Book Review: Making Peace by Adam Lane Smith

A romance writer gets embedded as a journalist with a group of peacekeepers on a brutal, technologically stunted though strategically important planet and has to deal with a war between the two most powerful ruling trade families? And there’s magic, assassin’s guilds, and lots and lots of sword fighting? Sign me up.

Making Peace is the debut novel from Adam Lane Smith, and he enters the burgeoning indie author market with a splash. Or given the nature of Making Peace, should I say explosion.

The framing device Smith uses is particularly unique: Belkan Candor is a famous romance novelist from the lush, civilized planet Garden. For some reason, a mysterious and wealthy benefactor pays a lot of money to Belkan’s publisher to send him to the city of Tiers on the planet Sivern to write about the Peacekeepers, a group of dedicated warriors tasked with investigating the crimes among, and preventing a war between, Sivern’s ruling houses.

Sivern is an interesting place, particularly for a foppish dandy like Belkan. Technology is artificially suppressed, leading to a world that’s quasi-medieval, though nano-mages are still allowed. Sivern is also the galaxy’s sole producer of the super-strong ceramic called Sivernite, as well as a decorative plant called Ripplewood. And commerce rules everything, with power held firmly in the grasp of the trade houses. The planet is so vital  and powerful, the fact that slavery exists is tolerated for the sake of commerce.

The houses are constantly jockeying for power, status, and influence, as well as the sweet profits of trade, and this competition tends to grind down the poor and powerless of Tiers between its grinding gears–and in Tiers, “poor” and “powerless” means nearly everybody else. This is where the Keepers come in.

It takes Belkan a while to warm up to his new companions, but slowly he learns about their backgrounds, how they ended up in a place like Tiers in a group like the Keepers, and grows to like and trust them. Which is good, because although he’s supposed to be a mere chronicler of events, Belkan ends up becoming an integral part of the Keepers’ investigation into a string of brutal murders in the First House.

Continue reading “Book Review: Making Peace by Adam Lane Smith”

Reset: Chapter 30: Saturday, September 8, 2001 (3)

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Gwendolyn was the lone figure at the bus stop on Main Street, looking beautiful in the afternoon sun, stylish as always in a pair of flattering jeans and a light white jacket over a gray t-shirt, accented tastefully with a few bracelets. Those ubiquitous large sunglasses seemed to cover half of her face. All of a sudden Joe, in his jeans and t-shirt, felt underdressed. It wasn’t as if his current wardrobe was filled with fine attire, but he hadn’t remembered being such a slob at eighteen.

It was past noon and Joe, still full from breakfast, was glad when Gwendolyn suggested that they take a bus to the mall in Portsmouth instead of getting lunch. A dollar and your student ID was all it took to go nearly anywhere on the New Hampshire seacoast back then.

“Hey,” said Gwendolyn as Joe came near. She gave him a warm hug. “How’s your aunt?”

“She’s great,” said Joe. He was smiling. It felt good and it made his heart sting. Memories of Jason flashed into his mind: At Fenway Park with an oversized Red Sox cap on his little head . . . struggling with his snowsuit on a winter morning . . . laughing in delight as he barreled down a slide, Joe and Sandra waiting at the bottom with their arms around each other’s waists . . . he had traded his son’s life for his aunt’s. And it didn’t feel like a fair exchange.

“Are you sure everything’s alright? If this is a bad time, you can let me know.”

“I’m fine, really,” said Joe. “I’m sorry I flaked out on you, Gwen. Things have just been–”

Gwendolyn raised a finger and put it on Joe’s lips. The urge to kiss it was difficult to resist. “Family is the important thing. I can wait.” Her finger moved to his cheek, lightly touching the angry bruises like two red, round eyes. “Now how did this happen?”

“Like I said, things are crazy. I’ll tell you on the bus. Speaking of which . . . .”

“It’ll come soon enough.”

* * *

Joe let Gwendolyn drag him to Victoria’s Secret. It wasn’t that he disliked the store. But there was a sense of infidelity that he could not shake.

Meanwhile, somewhere Sandra is getting God-knows-what attention from God-knows how many boys, and she doesn’t even know that I exist . . .

