor Bound series as he continues to explore the fascinating realm of intelligence work during World War II. The hero of this book is Cletus Frade, a marine aviator called home from Guadalcanal to take on a covert mission in Argentina to blow up a neutral vessel that is refueling Nazi submarines in Argentinian waters.

Clete is totally unqualified for this mission, as are the two men assigned to him. None have any training as spies and while one is an expert in demolitions, none of them really have a clue as to what they are doing. The one thing Clete might have going for him is that his father, Jorge Guillermo Frade, is one of the most important and influential men in Argentina. Unfortunately, Clete has never met him and everything he knows about the man (coming from his maternal grandfather) is that he is the SOB responsible for Clete’s mother’s death.

It's the slow development of the relationship between father and son that makes this such a powerful book. Griffin has never been particularly interested in “action” in the conventional sense. There are occasional spurts of it, but Griffin has always been much more concerned with the nuts and bolts about how missions are planned and information is gathered. In this novel, he gets to play with multiple cultures as well—Argentinian, German, Nazi (yes, I know those last two should be the same but Griffin paints them differently), and American. It all blends together into a fascinating look at Argentina through the eyes of an outsider at a critical moment in its history.

The mission to destroy that tanker is the heart of the story. To emphasize the danger, Griffin lets the reader know that the previous team sent on this mission has simply disappeared. Clete’s mission is opposed by both the Argentinians and the Nazis, but also by elements within the American Office of Strategic Services who believe that Clete would be of better use to them if he were dead by German hands. They figure that his father would be more likely to help the Allies if he had a personal reason to hate the Nazis.

This is a wonderful and exciting book. I read it the first time roughly twenty years ago and enjoyed it just as much on this latest reading. Yet, I want to stress that it is not a typical military novel filled with battles and fights to the death. That sort of action is the exception here, not the rule. Truth is, Honor Bound doesn’t need it.

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March to Other Worlds Day 14 A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

To close out the second week of the March to Other Worlds, I turn to a more traditional fantasy by T. Kingfisher, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Banking. I suspect this novel was inspired by the baking of the giant gingerbread cookie in one of the Shrek movies. The plot revolves around a city state in which all of the people capable of using magic have been slowly killed off over the past year or so. Enter our heroine, a fourteen-year-old baker who discovers a dead body in her aunt’s bakery when she goes in to start the preparations for the day’s business at 4am. Somewhat to her surprise, the inquisitor immediately suspects her of being the killer because she discovered the body. The reader will immediately suspect that something other than extreme dimwittedness is the cause of this suspicion.

Things quickly get worse. Someone tries to kill the young baker and she and a new friend decide to try and figure out what is really going on. This leads, through a quick series of twists and turns, into the young baker becoming the primary defense against an invading army. Never before has a baker been so important to a kingdom’s front line of defense.

There’s some nice tension and some very clever ideas in this cute novel. If you’re tired of blood and guts but still want your dose of fantasy, you should give this book a try.

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March to Other Worlds Day 15 Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck

To open the third week of the March to Other Worlds, I would like to introduce the reader to Greig Beck, who has an amazing gift for making whole primordial worlds come to life. In Beneath the Dark Ice, that world can be found in Antarctica deep in a cave network where there are just a ton of nasty surprises. The excuse for the expedition is the loss of a tycoon when his plane crashed into the ice over Antarctica, but the real reason for the expedition seems to be a quest for oil on the seventh continent. Unfortunately for the scientists and military men sent on the expedition, there’s a whole world down beneath the ice and it’s filled with hostile creatures. And just in case we forget that it’s Beck writing this, there are also hostile humans determined to make things even more deadly than this bizarre aberration of nature has already made things.

As you read, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a whole underground world. So, it’s not just the big bad monster that stalks the heroes from beginning to end (and believe me, that would have made this book super creepy and scary enough), but it’s a host of other predators that live and compete in this isolated ecosphere and are only too happy to discover if humans make a tasty treat. Every chapter is filled with suspense and danger—a problem made more acute by the impact of the stress on the various members of the group making people untrustworthy just at the moment that they most need to pull together.

