Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey: There are currently three Sandman Slim novels: Sandman Slim, Kill the Dead and Aloha From Hell (not available on Kindle, booh hiss). The trilogy is very even and covers the entire arc of the story so I’ll treat them as one in this review.
Sandman Slim shares more than a little with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: The world is full of ghosts and goblins, including angels, vampires and demons and there are some people who can see them and interact with them.
But if we were to put this in SAT terms, the Dresden Files are to Sandman Slim as Nightranger is to Slayer.
Same idea, but Sandman Slim is infinitely more profane, violent, boot-down-on-the-pedal and plain nutty.
The concept is that Sandman Slim, a.k.a. Stark, a.k.a. Wild Bill is a minor-league sorcerer and major-league wise-ass who is betrayed by his friends and sent to Hell. Yes, capital-H Hell. Where he survives for 11 years until he manages to escape. And now he’s back in (where else?) Los Angeles and hell-bent on getting revenge on the people who betrayed him.
Which is not easy when your enemies are much more powerful than you, you have no money and the Devil himself takes a personal interest.
Sandman Slim is far from perfect fiction, but the plot moves like a rock shot from a rail gun and it’s deliciously bent and perverted.
My advice: Buy the novels but don’t read them until the next time you’re on an airplane. Time will fly like a lost soul.
Snuff, by Terry Pratchett: Pratchett’s Discworld novels started out very funny and very silly indeed, but as he gets older, the novels are imparted more and more with the gravitas of a man who has given the state of the world a lot of thought. They are still couched in comedy able to make you laugh out loud all by yourself in an empty room—there really can’t be a higher compliment for a comedy writer, can there?—but with an ever-widening humanitarian streak.
Go read them all, including this one. We’d have to make up Terry Pratchett if he didn’t exist.
The Cold Commands, by Richard K. Morgan: The follow-up to the highly successful The Steel Remains (my review here), The Cold Commands continues the tale of Ringil Eskiath, greatest warrior the world has ever known, ostrasized and shunned for refusing to hide his homosexuality.
The novel is very much a direct continuation of The Steel Remains and Morgan rightfully makes little attempt to bring new readers up to speed, so start with The Steel Remains. If you like that, you will love The Cold Commands. More of the same, but with the world building done, so it’s all fast-moving plot with more black humor, cynicism, ultraviolence, drugs, strange perhaps-gods, and gay sex.
The Cold Commands is best-of-breed noir fantasy.
Reamde, by Neal Stephenson: Stephenson is, of course, a master of 1,000-page head-exploding fiction. In Reamde he diverts into writing what is essentially a straight-forward techno-thriller. Think a nerdier Bourne Supremacy with a World of Warcraft-like game as a central plot point.
And oh, the plot. Stephenson’s work usually consists of just enough plot to hang a series of interesting observations and sidebars, but Reamde is almost purely plot-driven, actually plot-driven to a fault. There is much—too much—derring-do, narrow escapes and harrowing violence, but at least for me it started to bog down in middle (remember, we’re talking 1,000 page brick, here) with a lot of things happening but very little happening.
That being said, this is definitely one to bring on your next long flight. Just don’t expect to have your mind blown. Guess we’ll have to wait for Stephenson’s next outing for that to happen.
Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War, by William Manchester: Now mostly known as a great biographer, Manchester served as a Marine in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Thirty years later he finds himself haunted by nightmares and decides to go back and revisit the places where he fought and was wounded.
It’s a haunting journey as an older man confronts his younger self and his memories of war. Manchester is a great writer and observer and the battle scenes—or perhaps battle impressions is a better phrase—are vivid and disturbing, conveying the sheer horror of the conditions the soldiers endured.
I’m glad Manchester wrote this book.
Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson: The brilliant John Siracusa has already said everything that needs to be said about this biography. Listen to the master take this book apart on the Hypercritical podcast.
The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson: This is a wonderful book, charming and quirky, about what the author terms the “madness industry.” The book focuses on psychopaths and their detection, using that particular disturbance as an entryway into the history of modern psychiatry.
The book includes the man who conceived and designed the psychopath test, a death squad leader, scientologists and the man they’re trying to get released from a mental hospital and a strange hoax perpetrated on an international group of neurologists.
If you’re at all interested in the ways your brain can malfunction and the industry that exists to help (and profit), definitely read The Psychopath Test.
(DISCLOSURE: All links go to the Amazon Kindle store and are affiliate links. If you buy one of the books through a link here I get a tiny kickback from Amazon.)
Includes The Storm Before the Storm, White Trash, Calypso, Tell the Machine Goodnight, Prince of Fools, and Provenance.
