Thursday, February 23, 2012


“When the highest and strongest drives, breaking passionately out, carry the individual far above and beyond the average and lowlands of the herd conscience, the self-confidence of the community goes to pieces, its faith in itself, its spine as it were, is broken: consequently it is precisely these drives which are most branded and calumniated. Lofty spiritual independence, the will to stand alone, great intelligence even, are felt to be dangerous; everything that raises the individual above the herd and makes his neighbor quail is henceforth called evil; the fair, modest, obedient, self-effacing disposition, the mean and average in desires, acquires moral names and honours.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On Writing by Stephen King

According to the advice given in this book, I should be a published and successful author if can only do two things:

1. Find an agent to represent me.
2. Remove most, but not all, of the adverbs from my writing.

Seriously. Let’s take them one at a time.

Finding an agent to represent me.

I’m glad King saves this advice for the very end of his treatise on what has made him a successful author. It’s the part of the process (necessary though it is) that frankly interests me the least. If he had led with this information, I may not have been able to make it through his admittedly brief work.

Don’t get me wrong. Selling your work is essential, but it really is the last step of the process—and very different than the steps that come before it. First you have to have something worth selling. First you have to master your craft, and consistently write things that are both of interest to readers and enjoyable to read.

And that’s where I have my battle. I do want to write things that are enjoyable to read (and think I’m getting better, but still have some work to do on that front), but mostly they are things that are of interest to me. That’s essentially my motivation for writing, what gets me to actually sit down and put words on the screen. I suppose I can view myself as a sample set of my potential audience, although something tells me that would be an extremely small audience to be targeting. So small that it’ll be difficult to find anyone to represent such work. Not enough money to be made in it. Not enough appeal to the masses of our paperback devouring pop culture.

But that’s okay with me. I’ve already dabbled in that direction and found no traction. But I’m neither bitter nor resentful. In many ways it was a productive experience. I think it taught me two important things:

1. My stuff isn’t ready for publication. Like I said, I’ve got more work to do on improving my craft. More on that below.

2. Focus first on building an audience. The agents and book deals will come later. Or maybe they won’t. But in today’s fragmented marketplace, they’re certainly not going to come unless you’ve already got an audience reading your stuff. That’s what blogs and self-published e-books are all about. Putting your work out there and seeing who (if anyone) is interested, and what feedback you can get from those readers to improve what you write and to extend your reach and appeal. Doing that the old-fashioned way, through query letters and self-addressed stamped envelopes, is a cumbersome and time-consuming process that takes you away from the writing that excites your passion. Doing it this new way makes it more a part of the writing experience, and something that doesn’t take you away from the things you’d rather be doing.

But enough of that. The business and the craft of writing are two very different subjects, and like I said, I’m much more interested in the latter than the former.

Removing most, but not all of the adverbs from my writing.

When it comes to improving your craft, King has other bits of advice, but most of them I feel like I’m already doing. But this adverb thing really hit home for me. Here’s what he’s talking about:

The other piece of advice I want to give you before moving on to the next level of the toolbox is this: The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs, you will remember from your own version of Business English, are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in –ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously; it is the voice of little boys wearing shoepolish mustaches and little girls clumping around in Mommy’s high heels. With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me…but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?

Someone out there is now accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.

I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions…and not even then, if you can avoid it. Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:

“Put it down!” she shouted.
“Give it back,” he pleaded, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said.

In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

“Put it down!” she shouted menacingly.
“Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptuously.

The three latter sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately. “Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptuously is the best of the lot; it is only a cliché, while the other two are actively ludicrous. Such dialogue attributions are sometimes known as “Swifties,” after Tom Swift, the brave inventor-hero in a series of boys’ adventure novels written by Victor Appleton II. Appleton was fond of such sentences as “Do your worst!” Tom cried bravely and “My father helped with the equations,” Tom said modestly. When I was a teenager these was a party-game based on one’s ability to create witty (or half witty) Swifties. “You got a nice butt, lady,” he said cheekily is one I remember; another is “I’m the plumber,” he said with a flush. (In this case the modifier is an adverbial phrase.) When debating whether or not to make some pernicious dandelion of an adverb part of your dialogue attribution, I suggest you ask yourself if you really want to write the sort of prose that might wind up in a party-game.

Some writers try to evade the no-adverb rule by shooting the attribution full of steroids. The result is familiar to any reader of pulp fiction or paperback originals:

“Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated.
“Never stop kissing me!” Shayna gasped.
“You damned tease!” Bill jerked out.

Don’t do these things. Please oh please.

The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said. If you want to see this out stringently into practice, I urge you to read or reread a novel by Larry McMurtry, the Shane of dialogue attribution. That looked damned snide on the page, but I’m speaking with complete sincerity. Mc Murtry has allowed few adverbial dandelions to grow on his lawn. He believes in he-said/she-said even in moments of emotional crisis (and in Larry McMurtry novels there are a lot of those). Go and do thou likewise.

I use adverbs all the time—especially when it comes to dialogue attribution. I use them as a kind of stage direction, adding in a little more detail, not just about what was said, but how the character said it. When I’m writing, I think this makes eminent sense. But when I go back and read my stuff—especially when I read it out loud, as I imagine a first-time reader would be hearing it in their heads—I usually discover that King is absolutely right about them. One or two is okay. But when your yard is covered with dandelions, no one wants to spend very much time there.

The best part of the book comes on page 155, when King is talking about how difficult—and “morally wonky”—it is to write anything other than what you yourself are interested in. The sentiment speaks to me, as you can well imagine, and King sums up his point with this little homily:

The job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story’s web of lies.

Precisely. That, more than anything else, is why I’m interested in writing fiction.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rise of the American Nation by Lewis Paul Todd and Merle Curti

Believe it or not, this is my high school American history textbook, which has been carted around in boxes or sitting on forgotten shelves since the mid-1980s. Whatever possessed me to read it now? Well, I was looking for a broad, succinct and authoritative history of the United States, and this more or less fit the bill.

And you know what? I really enjoyed reading it. I learned much more than I thought I would. Primarily, it seems, I learned how little I actually know about particular events and time periods in American history. What follows is a sampling of the things that seemed to leap off the page at me, demanding that I take notice of them and adjust my perception of the American nation appropriately. Maybe they are well known by everyone else and I was just sleeping in history class on the days they were taught. If so, I ask your forgiveness for my naiveté.

But before I start the list, let me make two general observations.

First, this experience has made clear to me how one’s view of history is tainted by their perceptions and political preferences of today. It’s a little like how the future is always imagined in the context of the present. Just as it is difficult to imagine a future fundamentally foreign from the world we live in, it’s hard to look at the past without filtering it through our modern sensibilities and political framework. And my sensibilities and political framework has changed quite a bit since I was in high school. If I had read this book this closely then, I’m sure an entirely different list of things would have jumped out at me. Reading this book has not only taught me a lot about American history, it has also helped me see how much I have changed in the last twenty-five years.