If I have a complaint, and I’m not certain that I do, I think it is in the discovery of a sort of proto civilization—the granddaddy of all our ancient civilizations—beneath the Antarctic ice. This civilization provides a tremendous amount of interesting information on the big bad monster, but it’s that information that bothered me. Much of it comes in the form of carvings that the archaeologist in the group translates with remarkable ease. I’m not saying he instantly knows everything he’s seeing, but it’s my understanding that ancient writing of this sort is not easy to decipher and that it takes a long time to actually carve words (much less whole narratives) into the stone. I’m not confident that much of the carvings (tracing the journey of two brothers ten thousand years earlier) could have been written this way. Remember, Jules Verne only had Arne Saknussemm leave his initials and the date to mark his journey—not whole accounts of the adventures of two ancient heroes. So, I don’t think that part of the story holds up, but it is a very small complaint in a long and exciting adventure.

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March to Other Worlds Day 16 The Godmakers by Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert is one of the most influential science fiction writers of all time. My favorite one of his books is The Godmakers. I read the novel the first time while I was in high school and I’ve read it many times since in print and in audio format. On the surface it is a simple adventure story—and a good one at that. Lewis Orne is a well-meaning, extremely bright young man who works for the Rediscovery and Reeducation Service trying to help planets reconnect with galactic civilization after the devastating Rim Wars of five hundred years earlier. He discovers that all is not right on the planet Hamal and he helps to prevent a military debacle there, getting himself drafted into the more cynical Investigative Adjustment Service in the process. And then he goes and does it again, preventing an alien race from being wiped out of existence until he makes a teeny tiny error and nearly gets himself killed.

When he’s finally let out of the hospital with regenerated organs and a knee that fits better than the original one did, he is ready for the big time. Galactic elections are about to be held and his bosses have discovered evidence that their enemies during the Rim Wars (500 years ago) are still around and maneuvering to take over the government. Orne, who ran away from home when he was eighteen years old, has a “family” connection to the wife of a man who may well win the election and might also be the leader of this 500 year old cabal, so he’s dropped into the fire yet again to see if he can save galactic civilization.

As you can see from the above description, this is a novel that is willing to tackle some very complex topics surrounding politics and society and Herbert doesn’t shy away from these problems. Yet, this is not the climax of the book, so far everything has been set up for Herbert to explore issues of power, and ethics, and mob psychology, and on a fundamental level, right and wrong. Remember, this book was titled the Godmakers, and everything that has been happening has been, on one level, manipulated to discover if Lewis Orne is the god the makers were striving to create. This leads to an exciting conclusion where Herbert gets to explore religion and psychology as Orne tries to survive the forces that brought him into being. It’s a truly wonderful book which always makes me think.

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March to Other Worlds Day 17 The Fold by Peter Clines

This novel starts out as cerebral science fiction at its very best. A group of scientists have created a device that permits instantaneous teleportation from point A to point B, yet they are not ready to make their government financers happy by releasing the device—which they swear all evidence shows is safe—for commercial (or even secret government) use yet. The question is why? That’s the heart of the mystery in the first half of the novel and despite the protests of the scientists, the reader knows from chapter one that people are being hurt by their work. As the chapters unfold it becomes apparent that the whole world may be in jeopardy—not from a cataclysm but through a series of subtle juxtapositions that would cause ever increasing amounts of chaos and distress to societies across the planet.

That’s an awesome problem and the hero is extremely well suited to uncover the root of the trouble. Mike has a fully eidetic memory and Clines has conceptualized what that means better than any author I have ever read. Mike’s ability to sort through vast amounts of information quickly and decisively was amazing. The psychic damage that never being able to forget anything does to him was also a brilliantly insightful addition to the tale. I always enjoyed the scenes where his mind spins into gear and starts making connections, although frankly I wondered why it was so difficult for him to come to a conclusion that I reached in chapter one.

And that’s the first problem with this story. Mike makes brilliant deductions throughout the book but we’re at least halfway through it before he begins to consider what every reader knows is happening from chapter one. Heck, one of the team of scientists is even a Star Trek fanatic but the solution (born right out of that series) never occurs to her. So that’s bad, but perhaps we have to accept it so that there is proper dramatic build up.

