The Core Dump

The Core Dump is the personal blog of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American pixel-pusher living in Phoenix, Arizona.

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[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 19 May 2013]

Book roundup, part eleven

Another book roundup, including some stellar athletes and soldiers, what might be the most jaded, soul-weary protagonist ever, and some grimdark fantasy.

Non-fiction

Becoming a Supple Leopard, by Kelly Starrett with Glen Cordoza ★★★★☆

Weighty and magisterial service manual for the human body. You should read it before yours breaks down.

Starrett is well-known in part for his Mobility WOD site, for co-founding San Francisco CrossFit and for in general being an expert on human body mechanics. And it shows in this intense and thorough book, the size of a typical yearbook and packed full of insights and mobility exercises to help you relieve yourself of pain.

Since there’s no free lunch, the way to relieve yourself of pain is through pain, or at least severe discomfort. Especially the dreaded Couch Mobilization (the good part starts about 2 minutes in). Try it!

A Higher Call, by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander ★★★★☆

Very touching story of the meeting over the skies of World War II Europe of a fighter and bomber pilot that is really the story of Franz Stigler, a German fighter ace trying to reconcile his humanity with fighting for an increasingly evil and erratic Nazi regime.

Well worth reading, even though it does feel a bit long—the authors have clearly done their research and are a bit too hesitant to edit some of it out, which bogs down some parts of the book. Nevertheless, the story itself is one that deserves to be heard and remembered.

American Sniper, by Chris Kyle ★★★★☆

SEALs are so alpha they can barely see the rest of the alphabet. In this autobiography, Kyle explain the life journey that took him to the SEALs and to become the sniper with the most kills. It’s a raw and honest read, and is highly recommended for anybody who wonders about the men who become elite soldiers.

And of course, it’s a tragedy that Kyle was senselessly murdered by a fellow veteran he was trying to help get back into civilian life.

Damn Few, by Rorke Denver ★★★★☆

Another autobiography of a SEAL team member and at the same time a lesson on the ethics and history of the SEALs.

As one would imagine is the case with most special forces soldiers, Denver is a fascinating blend of intelligence, physical prowess and atavistic masculinity. As with Kyle, it can be hard to understand they are part of the same species as the rest of us.

Eat and Run, by Scott Jurek ★★★★☆

Jurek is an ultrarunning legend, having won a lot of really hardcore races like the clinically insane Badwater Ultramarathon. He’s also a smart and interesting person. Eat and Run follows him from his fairly rough childhood in Minnesota, the disease that took his mother, and his realization that he had the ability to simply go for longer than most other people. Jurek is also interestingly a vegan, proving that a plant-based diet can provide enough nutrients for the most strenous activity.

Not surprisingly, ultrarunning provides a lot of alone time to think, and Jurek has done lots of thinking about the things that matter in life.

No matter what kind of activity you yourself engage in, this short, surprisingly laid-back story of overcoming is well worth reading.

Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling ★★★☆☆

Short, breezy and fun read from the writer and actress.

Fiction

He Died with His Eyes Open, by Derek Raymond ★★★★★

Thorougly bleak noir from Thatcher’s London in the 1980s, featuring what might be the most jaded, soul-weary protagonist of all time.

This is the strongest noir I’ve come across since Jim Thompson, and that’s really saying something: Raymond captures the essence of desperation of ’80s London the same way Thompson captured the small-town South in Pop. 1280. Can’t give higher praise than that.

But beware: this truly is industrial-strength bleakness couched in beautiful, poetic language.

Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson ★★★★☆

Vastly ambitious gritty fantasy in the vein of Glen Cook’s Black Company series, Gardens of the Moon is the first novel of 10 in Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

First, the good: Erikson has created a large, lived-in world that mostly avoids the tropes of the genre—no elves and trolls, but plenty of other more or less strange non-humans and an interesting system of magic, and populated that world with interesting, believable characters who do interesting things.

The weakness is that Erikson goes full Gatling gun: The plot is super dense and has so many characters it can be hard to keep track of everything that goes on and all the people running around. Above all, he doesn’t telegraph which characters and plots are central and which are less important. As a reader, you can’t sit back and let the story carry you along: You have to pay attention at all times. So, there’s work, but the work is rewarded with a deep, vast story.

Blindsight, by Peter Watts ★★★★☆

In the near-future, humanity has found the way to live out life in a cyber hallucination, to fix any genetic weaknesses, to rewire the brain, to get free energy from space and has re-created vampires. Yes, vampires. Turns out there used to be vampires, but they died out.

And then first contact is made with a mysterious alien civilization and a probe is sent out. A probe filled with misfits.

This is extremely smart hard SF with truly alien aliens and an interesting if unlikeable protagonist (one who’s had half his brain and a lot of his humanity removed), but above all it’s a kind of grim meditation on what makes us human.

I waffled between three and four stars, since Blindsight certainly isn’t what anybody would call fun to read, but at the same time it hooks you so hard and refuses to let go it does deserve the fourth star. It’s the kind of novel where you can almost hear a church organ stuck on the lowest bass note as you read. Star Wars, it ain’t.

King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence ★★★★☆

Follow up to the relentlessly grim Prince of Thorns (my review here)is if anything even grimmer. This is grimdark. Weird, brutal and very hard to put down if you can stomach it.

The Departure, by Neal Asher ★★☆☆☆

As a big fan of Neal Asher’s Polity series, I’m sad to report that The Departure was a tough one to get through. Set in a near-future dystopian Earth, it is relentlessly hopeless and bleak. Yes, too bleak for me, which is saying something.

(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.)

You have thoughts? I’m @niclindh on Twitter and I want to know what you think.


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