Just like all of Hastings’s other World War II histories, Retribution is utterly masterful. It covers the horrors of the last year of the conflict in great detail, weaving together the different strains of events into a master narrative, and paints an indelible picture of the madness of Japanese culture at the time, the perversion of Bushido into virulent, nihilistic fascism.
Hastings also makes a strong case for how the events of World War II in the Pacific laid the intellectual framework for how America was to engage in its future wars:
The outcome of the Pacific conflict persuaded some Americans that they could win wars at relatively small human cost, by the application of their country’s boundless technological ingenuity and industrial resources. The lesson appeared to be that, if the US possessed bases from which its warships and aircraft could strike at the land of an enemy, victories could be gained by the expenditure of mere treasure, and relatively little blood. Only in the course of succeeding decades did it become plain that Japan was a foe uniquely vulnerable to American naval and air power projection. Some modern US historians assert that the pursuit of decisive victory is central to the American way of war. If true, this renders their country chronically vulnerable to disappointment. The 1950-53 Korean conflict proved only the first of many demonstrations that the comprehensive triumph achieved by the US in the Second World War was a freak of history, representing no norm. Modern experience suggests that never again will overwhelming military, naval and air power suffice to fulfil American purposes abroad as effectively as it did in the Pacific war. Limited wars offer notable opportunities to belligerents of limited means. Only total war enabled a liberal democracy to exploit weapons of mass destruction.
He also provides a strong case for how the release of atomic weapons over two Japanese cities did not by itself avert the necessity of an Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, but rather that they were the logical escalation of the ongoing American terror bombings that, together with the naval blockade, already had the Empire on the verge of collapse.
(“Olympic” was the code name for the Allied invasion of Japan.)
The Japanese continued to delude themselves that they had time to talk, time to probe and haggle with each other and with the Allies. They believed that their ability to extract a huge blood price from their enemy before succumbing represented a formidable bargaining chip. Instead, of course, this helped to undo them. It seems irrelevant to debate the merits of rival guesstimates for Olympic’s US casualties—63,000, 193,000, a million. What was not in doubt was that invading Japan would involve a large loss of American lives, which nobody wished to accept. Blockade and fire-bombing had already created conditions in which invasion would probably be unnecessary.
The dropping of the bombs did not represent, as Truman and others later claimed, a direct alternative to a costly US invasion of Japan. The people disastrously influenced by the prospect of Olympic were not Americans, but the Japanese, whom it persuaded to continue the war.
Other historians disagree, of course.
If you’re interested in history, and especially if you’re interested in World War II, Hastings is your guy. Brilliant.
Note: Retribution is titled Nemesis in some markets.
After the economic collapse of 2008, Michael Lewis decided to travel to world hotspots of the aftermath of the collapse to see how they were faring, including Greece, Iceland, and Ireland.
Lewis is, of course, a master storyteller and has a wonderful knack for finding interesting characters to illustrate his points.
In Boomerang the Greek monks who became real estate magnates and a colorful Irish protestor stand out as larger-than-life yet still believable characters, but the book is full of them.
Personally, I decided to read Boomerang thinking it’s almost been ten years since the crash and I was emotionally ready to relive it. I was wrong.
Reading the aftermath of a bunch of sociopathics making themselves millionaires on the backs of the rest of the world still makes me fume, and probably always will.
Just like Old Man’s War, The Collapsing Empire is grand, fun space opera in the tradition of Heinlein. John Scalzi, of course, is the current master of that tradition, having mastered the interplay between grand sci-fi ideas, character building, and goofiness, all coupled with deceptively simple prose that doesn’t call attention to itself.
The Collapsing Empire is the beginning of a new series and as such it has to spend a fair amount of time and energy on world building, but with that caveat out of the way, it still doesn’t reach the heights of Old Man’s War.
The problem, at least for me, is that the world just isn’t as invigorating as the one in Old Man’s War.
But it’s a good start to a new series and just plain fun. Hoping it hits its groove in the next installment.
If you’re a fan of Scalzi’s other works or fun space opera in general, you can’t go wrong with The Collapsing Empire.
This is a fun medium-future sci-fi novella about an android that is rented out for security duties in corporate space exploration.
However, this particular android has a broken “governor module” meaning that it can make its own decisions.
It also refers to itself as “Murderbot.” (Cue dun-dun-DUN sound.)
All Systems Red is a quick, fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a little space opera and a little cyberpunk with a sprinkling of noir.
I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.
The first installment in the Machineries of Empire series, Ninefox Gambit is trippy and weird far-future space opera.
The main thing to know about this novel is that you will have a very hard time understanding what is going on, but at the same time it is beautifully written and ultimately worth it to understand the opaque setting.
But you need to be tolerant of confusion and having strange and sometimes disturbing ideas thrown at you.
Ninefox Gambit is weird, yo. If you’re up for putting on your thinking cap, it’s a very interesting read, loaded with Grand Ideas.
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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.
Lots of sci-fi in this installment. Includes Retribution, Boomerang, The Collapsing Empire, All Systems Red, and Ninefox Gambit.
A worthy inclusion to the Malazan canon and great high fantasy to disappear into in troubled times.
Includes a mea culpa, Hillbilly Elegy, Gulp, The Stars are Legion, and The Kill Society.
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?.
Hey kids, you like epic fantasy? ’Cause I've got some epic fantasy for you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A slimmer-than-usual book roundup is heavy on the non-fiction, including several must-read titles.
Another book roundup, including some stellar athletes and soldiers, what might be the most jaded, soul-weary protagonist ever, and some grimdark fantasy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Includes The Drop, Ready Player One, Moon Called, Among Others, Excession, Inferno, The Paleo Solution and I am Ozzy.
Includes Sandman Slim, Snuff, The Cold Commands, Reamde, Goodbye Darkness, Steve Jobs and The Psychopath Test.
Some books you might enjoy reading.