It's not so easy to excuse the second problem. The last quarter of the book moves from being a fantastic cerebral mystery to a shoot-them-up standoff at the OK Corral. This was such a copout from the much subtler and frankly far scarier problem I had initially envisioned based on the idea of millions of juxtapositions ripping apart social ties throughout the planet. In many ways, that ending would have been far creepier because it would be very easy to imagine the government refusing to accept the evidence of disaster in favor of a highly lucrative economy-changing invention.

In summary, The Fold is a wonderful idea that loses a little of its power toward the end of the tale.

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March to Other Worlds Day 18 The Veterinarian’s Field Guide to Rabid Unicorns by Elise Loyacano Perl

For Day 18 of the March, I offer a fun novel inspired by a combination of Jurassic Park and ancient mythology. It’s a little bit slow in getting started, probably so we understand that our hero is not the assertive type. He’s the “everyone takes advantage of me type”. He’s in a terrible job situation and gets offered a new job with a fantastic salary that involves his skills as a veterinarian, but the new employer won’t tell him what his “patients” will be or where the job is.

So, pushed to the limit, our hero ends up accepting the job and finds out that he is working at a “Jurassic Park” style zoo for unicorns—carnivorous unicorns whose craving for meat is out of control because the mad scientist who created them can’t accept that they are really meat eaters. The boss worries that the kids he wants to frolic with the unicorns won’t like them as much if his star attraction want to eat them. (And yes, I think we, the reader, can agree that the kids probably wouldn’t enjoy frolicking with animals who spear them on their horns and then eat them.) Our hero’s seemingly impossible job is to find a way to get the carnivorous unicorns to stop being carnivorous, which doesn’t look like a realistic possibility to either the hero or the reader. But it’s fun watching him try to keep a disaster from happening and finally watching him learn that some things are worth asserting himself for.

This book had two surprises I just didn’t see coming which is always a good thing. It’s a fun romp from beginning to end. If you’d rather read about man-eating unicorns instead of dinosaurs and laugh while you do it, I think you’ll find this a good read.

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March to Other Worlds Day 19 Warmage by Terry Mancour

Two years ago in the March to Other Worlds 2021, I spotlighted the novel Spellmonger by Terry Mancour. Now I’d like to bring to your attention the second book in the series, Warmage, wherein Minalan returns to try and rally a defense against the massive goblin invasion which began in the first book. He has two major deficits working against him in accomplishing this task. The first is that he was not born to a noble family and the second is that he is a mage, precluded by the bans from receiving a title and with it the right to lead armies. Now, because of the structure of the novel with every second chapter taking place in the past, the reader knows from chapter one that Minalan will overcome these problems and lead a small army into the field against the goblins. That does not make the challenge of getting the support he needs any less exciting as Mancour proves he can write very credible and interesting political storylines.

Yet the heart of the book remains the goblin invasion with more than a quarter million of the creatures, plus trolls and doubtless other things, determined to wipe humanity off the face of the planet. This is a serious threat made much more so by the goblins’ dead god—also introduced in the last book—whose rage is what is driving the creatures.

For those of you who don’t like politics as much as I do, the battle scenes in this novel are frequent and superbly written. To add to the considerable tension, Mancour makes it quite clear that everything that Minalan is doing is intended merely to stymie the first wave of the invasion. This is going to be a very long, very drawn-out war. And of course, many of the problems are Minalan’s fellow humans, who are all kinds of treacherous. And I’d like to also point out that while Minalan thinks that he and his mages are the only ones with access to witch stones, the censors have been collecting these magic-amplifying weapons from the mages they have brought down for centuries and our hero had better be preparing a defense against them when they decide to more vehemently protest his efforts to eliminate the bans.

I really enjoyed this book, but I feel the need to point out that like the first one, this is an impressively thick tome. I listened to it audio and it’s more than 28 hours long. Fortunately, the superb narrator, John Lee, speaks very clearly and I could push the text speed up considerably, but it’s still a long book so carve out some time when you decide to read it because it’s exciting enough that you’re going to want to find out what’s going to happen as fast as you can.

