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, 30 October 2022]

Book roundup, part 34

We pour one out for The Expanse and Sandman Slim, and we raise our glasses for a sequel to Malazan. Also, an extra-bleak Holocaust tour and a discussion of how cults control their members through language. Includes Cultish, Nein, Nein, Nein, Driven, Happy-go-Lucky, The Nineties, Fargo Rock City, The Scholast in the Low Water Kingdom, King Bullet, The God is Not Willing, and Leviathan Falls.

I have tried to be a good boy. I’ve been reading a lot, trying very hard to rebuild my attention span from the damage dealt by the Trump administration and the pandemic, but it’s been challenging to say the least. Turns out doomscrolling and chaos are not good for your mental health or your attention span.

For some reason I’m especially having trouble keeping my attention on fiction. My Kindle and my Kobo (why both? Long nerd story) are littered with abandoned novels I started out engaged with and liking and then, boom, for whatever reason just couldn’t care about anymore.

It’s like a switch gets thrown. Which is really weird, as throughout my life I have Finished Novels I Started. This has been a defining personality trait of mine. I finish novels, dammit! I’m not one of those rich layabouts who can afford to throw away perfectly good books unread!

But for whatever reason, that’s just how my brain functions in this new, damaged mode: “This novel is very interesting and I can’t wait to see what happens!” A few pages later: “Nevermind! Ugh. Who cares.”

I’m obviously not going to call out any of those novels, since the problem is me, not them.

But I did make it through a few novels! They represent the ends of two great series, the restart of another and something strange and beautiful.

Non-fiction

Cultish, by Amanda Montell ★★★★☆

The main technique cults use to control and manipulate its members is a very precise use of language, but a “cultish” kind of language manipulation is also used by brands and influencers across society. Their goal is to increase sales instead of making you move to their weird commune, but the same kinds of techniques will move the sales needle as well as the subjugation needle.

Cultish is an eye-opening look at how language is used to push your buttons and should be required reading.

Nein, Nein, Nein, by Jerry Stahl ★★★★☆

Nein, Nein, Nein is Jerry Stahl’s account of his Holocaust tour—yes, Holocaust tours are very much a thing—and the struggle with his personal demons that drove him to attempt to sell the story of his bleak, ruined life as a sitcom, and to, during that ongoing catastrophe, visit Holocaust sites as the child of a survivor.

Nein, Nein, Nein is so, so utterly bleak, but also enormously funny and warm and above all humane.

Highly recommended if you can handle military-grade bleakness.

Driven, by Alex Davies ★★★★☆

So what’s up with self-driving cars? We were supposed to have them years ago, and Tesla will even sell you a self-driving beta so you can go your merry way scrolling on your phone while your car drives itself. (Tesla says you obviously have to be ready to take control of the car, you idiot, but nudge nudge wink wink.)

Turns out autonomous vehicles are really, really hard to get right. Driven is the story of how DARPA set the industry in motion with a self-driving challenge, and how for years tons of money and excitement have been sunk into self-driving, only to get so incredibly close but never quite there.

Driven is an engaging look at the personalities and companies behind the push for autonomous vehicles, the work that’s been done, and the work that needs to be done. And of course outsized Silicon Valley personalities.

Happy-go-Lucky, by David Sedaris ★★★☆☆

The brilliant David Sedaris loves to travel the country to stand on a stage and read his work. He’s one of the many performers and extroverts who went through a difficult time during the pandemic lockdowns. This was compounded by the death of his father. A father with whom, as everybody who’s read Sedaris’s earlier work knows, he had a difficult relationship.

During the pandemic, deprived of his usual routines and comforts, he also has to come to terms with the fact that both his father and mother are gone.

Happy-go-Lucky is probably the darkest Sedaris book I’ve read, which does make it appropriate for these times, but yeah, strap in.

The Nineties, by Chuck Klosterman ★★★★☆

It’s hard to overstate how disruptive the ’90s were, whether you’re talking music, culture, politics, or the Internet. In The Nineties, Klosterman does an excellent job of reminding those of us who lived through it what it was like, and also letting the younger crowd get a taste of the upheaval.

If you would like to learn or be reminded about recent history, this is a strong recommend.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Fargo Rock City, by Chuck Klosterman ★★★☆☆

Life is a journey of discovery, and one thing I learned about myself recently watching HBO’s Peacemaker was just how much trashy ’80s metal I listened to back in the day and how much of it still takes up residence in some of my long-suffering neurons. But should I feel bad about the amount of sleazy hair spray music me and my network of friends traded and dubbed onto cassettes back in the day? Was it really that terrible?

Klosterman makes the case that yes, a lot of it was, let’s say problematic, but in the end, when you’re a 13-year-old boy in a small town metal rocks. And the louder and dumber it is, the more it rocks. And as a young man in a small town you should definitely not be ashamed of wanting to rock.

For me, reading Fargo Rock City was surprisingly soothing and validating. If you also have skeletons with hair spray in your record collection you might want to see if it will help you too.

Throws horns, turns up Shout at the Devil.

Fiction

The Scholast in the Low Water Kingdom, by Max Gladstone ★★★☆☆

This is a strange little novella that I believe is only available on the Kindle as a Tor.com Original. Technically, I suppose it’s far-future sci-fi, but in reality it’s a dreamy and strange account of an inflection point in a culture and a terrible, barely-understood war.

If you’re in the mood for something a bit out of focus and ethereal, this will hit the spot.

King Bullet, by Richard Kadrey ★★★☆☆

Ah, the 12th and final Sandman Slim novel is here. The series has been having a bit of a hard time of it for the last few installments, struggling with where to go next, so it’s great to get an ending. True to form, the ending goes full-blast no-holds-barred with all the pyrotechnics you could hope for. Obviously, you’d be nuts to start here, but if you’ve gotten to the end of the Sandman Slim series, King Bullet puts it to bed with a bow.

This must have been a really hard landing to stick, so kudos to Kadrey, and also thank you for an absolutely bonkers series!

The God is Not Willing, by Steven Erikson ★★★★☆

Squee! Malazan is back! The God is Not Willing is the first installment in a trilogy that is a sequel to the brilliant Books of the Fallen series and I for one could not be more excited.

The God is Not Willing does feel a bit like Erikson is finding his sea legs again, a bit tentative and meandering, but nevertheless, it does pick up speed and gravity as it goes along. And just wait till you find out which god is not willing! If this were a podcast I’d be playing the airhorn right now. Wap wap wap!

If you’ve read the Books of the Fallen, well, you know what to do.

Leviathan Falls, by James S. A. Corey ★★★★☆

Far as I’m concerned, The Expanse is one of the best sci-fi series ever. So rich in culture—beltalowda!—characters and plot, so fantastic and out there and also so relatable. Just a phenomenal work of fiction.

But now it’s done. Dusted. Leviathan Falls ends at least this cycle of the plot in decent fashion. Of course it’s frustrating since there’s still so much about the universe we don’t know, and the grand finale nail biter feels overblown and overdone, but nevertheless it’s a good ending.

Godspeed, Rocinante!

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 greatly appreciated.

You have thoughts? Send me an email!


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