The Core Dump

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

[By Nic Lindh on Monday, 22 June 2015]

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.

Non-fiction

Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard, by John Branch ★★★☆☆

Anybody who knows me knows that very few of my neurons are occupied with sports. But I am interested in humans, and the troubling, dishonorable way organized sports has dealt with issues like head trauma and the pain of athletes’ broken bodies made me pick up Boy on Ice.

And it’s disgusting. The callous disregard of Boogaard’s teams as he spirals into prescription pain killer abuse from the need to dampen the pain of his injuries enough to stay on the ice as an enforcer is horrifying.

Also, I had no idea ice hockey had gotten that brutal and the scenes of the audience roaring its approval and bloodlust at the constant fights does not compare favorably with the Romans at their games.

Boy on Ice is well-reported and well-written and deals with an important issue, but it runs much longer than it really needs, devolving into a seemingly endless list of games Boogaard participated in, who he fought, the weather that day, and on and on. Though perhaps it only felt that long since I’m not a fan. Your mileage may vary.

And speaking of not being a fan: For all that’s holy, people, it’s by definition a game. Should people really get crippled and die for your entertainment?

Wait, don’t answer that.

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution, by Brett Martin ★★★☆☆

Tracks the inner workings of the latest golden age of television, shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, and Breaking Bad, how they were greenlit, the economics behind the scenes and of course the showrunners who brought them to fruition.

Basically it’s a litany of damaged men being difficult-to-deal-with artistes while creating shows about damaged men being difficult-to-deal-with in even more sociopathic and violent means than the showrunners themselves.

It’s an interesting look into a notoriously weird industry and how some people—all men, in this case—managed to create art despite the intentions and interruptions of the people holding the money bags.

As a sidenote and something I’ve never thought about, there’s a discussion about the golden age of American film in the 1970s that makes the argument that it was possible because of most movie theaters being located in the inner cities and how when the theaters moved into the suburbs the spell was broken and Summer Flagpole Blow Stuff Up became a thing, as it relates to the golden age of television becoming possible as cable TV became a thing, freeing the creators from the shackles of pleasing mainstream audiences and the motivations TV executives projected onto the mass audiences.

Difficult Men is a good read for anybody interested in how dramatic television gets made and shows how much of the business is sheer dumb luck and timing and the constraints creators operate under, but it does feels a bit neutered, like the really good bits are being held back.

Restaurant Man, by Joe Bastianich ★★☆☆☆

Bastianich has made his fortune creating hip restaurants and Restaurant Man is his telling of his journey. As a person who enjoys eating and cooking, I found it both interesting and revolting—turns out the restaurant business is horrifying and something I want to never get involved with, even as a customer.

It’s an interesting read, even if Bastianich’s in-your-face alpha male from New York schtick gets very tiring very fast. And Bastianich comes across as a person I never want to meet. The words Christ what an asshole did flit through my mind many a time while reading Restaurant Man. But be that as it may, it is an interesting look into the world of celebrity chef-dom.

The Red Line, by John Nichol ★★★★☆

Tells the tale of the bloodiest night of RAF’s Bomber Command during World War II, the disastrous Nuremberg raid, a poorly conceived and executed bombing run where nearly 700 men were shot out of the sky in a single night.

If you’ve read Bomber Command, Max Hastings’s magisterial work on the RAF’s bombing campaign, The Red Line doesn’t add much new information, but it adds much color to the experiences of the bomber crews, who, like so many soldiers during WWII, went through such horrific events it’s amazing most of them were able to return to society after the war.

Cunning Plans: Talks by Warren Ellis, by Warren Ellis ★★★★☆

A compilation of recent talks by writer and Internet mad man Warren Ellis about the intersection of magic and technology, the haunted future, and general very smart weirdness. Well worth reading and thinking about and only $0.99 in the US, so worth taking a chance on if you’re not familiar with the oddness that is Warren Ellis.

Fiction

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson ★★★★☆

Neal Stephenson is one of those frustrating writers who are so talented and smart you develop a complex just reading them. Seveneves continues that tradition. But it really is two novels in one—the first one being a tale of the world preparing for an inevitable apocalypse, and the second one picking up the story of the survivors 5,000 years later.

Seveneves is a throwback to Heinlein-style hard sci-fi where Smart Engineers Solve Problems and normal humans get in the way with their Emotions and Politics. (Though without the troubling misogyny of that genre.) It’s a very nice mode for Stephenson to work in and allows him to move a fast and sleek plot efficiently forward with his usual elegant prose.

The first part of the novel is a compelling, breathless page turner, an extremely well-engineered techno thriller, and then the 5,000 years later part drops a full dubstep wub-break as Stephenson imagines the results of the decisions made in the first part, allowing the novel to shine in a more speculative way.

It’s an impressive work, though marred a little in the second part by supposedly rational people making some strange choices and people having a jarring ability to look at their own societies from the outside in with much more detachment than seems possible (even allowing for genetic changes).

But, quibbles. Seveneves is an event and you should read it.

Nemesis Games, by James SA Corey ★★★★☆

The fifth book in the Expanse series, it, well, continues the Expanse series in extremely able fashion.

If you’re already in the fold you’ll want to read this, duh, and if you’re not, well then you probably don’t like amazing space opera.

Not much more to say about Nemesis Games—you know if it’s your bag or not.

Bitter Seeds, by Ian Tregillis ★★★★☆

Bitter Seeds is the first novel in the Milkweed Triptych, followed by The Coldest War and Necessary Evil. This review is for all three novels since it’s kind of silly to think of them as three novels—it’s one novel that’s been split into three. If this review intrigues you, start with Bitter Seeds then be prepared to get into the other two installments.

Because it’s a doozy. This is really intense alternate history World War II and Cold War history work that mixes in magic and what seems like magic but apparently is not and a powerful, haunting sense of dread and regret.

It’s close to impossible to talk about the plot of Milkweed without spoling things, so let’s just say that Oh, those Nazis and their mad scientists and the horrible decisions they force their enemies into.

If you like speculative fiction, the hard price of impossible choices, and tight plotting, you’ll like the Milkweed Triptych.

The Mechanical, by Ian Tregillis ★★★★☆

Strange, ambitious alternate history (again from Ian Tregillis) about a world where the Dutch discovered how to build Clakkers—basically steam punk sentient robots—and callously use them as slaves.

It’s a powerful novel tinged with pain that acts as a meditation on free will, subjugation and (who saw it coming?) sentient zeppelins.

The Mechanical is a trip and if you’re into fantasy, sci-fi or speculative fiction it’s a given.

Angles of Attack, by Marko Kloos★★★☆☆

An enjoyable continuation of the series started in Terms of Enlistment (my review here), but a little frustrating in that it doesn’t advance the reader’s understanding of the implacable enemy humanity is facing, known as the Lankies.

Nevertheless, you like the series, you’ll like this. If you’ve never heard of it, start at the beginning with Terms of Enlistment. Good, classic sci-fi.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett ★★★★☆

City of Stairs is very exciting—a fresh take on fantasy with unique world building and seductive prose. Reading it is a bit like having a fever dream, in a good way. It’s a very hard novel to summarize without spoiling the experience, so just take my word that if you like fantasy but are feeling a bit tired of the usual pseudo-middle-ages Tolkien vibe, you’ll find this refreshing.

There are quibbles, like that a major plot point hinges on a super intelligent intelligence operative not seeing what’s right in front of her face that mar the experience a bit, but they’re only quibbles. City of Stairs is fresh and exciting.

Note: Links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through them I get a tiny kickback from Amazon. It doesn’t cost you anything.

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You like books? So do I!

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.