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March to Other Worlds Day 20 Pandora’s Luck by Gilbert M. Stack

As we end the third week of this year’s March, I’d like to take us back to the Old West. 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 21 The Book of Tales by William L. Hahn

On a fundamental level, the March to Other Worlds is about the ability of an author to build credible worlds. That’s why I find this next pick so fascinating. William L. Hahn has written roughly a dozen books in his Lands of Hope—a fascinating fantasy realm in which the ethos of hope and despair contest with each other through the actions of legendary heroes of each ethos and modern day adventurers who carry on the struggle. After publishing several frankly astoundingly good novels, Hahn came out with his Book of Tales to show that he takes his world building a lot further than most writers do.

How else do you explain his decision to include a book of children’s stories that actually exist in his world—the sort of tales that parents tell their children at bedtime or by the hearthside. It’s a clever and very creative idea. Many of the stories read like Aesop’s Fables or Just So stories and deal with the animal world. Others are the sorts of stories people tell about the heroes of the past to teach moral lessons—sort of like George Washington and the cherry tree, or Abraham Lincoln and his penny. All of them are entertaining.

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March to Other Worlds Day 22 Critical Failures 3 by Robert Bevan

As we start the fourth week of the March to Other Worlds, I’d like to take a few moments to discuss the influence of fantasy role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons on the field of fantasy literature. There is no denying that, for good or ill, (and it has been for both good and ill) these games have had a major impact on the genre. Long before the LitRPGs (Literary Role Playing Games) in which authors actually show the dice rolls in their stories began appearing on the digital shelves, authors were writing about cross over experiences in which real world people became their characters and traveled to (often referred to as getting stuck in) their make believe realms to have their adventures for real. (Anyone remember Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame?) I actually wrote an unpublished twist on this idea myself some thirty-five years ago. If you’ve played the games, it’s hard not to dream along these lines of thought.

Robert Bevan is the latest in a long line of authors to play with this idea. I first highlighted his Critical Failures series in the March to Other Worlds 2022. What makes him stand out to me is both his fantastic sense of humor, and his recognition that most of us who play these sort of games are not by temperament best suited to actually living these adventures. In book 3, Bevan turns the whole crossover idea on its head by having his players successfully cross back—with unexpected and hilarious results. You see, they don’t become themselves again—they’re still their characters—hobbit, half orc, elf, etc.—in the “real” world. When you add to this situation that the cast weren’t the most competent individuals to start out with, seeing them try to deal with this new problem while tracking down Mordred, the Cavern Master, who put them in this situation will have you bust your gut laughing.

That being said, I’m not so certain I would have been in a hurry to get back my old body. (Not trying to say I don’t like my life, but think this through with me.) As Caverns and Creatures characters in this world, they all have special powers and abilities that no ordinary human has. Some of them actually have magical powers. Yes, being in the wrong body could cause some inconvenience, but I’m certain on a personal level they could work that out. But being able to do the things our characters can do in the “real” world would be very cool and potentially profitable. But I suppose having his characters happy being their characters would have taken away a good storyline so the reader just has to accept that this is what they want.

I think I should wind up this review by alluding to the best part of the novel. In the last book, Bevan introduced the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the fantasy world—four middle school kids who are thrilled that Mordred transported them to the fantasy world where they glory in racking up levels and gaining more and more power with little concern for what happens if they lose a battle and die. For the entire novel, the reader watches Mordred boost these kids even higher in levels so they can put an end to the problems he is having with our cast of heroes once and for all. I would just like to say, that I don’t think Bevan could have handled the final encounter any better. It’s brilliantly thought out, and like the rest of the book, absolutely hilarious.

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March to Other Worlds Day 23 The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

On Day 2 of the March this year, we took a look at Godzilla vs. Kong—the two classic large scale monsters who practically invented the concept of the kaiju. Today we’re going to look at a truly wonderful novel by John Scalzi that plays around with the kaiju idea. I think I should start by stating that while I really liked this book, I almost didn’t get past the first chapter. It just rubbed me wrong. If I had gotten the book out of the library, I probably would have stopped right there, but as I had put out good money on an author that I like a lot, I decided to persevere. By the end of the second chapter, things were getting better. By the end of the third, I was hooked and looking for every spare moment to finish the book.

The plot essentially runs like this. In the heart of the COVID pandemic with the unemployment rate sky high, Jamie gets recruited to work in a super-secret project despite not appearing to have any real qualifications or knowing what the job entails. He is then taken to an alternate earth where kaiju dominate the food chain. And he ultimately saves the day when lots of things go wrong.

