Posted by: mlawrencekey | September 4, 2014

Is Turkey a powerful country?

Answer by M. Lawrence Key:

In my opinion, it's one of the most successful countries in the Middle East, and here's why:

  • it does not rely solely on massive oil money for its survival and economy.
  • it has a rich history and culture.
  • its people are self-reliant and self-made. They work hard and don't mind laboring in ways that other Middle Easterners would consider beneath them.
  • They have a government and governing system that largely values separation of religion and state.
  • They produce their own goods and export them throughout the Middle East.
  • They strive to maintain peace with their neighbors.

Of course, they are not perfect, and I'm not suggesting that. I'm well aware of human rights violations in their recent past and even tragedies such as the Armenian massacres during the 1920s. However, if we look at the whole picture, I would say that Turkey is indeed a powerful country, by the standard of its military, but also by the standard of its economy and its influence on its neighbors.

Is Turkey a powerful country?

Posted by: mlawrencekey | September 4, 2014

Why is the coffee so good in the Middle East?

Coffee in the Middle East is like coffee anywhere. How good it is depends largely on the quality of the beans and how they’re roasted. As others have noted, Middle Easterners have ways of making coffee that differ from the West (the way the beans are ground, the method of making the coffee, the inclusion of cardamom and other spices, etc.). However, I have lived in the Middle East for 15 years and I’ve had thousands of cups of coffee there, ranging from quite good to terrible swill. It mostly comes down to the beans and how they’re roasted. Also, I prefer Arabic coffee to the Turkish style of fixing it. It’s much smoother and doesn’t have the “mud” at the bottom.

Why is the coffee so good in the Middle East?

Answer by M. Lawrence Key:

Depends on who you are. If you're a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim, then envisioning this kind of thing is the culmination of your faith, bringing the "kingdom of God" to earth, to use a more Christian terminology, or creating a utopia, to use a classical one. It is bringing into being the half-remembered with vaseline on the lens Golden Age of Islam without a clear understanding of the social/political/religious tolerance that allowed that age to exist in the first place. That is a dream that people are willing to die for, however misconceived and misguided.

If you're not a Sunni Muslim in this imagined paradise on earth, you're out of luck, relegated to second class citizen status at best, forced to convert or die at worst.

What would it be like living under an Islamic state, and what is so great about it that people will fight and die to make it happen?

Posted by: mlawrencekey | May 5, 2014

Review: Titan

Titan by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll go ahead and admit it right now: I skipped through most of the beginning of this book, finding the political intrigue on Earth tedious and boring. I wanted to get into the Titan stuff as fast as possible.

I’ll give Baxter this: he’s done his research, and I was continually impressed with his descriptions of a possible voyage to Titan and what landing and exploring this alien world might be like. Ultimately, I found myself feeling oppressed and a bit depressed by the futility of life on Titan for the intrepid astronauts who survived the voyage and managed to eke out an existence there.

The final chapter or two are the weirdest part of the book (no spoilers here), and while I appreciated seeing what Titan might be like a few hundred million years in the future, the whole thing ultimately felt empty and meaningless to me.

The final message of the book: life will go on, somehow, somewhere, though in strange and entirely unknown forms. And maybe that’s a message of hope for some. For me, somehow, I was looking for more.

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Posted by: mlawrencekey | September 5, 2013

If I could speak into the ears of American power

Please thoughtfully read this heartfelt letter written to American power.

Posted by: mlawrencekey | December 1, 2012

My new online writer’s portfolio

I just finished creating an online writer’s portfolio at It will increasingly serve as my main clearinghouse, along with my Facebook page, for updates on my writing and publishing endeavors. this means that this blog will serve that end less and less and may eventually become a valley of bones.

My new writer’s portfolio is hosted at:

Posted by: mlawrencekey | August 27, 2012

Review: Stardust

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” –C.S. Lewis

In his acknowledgements at the end of this book, Neil Gaiman alludes to this C.S. Lewis quote, and it is appropriate for this particular fairy tale, which is at once childlike and also possesses a deep wisdom and maturity at its core.