“How about these?” said Gwendolyn, holding up a pair of small black booty-shorts that were ostensibly being marketed as pajamas. “I need some new ones, you know.”

Words caught in Joe’s throat as he imagined Gwendolyn in them. His expression must have been comically skeptical, because she started to laugh. “I know, right? Who sleeps in stuff like this? Please.” She dropped the shorts and shook her head, moving on to the shelves where more conventional pajama sets lived. “This is more my style.”

“Right,” said Joe.

“Oh, come on,” said Gwendolyn with a mischievous smirk. “You know I’d look good in that.”

Joe shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Maybe?!” said Gwendolyn. “Maybe? Are you saying there’s a chance that I wouldn’t?

“All I’m saying is that it’s tough to judge what you haven’t seen.”

Joe worried he had gone too far–where had his unnatural confidence come from? But if Gwendolyn was offended, she hid it behind a self-satisfied smile.

They walked out of the store, Joe narrowly dodging a group of preteens careening towards the food court. “Gwendolyn,” said Joe as he caught his balance.

“Gwen,” she replied. “Hey, why don’t we do something tonight? Me and the girls were just going to hang out, maybe go see a movie or something. Are you interested? Something low-key, you know? I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make you nervous.”

“You’re not,” said Joe. He started scratching the back of his head although it didn’t itch. Sandra, who was a shockingly good poker player, called that his “tell.” “You always scratch your head when you’re uncomfortable, or you’re lying.” And then she would invariably add, “So what are you lying about now?”

“I already made plans with the guys,” he said, hating how it sounded.

“Oh.”

Joe couldn’t stop himself; the excuses came unbidden. “Yeah. We’re not doing anything, really. Nothing fun. We just have some stuff to talk over.”

“So is this, like, a school project or something?”

“No,” said Joe. “Well, it’s a project, just not for school.”

“That’s fine,” said Gwendolyn, forcing a smile. “Guy time. I got you. If you don’t want to hang out tonight, you can just say so. I won’t be offended.”

“It’s not that, Gwen.”

“I suppose it’s with your friend Nick?” she said as they continued their walk. “I’m thirsty.”

“Let’s get a drink,” said Joe. “Yeah, it’s with Nick, and . . .” He stopped short, unable to believe whose head he now saw towering above the throngs of diners in the food court.

Gwendolyn elbowed him playfully in the ribs. “Speak of the devil. Maybe now I can find out what your secret meeting is all about! You’re a really mysterious guy, you know.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 30: Saturday, September 8, 2001 (3)”

Status and Schoolyard 101

I’ve been meaning to revisit what I call Schoolyard 101–the principle that sometimes you do have to fight fire with fire–for a while now. Recent discussions and articles I’ve read brought this point to mind and launch this train of thought in my mind.

The discussion that provided this impetus was the idea that much of the polarization, intransigence, and complete screaming illogic we see when people cling to certain insane and contradictory positions is the result of seeking status.

It’s a simple concept, but it makes sense. You see, some people only hold certain opinions because they believe people they perceive as high-status will approve of them.

If you can’t see how this is a problem, I can’t help you.

For those obsessed with playing the status game, having the “correct” opinion provides the intellectual shorthand for actually thinking about said position.

Facts, debates, and civility are useless against folks like this (or you or me, if we also fall into this trap). What to do if you’re attacked by one of them?

Schoolyard 101: You must retaliate in kind.

Continue reading “Status and Schoolyard 101”

Gut Instincts and Glory

I’ve already shared a story about detrimental reliance at the workplace, where I very nearly deep-sixed a matter by relying on a colleagues incorrect work.

I learned an important lesson that day: stay paranoid.

Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of a difficult task, the temptation to rely on someone else’s work exerts as strong a pull as an oasis to a dying man in the desert. But don’t do it.

Now here’s an even better story about professional failure for you. And it does not have a happy ending.

NOT the ending screen to our story.

I call this story “better” because of a very important axiom I just coined two seconds ago: THE BIGGER THE FAILURE, THE BETTER THE LESSON.

(Hey, failure is what we do around here).

This particular failure happened early in my legal career. I was maybe…a month into my first post-law school job. I had been scheduled to oppose one of our defendant’s summary judgment motions.