And second, I couldn’t help but notice how good the book was at sticking to an honest description of the facts, and keeping from its pages any sense of slanted political commentary. Today’s textbooks (which I clearly haven’t read) are derided by some as being full of political correctness and revisionist history, but if this book is any indication, I’d have to say those accusations are pretty overblown. The authors sometimes describe what motivated opposing political sides on particular issues, but only to help the student understand why certain actions were taken at certain times. I think they did an excellent job staying above the fray and describing history as accurately as it could be in such a format for such an audience.

Okay? Here goes.

1. European nations clearly thought the New World was theirs for the taking.

From the 1300s to the 1700s, the story of America has its beginnings in the European explorers who came looking for trade routes to the Far East and, after it was discovered that there were a couple of continents in the way, valuables and extensions of their colonial empires. The view among European nations that this “new world” was theirs for the taking is well demonstrated in this choice excerpt:

Spain and Portugal, both leaders in the new age of exploration and discovery, did not hesitate to claim all of the Americas. In 1494 they signed a treaty establishing a Line of Demarcation about 1,100 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. According to the treaty, all new lands explored west of this line were to belong to Spain. All new lands explored to the east were to belong to Portugal.

Looking at a map, it’s clear that Spain got the greater part of this bargain, but it amazes me to think that the rulers of Spain and Portugal thought they had the right to even enter into such an agreement. But they were no different than any of the other European powers at the time (and America of a few centuries later—see #9 below). King James I of England granted charters for people and companies to set up shop in the New World, supposedly under his protection and by his decree.

2. People fled to pre-colonial America to escape religious persecution in Europe.

During the 1500s and 1600s, Europe was torn by religious strife that broke out shortly after Columbus’s voyages. At that time nearly everyone in Western Europe belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. The conflict began when some people began to question certain Church practices and beliefs. Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Switzerland were two such people.

These religious leaders and people who shared their feelings broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and established Protestant, or “protesting,” religious organizations. Roman Catholics called this movement the Protestant Revolt. Protestants called the same movement the Reformation. By whatever name, this religious conflict was not just a battle of words and ideas. Armies marched, wars were fought, and thousands of people died in battle or were burned at the stake in the name of religion.

We all know this. It falls almost automatically of our tongue.  But before reading this textbook, I never consciously connected the Protestant Reformation and the violence that erupted following it as an integral part of the exodus story from Europe to America.

3. Those seeking freedom to practice their religion curtailed that freedom for others when given the reins of power.

Plymouth was for Separatists. Massachusetts Bay Colony was for Puritans who had not at first completely rejected the Anglican Church. Colonists who refused to accept the official religious beliefs were often thrown in jail or driven from the colony. Once exiled, they might be put to death if they returned. Such was the fate of Mary Dyer, a Quaker, who was hanged in Boston in 1660 when she returned to protest the persecution of Quakers.

At first it was only Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams, that took a different path.

In Rhode Island there was no established church. Church and state—that is, the government—were separate.
No one could be taxed for the support of the church. No one could be forced to attend church. No one had to belong to a church in order to vote. People could worship as they pleased and speak their minds freely.

Maryland and Pennsylvania had similar practices, but both required a professed belief in “Jesus Christ,” in the case of Maryland, and in the “One Almighty God,” in Pennsylvania. Had it not been for the experiment in Rhode Island, one has to wonder if such a concept would have become part of the growing American tradition.

4. The first public schools in the English-speaking world were in Massachusetts.

They were started, evidently, to insure the ability among the populace to read the English Bible. The law, passed in 1647, mandated that every town with more than 50 households would hire a teacher of reading and writing with town funds, and those with 100 households or more had to provide an actual school to prepare young men for college. Everyone, rich and poor alike, were to benefit from these expenditures.

This law was the first of its kind in the English-speaking world. It was not popular everywhere in Massachusetts. Towns sometimes neglected to provide the education ordered by the law. Nevertheless, the law was a landmark in the history of education. It expressed a new and daring idea—that education of all the people was a public responsibility.

5. Even Thomas Jefferson acted unconstitutionally when he thought a higher purpose was being served.

The particular instance that brought this illumination was the Embargo Act of 1807. In it, in order to reduce the number of Americans being impressed on the high seas into the English Navy, President Jefferson urged for and Congress passed a law forbidding Americans from trading with any foreign nation. Not just England. Any foreign nation. It also forbade American vessels to leave for foreign ports. After twenty years of arguing against acts of previous administrations and Congresses on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, the Father of Liberty brings about the most oppressive attack on personal freedom since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. It is episodes like this that lend credence to the view that American history is one long tale of ever-increasing encroachments on the personal liberty first guaranteed under the Constitution (see #6, below).

And please. I can’t help but ask. What is an “American vessel?” A ship owned by the United States? Or a ship owned by a citizen of the United States? Of course it is the latter, but the very phraseology, albeit a common convenience, lends itself directly towards the kinds of usurpations of liberty envisioned in the Embargo Act itself. Today, no one stands a chance of successfully arguing that the United States government doesn’t have the right to restrict the freedom of movement of its citizens, but back in the early days of the nation, before major precedents had been set, it may have been a worthwhile discussion to have. Is my car an “American car?” How about the computer I’m typing on. Is it an “American computer?” What rights should the government have over the possessions of its citizens?

6. It doesn’t matter which political party is in charge. The power of the Federal government always increases.

In 1816, even before President Monroe was elected for the first time, the Republicans took steps to strengthen the growing nation. In so doing, they increased the powers of the federal government at the expense of states’ rights. To justify their actions, they used a loose interpretation of the Constitution, like the one favored earlier by Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists. This was one reason that the Federalist Party disappeared. By 1816 the Republicans were doing many things the Federalists had favored doing for years.

This one was absolutely stunning to me. I know about Federalists like Alexander Hamilton, people who wanted a strong federal government and fought passionately for powers that were eventually NOT explicitly given to the federal government in the new Constitution. And I know about Republicans like Thomas Jefferson, people who would always see the United States as a plural noun, as a collection of free and independent states, and the Constitution as the document where those states explicitly gave only a limited number of enumerated powers to a federal government of their own creation. But I guess I never fully realized how little that dispute at the founding of our country actually mattered in the long run.

7. History has an almost creepy tendency to repeat itself.

Read this and tell me what period of history it is talking about.

By [year] all sections of the United States were enjoying prosperity. Conditions were so prosperous, in fact, that various groups had begun to indulge in overspecualtion. This was excessive, risky investment in land, stock, or commodities in the hope of making large profits. Southerners, tempted by rising prices for cotton, bought land at inflated prices. Western settlers, tempted by rising prices for grain and meat, also scrambled to buy land. Manufacturers in the Northeast, eager to take advantage of the general prosperity, bought land and built new mills and factories.

All these groups borrowed money to finance their enterprises. Many banks encouraged the frenzy of speculation by lending money too freely on the flimsiest security.

