The Core Dump

Lower your shields and surrender your ships

[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.

« Bat out of Hell

 »


I’ve read a lot of books and I’ve reviewed many of them.

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.