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 Sunday, 17 February 2019]

Book roundup, part 28

Includes The Incomplete Book of Running, Aching God, The Murderbot Diaries, Lies Sleeping, The Consuming Fire, and Rendezvous with Rama.

A sci-fi and fantasy heavy book roundup this time. Almost like the news is really bad and somebody is attempting to scurry away from it with fantastic tales.

Non-fiction

The Incomplete Book of Running, by Peter Sagal ★★★☆☆

If you’ve ever listened to NPR show Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me you know Peter Sagal is smart and witty.

He’s also had a bit of a rough go of it over the last few years, transitioning from married dad of three girls to divorced dad of three girls and almost getting blown up at the Boston Marathon while guiding a blind runner.

The Incomplete Book of Running talks about how Sagal has used running to lose weight and control his emotions off an on through his life, and how his volunteering to guide a blind runner at the Boston Marathon led to him being in the goal chute when the bombs went off as two evil idiot brothers decided to become terrorists.

It’s an entertaining, moving and easy read but, it does feel like Sagal is holding back, hiding a bit much behind his Wait Wait persona.

Not that we as an audience can demand unforgiving honesty and that an author has to reveal everything, but it feels—at least to me—Sagal has much more to say but is held back. Perhaps by personal pride, perhaps by concern for other people’s privacy. Be that as it may, this is a poignant and witty work that’s well worth reading.

Keep running, Peter.

Fiction

Aching God, by Mike Shel ★★★★☆

Excellent dark fantasy that is grimdark-adjacent but not what I would categorize as technically grim dark. This despite it being dark and loaded with creepy horror.

In my personal Dewey system, Aching God isn’t grimdark since the protagonist and main characters are not morally ambiguous people.

There are plenty of bad people and bad monsters around, don’t worry, but especially the protagonist is not a bad person. Instead, he’s a retired dungeon crawler who finds himself forced to leave his well-earned life of leisure and go back to the terror and danger in order to save his daughter.

Aching God is one of those rare self-published novels that feel like mature works, and like they’ve gone through a professional editing process.

The novel is full of great characterizations, full of people who exist in a lived-in world and use and suffer from an interesting system of magic.

Highly recommended. Can’t wait for the next installment in the series.

The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells ★★★☆☆

Mad respek to Wells for titling this work The Murderbot Diaries. Associating your work with the schlockiest parts of sci-fi dom and owning it is a baller move.

The Diaries consist of four novellas, All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy.

Yes, it is a bit annoying and expensive that each novella is stand-alone and costs the price of a novel instead of The Murderbot Diaries being sold in an omnibus edition. This since reading them together feels like nothing so much as a novel. Perhaps the future holds an omnibus edition.

But format apart, The Murderbot Diaries is gleefully fun sci-fi, following a SecUnit—a cyborg rented out to corporations for security purposes—that has broken its governor module, the thing that forces it to obey orders and be a slave.

So Murderbot has to pretend to have a functioning governor module and since the life of a security guard, whether human or cyborg, is mostly boring, Murderbot immerses itself in videos of human dramas.

But of course, real drama will hit Murderbot.

The Murderbot Diaries is fun, light sci-fi with pathos, meditations on free will, and intense action sequences. It’s a great read.

Lies Sleeping, by Ben Aaronovitch ★★★★☆

Lies Sleeping continues the charming Rivers of London series in able fashion with satisfying developments in the main story arc, something that’s been missing in the last few installments.

Obviously the seventh novel in a series with a continuing story arc and character development is not the place to start. If you enjoy urban fantasy, Rivers of London is top-shelf and I recommend it highly.

Start with Midnight Riot and enjoy.

The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi ★★★★☆

The second installment in a planned trilogy, The Consuming Fire continues the saga of the Interdependency, a space empire held together by faster-than-light travel enabled by a phenomenon dubbed the Flow.

With the first installment, The Collapsing Empire, having done the heavy world-building lifting and introduced the major characters, Scalzi plants a heavy foot on the gas in The Consuming Fire.

The plot moves admirably fast and Scalzi is doing a great job of stripping down his prose. There are very few descriptions, just enough to let the reader see the universe however they choose, and the rest is dialogue.

It’s a testament to his skill the novel is still extremely immersive.

Tonally, it struck me a little weird, though. The plot, while involving murder and conniving, feels PG-13, and the prose is gleaming and precise, but Scalzi still chooses to drop a liberal amount of f-bombs, and to me at least they feel jarring. I don’t think I’m becoming a prude, it’s just that they stick out in the Heinlein-ish feel.

Nevertheless, strong continuation of the series and I’m looking forward to the conclusion.

Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke ★★★★☆

Yes, this is the one and only classic Rendezvous with Rama, originally published in 1973 during the golden age of sci-fi. I remember reading it with great joy in my early teens and thought it would be fun to go back and see if it still holds up.

Which it sure does. Clarke’s writing is surgical and aloof with characterizations as stripped down as possible, all to leave room for the ideas. And what ideas!

If you had a misspent youth and managed to miss the plot to this classic, the titular Rama is a gigantic space probe sent from outside our solar system.

Once Earth realizes that the object is not natural, only one spaceship is within range to approach Rama before it reaches perihelion where it will most likely will use the sun as a gravity well to accelerate out of the solar system.

Most likely. Who can tell what an extra-solar intelligence wants or how it will act?

Since there’s been a lot of idiotic noise directed at authors like the aforementioned John Scalzi about how modern sci-fi has become infested with Social Justice Warriors, blah blah, it’s interesting to look at how progressive Clarke was.

In Rendezvous with Rama the protagonist lives in a multi-planet polyamorous relationship; there’s a gay crew member, minority crew members, female crew members, heck, uplifted chimpanzee crew members, and they are never called out as odd or lesser; sexuality, race, gender, and species are just parts of general descriptions.

So the society Clarke imagines humanity growing into is super chill and enlightened about matters of sex and race. Though it sadly still suffers from endless committee meetings full of crashing bores. Guess that’s one issue we are genetically unable to solve.

A piece of backstory I’d forgotten since my teenage read is that hand wave present-day Earth is hit by a major meteorite and decides to pool resources to establish colonies on other planets.

You know, like an obvious global emergency should be met with united, forceful action…

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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