Then came the crash. Late in [year] the directors of the Bank of the United States ordered all their branch banks not to renew any personal mortgages. The directors also ordered the branch banks to present all state bank noted to the state banks for immediate payment in gold or silver or in national bank notes. State banks could not make their payments and closed their doors. Farmers and manufacturers could not renew their mortgages, and many lost their property.

By mid-[year], because of numerous foreclosures, the Bank of the United States had acquired huge areas of land in the South and Middle West and many businesses in the East. People ruined by foreclosures blamed the bank for their troubles and called it “the Monster.”

Astute students of history will pick up on the references to the Bank of the United States and realize that we’re talking about The Panic of 1819. But replace the “Bank of the United States” with the “Federal Reserve System” and investments in “land, stock, or commodities” with “mortgage-backed securities” and you have the story of the Great Recession of 2008. Spooky.

Wait. Here’s another.

The roots of the depression. The depression of [year] had its roots in events that occurred largely during [name]’s administration. After his election in [year], [name] had gradually withdrawn federal funds from the Bank of the United States. He then deposited this money in “pet banks,” many in western states. With the federal money as security, the “pet banks” printed large amounts of their own bank notes.

Many “pet banks” were also “wildcat banks,” which issued bank notes far in excess of the federal funds on deposit. Because they were so plentiful and had so little real value, these bank notes were easy to borrow. People borrowed this “easy money,” often with a minimum of security, to buy land and to invest in the nation’s growing transportation system. For a time it seemed as though almost everyone was speculating with borrowed money.

Land speculators were especially active. Between [year] and [year], yearly federal income from the sale of public land rose from about [amount] to about [amount twelve times as much]. Much of this money was in the form of “wildcat” bank notes. The United States Treasury was flooded with unsound currency.

In July [year] President [name] acted to check the wave of speculation sweeping across the country by issuing the Specie Circular. This Executive Order forbade the Treasury to accept as payment for public land anything except gold and silver, known as specie, or bank notes backed by specie.

The panic of [year]. Shortly after [name] issued his order, the trouble began. The sale of public land dropped off sharply because few people had gold or silver coins to pay for the land. Persons holding bank notes began to ask the banks to exchange the bank notes for the gold or silver itself. Many banks could not redeem their own bank notes. As a result, banks began to fail. By the end of May [year], soon after President [name] took office, every bank in the United States had suspended specie payment. Before the panic ended, hundreds of banks had done out of business.

As the banks failed and sound money disappeared from circulation, business suffered. Factories closed. Construction work ended on buildings and roads. Thousands of workers lost their jobs. Hungry people rioted in the streets of New York and Philadelphia.

President [name] and other leaders of the time did not think that the government could or should do anything to try and stop the depression. [Name] declared that “the less government interferes with private pursuits, the better for the general prosperity.” Thus he could only sit back and wait for the depression to run its course.

No, this isn’t 2008, either, although it could very well be with a swap of “fractional reserve banking” for “wildcat banks.” And it’s also not 1929, although it again could very well be with a swap of “Wall Street speculation” for “land speculation.” No, the fact that banks were issuing their own notes, backed or not by their own reserves, is the clue that this is 1837 and the two presidents are Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.

8. The Mexican War was a war of aggression started by the United States.

They don’t teach this much in high school (at least not the high school I went to), but the evidence is right there in the textbook. There was a border dispute. Some people thought the Mexicans invaded the United States and attacked American soldiers. Others (and most historians today) thought Americans invaded Mexico and were attacked by Mexican soldiers. Either way, the Mexicans struck the first blow, and that’s probably why most people, if they know anything about it at all, think the Americans were fighting for some kind of noble cause. They weren’t. They were fighting to acquire territory that they thought they were entitled to, and which most international observers understood to be part of Mexico.

9. Americans clearly thought the world was theirs for the taking. 

The phrase most often used is Manifest Destiny. Its spirit is no more brilliantly illustrated than by something called the Ostend Manifesto.

In 1848 President Polk had tried to buy Cuba for $100 million. Spain had refused to consider the offer, but some southerners continued to cast longing eyes at Cuba. Finally in 1854, the American ministers to Great Britain, France, and Spain met is Ostend, Belgium. They issued a statement now know as the “Ostend Manifesto.”

The ministers declared that, if Spain refused to sell Cuba to the United States, the United States would have the right to seize it by force. President Pierce disavowed this statement, but northern abolitionists were furious. They pointed out that southerners were ready to plunge the nation into war in order to add slave territory to the Union.

Doesn’t that make sense? If you don’t sell me your iPad, I have the right to take it from you by force. After all, it has been ordained by God that I should possess all the iPads, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. How else can they be kept safe, and how else can I ensure that nobody is using them against me and my interests?

10. The raw politics of the day shaped every era of American history.

By raw politics I mean the political maneuvering that parties do to gain and keep control of the various branches of government. Every era has them, and to try and understand why things happened without understanding the political priorities and motivations of the major players is to never fully understand what happened and why. These two paragraphs refer to the North’s plans for reconstructing the South as the Civil War began to draw to a close.

Some Republicans frankly admitted that their thinking about reconstruction was influenced by practical politics. They believed that, when the war ended, white southerners would reject the wartime Republican Party and flock to the Democratic Party. Southern Democrats returning to Congress would probably support northern Democrats, thus making the Republicans a minority party. Such a combination might endanger measures supported by many Republicans—a high tariff, national banks, free land, and federal aid to railroads.

The Republicans could keep the Democrats from gaining majority power in state as well as federal governments in two ways. First, they could give voting rights to the former slaves. These new voters would support the Republicans at the polls in gratitude for emancipation. Second, they could keep former Confederate leaders from voting or holding public office.

Political calculation—maintaining power in Congress—was a factor in reconstruction policy, just as it is a factor in every modern issue before today’s Congress. It’s easy to remember that about the present, but someone difficult to remember that about the past.

Want another example? How about the impeachment of Andrew Johnson who, whatever you think of his politics (if you even know who I’m talking about), was evidently not guilty of anything the Founders would’ve thought was an impeachable offense. But that didn’t stop his political opponents, the “Radical” Republicans who controlled Congress.

To find grounds for impeachment and to reduce the President’s power, Congress in 1867 adopted the Tenure of Office Act over Johnson’s veto. Under this law the President could not dismiss important civil officers without the Senate’s consent. Believing the law unconstitutional, Johnson decided to put it to a test. In February 1868 he demanded the resignation of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Stanton has consistently cooperated with Johnson’s political enemies.

The House immediately adopted a resolution that “Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors in office.” The Radicals also charged that Johnson “did attempt to bring into disgrace, ridicule, contempt, and reproach the Congress of the United States.” The Radicals cited occasions when the President publicly made “with a loud voice certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues” against Congress “and did therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces.”

Shocking, I know. Bitter menaces? How such a man ever got elected in the first place is a mystery.

