The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[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.)

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You like books? So do I!

Book roundup, part 27

Includes Hollywood Dead, Tales from the Loop, Things from the Flood, The Court of Broken Knives, and Port of Shadows.

Book roundup, part 26

Includes The Storm Before the Storm, White Trash, Calypso, Tell the Machine Goodnight, Prince of Fools, and Provenance.

Book roundup, part 25

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.

Book roundup, part 24

Lots of sci-fi in this installment. Includes Retribution, Boomerang, The Collapsing Empire, All Systems Red, and Ninefox Gambit.

Review: Novels of the Malazan Empire

A worthy inclusion to the Malazan canon and great high fantasy to disappear into in troubled times.

Book roundup, part 23

Includes a mea culpa, Hillbilly Elegy, Gulp, The Stars are Legion, and The Kill Society.

Book roundup, part 22

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?.

Malazan Book of the Fallen

Hey kids, you like epic fantasy? ’Cause I've got some epic fantasy for you.

Book roundup, part 21

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.

Book roundup, part 20

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.

Book roundup, part 19

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.

Book roundup, part 18

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.

Book roundup, part 17

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.

Book roundup, part 16

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.

Book roundup, part 15

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.

Book roundup, part 14

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.

Book roundup, part 13

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.

Book roundup, part twelve

A slimmer-than-usual book roundup is heavy on the non-fiction, including several must-read titles.

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.

Book roundup, part ten

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.

Book roundup, part nine

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.

Book roundup, part eight

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.

Book roundup, part seven

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.

Book roundup, part six

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.

Book roundup, part five

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.

Book roundup, part four

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.

Book roundup, part three

Includes The Drop, Ready Player One, Moon Called, Among Others, Excession, Inferno, The Paleo Solution and I am Ozzy.

Book roundup, part two

Includes Sandman Slim, Snuff, The Cold Commands, Reamde, Goodbye Darkness, Steve Jobs and The Psychopath Test.

Book roundup, part one

Some books you might enjoy reading.