Scalzi spends quite a bit of time on the sort of pseudo-science that only a lover of Godzilla movies could come up with. It’s technically “world building” but let’s face it, only someone who really cares about how a kaiju lives, mates, evolves, etc. is going to read this novel anyway, so all the geeky stuff is just wonderful. And it’s brought forth pretty seamlessly through Scalzi’s storytelling.

The plot was fun, but I think it is really experiencing the kaiju that makes this book work—and watching a bunch of geeky scientists study them like they were any other form of exotic wildlife. If I had one complaint, it’s that I never could get an image in my head about what the main kaiju of the story look like. I’m also not certain if there are tons of different kinds (Mothra, Rodan, etc.) in Scalzi’s world. I’m guessing there are, because that means there is a lot of room for a sequel.

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March to Other Worlds Day 24 The Valley of Despair by Chris L. Adams

Chris L. Adams has a talent for writing books that feel like they were crafted by some of the masters writing in the first half of the twentieth century, but read like they were written today. The result are novels that feel like lost works by people like Edgar Rice Burroughs. That’s who I think of when I read The Valley of Despair, which was recently reissued as a fabulous audiobook narrated by William L. Hahn.

Adams starts with a bang. His hero, German WWI pilot Erik von Mendelsohn, has crashed in the jungle and is trying to survive a group of apes that have taken the wrong kind of interest in him. Desperate to escape, he reaches the edge of the jungle near a high cliff face and the apes who are in hot pursuit…refuse to follow him past the tree line. It’s a simple idea very subtly conveyed in the story, but it set all the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. These totally aggressive and fearsome animals won’t follow our hero as he attempts to climb the cliff face to get away from them. It’s difficult not to ask yourself—what are the apes afraid of? What the heck is Erik getting himself into? And the tension just keeps ratcheting higher from this point forward.

Erik is a well thought out character—he’s smart, a bit impulsive, and a little too curious for his own good. The supporting cast is equally interesting. I don’t want to give away the plot, but the people Erik finds and gets into trouble with are equally brave and capable—and the problem they have to confront is better thought out than a lot of “lost world” adventure-style stories I’ve encountered. In short, if you want a fast-paced well-developed adventure story with great characters, you should give Valley of Despair a try.

Now that you’ve decided to give Valley of Despair a try, you should really consider listening to it in audio format. It’s a short book, so it’s very inexpensive, but a good narrator (and Will Hahn is one of the best) and a few sound effects go the extra mile to really bring this book to life.



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March to Other Worlds Day 25 Bite Me by Marion G. Harmon

As we continue with the fourth week of the March to Other Worlds, I offer a unique book in the superhero genre by Marion G. Harmon whose work has appeared in the March to Other Worlds 2020 and 2022. Harmon is best known for his Wearing the Cape series—one of the best superhero worlds on the market today. Bite Me is a spinoff novel from Harmon’s main storyline. It follows the exploits of Jacky Bouchard, aka Artemis, as she travels to New Orleans to help police identify vampires preying on underaged people. Jacky is the victim of a supervillain who transformed into a vampire after the Event. He was one of the very rare vampire transformations that was powerful enough to make his own vampire progeny. Jacky was the result—victim of a really bad stalker. This is important background information because almost all of the other vampires in New Orleans became vampires like other people become superheroes and supervillains—as a result of their strong desires and a crisis situation. Jacky doesn’t like playing Goth girl and Anne Rice afficionado. What she enjoys is being a covert intelligence specialist, and she learns in the course of this novel that she has a lot more to learn about her chosen profession.

One of the things I like best about Harmon novels is his ability to create credible superhuman “cultures” for want of a better word. In most of the U.S. breakthroughs follow the superhero template. In other places, like Japan, other cultural phenomena influence the transformations. In New Orleans, there is a strong tendency for a supernatural flair to influence the breakthroughs—vampires, witches, werewolves, voodoo queens, etc. It gives the city a flavor very different than the Chicago Harmon has introduced in his other books.