Under the Constitution a President may be impeached on grounds of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Although the charges brought by the House against President Johnson were of doubtful legality, he was nevertheless impeached.

Johnson’s trial before the Senate, presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, lasted about two months. After prolonged debate it became clear that Johnson was not guilty of any offense for which he could legally be removed from office. Nevertheless, when the Senate vote was counted, it stood 35 to 19 against Johnson, just one vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority required for removal from office. Johnson continued to serve as President for almost a year, until his term expired, but his influence was at an end.

It’s another episode from history eerily reminiscent of a more current controversy. Looking back a hundred a fifty years, it’s always so simple to see the political motivations for what they are. Why do we have such a hard time when the events happen today or in our recent past? Do we somehow think that the leaders of today are above such petty motivations? Is that what people thought in Johnson’s time?

11. Industrialization profoundly changed the character of the nation. 

The mechanization of American life began in the early 1800s with inventions like water-powered mills, steam-powered machines and interchangeable parts, and industrialization began in the late 1800s with something they called the Industrial Revolution.

In years to come, the Industrial Revolution would help unite the American people. It would help solve problems of transportation by binding the nation together with a web of steel rails. It would provide Americans with unheard-of labor-saving devices. It would profoundly affect the roles and status of both women and men in American life. It would help Americans conquer the wilderness and make use of what were then considered the inexhaustible resources of forest and sea and soil. It would in time transform the United States into the wealthiest nation on earth.

Living now in the 21st century, it is difficult to understand how different life was before industrialization. I caught a glimpse of how surreal the new ways of life must have seemed to people used to the old from this paragraph about “company towns.”

Workers in so-called “company towns” faced the greatest disadvantages. There were mining districts in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and textile-mill regions in the South where companies owned entire towns—all the houses, stores, and other buildings. The companies employed the teachers and the doctors. The local magistrates and the police owed their jobs to the company. In these towns workers did not dare protest the rent they paid for their company-owned houses or the prices they paid in the company-owned store. Frequently, the workers received part of their wages not in cash but in credit at the company store.

I listened to a podcast recently that talked about how our modern educational system is also a product of the Industrial Revolution, where things like standardized testing and multiple-choice questions were invented specifically to have a better and more reliable way to train children and immigrants for the life of an industrialized worker. The podcast in question argued that it was time to start rethinking some of those educational institutions because the necessary workforce of today or tomorrow is so radically different from the one that built Henry Ford’s Model Ts, but that’s not to undermine the profound effects industrialization has had on our nation. In many ways, its legacy has not yet reached its climax.

12. Industrialization led in great measure to imperialism. 

The textbook offers an interesting explanation for the age of imperialism that began near the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries:

The Industrial Revolution was largely responsible for the mounting interest in colonies. Factories needed raw materials in ever-growing quantities. Manufacturers, to keep their factories operating, had to find new markets for their finished products. Improvements in transportation, especially the steamship, enabled businesses to buy and sell in a truly worldwide market. As trade increased and profits accumulated, business executives and bankers looked overseas for opportunities to invest savings.

And it was really the Spanish American War that gave the United States is first taste of being a colonial power. As a result of winning that war, the Americans found themselves in possession of the Philippines, and facing a dilemma. Should they set the people of those islands free? Or force them to live under American rule. In 1898, then President McKinley made the decision for us. As he later explained…

…the United States could not return the Philippines to Spain, for “that would be cowardly and dishonorable.” It could not give them to France, Germany, or Great Britain, for “that would be bad business and discreditable.” It could not turn them over to the Filipinos, for they were “unfit for self-government.” McKinley concluded, “There is nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.”

 Swell. Except the Filipinos did not want to be uplifted or civilized (many were, in fact, already Christians).

The conquest of the Philippines turned out to be more difficult that the defeat of Spain. The Filipinos, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, fought as fiercely against American rule as they had against Spanish rule. For three years 70,000 American troops fought in the islands at a cost of $175 million ($4.6 billion in 2011 dollars) and with a casualty list as high as that as the war with Spain.

And when the Americans finally won, they set up a government for the Philippines with an appointed governor, a small elected assembly, an appointed upper house, and the ability of the United States Congress to veto all legislation passed. I wonder if any of that would have sounded familiar to the guys who dumped British tea into Boston Harbor in 1773.

One of the things I found most surprising about this 25-year old textbook was the way it didn’t shy away from a treatment of imperialism at all. Chapter 29 is titled “American Expansion in the Caribbean; 1898-1914,” and one of its section headings is “Americans begin to build an empire in the Caribbean.”  It seems true and appropriate to me, but it seems like most Americans are opposed to that kind of perspective on our history. To see it handled so matter-of-factly in print, especially in a textbook aimed at teenagers, underscored for me the explanatory power of such a reading.

A big part of this was evidently a corollary Teddy Roosevelt added to the Monroe Doctrine, stating that not only would the United States act aggressively against any nation seeking to set-up colonies in the New World, but that the United States would act as a kind of police officer in any disputes between outside nations on those in the Americas. The corollary led to lots of interventions—in Puerto Rico, in Cuba, in Colombia, in Panama, in the Dominican Republic, in Haiti, in Costa Rica, in Guatemala, in the Virgin Islands, in Nicaragua—until Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover eventually tried to put an end to it during their administrations. FDR, too, sought a new footing with Latin America in his Good Neighbor Policy, which supposedly said that no state had the right o interfere in the internal or external affairs of another, and that the United States was now opposed to policies of armed intervention.

13. The federal government assumes radical powers in war time.

Imagine if this happened today.

The President was authorized to set prices on many commodities, including such essentials as food and fuels. He was also authorized to regulate, or even take possession of, factories, mines, meat-packing houses, food processing plants, and all transportation and communication facilities. The President exercised these vast powers through a number of wartime agencies, or boards.

The War Industries Board, established in [year], became the virtual dictator of manufacturing. It developed new industries needed in the war effort. It regulated business to eliminate waste and nonessential goods. Before the war’s end, the War Industries Board was engaged in regulating the production of some 30,000 commodities.

Other federal agencies also took an active part in planning the war program. The War Finance Corporation loaned public funds to businesses needing aid in manufacturing war materials. The Emergency Fleet Corporation built ships faster than [enemy] submarines could destroy them. The Railroad Administration took over the operation of the railroads, reorganized the lines, and controlled rates and wages. The Fuel Administration stimulated a larger output of coal and oil and encouraged economies in their use.

This wasn’t World War II. This was World War I. But it clearly presaged a lot of the government activity that took place during World War II to marshal industry for the war effort.

14. Some horrible things have more or less been erased from the public consciousness and, although true historical events, bear no real weight on the modern citizen’s understanding of his or her history.

The “Bonus Army,” 17,000 strong, arrived in Washington, D.C., in June 1932. They were veterans of World War I and they called themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Force.” Many arrived with their families. They traveled in freight cars, trucks, and wagons and on foot. They were in Washington to plead for a war bonus owed them. The money was not due until 1945, but they wanted it in advance.