It is the coming of age story of a young man who finds his true Heart’s Desire and his destiny, though not where he would expect it. In fact, as in many tales like these, it is the journey itself that reveals to him what his heart’s desire truly is, and also forms him into the kind of man who can walk into his own destiny.

Filled with fantastic encounters in the beautiful and perilous world of Faery, Stardust is the kind of book that inspires awe and wonder again at the numinous all around us, perhaps hidden just around the next corner, if we care to look with open eyes and a thirst for adventure.

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Posted by: mlawrencekey | August 21, 2012

Review: The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bradbury is in a class by himself as a science fiction writer. Art and beauty come first, with science a distant second, and I love him for it.

I just re-read this and I still love the stories in it (most of them), though I will admit that the little sections he wrote to cobble all of them together into some kind of narrative feel forced at times.

Most of the stories are classics, previously published in the 1940s and 50s, and it shows. Yet the deep exploration of what it means to be human, set against the backdrop of the mysterious Red Planet, still holds up excellently today.

I have read many of these stories in other collections, and one of my favorites (Dark They Were, And Golden-Eyed) is actually missing (maybe he couldn’t get the rights back for it?) from this one. Ah well.

Still, it’s a great sampling of Bradbury’s work. I have always maintained that he was always a better short-story writer than he ever was a novelist. If all you’ve ever read of his work is Fahrenheit 451, I invite you to sample what I believe to be his best work in the form of his short stories. If you don’t like science fiction, don’t worry–this is barely what you might think of as science fiction. It is the best of artful and thoughtful prose simply placed into an otherworldly setting.

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Posted by: mlawrencekey | August 21, 2012

Review: Speaker for the Dead

Speaker for the Dead
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good but not great.

Speaker for the Dead is a continuation of the story of Ender Wiggins, now Speaker for the Dead, a quasi-religious vocation which involves going to various locations and telling the very honest life story of someone who has just died as they would have wanted it told, no holds barred.

He is called to a small colony world which was colonized by Catholics and is also inhabited by another enigmatic aboriginal race called the Piggies. Ender, along with help from local anthropologists and an AI called Jane, is able to solve a possible murder mystery and avert a galactic crisis, all while finding peace for himself and his own tortured past.

I found the story somewhat interesting, but not engrossing. I think that Ender and the other characters felt so foreign to me that it was hard to really enter much into their world and who they are as real people. Even Ender’s Game, which was extremely well-written, struck me this way.

Would I recommend it to others? I wouldn’t go out of my way to do so. It was a somewhat enjoyable read, but I doubt I’ll be foisting it on anyone else.

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Posted by: mlawrencekey | May 12, 2012

The Book is Out

ImageThe book is out.

At Home in Amman, the expat guidebook that I researched and wrote, has just been published by Turning Point Books and Mango Street Press. 

Here’s a blurb about the book’s content from the publisher: 

Turning Point International is pleased to announce the launch of its city guide series, starting with our second title, At Home in Amman. Bursting with up-to-date cultural and practical information about daily life in Amman, this new book is an indispensable guide to living in Jordan’s capital city. 
Each chapter is packed with well-researched recommendations, with 12 chapters in all: Jordan in Brief; Moving to Amman; Getting Settled; General Services and Information; Education; Children; Working in Amman; Health; Shopping; Entertainment; Sports, Leisure and Culture; and Discovering Amman and Beyond. 
Much like At Home in Beirut, this new release is filled with valuable advice and great insider tips, helpful fact boxes, bright color photos, and useful address and telephone directories. This comprehensive and matter-of-fact guidebook is an essential tool for anyone wishing to better understand this beautiful city.

I’m pleased to finally see all of my hard work in print. It’s currently available online here, and should be available in local bookstores here in Amman soon. If Turning Point follows its usual pattern, the book will also eventually be available from 

I feel that this guide is an important practical resource for expatriates who are moving to Amman or currently live here, especially for those who’ve never lived in the Middle East before, filling a gap not covered by tourism guidebooks. If you live in Amman or are about to, make sure you pick up a copy to add to your library! 

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