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 Monday, 27 November 2017]

Book roundup, part 24

Lots of sci-fi in this installment. Includes Retribution, Boomerang, The Collapsing Empire, All Systems Red, and Ninefox Gambit.

Non-fiction

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, by Max Hastings ★★★★★

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.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis ★★★☆☆

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.

Deep breaths.

Fiction

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi ★★★☆☆

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.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells ★★★☆☆

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.

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee ★★★☆☆

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.

Note: The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s appreciated.

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


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