They were allowed to live in empty government buildings and to camp on a swampy area across the Potomac River. The army provided them with tents, cots, field kitchens, and food. When the Senate refused to grant to bones payment, most of them gave up a returned home with money provided by the government.

Some 2,000 of the veterans, many of whom had no place to go, decided to stay. They were ordered to leave. In a clash with the police, several veterans and police officers were killed. Army troops then moved in with machine guns, tanks, and tear gas. The troops drove the veterans from the buildings and broke up their encampment across the river, burning the shacks as they did so.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around this one. I’d never heard of it before, and this is the sum total of the information presented about it in the textbook. Imagine if 17,000 Gulf War Veterans marched on Washington today, demanded payments they had been promised to help them during times of economic depression. Imagine next that, while these veterans were camped out on the Mall, Congress voted not to support them and they were sent away. Those that didn’t leave voluntarily, some 2,000 of them, were attacked by the units of the National Guard, pepper spray and assault rifles used as needed to clear people out, and flamethrowers used to destroy the detritus they left behind. Could such a thing happen today? I would’ve have thought no, but knowing that such a thing did happen in 1932 forces me to reassess my assumptions.

15. America’s entry into World War II didn’t end the depression. It deepened it.

I was especially sensitive to this one, because the idea that World War II, and the government spending that accompanied the war effort, ended the Great Depression is one of the most enduring historical misunderstandings of our time. I wanted to see how this high school textbook would handle it, so I was sure to underline passages like this:

Where did the money come from to finance the war? A little more than one third came from taxes, which were raised to the highest level in American history. The government borrowed the remainder, chiefly by selling huge issues of bonds. Because of this borrowing, the national debt shot upward from about $49 billion in 1941 to nearly $259 billion by the spring of 1945.

The dollar cost of the war was staggering. By 1945, military expenditures totaled $400 billion. This was twice the sum that the federal government had spent for all of its activities, including all wars, between 1789 and 1940!

And this:

Despite these [rationing] efforts, the process of consumer goods rose, especially food prices. By 1944 the cost of living had risen 30 percent above 1941 prewar levels.

And this:

In July 1942 the National War Labor Board (NWLB) tried to work out a compromise. It granted a 15-percent wage increase to meet the rises in living costs. Several months later Congress and President Roosevelt authorized the NWLB to freeze the wages and salaries of all workers at the newly established levels.

And this:

The most drastic means of controlling profits was the excess profits tax, levied in 1940. The tax obliged corporations to pay to the government as much as 90 percent of all excess profits.

The highest taxes in American history, including a 90 percent excess profit tax on businesses. A ballooning national debt. A 30-percent increase in the cost of living with frozen wages and salaries. Exactly how did all of this get America out of the Great Depression?

16. The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis were two separate incidents.

All you Boomers can start razzing me now, but somehow I managed to conflate the two episodes in my admittedly poor understanding of the Kennedy administration. It’s not such much that I consciously thought they were the same thing. I just didn’t really know what the Bay of Pigs was and I must’ve just pushed it together with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The textbook has set me straight, but here’s the funny thing. Knowing how that they are separate incidents—the Bay of Pigs refers to an April 1961 CIA invasion of Cuba that was an attempt to overthrow the Castro regime and the Cuban Missile Crisis is, of course, the standoff between the Americans and the Soviet Union over nuclear missiles in Cuba in October 1962—I’m left with the conclusion that the two events were, in fact, related.

Not that the textbook actually connected those dots for me. Regardless of what you think of Fidel Castro, do you suppose he was motivated to bring Soviet missiles and technology to his island nation because his giant American neighbor had tried to overthrow his government with a CIA-led invasion?

17. The Vietnam War was an unconstitutional mistake, based on a lie, that irrevocably blurred the line between right and wrong.

I don’t know how else to characterize it. Especially when you read about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson appeared on television with shocking news. He announced that two American destroyers had been attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The President stated that he had therefore ordered American planes to bomb North Vietnamese torpedo bases and oil refineries. He also asked Congress to grant him authority to take action against North Vietnam.

The President did not tell the nation that the American ships had been assisting South Vietnamese gunboats that were making raids on North Vietnam’s coast. He also did not inform the nation that there was some doubt whether there had been any attack on American ships at all.

Three days later Congress granted the President’s request. It adopted what became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This gave the President power “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attach against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

The House votes unanimously for the measure. The Senate passed it by a vote of 88 to 2. Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, who voted against it, warned that “we are in effect giving the President warmaking powers in the absence of a declaration of war. I believe that to be a historic mistake.

At a minimum, I believe Senator Morse was right. It was a historic mistake. One, unfortunately, that future Congresses would repeat in future situations. What I find most striking about this is that it is language from a high school history textbook, published a little more than 20 years after the fact. This isn’t some anti-war rag. This is mainstream history, boiled down to a few declarative sentences, and it all but says that the President lied and that the war was fought unconstitutionally.

And what a war.

The Air Force poured bombs, napalm, rockets, and machine-gun fire on Viet Cong villages, hideouts, and supply routed in South Vietnam. … With support from the air, South Vietnamese and American ground forces carried out “search-and-destroy” mission against the Viet Cong. In areas they could not hold or defend, they moved the people to refugee centers and burned the villages.

The Viet Cong, by the way, were not robots, but human beings, and their villages were populated by families. By the end of the war, at least 6 million people were refugees and 160,000 South Vietnamese and 922,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese people had been killed.

Yet the textbook only uses terms like “guerilla tactics” and “terrorism” to describe the actions of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. What was that I said about history repeating itself?

18. There were two energy crises in the 1970s.

The energy crisis of the late 1970s is a dim memory for me (I was born in 1968). I remember the lines of automobiles at the gas station, but what I don’t remember is the energy crisis of the early 1970s, the one President Nixon tried to deal with, in part by announcing a program to make the United States independent of all foreign countries for its energy requirements by the early 1980s. How’d that work out?

19. President Reagan had virtually nothing to do with the release of the American hostages in Iran.

This, too, exists as one of my earliest political memories. Somehow, I was left with the impression that after Carter’s failed negotiations and botched rescue attempt, President-elect Reagan secretly brokered a deal with the Iranians and saw the hostages released on the day he was inaugurated as President.

That’s evidently not what happened. Instead the Carter Administration continued to negotiate after the failed rescue attempt, and secured the release with the Algerian government acting as a neutral arbitrator and in exchange for a payment in gold tonnage and a promise never to interfere with Iran’s internal politics again (that last bit I actually picked up from Wikipedia, not my high school textbook).

