“We are Forerunners. Guardians of all that exists. The roots of the Galaxy have grown deep under our careful tending. Where there is life, the wisdom of our countless generations has saturated the soil. Our strength is a luminous sun, towards which all intelligence blossoms… And the impervious shelter, beneath which it has prospered.”

The Didact’s Best Books of 2020

by | Dec 31, 2020 | Das Beste Aus | 3 comments

Once again, it’s time to go over the best fiction and non-fiction books that I read this year. Sadly, my ability to read as much as I would have liked declined significantly throughout the year, for various reasons. So I managed only about 34 books, which is quite a lot short of what I would typically read in any given year – 50 or more books. And I’ll be the first to admit that a few of the books that I read were either re-reads of books that I’ve gone through many times before (e.g. STARSHIP TROOPERS), or short books and novellas.

I wish I had more time to read – and, more importantly, better concentration. Working for so many years with laptops and mobile devices makes concentrating on reading a real chore sometimes. I fear for future generations who will not know the pleasure of cracking open a really good book and sitting in a chair to read it on a lazy day.

Nonetheless, here are the best 5 fiction and non-fiction books that I read in 2020.

The Didact’s Top 5 Fiction Books of 2020

1. The Hundred (Galaxy’s Edge: Savage Wars Book 3) by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole

The Hundred (Galaxy's Edge: Savage Wars Book 3) by [Jason Anspach, Nick Cole]

If you’re the kind of sci-fi fan who loves gritty, harsh military sci-fi that tells stories of war and death from the perspective of the grunts on the ground, then Anspach and Cole are simply the best writers around in that field. Their Galaxy’s Edge series has expanded from a standalone sci-fi book into a full series and now an entire universe. And it’s brilliant. This is everything that STAR WARS should have been and now can never be. If you loved the earlier Galaxy’s Edge books, then you’ll really love this one. It’s sheer blood, guts, and glory. The Hundred is the concluding part of the Savage Wars spin-off series, which tells the story of the pivotal events that created the GE universe. It is packed full of brilliant, pulse-pounding, visually stunning action set-pieces. The book even tells the story from the point of view of a Savage Marine, which gives you some idea of the otherness of the Savages. This book, and its parent series, are simply awesome.

2. Days of Burning, Days of Wrath (Carrera Series Book 8) by Tom Kratman

Days of Burning, Days of Wrath (Carrera Series Book 8) by [Tom Kratman]

Now, if you actually look at my book list for 2020, you’ll see that there are in fact other non-fiction books ranked higher than this one. However, ALL of them are from the same Galaxy’s Edge universe that The Hundred is from. And I don’t really see the point in writing 5 different reviews of books in the same universe. Besides which, all of us Carreraverse fans have been waiting for THIS book for quite some time. This is the 8th and, very sadly, final book in LTC Tom Kratman’s Carrera series. That series has come a LONG way since the days of A Desert Called Peace. This book wraps up a whole bunch of plot-lines and ideas, culminating in a shattering victory in a series of epic set-pieces. The conclusion is highly satisfying, although I sense that LTC Kratman deliberately left us hanging a bit. All in all, I think that this is a better book, by some distance, than its predecessor, A Pillar of Fire by Night, and it is a worthy ending to a great sci-fi series.

3. The Lost Reavers 2 by Mike Truk

The Lost Reavers 2 by [Mike Truk]

Let’s be honest: most fantasy and LitRPG books sold on Amazon are garbage. They consist of never-ending graphic sex scenes and flimsy, Kleenex-thin plots that read as though a horny autistic teenage boy wrote them. With these books, you really can judge them by their covers. And whenever you see a book with a sexy busty girl on the cover with those “do-me” eyes, you know what you’re in for.

This book, like its predecessor, is an unusual and welcome exception. Yes, there is plenty of graphic sex in the book, so if you are the prudish type, avoid it. But, unlike most similar books, the characters are actually interesting and compelling. The plot is solidly written and intriguing. And there are some genuinely great fantasy tropes that the author handles with considerable skill. This is one of those unusual books that entertains, yet offers actually good ideas and great characters. I definitely look forward to seeing what Mike Truk can do in Book 3, because the story of Hugh Stasiek is a rather good one.