Mostly excellent non-fiction in this installment. Includes Fantasyland, The Miracle of Dunkirk, Das Reich, The Undoing Project, Waiting for the Punch, Vacationland and Points of Impact.
Lots of sci-fi in this installment. Includes Retribution, Boomerang, The Collapsing Empire, All Systems Red, and Ninefox Gambit.
A worthy inclusion to the Malazan canon and great high fantasy to disappear into in troubled times.
Includes a mea culpa, Hillbilly Elegy, Gulp, The Stars are Legion, and The Kill Society.
Lots of fiction series in this one. Includes Grunt, 1177 B.C., Louder Than Hell, Smarter Faster Better, The Hanging Tree, Death’s End, Chains of Command, and Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?.
Hey kids, you like epic fantasy? ’Cause I've got some epic fantasy for you.
This installment features grimdark fantasy, peppy astronauts and the Roman Empire. Includes SPQR, And On That Bombshell, The Code Book, Schiit Happened, Beyond Redemption, The Severed Streets, The Martian and Veiled.
Includes The Antidote, One Nation, Under Gods, Losing the Signal, The Todd Glass Situation, The Last Policeman, The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Beacon 23, Killing Pretty and Queen of Fire.
Lots of fantasy and sci-fi in this installment plus a book about sports! Includes Boy on Ice, Difficult Men, Restaurant Man, The Red Line, Cunning Plans, Seveneves, Nemesis Games, Bitter Seeds, The Mechanical, Angles of Attack, and City of Stairs.
Nic is sad about Terry Pratchett's passing. Includes No Land’s Man, Idiot America, Something Coming Through, The Burning Room, Foxglove Summer, and The Dark Defiles.
Things go dark and magical in this installment. Includes So, Anyway…, Yes Please, The Mirror Empire, London Falling, Broken Homes, Perfidia, The Peripheral, Burning Chrome, and the Bel Dame Apocrypha Omnibus.
Lots of good reads in this installment. Includes All Hell Let Loose, Metallica: This Monster Lives, 10% Happier, Onward, Echopraxia, Cibola Burn, The Getaway God, Lock In, The Red: First Light, Terms of Enlistment, and Lines of Departure.
Solid reads abound in this installment of the roundup. Includes Console Wars, Your Inner Fish, Flash Boys, Digital Wars, The Perfect Storm, Tower Lord, By Blood We Live, I am Pilgrim and Lexicon.
Some great reads and a huge disappointment in this installment. Includes The Loudest Voice in the Room, Hatching Twitter, Dogfight, Ancillary Justice, KOP Killer, The Circle, Working God’s Mischief and Where Eagles Dare.
Some solid reading awaits you in this installment. Includes The Outpost, Masters of Doom, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, The Everything Store, Bomber Command, Gods of Guilt, and Low Town.
A slimmer-than-usual book roundup is heavy on the non-fiction, including several must-read titles.
Another book roundup, including some stellar athletes and soldiers, what might be the most jaded, soul-weary protagonist ever, and some grimdark fantasy.
The Core Dump is back! Books were read during the hiatus. Includes The Coldest Winter, Oh, Myyy!, Tough Sh*t, The Revolution Was Televised, The Rook, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Gun Machine, Fortress Frontier, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, and The Memory of Light.
From a true patriot to a world-weary detective, a dead god, and a civilization about to sublime from the galaxy, this book roundup spans the gamut. Includes Where Men Win Glory, Wild, Inside the Box, The Black Box, Three Parts Dead, Red Country, and The Hydrogen Sonata.
From the heights of athletic excellence to the depths of depravity, this roundup includes The First 20 Minutes, Double Cross, The Heroin Diaries, Tattoos and Tequila, Dodger, Farthing, and Devil Said Bang.
Includes Wabi-Sabi, Making Things Happen, D-Day, Tallula Rising, Blood Song, The Americans and Amped. All in all, a happy romp through the meadows of literature.
Includes Search Inside Yourself, The Information Diet, Redshirts, The Gone-Away World, Wool, Leviathan Wakes, and Prince of Thorns. One of these may very well change your life.
Includes Shadow Ops: Control Point, The Night Circus, The Hunger Games, Quiet, The Science of Yoga, and Kitchen Confidential. Lots of good stuff in this one.
Includes Angelmaker, The Magicians, Magician King, Iron Council, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Distrust That Particular Flavor, and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran. One of these is the most important book of 2011.
Includes The Drop, Ready Player One, Moon Called, Among Others, Excession, Inferno, The Paleo Solution and I am Ozzy.
Includes Sandman Slim, Snuff, The Cold Commands, Reamde, Goodbye Darkness, Steve Jobs and The Psychopath Test.
Some books you might enjoy reading.