Why did Iran want a promise that the U.S. would never interfere with them again? Because the reason the hostages were taken in the first place stemmed from the CIA-led overthrow of the democratically-elected Iranian government and the installation of the Shah, a dictatorial ruler, in 1953. The Shah had eventually been deposed in 1979 by an internal revolution, and he had fled to the United States for protection. The hostage takers wanted the Shah returned to Iran so he could be executed for his crimes against the Iranian people, and they took the hostages when the U.S. refused to comply.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chapter Nineteen


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 46,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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When Sir Gildegarde Brisbane II had been a Knight of Farchrist for three years, he was asked to speak to some of the boys at the King’s School, to show them an example of what their school could produce and to tell the boys the joys and privileges of the knighthood. Brisbane instantly accepted the invitation and the next day went down into Raveltown to carry out this most important mission. When his talk was finished and he had answered all the boys’ questions, he made his way through the streets of the city, back to the castle. But before he left Raveltown he saw a girl, a young peasant woman of such astounding beauty that he pretended to have lost his way just so he could ask her for directions. He introduced himself as Sir Gildegarde Brisbane II. She said her name was Amanda.

+ + +

On the fourth day it was obvious that they had left the Windcrest Hills behind them and were entering the southern arm of the Crimson Mountains. The land was getting much more rugged and, although the slope stayed fairly even and gradual along the bank of the Mystic, they soon found themselves surrounded by ever increasing hills with sharper and sharper peaks. They were truly mountains.

Brisbane was pleasantly surprised when he woke up to find Stargazer in his arms. He had not remembered her entrance in the middle of the night. His movements woke her up and she gently kissed him on the lips and mumbled a good morning in his ear. They were alone in the tent, the others distributed among the other tents and, for the moment, Brisbane forgot they were traveling with other people.

Stargazer stood up and stretched. She was wearing only a thin nightshirt and Brisbane lay still as he marveled at the shape of her body and the curves of her figure. There was a tightness in the crotch of his trousers he couldn’t pass off entirely on the need for morning urination. Stargazer was a gentle, beautiful woman who Brisbane loved and respected, but as he lay there watching her breasts rise and fall as she stretched, he realized part of him didn’t care about love or respect or compatibility. Part of him wanted her sexually, and that part wanted to act on those feelings now.

Stargazer saw him ogling her and she called a playful shame on him. Brisbane smiled but did not look away. Stargazer pulled on a pair of trousers before going out and, just for a split-second, when Stargazer pulled the pants up to her waist and the hem of her nightshirt danced up to her belly, Brisbane caught a glimpse of the curly patch of her pubic hair.

It’s honey-blonde, Brisbane thought, just like the hair on her head, it’s honey-blonde. Saner men have been driven mad by less than that. He lay for a long time alone in the tent, feeling his heart pound in his chest and watching images of himself and Stargazer, their bodies entwined in a sexual embrace, on the insides of his eyelids.

Brisbane thought about those moments now as the little group continued its weary march up the Mystic, and as he thought about it, he noticed he had two voices echoing in his head. One voice, the louder and more confident one, was telling him he had it made. It was only a matter of time. Stargazer loved him and if he was patient and careful, it wouldn’t be long before she told him so and not long after that before they had more personal reasons to be alone in a separate tent at night. This first voice was sure of it. But Brisbane could not deny the presence of a second voice, softer, yes, but somehow more insidious and swaying. This voice said Stargazer was teasing him, that she was too mature for an inexperienced boy like him and there was no way she could love him as a woman loved a man. Besides, the second voice said, even if she does consent to make love with you, what are you going to say when she takes off your shirt and she sees the five-pointed star you wear around your neck?

Suddenly Brisbane realized this was the crux of the whole problem, this was what he feared about him and Stargazer getting closer. How is Stargazer going to deal with his connection to magic? She said she would tolerate Roystnof because she knew Brisbane cared about him, and because there was no visible evidence he had corrupted Brisbane in any way. But there was evidence. Stargazer just hadn’t seen it. There was his silver medallion, yes, but more importantly there was shocking grasp and the few cantrips Roystnof had taught him.

Brisbane wondered how Stargazer would treat him if she knew he was able to do magic, because that was exactly what he was able to do. It had been nearly a year since he had cast shocking grasp onto that hotel chair, and even longer since he had done his last cantrip, but Brisbane knew he could, at any time, do one of them again as if there had never been a break in his training. The knowledge was burned into him and he was as sure of it as he was about his own name. If Stargazer ever found out about this ability, Brisbane could expect no better treatment from her than that she gave Dantrius. Worse, Brisbane realized, because she would not only hate him for his magic, but she would hate him because he had betrayed her trust.

All of these thoughts left Brisbane in a very poor mood and he spent most of the day’s march away from the others, walking through the smudgy remains of depression. Shortwhiskers and Stargazer had both come over to try and cheer him up, and although he was not rude about it, Brisbane made it clear he would rather be left alone for a while. He walked with his head down for the most part, not wanting to look up in case anyone was looking at him. Brisbane would have had trouble meeting even Dantrius’ eyes that day.

It was late in the afternoon and they were deep into the Crimson Mountains themselves when Brisbane, still looking down, caught out of the corner of his eye the sight of one of his companions coming over to him. He began to run potential excuses through his head, but when he saw the red and black garments of Roystnof approaching, he stopped such activity and looked up to meet him.

“Hello,” Roystnof said with hesitation in his voice.

“Hello,” Brisbane said warmly, hoping to put everything aside and talk to Roystnof like the old friends they were.

“I take it something’s troubling you,” Roystnof said. “Would you like to talk about it?”

With that simple statement, direct as it was, Brisbane saw in Roystnof the friend that had always been there. The friend who knew him better than anyone and around whom Brisbane could be completely himself. He knew, whether he talked about his problems or not, Roystnof would always be there when Brisbane needed him.

Brisbane quickly thought about his problems with Stargazer and realized he would need, even with Roystnof, some time to collect his thoughts and prepare what he was going to say. His was just too uncertain about the whole thing.

“It’s kind of involved,” Brisbane said. “I still need some time to think. Can we talk about it later?”

“Of course,” Roystnof said. “I understand.”

Something in the way Roystnof said that made Brisbane think his friend already had guessed most of what his problem was.

Roystnof did not walk away.

Brisbane acted on a hunch. “Did you want to talk about something, Roy?”

Roystnof looked as if he was surprised but then turned serious. “Actually, yes there is, Gil. I was hoping I could bend your ear.”

Brisbane smiled, more than happy to serve in this capacity. “I’ve got two. Go right ahead.”

Roystnof smiled back and the sight of it made Brisbane immensely pleased. “It’s Dantrius,” the wizard said. “Frankly, he’s beginning to scare me. I am beginning to see why you tried to warn me about him. I know I said I could handle him, but now…now I am no longer sure.”

“What happened?” Brisbane asked. He was surprised at Roystnof’s confession. In his eyes, the two wizards had been getting along as well as they ever had.

“This whole trip happened,” Roystnof said sardonically. “I’m sure you’ve noticed Dantrius hasn’t been the easiest person to get along with so far.”

“He’s a pest,” Brisbane said.

