The Nerds on Earth crew are occasionally known to take a vacation! When we do, we read.
This was recently the case for yours truly, so let’s take a quick glance at my vacation reading where you’ll see a mixture of sci-fi, fantasy, narrative non-fiction, and even a title for my day job.
Who knows, maybe you’ll see something you like.
Death Masks (Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher
I’ve written extensively on my love of The Dresden Files. Go there if you want a deep dive. For now, here is a summary:
Harry Dresden is a wizard who lives in present day Chicago, where he acts as a consultant for the police department. When the cops can’t crack a case because something about the whole situation feels a little woo woo, they call in the wizard. There are werewolves, vampires, fairies, and more, who all stump the police department but not Chicago’s resident wizard.
The books are intricately plotted but nothing is confusing. In fact, Butcher’s writing style is so breezy and accessible that they make perfect vacation reading. In addition, Harry Dresden is among the most likable heroes of just about any series I’ve ever read. Harry is always a little down on his luck with the odds stacked against him, but darned if you aren’t rooting for him the entire time.
Finally, the Dresden books are 110% fun. They aren’t trying to teach a lesson or deconstruct anything. They are written to entertain you by the pool, and I love them for that.
Star Wars Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed
I didn’t finish this book, giving up at page 88. It committed the cardinal sin of vacation reading: It was boring.
I do however want to highlight the premise and setting, both of which are excellent. Alphabet Squadron is set just after the Battle of Endor. The Empire is defeated and the New Republic is in a nascent state. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t growing pains and ample places to mop up after a war so intense.
A motley crew of pilots are recruited into a squadron in order to take down Shadow Wing, a squadron of TIE fighters who are still wreaking havoc across the galaxy.
So, that’s all fun. But nothing else about the book (well, the first 88 pages) is fun at all. It’s utterly humorless. The characters are unlikable. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to root for Alphabet Squadron or hate them, made worse because the book jumps from character perspective to character perspective.
It clocks in at over 500 pages and even 88 pages in, I could tell the book is 200 pages too long. The plotting is dull and dry. I know it’s not fair to compare it to the old Stackpole X-Wing books, but those are clearly what they were going for with this book. Too bad their photon torpedos missed wildly.
But here is the good news: People have different opinions. Another Nerds on Earth writers LOVED this book, so I’ll send you there for his thoughts. If you come away thinking his opinion is what you are aiming for, here is where you can buy Alphabet Squadron.
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
I’m a sucker for good narrative nonfiction. I see no downside to having fun while also learning something.
In the remote jungles of Honduras there was a legend of a lost city. Douglas Preston tells the tale of a group of archeologists and filmmakers who finally discover the “Lost City of the Monkey God.”
There are helicopter rides, deadly snakes, and a very colorful character. The story includes a frightening disease and profiles in perseverance. It is also deeply informative and interesting. You learn about the history of Honduras, new technologies in archeology, and important work in conservation.
Preston is an excellent writer and it’s an excellent book. I commend it highly. You can get it here.
Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence
I mentioned I did a little day job reading, which might seem like a no-no on vacation unless, of course, you love your job and find purpose and meaning through it. I’m blessed.
You know that panhandler that stands on the corner and asks for change? Well, this is a book on how to really help someone like that. In other words, what are long-term solutions toward making a measurable difference in someone’s life rather than a short-term, one-time act of charity.
If that sounds like it is knocking charity, it isn’t. Dropping a few bucks toward someone’s Go Fund Me when they hit a tough patch is heartwarming stuff. But it’s heartbreaking stuff that any individual should ever find themselves in such dire straights and books like this one dig into that.
Note: This book is a deeper dive. If you want an introductory look I suggest two other books instead: When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity, both of which should be required reading for anyone who has a heart for long-term systemic betterment for all.
Dark Run by Mike Brooks
The Dresden Files is a series I return to often while vacationing. Dark Run is the start of a series new to me.
Dark Run doesn’t have the mirth of Chamber’s series and doesn’t quite have the quips of Firefly, but it is an excellent series for fans of either of those other two.
It’s a hard science fiction story (which draws up comparisons to The Expanse, another sci-fi series that will draw comparisons), meaning there aren’t aliens or droids. It’s a bunch of humans in the future who are now spread out across the solar system.
The crew each have a checkered past, but they come together in a way that expresses the power of love and “found family,” reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy…
You know what? The way I keep talking about Dark Run, you’d think I’m knocking it for not being original. It’s not original. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t darned good. I’d rather something be effective than original and Dark Run was so effective that I can’t wait to read the second book in the series!
Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior
We’ve written a lot about ninjas at Nerds on Earth, simply because ninjas are awesome. In fact, we’ve even written about how much of the pop culture representation of ninjas is legend and how much has historical basis.
That’s the thrust of Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior. John Man, a historian and researcher, drew on what few historical texts mention ninjas, then filled in the blanks with local Japanese sources, revealing to us readers an informed account of the true history of the ninja.
Note: I didn’t finish Ninja. I normally read a book a day on vacation, but I got an ear infection from too much time in the pool and that zapped some juice from me. I know, poor baby.