The Core Dump

The Core Dump is the personal blog of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American pixel-pusher living in Phoenix, Arizona.

[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 11 May 2024]

Book roundup, part 37

Includes Doppelgänger, Be Useful, Rose/House, System Collapse, and Empire of the Wolf.


Doppelgänger, by Naomi Klein ★★★★☆

Doppelgänger is a fascinating read which illuminates the ways the discourse has gone off the rails and people have lost their minds after Covid and the lockdowns. Klein is of course a well-known leftist writer, who kept finding herself confused with Naomi Wolf, the once-respected feminist writer who has now descended into the anti-vaxx, anti-science, anti-everything lunatic fringe.

As Klein kept getting confused with Wolf, she found herself becoming obsessed with her doppelgänger. What was happening with Wolf that she kept moving into the fringes of what Klein calls the Mirror World? A place that takes in both the woo chakra crystal left and right wing lunatics.

Doppelgänger is a very disciplined look into a huge swath of the Internet and our fellow citizens and how they think. Klein infuses a lot of empathy and humanity in describing people like Wolf and her followers and how they veered off from reality into their scary Mirror World. For me the biggest takeaway was that Wolf and ilk are not incorrect about the issues we face and the state of the world, but that they’ve attached themselves to deranged notions of the reasons for the issues and the solutions that might work.

Be Useful, by Arnold Schwarzenegger ★★★☆☆

Basically the book can be boiled down to, Get off your butt and do things. But that’s not really fair to Schwarzenegger, who really leans into the massively positive persona he’s projected for a while now. There are of course parts about his incredible journey from growing up in small-town Austria with an abusive father to becoming the face of bodybuilding, one of the biggest movie stars ever, and governor of the world’s sixth-largest economy, as well as musings on how to approach obstacles in life.

Be Useful, as you would expect, is not a deep book that will challenge the way you look at the world, but it is, at least for me, uplifting in its relentless positivity, and a nice reminder that work can pay off. So yes, it does feel a lot like a TED Talk, but with the state of the world these days is it so wrong with some relentless unceasing brute-force positivity?

Get your reps in.


Rose/House, by Arkady Martine ★★★★☆

In the near-future, a celebrated architect with a cult following builds a house in the desert, a house run by an AI. The architect dies and is buried in the house which is then closed for everybody except his appointed guardian, who may access the house once a year, but only once a year.

But an AI must by law report a death, so one day the house calls the police to report there is a dead body in the house.

This sets off an odd story about the mystery of the dead body in the closed house and the AI ghost that haunts it.

Rose/House is a short, dreamlike whodunit about an impossible death, a strange AI, and the near future. The highest compliment I can give is that it feels very much like something William Gibson would write, except it’s not copying William Gibson at all. Strong recommend.

NOTE: For some reason only has the audio version. Not sure why.

System Collapse, by Martha Wells ★★★☆☆

Continues the adventures of Murderbot, a security robot who has been freed from its governor module and is no longer enslaved. The concept is wonderful and Wells writes with crisp efficiency, but it’s starting to feel like the concept is getting played out. Reading System Collapse, at least for me, feels like this well is starting to run dry. There’s lots—oh, lots!—of action, but System Collapse is simply more of the same as the previous installments.

At its core, Murderbot is such a a great character and the series is so charming I really hope Wells finds some new ore to mine from the concept, and if you’ve read the previous installments, hey, it’s Murderbot, so you’re going to have a good time.

Empire of the Wolf, by Richard Swan ★★★★☆

Empire of the Wolf is a fresh and interesting take on Fantasy, leaving some tropes intact while using a different kind of medieval society as its inspiration for the trilogy. The books are narrated by the apprentice of an Empire’s Justice, writing much later about the end of the Empire of the Wolf. An end that is shown as inevitable in hindsight but not at all clear for the people living through it.

There are fresh takes in Empire of the Wolf, like the narrator being a young woman, an orphan from the war that created the Empire of the Wolf, and an interesting system of magic that is carefully rolled out throughout the series. It’s also not grimdark. Gritty, maybe, with plenty of characters acting like dimwits out of the real world. The prose is matter-of-fact without flourishes, which works well with the plot.

A few nits are a tendency to do very heavy-handed foreshadowing. Heavy like saying, “We let that guy go. We really shouldn’t have done that.” It also feels a bit padded, with some action sequences dragging on quite a bit, and some magic species that really don’t enhance the story apart from being a bit cool. It feels like Swan has bigger intentions with this world, and those magical species may be a part of that, but for Empire of the Wolf they’re extraneous.

All in all, this is great fantasy with a huge sweep, an interesting society, and above all a lot of humanity. Swan clearly likes his characters, so even though there is peril and death and horrors, the book has warmth and empathy.

Empire of the Wolf consists of Justice of Kings, Tyranny of Faith, and Trials of Empire. Highly recommended if you’re an epic fantasy fan.

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

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