“Yes,” Roystnof said. “Yes, he is. But I don’t understand why he is. He wasn’t like this back in Queensburg when we were studying together. He wasn’t exactly a loving companion, but at least he was cooperative. Now, he acts like everyone is in his way.”

“Nobody wants him along, Roy. We all agreed because you wanted him.”

“I know, I know,” Roystnof said. “We wanted to try out what we had taught each other under real circumstances. It seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

“What exactly did you teach each other?” Brisbane asked.

Roystnof looked around. Dantrius was well out of earshot. “This is what’s really bothering me,” Roystnof said. “In Queensburg, I thought we were exchanging knowledge equally. But now, I get the feeling Dantrius has been holding back on me.”

That was the third time Roystnof had called the mage Dantrius. Brisbane was glad he was no longer using Illzeezad. “How do you mean?” Brisbane asked.

“I mean,” Roystnof said, “I don’t think Dantrius has taught me all he knows about magic.”

“Have you?” Brisbane asked.

Roystnof looked at the ground. “Foolishly, I think I have. Back in Queensburg he had free run of my red book and I answered any questions he had to the best of my ability. I felt obligated to do so, after all, I expected the same service in return.”

Roystnof looked back at Brisbane. “But Dantrius has no spell book. At first I found that a bit odd. Even you know the importance—” He cut himself off suddenly.

“Roy, what’s the matter?”

Roystnof answered slowly. “I’m sorry, Gil. I’m not taking your feelings into account. You’re the one who I should have let examine my book. I know things have seemed different lately, but I still consider you to be my apprentice.” His eyes suddenly went wide. “I can’t believe I’ve really neglected you for so long. I can’t imagine what you must have thought all winter long with me and Dantrius holed up in the cabin. I’m sorry, Gil, I’m…”

Roystnof trailed off and seemed to stare off into the space in front of him. Brisbane quickly checked to see that Stargazer hadn’t heard what he had said and then turned back to his friend.

“Roy,” Brisbane said. “Get a hold of yourself. I’m not mad at you. I’ve neglected my training as much, if not more, than you have. It’s no one’s fault, really. I just kind of fell away from it. First Angelika comes to me and then Ignatius leaves the group, it was better for the party that I put magic on hold for a while. It’s okay, really.”

Roystnof was still staring off into space. “Oh yes. Angelika.”

Brisbane clapped Roystnof on the back. “Who knows? When this trip is over, maybe I can take up my training again.”

Not if Allie has anything to do with it. You know that, Gil.

Roystnof seemed to come back to himself. “Yes, maybe you will. But Dantrius is our problem now. As I said, Dantrius has no spell book, it’s all up in his head, and I’m beginning to see that what’s up there could fill a dozen of my red books.”

“Then he did teach you some of his magic?” Brisbane asked.

Roystnof nodded. “Or so it seemed. But now, I fear he has told me only the uppermost fringes of his knowledge. It is like an iceberg I have only seen the tip of. Like the spell he used yesterday, the one against the orks, where he duplicated himself.”

“I remember,” Brisbane said.

“Well, as I said, Dantrius’ magic seems to be based on illusion and creating duplicate images of oneself is basic stuff in his order of magic. With the little I have actually gotten out of him, I am sure I could do it myself. But my images would be just images, and I would still be real among them. An attack against me, even with my images still standing, would certainly kill me. What Dantrius did, mixing his life force among the images so he would always be retained in the last one, is leagues beyond anything he has taught me. It is illusion, yes, but it is illusion bordering on its own reality.”

“Maybe he lied,” Brisbane offered. “Maybe it was just chance that he was the last one standing.”

“Maybe it was,” Roystnof agreed. “But would you rely on a chance like that when your life was on the line? Remember how smug he was when you were chopping down his images? Would you be that confident on a one in three chance?”

Brisbane shook his head. No, he would not. Dantrius was either able to manipulate his life force as he had claimed, or he was the world’s ultimate gambling man.

Or, Brisbane thought, he was crazier than a shithouse rat.

“I wouldn’t either,” Roystnof said. “I believe he did just what he said he did, and I believe he has kept a large amount of knowledge from me.”

“Okay,” Brisbane said. “So he deceived you. What happens now?”

“I’m not sure,” Roystnof said. “But this is why I wanted to talk to you. Everything Dantrius has done so far is in the past, and there is nothing we can do about it. But what worries me is what he’s going to do in the future.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you’ve seen how he’s been acting,” Roystnof said. “He’s been separating himself from the group. Not just from you and Nog and Miss Stargazer, he’s always been apart from you, but from me as well. Back in Queensburg, I was a sort of confidant for him, but now, it seems like he wants nothing to do with me.”

Brisbane did not like the sound of that. “Do you think he’s up to something?”

Roystnof became very serious. “I’ll tell you what I do think, Gil. I think Dantrius is done with me. I think he knows he’s gotten all he’s going to get out of me, and now that I’m no longer of any use to him, he’s tossed me aside and he’s just biding his time until he can leave us all completely.”

Brisbane considered it. It did make sense in the light of Dantrius’ current actions. Especially if what Roystnof said about his own estrangement from the mage was true. But Brisbane was not sure what the problem was. Dantrius had certainly used Roystnof, and Brisbane was angry about that, but as Roystnof had said, that was in the past. Presently, if Dantrius wanted to leave their party, Brisbane had no problem with that. Nobody wanted him here anyway, and as far as Brisbane was concerned, Dantrius could take his share of the ork gold and leave.

“So?” Brisbane said. “Let him go. What are you so worried about?”

“I’m worried about what he might try to do before he leaves,” Roystnof said. “You don’t know him like I do, Gil.”

“Now, what’s that supposed to mean?”

Roystnof looked around at the others again. Brisbane did not like to see him do that. It was as if he was some kind of insane paranoid.

“It means,” Roystnof said, “that you don’t know him like I do. He’s an evil man, Gil, he really is. He worships Damaleous.”

“What?” Brisbane was taken aback.

“It’s true,” Roystnof said. “He believes that’s where his power comes from. At first he assumed I worshipped the Evil One, too. I tried to tell him I get my power from within, and I tried to show him he could do the same, but he would have nothing to do with it. It quickly became a subject neither of us would discuss. I have my beliefs and he has his.”

“He actually worships Damaleous?” Brisbane asked. “How? What does he do?”

“He meditates a lot,” Roystnof said. “Sits in one spot and closes his eyes for long periods of time. I asked him what he was doing once and he said he was communing with his master.”

“His master? You mean Damaleous?”

“I would assume so,” Roystnof said. “He says he needs those little sessions to recharge his powers. His master evidently bestows his power on him during this meditation. Because of this, he doesn’t need a spell book. He says his master rewards him with greater and greater powers for the work he does here on earth.”

“That sounds like my stepfather,” Brisbane said. “I was taught that was how all wizards operated. Until I met you, that’s what I believed.”