The plot of Bite Me very quickly becomes complicated by the introduction of the possibility that someone has the ability to create new vampires. If this is like Jacky’s stalker, it is conceivably the beginning of an apocalyptic event as vampires sire vampires who can sire more vampires, spreading across the country and eventually the world. So, the stakes are high as Jacky investigates. The action is also quite strong, but again, different in tone from what we see in the Wearing the Cape novels. If you are interested in seeing what vampires would be like in a superhero universe, this is the book for you.

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March to Other Worlds Day 26 The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

As we get close to the end of our fourth week of the March, I want to introduce the most difficult book in this year’s event. It’s called The Eyre Affair and I’m fairly certain I didn’t understand everything I was supposed to in this novel. And yet, I really loved it! On the surface, this is an alternate history style sf novel which is an English professor’s wet dream and the stuff of nightmares for the poor student forced to take the class as a basic requirement of graduation. Put simply, this is an earth in which everyone on the planet is apparently obsessed with literature. People name their children after great (and minor authors). Everyone seems to belong to societies that obsess about individual books or authors and the academic controversies which surround them. They even get into brawls over whose work or theory is better.

It's also a more traditional alternate history narrative, although I couldn’t figure out the point of departure from our world. England and Russia are still fighting the Crimean War well over a century after it began. A mammoth corporation (called Goliath) has taken over the country and rules from just barely behind the scenes. There are 27 special ops bureaus—the purpose of which is often not public knowledge. They deal with such things as literary violations (like the theft of a rare manuscript) and vampires, werewolves, terrorism, and just about everything else you can imagine. Oh, and there is time travel and potentially catastrophic time events.

The plot of the novel involves a wonderfully evil villain (Acheron Hades) with a range of not-well-understood, seemingly supernatural powers. He knows when someone speaks his name. He seems essentially immune to bullets. He can’t be tracked by conventional technology. He has the ability to mentally dominate weak-minded (read ordinary) people. And he’s really, really, wicked.

Our heroine, Thursday Next, is the only person who has seen him and is still around. She’s a lowly Literary Tec, Special Ops level 27, but she gets pulled into an attempt to catch Hades with tragic consequences. Naturally, she doesn’t give up. And when Hades discovers that Thursday’s uncle has invented a portal that lets people go into books or take the characters out of them, all of literature is endangered as the world’s most wicked man suddenly finds himself able to commit crimes on fiction’s most loved characters.

This is a truly fascinating book. It is not a fast read, even though it’s really not all that long. There is just so very much happening all the time within its pages that you can’t force yourself to read quickly because you know that in doing so you will miss the subtle connections that bring these pages to life.

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March to Other Worlds Day 27 The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon

For Day 27, I want to bring you back to the middle of the twentieth century and the first series I ever read. I was six years old and we got the first book, The Tower Treasure, as part of a deal on the back of a cereal box. When I finished it, my father (probably unintentionally) confirmed me as a reader forever by asking me to tell him the entire plot at the breakfast table. I ended up reading all of the blue hardbacks over the next four years and I’m fond of the Hardy Boys series to this day.

Set in the 1960s, Frank and Joe Hardy are brothers, eighteen and seventeen respectively, and are what we might call good American boys—popular with their classmates and wholesome and decent. Their father is a famous detective, and they are desperate to follow in his footsteps, constantly getting themselves and their friends into trouble.

The Tower Treasure may be the first book in the series, but it’s far from the best. So, for the March to Other Worlds, I’ve decided to review The Mystery of Cabin Island. This was my favorite book in the series as a child probably because the Hardy Boys and their friends are never faced with a situation that seemed utterly farfetched for a bunch of high school kids to handle.

The basic plot of the novel is that, as a reward for recovering a wealthy man’s car during the sixth book in the series, the brothers are offered the opportunity to stay at a remote cabin during Christmas break. The cabin is on a small island in the bay that gives their hometown its name, Bayport. Access to the cabin is over the ice, which means walking or using ice boats (which I found very cool both as a child and as an adult). The owner of the cabin also asks the brothers to keep their eyes out for his fifteen-year-old grandson who has run away from boarding school and he hopes might be on the island.

From moment one, things get a little tense. The first time the brothers and their friends travel to the island they find a belligerent man who orders them off the property. Uncertain what to do, the brothers retreat until they learn that this man has no right to be there. In fact, he’s trying to buy the island but the owner refuses to sell.

