The Core Dump

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

[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.


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.


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.

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