“I know,” Roystnof said. “And that’s what troubles me. I have denied the existence of gods my entire life and worked my magic powers up through years of research, sweat, and dedication to my craft. All I have learned I set down in my red book because it is too much for one man to remember. I could still work magic without my book, but I would not be the wizard I am now.

“This is the nature of magic, this is how I have come to perceive magic to be. It comes with my personal experience with the magical force and I am positive this and this alone is the true representation of magic in our reality. But now along comes Illzeezad Dantrius, who breaks all the rules I thought magic adhered to. He has never studied it. He has never researched anything. To him, magic is a prize, a reward given by his god, Damaleous, for doing evil works upon the earth. And he is twice the wizard I will ever be. It is a situation I cannot logically accept.”

Brisbane was not sure what to say. “You don’t think Dantrius really gets his power from Damaleous, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Roystnof said. “At this point I am willing to say he might.”

“But it could be something else.”

“It could be many things,” Roystnof said. “The force of magic could just be stronger in him than it is in you or me. His magic is mostly illusionary, so it could operate under different restrictions. It could even be something he eats on a regular basis, but none of that really matters. What matters is that Dantrius believes his power comes from Damaleous and I have no proof to tell him otherwise.”

“And now you’re worried about what evil acts he might do to increase his power.”

“Yes,” Roystnof said. “There’s no telling what he may do. We’re going to have to watch him very closely. For all of our own good.”

Brisbane had already seen the need to watch Dantrius closely. Shortwhiskers had taught him that much. “Why don’t we just get rid of him? Force him out of the group?”

Roystnof shook his head. “Too dangerous. He’s a ticking bomb now. There’s no need to shorten the fuse. Besides, I very much doubt we could prevent him from following us short of killing him. And that would probably be much harder than we might think. No, I believe the only way to proceed is to keep him in a place where we can exert some control over him. Once this adventure is finished, and we are out of the wilds, there will be no more reason for his company among us and we can more easily turn him loose on the rest of the world.”

Brisbane wasn’t so sure about that logic, but he realistically did not see any other way to go about it. He was glad Roystnof had come to him with this dilemma, but he knew Dantrius wasn’t just his problem, he was everyone’s problem. He looked up ahead and saw the thin frame of the mage. Shortwhiskers and Stargazer were walking apart from him. Brisbane thought about everything Roystnof had told him about the mage, the way he had used Roystnof, the extent of his power, and the habits of his religious life, and Brisbane realized that none of it surprised him. He had known it all along, known it deep down in his heart. Illzeezad Dantrius was no good and he liked hurting people.

“Well,” Roystnof said, interrupting Brisbane’s thoughts. “I guess that’s all I have to say except that I’m sorry I’ve forgotten about you lately. I hope we can be close again.”

“Roy,” Brisbane said. “Cut it out. We’ll always be close. Don’t worry about me.”

Roystnof smiled. “Super. Now, are you sure you don’t want to talk about what’s bothering you?”

Brisbane thought about his problem with Stargazer. He still wasn’t sure how he could phrase it properly, but he had begun to have the sneaking suspicion that one day he was going to have to choose between love and magic. He did not yet fully realize that this choice would manifest itself as a choice between Stargazer and Roystnof.

“It’s Allison,” Brisbane said. “I don’t know. I’m just really confused about where we stand.”

Roystnof nodded knowingly. “Ah, yes,” he said. “That is a delicate situation.”

“What do you think I should do?” Brisbane asked.

“Well,” Roystnof said. “Do you know how you feel about her? Could you describe it to her in, say, three words?”

Brisbane wasn’t sure what Roystnof was talking about but then he caught the gleam in the wizard’s eye. “You think I should just tell her?”

Roystnof put a hand on Brisbane’s shoulder. “I think you should just tell her.”

“But…” Brisbane could say no more aloud. To himself, he said, but what am I going to do when she finds out what I’ve been hiding from her? How can I deal with the hate she will surely feel for me? How can I let myself be something for her I’m not?

“But what, Gil?”

Brisbane shook his head miserably. “Nothing. It just seems kind of sudden.”

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?”

Brisbane thought about it. Yes, it was the truth. He did love Stargazer and telling her that would not be a lie.

“I’ll do it,” Brisbane said.

“Grand,” Roystnof said. “Shall I go tell her you wish to speak with her?”

“No!” Brisbane shouted. “I mean, I’ll find my own time to tell her.”

Roystnof gave another of his knowing smiles. “Okay. Just be sure you do find the time.”

“Oh, I will.”

Brisbane meant it and, surprisingly enough, he thought the perfect time came at the end of that day, after the march, after the evening meal, and after the camp had been set up on the bank of the dwindling Mystic River among the growing Crimson Mountains. He thought the perfect time came when they settled down for a night’s rest, having both eluded watch duty and again sharing the same tent. The perfect time came and the perfect time went.

That night turned out to be a whole lot different than the one before it because instead of Stargazer joining him after he had already fallen asleep, they were both awake and had to fall asleep at the same time.

Stargazer quickly went about undressing and putting on her sleeping clothes and Brisbane dumbly followed in a slow mimicry of her actions. He would leave most of his clothes on, he decided, as he was too embarrassed to go much farther, removing only his armor and boots before slipping under the blankets. Stargazer, however, would sleep only in her long nightshirt, but she donned it in such a way that Brisbane saw little of her naked flesh.

“Allie?” he asked as she slipped under the covers beside him, still planning on telling her how he felt.

“Yes?” Stargazer murmured, cuddling close.

Brisbane did not know how to begin. “What’s happening here?” After he had said it, he decided that it was a bad way to start.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said. “Please don’t take offense, but why are you sleeping with me?”

Ouch, Brisbane thought. If I keep saying moronic things like that I’m never going to get through this.

Stargazer hugged him tighter. “Because there’s so much of you to keep me warm. And Nog snores.”

This was not going in the direction he wanted it to go. “No, seriously, Allie.” He took a deep breath. “What’s going on between us?”

Stargazer was silent.


“Gil, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

Oh, oh, Brisbane thought, here it comes.

“I like you a lot and I feel safe around you. I guess those are the two main reasons why I want to share a tent with you out here. But if you’re thinking about starting something physical between us, I’m not ready for it. I’m flattered and I’m not saying it will never happen, but I’m not ready for it. Can you understand that?”

“Yes, I can.”

Stargazer rested her head on his chest. “Do you remember the night we spent together in the Shadowhorn?”

“I do.”

“Did you feel something special happen that night?”

Brisbane had. He had never felt so comfortable in his life before that night. There was something different about the way he felt that night from any of the other nights he had spent with Stargazer since. In a moment he realized that it was because he neither wanted nor expected any sexual contact with her that night.

“I did.”

“So did I,” Stargazer said. “And I still feel it. I just want to savor it a little longer before we move onto something else. Okay?”


“Now go to sleep,” she demanded.

They lay quietly together for some time.



“I like you a lot, too.”

It was all he was able to say that night, but in a way, he thought it was enough.