To add realistic tension to the story, two boys who dropped out from the brothers’ school start harassing them. At first it seems as if they are just being bullies, but it quickly becomes apparent that they have some connection to the belligerent man. Notice—no guns or over the top threats. These are realistic problems that anyone reading could imagine himself facing.

The weather gets worse and the brothers and their friends are forced to deal not only with the elements but with strange sounds and evidence that other unknown people are on the small island. There are also a series of incidents that make them feel unsafe, but don’t deter them from staying on the island and trying to find out what’s going on. The answer to that is the possibility that the secret to the location of some valuable medals which were stolen from the man who owns the cabin, might exist on Cabin Island.

The more realistic tone of the book combined with good pacing and interesting problems made this novel a pleasure to read as both a child and an adult. Perhaps that’s the reason that the Hardys are still popular today. They show up in television series, comic books, and at least four series of books. It may not technically be a fantasy world, but as a child I used to dream about solving mysteries beside Frank and Joe and when someone started bashing in mailboxes on our street, my friends and I got out the Hardy Boys Detective Handbook to help us gather evidence and try and solve the crime.

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March to Other Worlds Day 28 Into the Looking Glass by John Ringo

To close out the fourth week of the March to Other Worlds, we’re going to immerse ourselves in Into the Looking Glass, a classic John Ringo “target rich environment” style novel with a lot of science fiction thrown in for good measure. The series begins with an explosion—nuclear in appearance but without the hard radiation. The explosion was triggered by a science experiment which is now generating “gates” that look like circular mirrors. These gates go to other worlds (and possibly to other universes) and they put the entire earth in jeopardy as some of those worlds are inhabited by hostile creatures.

The hero of the story is William Weaver, a physicist who gets caught up in the mess as the National Security Advisor’s point person in attempting to understand—and stop—what is happening. He’s a great character and lots of fun to follow as he arrives at the new gates as they appear and bad things start happening. My favorite part of the whole book is when a small National Guard detachment gets overrun by some aliens in Virginia or West Virginia and they put a call out over the radio for anyone with a gun to help them secure the gate. A whole group of gun collectors arrive and they are so very fun to watch trying out their favorite weapons on alien cannon fodder.

The problem for Weaver is that new gates keep opening and some have highly hostile beings behind them. So, Weaver has to figure out how to stop the gates from opening so that the earth (and every place beyond the earth that the newly appearing gates go) doesn’t get overrun. In doing so, he drops some nice science (I presume it’s real science) on the reader in digestible bites and even gets into a little (but not too much) philosophy. Best of all, he sets up a whole multiverse for future stories.

If you like books where the heroes get to shoot up the alien critters, you’re going to love Into the Looking Glass.

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March to Other Worlds Day 29 A Soldier of Poloda by Lee Strong

As we near the end of this year’s March, I’ve invited Chris L. Adams back to give a guest review. Last year, Chris reviewed The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This year, he turns his attention to a Burroughs near-spin-off, A Solider of Poloda by Lee Strong. Here’s the review:

Like many fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB), I have often reread his two novelettes, Beyond the Farthest Star and Tangor Returns, lamenting that he hadn’t continued them as with his other famous series such as Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, to name two. But we just didn’t get that next novel.

Thank goodness after my latest reread of those classics, I was able to slide into something that was so much like what I had just finished reading that it was almost as if I was being gifted with that missing novel that Burroughs never wrote. I’m referring to Lee Strong’s, A Soldier of Poloda.

Let me get this out of the way so no one feels misled if they decide to purchase A Soldier of Poloda—this isn’t Tangor Returns Part 2. Tangor makes an appearance, but he isn’t the main character. Lee’s new character, Ran, is the primary character who wades across our pages, and over the war torn planet of Poloda.

My hat is off to Strong who was able, in my opinion, to pull off one top-notch sequel to Beyond the Farthest Star, where an American pilot in WW2 is slain by a German machinegun bullet, and is then cast 450,000 light years from Earth to another world where he is reincarnated and called Tangor, a word that means “from nothing” in the language of the people among whom he finds himself.