You see, the attorney who’s case this actually was couldn’t make it. So on short notice, I got the call.

“Great!” I thought. “A chance to prove myself!” Diligently, I told the attorney I’d get cracking on our opposition.

“No, don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll write it and send it to you.”

Against my better judgment, I agreed. Hey, I was busy, still getting my feet wet…and a little lazy.

Time passed, and I still didn’t have this attorney’s opposition. I was frantic, until the night before the hearing when she emailed it to me.

And it was garbage. Continue reading “Gut Instincts and Glory”

Get Obsessed and Stay Obsessed

The only way to ever get anything done, and done well, is to have ruthless focus.

That’s the truth. If you disagree, you’re wrong.

I’ll use Leonardo da Vinci as an example. The man was a genius, sure, but he seemed too scattershot in his doings to really make that much of a lasting impact in any one field. He’s know for doing a lot of things really well, but he didn’t paint and sculpt like Michelangelo or compose like Beethoven.

Speaking of Beethoven, the man lived music. That’s all he did. Even when deaf, he still composed. Talk about obsession.

It’s not just the arts. Look at what Arnold Schwarzenegger did with his body. Look at what Henry Ford did regarding automobiles. Look at what Bruce Lee did with marital arts.

The problem as I see it is this: We live in a society that discourages the pursuit of excellence by turning leisure for leisure’s sake into a worthy goal in and of itself.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a movie or a drink or a trip to Vegas or video games of whatever. I argue that there is something wrong with filling every angstrom of free time with entertainment.

There’s not much culture other than pop culture, true. And it’s good to get out of reality from time to time. But it’s more worthy to create something, even if nobody else will see it.

Keeping minds active and inspired is one of the greatest things one human being can accomplish for another.

Continue reading “Get Obsessed and Stay Obsessed”

Reset: Chapter 29: Saturday, September 8, 2001 (2)

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“Get your goddamn phone!” Nick barked from the top bunk.

Joe sawed out one final snore, his hand flopping to the ringing offender on his nightstand. “Hello?”

“Good morning Joey!” said his mother cheerily. “Where are you?”

“In bed,” he said, sitting up halfway. “Everything alright?”

“Absolutely fine! Your Aunt and I are coming to take you to breakfast!”

“Oh. Is dad with you?”

“No honey, he needs to stay and watch the little ones. We’ll be there in an hour. And Joey?”

“Yeah mom?”

“Thank you again. For everything.”

“Of course. See you soon.” He hung up and swung his legs over the bed. His mom hadn’t invited Nick, which was just as well because Nick had already returned to sleep, dead to the world. He probably had plans with Amy anyway.

Quietly, he walked to his computer. Gwendolyn deserved some kind of closure. She was a nice girl, really. And Joe couldn’t shake the feeling that, by befriending her, he had set her on a course that would irrevocably change her life from the way it was supposed to unfold. Another life ruined . . .

“Hi Gwen,” he typed, “I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I had some family stuff going on. But my Aunt is doing well. She and my mother are coming to take me to breakfast today. I would like to see you after if you’re free. I’ll give you a call when I get back. Please let me know if this works. Sincerely, Joe.”

He clicked “Send” and sat back, wondering about the email’s tone. Was it too friendly? Too formal? Too dry? He didn’t want to give Gwendolyn the wrong idea. Wrong idea about what? he thought, feeling more confused than he was about the time travel.

Shaking his head, he stripped down and gathered his things for the shower. Before long, he was sitting on a stone bench in the quad, enjoying the sun on his face and trying hard to think of things other than planes crashing into buildings.

* * *

The ringing in his head exploded when he saw his mother’s red SUV pull up to the curb; he almost fell off of the bench , his vision shaking like some malevolent force was using his head as a maraca.

He managed to get back to a sitting position, clinging to the bench with a grip as tenuous as his hold on sanity. It was his mom and his aunt. It had to be. There was something about coming into contact with loved ones he knew so well that was setting his mind off like a bomb. If it didn’t stop, he feared his brains would start leaking from his ears.

