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, 20 September 2020]

Book roundup, part 31

Some very good history, some very strange novels and some slick space opera. Includes Enemy of all Mankind, A Very Punchable Face, Confederates in the Attic,Ballistic Kiss, Harrow the Ninth, The Library at Mount Char, Children of Time, The Last Emperox, and Cage of Souls.

Some very good history, some very strange novels and some slick space opera. Includes Enemy of all Mankind, A Very Punchable Face, Confederates in the Attic,Ballistic Kiss, Harrow the Ninth, The Library at Mount Char, Children of Time, The Last Emperox, and Cage of Souls.

Non-fiction

Enemy of all Mankind, by Steven Johnson ★★★★☆

Taking place mostly in the 1690s, Enemy of all Mankind weaves together the story of the first celebrity pirate Henry Every, the beginnings of mass media, and the relationship between the East India Company and the Mughal Empire which lead to the British colonization of India.

This is obviously is a big task, but Johnson pulls it off.

Exhaustively researched and deftly told, it shows how relatively small events can have a massive impact on global affairs and how interconnected the world was even back in the 1600s.

A bonus piece of content I’d somehow never heard of before is that the first newspapers were literally song lyrics. Publishers would write current events as lyrics to currently popular songs and street vendors would sing the lyrics in order to sell the sheets.

Another bonus was the origin of the word “strike”—it comes from sailors lowering, i.e. striking, their sails as a signal they refused to work.

Enemy of all Mankind is a great read. Highly recommended.

A Very Punchable Face, by Colin Jost ★★★★☆

From growing up accident prone on Staten Island to commuting to high school in Manhattan, to Harvard and then to SNL, Jost writes with charm and wit.

For whatever reason, he also shares things I would never ever tell another soul even if you waterboarded me.

A Very Punchable Face is a nice, light read about a man who is much more interesting than his face suggests.

Confederates in the Attic, by Tony Horwitz ★★★☆☆

War correspondent Tony Horwitz grew up fascinated by the Civil War. In Confederates in the Attic he delves into his own fascination and the fascination of so many people, American and foreign, with that conflict and the different takes on what it stood for.

Though it was released in 1999, the issues Horwitz faces as he sojourns around old battlefields and talks to everybody he can find about what the Civil War means to them are highly relevant in today’s reality with Black Lives Matter, the 1619 project, and the continued debate over monuments to the Confederacy across America.

Confederates in the Attics is a lot longer than I felt was necessary, and could really have been made stronger by being edited down, but at the same time, perhaps the length and Horwitz’s very engaging writing style are what lends it its power? He is very good at taking the reader into his journey and give people lots of time and space to make their own cases.

It is depressing, of course, that so very little has changed since the book’s 1999 release apart from the wounds in society becoming even more infected.

Fiction

Ballistic Kiss, by Richard Kadrey ★★★★☆

Oh yeah! The Sandman is back!

After several installments in the wonderful series that have felt a bit aimless and, frankly, emo, Sandman Slim is back to full-octane mayhem in Ballistic Kiss. Yes, it’s safe to get back in the Hellion-infested water.

The plot is very loud and dumb and the Sandman is as angry as ever, though he also finds room to explore his more sensitive gender-inclusive side, which is also a lot of fun.

I really needed the Sandman to go full throttle mayhem again, and he did. Obviously, start at the beginning of the series, though. This is book 11 out of a planned 12, so you know, it would be a weird place to start.

Fire up that Hellion Hog and go.

Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir ★★★☆☆

The second installment in the Locked Tomb trilogy continues the story from the twisted and über-Gothic Gideon the Ninth and somehow dials everything up a few more notches.

Harrow the Ninth is weirder, more Gothic, more confusing, and more energetic than the first installment.

Did I mention more confusing? You have to have a strong tolerance for confusion in the beginning of this book, or heck, for the entirety of the book as Muir does not make things easy for the reader. During the rougher sloughs it feels like she’s almost testing the reader—can you handle this much weirdness?

If you are strong enough, there’s a lot to like in Harrow the Ninth, including some clever and sometimes delightful jabs at space opera and horror tropes.

Unfortunately it also suffers from some instances of being too self-consciously clever-by-half and it is much too long, with some subplots that don’t seem to serve any other purpose than misdirection.

Nevertheless, the audacity is to be commended. If you liked Gideon the Ninth you’ll like this. If you’re strong enough.

Also, I’m just so incredibly charmed by some of the names Muir has conjured up. We had already met Harrowhark in the previous installment and now we get to meet Mercymorn. For whatever reason, these names just make me smile.

The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins ★★★★☆

I’m not sure how to classify this novel. Fantasy? Horror? It sure has elements of the fantastic and boy howdy are there horrific events.

The less you know going into this one, the better. But trust me, you’re in for a ride. Strap in.

If you like fantasy, horror, or general weirdness, get in on The Library at Mount Char!

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky ★★★★☆

Do you suffer from arachnophobia? In that case, stay far, far away from Children of Time. If you don’t, this is massively epic world building over huge time scales that includes really touching moments and uplifted spiders.

This is a very smart far-future sci-fi novel, and one that I really don’t want to spoil (apart from the spiders, obviously), but if you like epic sci-fi this is for you. You will like this, a lot.

The Last Emperox, by John Scalzi ★★★☆☆

The Last Emperox wraps up the Interdependency trilogy with a bow.

As usual with Scalzi, it’s clever with smooth polished prose, though his continued use of heaping helpings of eff-bombs in this series continue to feel odd, since to my ears at least it just doesn’t fit with the rest of his style.

Or perhaps I’m just a prude.

Either way, The Last Emperox does the job and finishes the trilogy.

Case closed. If you want Scalzi’s brand of goes-down-easy space opera, this is for you. And in these pandemic times, there’s a lot to say for goes-down-easy space opera.

Cage of Souls, by Adrian Tchaikovsky ★★☆☆☆

Perhaps it’s just pandemic brain on my part, but this one was a slog. Perhaps my expectations were set too high after reading the very good Children of Time.

Like Children of Time, Cage of Souls is also far-future sci-fi, but this time about humanity’s last city on Earth, where our species has pretty much decided to give up and wait for the end.

Apart from the bleak premise, my main problem is that the protagonist has so little agency. Basically the novel is a series of things that happen to him that he either can’t or won’t do anything about. Which means his successes are mostly dumb luck. It gets annoying.

Also making it a slog is that it’s much longer than it really should be. If you trimmed it by about a third it would be much, much better.

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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