Strong nails utterly the look and feel of Poloda where all-out war has raged for over a century. The desultory cry of “It is war,” from the war-weary people of Unis is there. So are the war-hungry, power-mad, whacko Kaparans, the bombings, the airplane battles, the green-shirted Zabo police thugs, the klaxons, interrogation rooms, planes and bombs falling from the sky… Everything that reminds you of ERB’s Poloda is there—but there’s a new twist.

Some of those things are more muted in this novel, lurking in the background, noticed in passing by Ran, the hero, as he wades across the savage, war-torn surface of Poloda offering a different point of view than our beloved flyboy, Tangor. For Ran is a foot soldier and so has different ideas about how to take on the Kapars. And he’s good at it, coming up on-the-spot with clever ways out of the messes in which he finds himself. But one of the things I enjoyed most about the novel is Strong’s wit he brings to bear.

Tangor was witty and fast on his feet—and so is Ran. We’re a naturally cynical race, so maybe it’s an Earthling thing? Actually, I think Poloda has just been fighting for so long that they’ve forgotten how to joke. Strong does a killer job of creating an analogous character to Ed’s Tangor but also succeeds in spades in creating his own, unique character whom I found every bit as much fun to read as I did Tangor.

In summary, A Soldier of Poloda is a great sequel to two of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most beloved novels.

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March to Other Worlds Day 30 The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein

When I was in the ninth grade, I joined The Science Fiction Book Club and got my first five books for a dollar. One of those books was called A Heinlein Trio and the first of the stories was The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein. It was the second Heinlein book I read (the first was Between Planets which was serialized as a comic book in Boy’s Life magazine) and it’s a great example of Heinlein writing exciting stories built on themes he cared strongly about—the importance of the individual and the dangers of a society in which all members are expected to tow the same political and ideological line regardless of their self-interests and personal philosophies.

Heinlein published The Puppet Masters in 1951 after a rash of UFO sightings in the 1940s. Heinlein used the sightings as a springboard for an imaginative and disturbing tale of slug-like creatures capable of taking over the minds of any human (and many other creatures) that they touch. The enslaved human knows what it is doing, but lacks even the desire (much less the ability) to fight against the alien puppeteer. Heinlein’s novel takes the struggle against the alien invaders from first contact, to insidious infiltration, to widespread invasion, and finally to the epic struggle to free our planet in an exciting adventure story. Yet, as important and entertaining as these events are, they are not what makes the novel great. Instead, it is the exploration—never preachy—into why freedom of conscious is important as well as the fundamental relationships which make human life worth living that give this book its power.

As you would expect of a book written in the fifties, there is a dated feel to some elements of the book. For example, while Mary, Heinlein’s heroine, is definitely an empowered and capable woman, many of her reactions and the condescending way in which she is often treated, will grate irritatingly on the modern reader. Similarly, Heinlein’s vision of the late twenty-first century quite understandably fails to foretell many things we take for granted in modern life even while he foresees the growing importance of industries such as telecommunications. Don’t let these faults distract you from a great story.

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March to Other Worlds Day 31 River of Death by Gilbert M. Stack

As we bring this year’s March to Other Worlds to a close, I’d like to spotlight my Legionnaire series and specifically, the fourteenth volume, River of Death, which I published this month.

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.

The bulk of the series so far takes place in an area north of Aquila called the Jeweled Cities. The Cities are home to great wealth and are the only place outside of the mighty Qing empire where silk is produced—but that silk has heightened an already virulent plague of factionalism and sparked the outbreak of a vicious war and several smaller civil conflicts. Stuck in the middle of all of this is Marcus Venandus, Patrician of Aquila, Tribune of its legions, and now Prefect of the Jeweled City of Amatista. Marcus’ task in the north was to build a capable infantry fighting force—an oxymoron in the eyes of the Gota rulers of the region who cannot believe anything can ever stand up to their beloved cavalry. But then, they’ve never had to contend with a man like Marcus Venandus before, scion of a Republic who for centuries has fielded the best infantry the world has ever seen.

River of Death is the fourteenth volume of the series and shows Marcus taking the war deeper into enemy territory than those enemies—or even his allies—can believe.

River of Death:

The Fire Islands (the first book of the Legionnaire series):

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