4. Sleeping with Hitler’s Wife by Gary L. M. Martin

Sleeping With Hitler's Wife by [Gary L.M. Martin]

Gary L. M. Martin is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. He writes across a truly HUGE range of genres and I am simply awestruck by the sheer volume of his output. The guy seems to release a new book every two months. And these aren’t 100-page “books” that barely meet the definition. These are more like 500-page doorstoppers that he produces to a (mostly) consistently high quality and level. This book, in particular, is now sold as The Time War, I think. It tells the story of one John Calle, who goes to a theme park dedicated to time travel. He finds himself embroiled in a war across space and time to keep the timelines intact. The book is full of sledgehammer-subtle satires on our Current Year cultural stupidity. You will instantly recognise a number of targets for Mr. Martin’s signature blend of sarcastic wit and historical anachronism. The value of this book lies in its ability to blend a quite beautiful love story with a fascinating sci-fi concept. And, truly, the central love story genuinely is beautiful. Gary Martin’s writing style isn’t for everyone, and some might argue that he goes on a bit longer than he should in his books. But his books are both easy to read and quite thought-provoking, and for those reasons alone, I recommend his work.

5. The First Compact: The Karus Saga Book 3 by Marc Alan Edelheit

The First Compact: The Karus Saga by [Marc Alan Edelheit]

Book 3 of Marc Alan Edelheit’s The Karus Saga serves to further build out the world that the author created in his first book, Stiger’s Tigers. Like the previous books in this “prequel” series, this one takes place several hundred years before the time of Bennulius Stiger and features the first Emperor of the newly discovered realm of Tanis. Karus, a Roman commander of the legendary Legio IX – the legion lost in Hadrian’s reign in our world – finds himself in an unfamiliar world, peopled by fantastic races. He becomes a servant of the High Father, whom he knows as Jupiter, the Great God, and accepts his command to fight a great war against the evil god Castor. As with other books by Mr. Edelheit, this book makes very good use of Roman infantry tactics and strategies. It also contains some great fantasy tropes and ideas and makes good use of them. Definitely a fun read, but not one that you can enjoy on its own – you DO need to read the previous books in this series. If you don’t, you’ll be quite at sea.

Honourable Mention:

Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast: Deus Vult Wastelanders Book 4 by Adam Smith

Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast: Deus Vult Wastelanders Book 4 by [Adam Smith]

The Deus Vult Wastelanders series is definitely one of the most exciting and interesting modern Christian dark fantasy works around right now. This book, the fourth in the series, sees the mighty knight Gideon Ira sent on his most difficult and terrible mission yet. Packed full of absolutely brilliant action set-pieces, and full of invocations to Our Lord and King Jesus Christ, this book is Christian to the core. And it really is a lot of fun to read. The imagery is vivid and powerful, the characters are solidly fleshed out and well written, and the pace is non-stop. You can’t put this one down. My only complaint with it is that, like with a lot of Christian fiction, you can kind of figure out the plot pretty quickly. There isn’t a whole lot of mystery involved – you know what’s coming. But that’s a minor issue. Overall, I highly recommend this author and series.

The Didact’s Top 5 Non-Fiction Books of 2020

1. Do We Need God to be Good? An Anthropologist Considers the Evidence by C. R. Hallpike

Do We Need God to be Good?: An Anthropologist Considers the Evidence by [C.R. Hallpike]

For all of us who have ever grappled with the question of whether a moral existence is possible without God, this book answers the question. And it does so in a direct and sometimes quite brutal manner. The author is one of the foremost anthropologists alive today – and, unlike a lot of so-called “anthropologists”, he has actually spent years living in the field with remote tribes. So he actually knows what he is talking about. And the sheer savagery of his prose, with respect to those armchair anthropologists, is something else. You have to read it to believe it. If interrogators used the same style and methods that Dr. Hallpike uses in this book, they would probably be banned under the Geneva Convention. Seriously, the book is worth reading if only for the sheer entertainment value of watching a truly wise and knowledgeable academic eviscerating his know-nothing colleagues in the field. The answers about God and morality provided in this book may also surprise you. No matter what you feel about anthropology in general, this book is worth reading because of its content, its thought-provoking ideas, its style, and its exceptional delivery.

2. The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee

North Korea is a complete mystery to most of us, and with good reason. It is probably the most isolated and forbidden country in the world. It is nearly impossible for those of us from the Western world to understand what life is like in such a bleak and totalitarian dictatorship. The people of North Korea are oppressed in a way that exceeds almost anything that we can comprehend. This book by defector Hyeonseo Lee draws back the curtain on Nork society and shows us all just how insane their government really is. The book lays bare the sheer paranoia, madness, and foolishness of the North Korean state. Ms Lee grew up during the Arduous March – the great famine that killed over a million of her people. And she writes with the barely contained fury of a woman who lived her entire childhood by a lie. By turns a memoir, a history lesson, and a powerful indictment of the brutal dictators of the Hermit Kingdom, this is a worthy companion to a book like Wild Swans by Jung Chang.

3. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by LTC Dave Grossman

On Killing is a psychological study of the Art of War. The book is full of very surprising insights from the battlefield, gathered from decades of rigourous scholarly studies. You will learn a very great deal about the true mindset of men in battle from it. As LTC Grossman points out, most people simply do not want to kill. They are not conditioned for it. That is why surprisingly few men in the field ever actually killed anyone in the age of firearms. The book explains why infantrymen routinely expended hundreds, if not thousands, of bullets to kill a single man during the great mechanised 2nd-Generation wars of the 19th and 20th Century. It then goes on to explain how the insights gleaned from studies into this issue created operant condition training designed to turn men into killing machines. And it shows how this training succeeded, brilliantly. But it also shows that there is a truly hideous psychological cost to killing, particularly at close, intimate ranges. And the lack of understanding and sympathy surrounding that cost leads society to pretend that violence and death are normal on TV and in video games. Now, I disagree strongly with LTC Grossman’s conclusions about rapidly escalating levels of violence in society due to violent movies and video games. But I do think that he has a good point. Our society glamourises violence and desensitises us to its costs. This book is a helpful antidote to this problem. Like all good non-fiction books, this one will really make you sit up and think.

4. MAUS by Art Spiegelmann (4.0/5)

This book defies easy classification. Published in two volumes, it is at once a novel, a memoir, a biography, and a harrowing and terrible tale of the Holocaust. It tells the story of Polish Jews during the rise and fall of Hitler’s Reich in the form of cartoons. But this is NOT a children’s book – AT ALL. This is a dark and terrible story of human suffering and unspeakable horror. It also shows how the scars of the Holocaust lived on in the souls of those who survived it. Art Spiegelman shows how his father’s character turned bad and twisted due to what he experienced. And he shows how many of his own neuroses and issues in life derived from his dad. Yet, in addition to the awful stories of the Holocaust, there are plenty of instances of humanity and decency.

I don’t like the fact that the Poles are shown as pigs. And I don’t like the constant Holocaustianity rammed down our throats by modren society. That all happened 80 years ago and beating our current generations over the head with that particular stick is downright dumb. But this book is a timely reminder of what really happened over those 15 dreadful years. Above all, it is a book about survival and hope.

5. Trump: The Art of the Deal by Donald J. Trump with Tony Schwarz

Trump: The Art of the Deal by [Donald Trump]

This book is not in this list because it is necessarily a great book. It is not. This is not a business manual that will tell you how to make millions or billions with nothing. But it DOES offer some profoundly good business insights. And, more importantly, it offers insights into the kind of man that Donald Trump really is. Or, I should say, what kind of man His Most Illustrious, Noble, August, Benevolent, and Legendary Celestial Majesty, the God-Emperor of Mankind, Donaldus Triumphus Magnus Astra, the First of His Name, the Lion of Midnight, the Chaddest of Chads, may the Lord bless him and preserve him, is.

To me, the remarkable thing about this book is the sheer consistency between its contents and the kind of man that the God-Emperor is today. This book was written something like 40 years ago. Yet, if you read it and compare the words within it to the way in which the God-Emperor acts today, his character simply has not changed. His ego is monstrously huge and his vanity is his undoing. But his fundamental decency, honourable nature, and negotiating skill is every bit as apparent here as it is in real life.

CLASSIC BOOK OF 2020

Mere Christianity by Clive Staples Lewis

This book took me literally YEARS to read. I only really started reading it properly after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord, King, and Saviour, so in that respect (and ONLY that one) it was probably a wasted effort. But this book is highly unusual. It is in that rare class of books that is both very dense and very readable. It is full of brilliant ideas, insights, and analysis about the Christian faith. It explains in simple, easy-to-understand terms how and why Christianity works. This is a challenging book to read precisely because it deals in difficult ideas that force you to think. Indeed, C.S. Lewis makes precisely that point: Christianity will FORCE you to think for yourself. You cannot simply accept things on blind faith. God WANTS you to question and learn. He WANTS you to examine the roots of His teachings. And He WANTS you to accept them of your own free will.

A lot of people have problems with Lewis’s theology. I understand why. But I think that his illustrations serve as a god introduction to the True Faith. The point of this book is to give you a starting point for faith. If you are already a Christian, it will make you sit up and think about ideas that you hadn’t considered before. And if you are not a Christian, you will quickly realise that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is every bit as relevant today as it was in Lewis’s time – and every bit as relevant as it was 2,000 years ago.

