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, 05 October 2014]

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.

Non-fiction

All Hell Let Loose, by Max Hastings ★★★★★

World War II was arguably the most disastrous event in human history, causing staggering suffering and death. In this tremendous volume noted historian Max Hastings focuses on that suffering and the experiences of soldiers and civilians around the world as they experienced this cataclysm.

It is often breathtaking: the suffering people endured is often literally incomprehensible. But above all, All Hell Let Loose illustrates just how little people knew about what was going on, and not just the common people, but right at the top of the command structure.

The confusion and pain is often hard to stomach, but the book is full of stories that should be told.

All Hell Let Loose is required reading.

Metallica: This Monster Lives, by Joe Berlinger and Greg Milner ★★★★☆

Tells the backstory of the intense documentary Some Kind of Monster which chronicles the journey of therapy Metallica went on before and while recording St. Anger—mostly known for being the album where Lars Ulrich decided to play with a broken drum kit—donk! donk! donk! The documentary itself is a fascinating insight into the minds of the damaged people who make up arguably the biggest band in any genre around today and it turns out the creation of the movie was just as intense and random as the product.

If you’re interested in Metallica, the creative process, or how to make a documentary involving serious egos, Metallica: This Monster Lives is well worth reading.

And yes, it answers (some) of the questions the documentary made you ask about the band’s psychiatrist…

10% Happier, by Dan Harris ★★★☆☆

Dan Harris was a hard-charging TV reporter making a career in New York and nursing an escalating coke habit when he had an anxiety attack on national live television. In 10% Happier he tells the story of how, as a skeptic A-type, he goes on a spiritual journey that ends up with him discovering meditation and how it has helped him deal with his addictive personality and basically being an A-type asshole.

It’s a quick, breezy, and enjoyable read.

Onward, by Howard Schultz and Joanne Gordon ★★☆☆☆

Howard Schultz is the CEO of Starbucks and Onward is the story of how he led the company through the 2008 financial meltdown, which coincided with the fallout from a lot of bad decisions coming home to roost for the company.

I picked up this book since I had heard good things and also wanted to get a better insight into the mindset of a CEO, and will admit to rage-reading a large part of it.

Schultz comes across as a high-energy, high-ego individual who is nowhere near as bright as he thinks he is. But the fascinating thing about the book is the delusion—to be a leader you have to have a delusion: Things right now are x but if we work hard we can make them y. Schultz’s delusion is that each Starbucks store is a third place where people make meaningful connections that make their lives better and that Starbucks is a coffee authority that serves the best coffee you can get anywhere.

In the reality I inhabit Starbucks is a place where tired office drones grab chemical relief, young people buy 200-calorie cream concoctions and the coffee is at best passable.

Obviously, Schultz’s delusions have worked out better for him than my reality has for me.

Apart from the ideal-Starbucks fantasy, what made Onward such a rage-read was how Schultz kept discovering the most basic business concepts and presenting them like they were divinations. Things like, you should only open stores in locations where they are likely to do well. That’s fascinating, Captain Obvious.

There are many anecdotes of Schultz visiting stores and being moved almost to tears by the dedication of the “partners” (what Starbucks calls employees since they are in no way running a retail chain, nope, they are creating opportunities for people to meet and connect blah blah).

Just like with McDonalds or Apple, I do have a lot of respect for the sheer logistics of Starbucks—being able to serve a cup of coffee or hamburger that tastes exactly the same no matter where you are is an impressive feat all by itself.

But reading about the mental anguish of the CEO as he struggles so very hard—and demands absolute commitment from his “partners” to do the same—to maintain a fantasy is headache-inducing.

But Onward is an interesting look into the power of self-delusion.

Oh, and the title comes from Schultz’s email tagline, as he mentions with pride…

Fiction

Echopraxia, by Peter Watts ★★★★★

The follow-up to the weird and disturbing Blindsight, Echopraxia is by far Peter Watts’s best work. It’s a world where technology has run amok and humanity is busy rewiring bodies and brains, splintering into subspecies at a dizzying rate, mysterious aliens have made first contact, and the world is falling apart in frightening ways.

The writing style is completely different, but you can think of Echopraxia as Neuromancer if it was written by a completely strung out and paranoid neurologist who seriously needs an intervention.

It’s amazing.

Cibola Burn, by James S.A. Corey ★★★★☆

Cibola Burn continues the excellent Expanse series and is a given for fans of the series. (Which you should be—it’s the best new sci-fi in a long time.) It does feel like a transitional novel, though, one that lays the groundwork for the next phase in the series rather than bringing the story arch forward much.

That being said, it is chock-full of action and displays Corey’s talent for putting people in a bad situation and then sadistically escalating that situation. My inner monologue reading Cibola Burn pretty much went: “Oh, man, this is bad. Uh-oh, now it’s really bad. Wait, what? At least it can’t get worse now. Oh crap. Nonono. Well, now things can’t get worse. WHAT?”

So, an enjoyable read, and one that leaves you wanting to find out where this series is going to go next.

The Getaway God, by Richard Kadrey ★★★★☆

Also a continuation of a series, The Getaway God finds Sandman Slim once more attempting to save the world. If you liked the other installments in the series, you’ll like this. But of course, you need to start at the beginning.

Lock In, by John Scalzi ★★★★☆

Highly entertaining and eminently readable clever near-future sci-fi, the conceit is that an influenza-like epidemic has spread around the world, killing some people and leaving others “locked” in their bodies—the sufferers are fully alert but cannot control their bodies at all.

Thanks to some technological hand-waving, the sufferers are equipped with remotes, essentially robots they telepathically control, enabling them to interact with others.

It’s a good concept and Scalzi uses it to great effect to construct what is basically a techno-thriller whodunit.

Highly recommended.

The Red: First Light, by Linda Nagata ★★★☆☆

(Looks like the publisher pulled the Kindle version of this, so the link goes to the paperback.)

Set in a near-future dystopia where defense contractors are employing armies of mercenaries to fight endless brush-fire wars, The Red tells the story of Lieutenant Shelley, who seems to have pre-cognition that allows him to repeatdly save the soldiers under his command.

But what is behind his talent?

The novel is tightly written with a plot that moves along quickly. If you like techno-thrillers or military sci-fi, you’ll enjoy The Red.

Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos ★★★☆☆

Solid near-future military sci-fi with lots of shades of Heinlein, Terms of Enlistment is set on an overpopulated Earth that has started to migrate to the stars. If, like most people, you are born in a welfare slum, your only options to get out are to either win the actual lottery and get a ticket to an uncertain future on a colony or to join the military and help keep the welfare slums under control.

The novel is a classic hero’s journey, with a likeable protagonist and some interesting plot twists. If you like the genre, you’ll enjoy this.

Lines of Departure, by Marko Kloos ★★★☆☆

Continues the story begun in Terms of Enlistment and broadens the scope while staying action-heavy. If you liked the first novel in the series, you’ll like this.

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


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