Both Mom and Aunt Gina rushed out of the car, followed by ten-thousand after-images. He thought he heard them yelling his name. He also thought he said “I’m fine,” but all that came out was a thin stream of pale vomit splattering on the pavement between them.

He felt a little better after that, glad he hadn’t eaten much lately. The rattling subsided just enough for him to hear the sounds he was making, a meaningless “bar bar bar,” like an ancient Persian trying to speak to an Athenian. He held up a hand, but could not scrape together the equilibrium to stand.

“My God Joey,” yelled his mother, “what’s wrong?”

“Seizure! He’s having a seizure!” said Aunt Gina hysterically.

His mother sat on the bench and put an arm around him, trying to hug him into submission. His aunt did the same on the other side. Joe felt his teeth rattle so hard his jaws hurt; it sounded like a skeleton falling down the stairs. “F-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-fine,” he managed to say.

“Oh my God, you are not fine,” said his mother. “Gina, call 9-1-1!”

“N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-no!” Joe said, spittle flying. “F-f-f-f-f-f-fever. S-s-s-s-s-s-s-started last n-n-night.” The shaking in his head subsided like an ocean of molasses, but ebb it did. “Th-th-th-th-thought it would g-g-g-g-go away. I’m c-c-c-c-c-cold,” he said. His strength returned enough for him to lift an arm and wipe his mouth. “God, my head . . .” It felt like a bowling ball had been lodged in his sinus cavity and was expanding like a balloon, determined to blow up his face like a Pelean eruption.

He felt his mother’s reassuring hands rubbing his shoulder. “Joey, let’s go to the hospital.”

“N-n-n-n-no. I th-th-think breakfast will do the t-t-trick.” He clenched his jaw to stop the chattering until the muscles hurt. “C-c-c-coffee always helps.

“That’s the Italian side of you,” Aunt Gina said. “The side that never says die. Just look at me!”

Joey did. She was his mother’s twin sister. They looked identical, right down to the reddish hue they dyed their hair, Aunt Gina being slightly thinner. Although Joe looked like a Gallagher, all rounded face and blue-eyes, his mother like to claim he had inherited all of the Rossi common sense and none of the Gallagher temper.

“How are you feeling?” Joe asked his Aunt.

Aunt Gina gave his cheek a strong pinch that made him wince; the woman had a death grip that could rival a C-clamp. “That’s just like you, thinking of everyone else but yourself. I’m doing great, Joey. I couldn’t feel better, now that I’m face to face with my savior.” She took his face with both hands and planted a loud kiss on his forehead.

“Let’s not get blasphemous, Gina,” said Joe’s mother. “I love him, but get a grip.”

Aunt Gina waved a hand. “You know what I mean. But he didn’t just save my life. He saved that other boy’s as well.”

“Oh God, what happened to your cheek?” his mother said.

“What’s on my cheek?”

“Those bruises, Joey.”

“Oh, right. We played basketball last night and I kind of ran into somebody’s elbow.” He managed to stand, steadying himself with a hand on his mother’s shoulder. “Shall we go? Smith’s has the best breakfast in town . . . so I’ve heard. We can walk there.”

“No, let’s drive,” his mother said.

“Lazy!” said Aunt Gina. “I’m the one with cancer, and you want to drive?” She rolled her eyes. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 29: Saturday, September 8, 2001 (2)”

On Boomer Hate

It’s trendy to hate Boomers. Literally, everyone is doing it. I did as well.

But when something is trendy, it’s usually garbage.

But a funny thing happened on the way to critical thinking: I’ve changed my opinion.

The more I thought about generational struggles, the more I realized that generational warfare hurts us all:

What I’m getting at is that I think generational warfare is stupid and counterproductive. And I’m not just talking about the young. Us older folks do it too and we should to stop it.

The more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes that the righteous Gen X indignation against Boomers is pretty hypocritical, especially since many of us express the same sentiments towards Millennials.

Does repeating the same mistakes you decry really make anything better?

So back to Boomers. I had these thoughts, and then I read Generations, by William Strauss and Neil Howe. One of the most important thing I gleaned from this book is that while generations have some commonalities, they are hardly monolithic. Even Boomers.

Continue reading “On Boomer Hate”