All glory is God’s alone – and this book is glorious because it gives glory to Him.

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3 Comments

  1. Kapios

    What do you think of the Bronze Age Pervert books? I read reviews of his books and I did not get what he is all about.

    For some reason, the Tom Kratman book reminds of Kill Bill when I saw the cover.

    I’m not a non-fiction reader unless it’s a Japanese manga (I know it’s totally different thing from your list), but these days it seems there are so many stories for Hollyweird to pick. The animation world is picking up momentum and I think they will catch up quickly.

    Reply
    • Didact

      What do you think of the Bronze Age Pervert books? I read reviews of his books and I did not get what he is all about.

      I haven’t read them either. I have come across them repeatedly on Amazon and have considered doing so, but I have always found neo-pagan LARPing to be largely pointless – especially these days.

      In the interests of keeping an open mind, I’ll probably read Bronze Age Mindset at some point, but I think that Our Beloved and Dreaded Supreme Dark Lord (PBUH) Vox Day put it best:

      But the godless neo-platonic ur-fascism advocated by Bronze Age Pervert is not a viable solution to a very real problem. Lacking as it does any basis in philosophy or objective morality, it is absolutely bound to fail. The Bronze Age Mindset is just that, a mindless primitivist reaction on which it is impossible to build or sustain a functional civilization.

      Without Christianity, without the European nations, without the Graeco-Roman legal and philosophic traditions, there is no Western civilization. Which, of course, is why the only solution to the undermining and subversion of the West is to return to the three core pillars of the West.

      I’m not a non-fiction reader unless it’s a Japanese manga (I know it’s totally different thing from your list), but these days it seems there are so many stories for Hollyweird to pick. The animation world is picking up momentum and I think they will catch up quickly.

      The Japs tell better stories than Hollyweird, too. Their stories and ideas are actually original and interesting. And they get far, FAR better “bang for the buck” in terms of money spent on storytelling, animation, and effects.

      Reply
  2. Robert W

    Non-Fiction:
    On Killing is a very good read. Like you, I found his thoughts about on-screen violence to be ‘OK Boomer’.
    Then I went a shot some competitive tactical games. I was doing mag dumps and reloads in transit areas (hallways between room clearing) without thinking about it. All those hours of Medal of Honor: Allied Assult paid off! I had trained my mind to reload in the transitions to be ready for the next room. That makes me think there is something to the notion of onscreen/offscreen mindset transfer.

    The Art of the Deal is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand The Trump. His story about the Tiffany founder making a handshake deal and keeping his word, even when it cost him dearly, was an illuminating character sketch. It also made me go ah-ha! for why his daughter is named Tiffany.

    Mere Christianity is a good foundation, and even where it gives Christians something to muddle about in disagreement, it is spurring the christian to think about his faith. As you said, that is necessary to have the Faith. The Screwtape Letters is another book I read from him and I was genuinely angry that more people had not recommended it to me in my younger days. Once you start talking about it everyone is like ‘Oh yes I read that’ but they don’t tell other people to read it… I encourage anyone to read it ASAP. It’s a book of a senior demon administrator mentoring his nephew in the job of destroying the saints, through a series of letters. It claws away at the feeble pretend faith many fill the pews with and clobbers my own notions of what is important, to show instead what actually works: Faith alone in Christ Alone.

    The Great Divorce is also a tremendous work that is somehow completely un-recognized. It has a similar way of showing in light of death what truly matters in life and how a rebellious heart will refuse even the most gentle light until oblivion takes it away.

    FICTION:
    Have you looked at the Forgotten Soldiers series by Joseph P. Simon?
    https://smile.amazon.com/Forgotten-Soldiers-Tyrus-Chronicle-Book-ebook/dp/B00R0PCKOW/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3DCJP6PTLR057&dchild=1&keywords=joshua+p+simon&qid=1609770446&sprefix=joshua+p.+si%2Caps%2C234&sr=8-2

    It’s a mil-fantasy series written from the perspective of a command officer (heroic in war) coming home to reunite with his family and finding home is not how he left it. Some of his friends stay with him and try to make life new again, but it will never be the same as it once was.

    Pros: Strong characters & development
    Good grasp of combat engagements
    Good magical system
    Positive on fatherhood, motherhood, and recovering a mind from combat to domestic life.

    Cons: A bit convenient how some special abilities fit with the special problem to solve

    Godspeed on the new year, thank you for the write up.

    Reply

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