A Review, A Commentary

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

Here’s a review of The Godless:

I must admit that this has been one of my most enjoyable, refreshing reads for 2014.

I loved the premise, and in general the concepts behind the writing. It could just be me bringing my own biases into the reading, but I took a lot of parallels between Peek’s post-Gods world and our own slow move out of the shadow of historical religions. The exploration of what it means for society to stand on its own, without reference to supernatural entities. The taking on of power that has been historically seen as the province of the divine. The need to take responsibility to chart our own path forward. The power of even remnants of religion to inspire terrible deeds in the name of holy mandate. I found Peek’s interrogation of these concepts to be quite powerful and thought provoking. If nothing else, the concepts behind this story would have been enough to hook me in.

But this is no worthy but dry tome, meant to educate rather than entertain. I found the work utterly engaging, and it was only in reflecting on it later than some of these themes came through (and as I say, I could be ascribing my own biases to the work). The use of language in this work is delightful, the pacing superb. I found the characters to be vividly drawn and compelling in their motivations. In short it was an excellent read.

You can read the rest of it here. It’s pretty nice, and I was glad to see someone who enjoyed the time slippage structure, and the diversity.

Also, because it’s referenced in the post, I totally adore Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. I think it’s closest to being one of the most complete and best books I’ve read and, perhaps a bit oddly, I read it while writing the Godless. I found a nice, old hardback of it in a book store in Arkansas, and read it while I was there and on the flight back. I wouldn’t say it had any real influence on me, but any excuse to mention it now to you, if you haven’t read it.

***

This article on the Guardian has been doing the rounds.

You might have read it, already. It’s about an author who confronts her book blogger critic, or perhaps more accurately, stalks her blogger nemesis. It’s all kinds of bad, but it could have been, ‘Someone on Goodreads gave me a bad review and I lived with it.’ It would have been a shorter article, it’s true, and it would not have had time to introduce the idea of a book blogger using a fake identity to get away with what she/he does, a concept that, lets be honest, isn’t new on the internet, or indeed life. Sadly, I think the thing to take away from the article is just how desperate authors become to have their work read, and to create a successful narrative about it in the reviews, to help propel it along.

But still, it’s easier just to live with a bad review. The truth is, the more people who read your work, the more people you are going to encounter who dislike your work, and from that pool, there will be people who have an axe to grind over you, for something you did (or didn’t do) in your book. You’ll have to deal with it if it’s someone with a fake identity out to bully you, or if it is someone out there who just honestly disliked your book.

But I’m also the guy who once promoted a book by selling badges that said, I Hate Ben Peek, so what do I know?

***

At any rate, that’s enough for today. I have writing that needs to be done, and books that need to be read. In the latter, I am way behind in where I would like to be, and I suspect this year I will fall much lower than my desired book a week plan. There’s a lot of reasons, and I understand that, but still, I want to make an effort to push as far as I can by the end of the year.

After all, in a lifetime, you can only read so much.

 

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Birthdays and Books

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

For my birthday, my girlfriend gave me slipcased, hardcover copies of Fritz Leiber’s Rime Isle and Heroes and Horrors. Both were printed in the late 70s by Whispers Press and were illustrated by Tim Kirk – both very cool, and continue my slow collection of Leiber books by presses long gone. Whispers Press was the publishing arm of Stuart David Schiff’s Whispers magazine, which, according to a quick search, won the first World Fantasy Award for Best Non-Professional Publishing in ’75.

I doubt many people remember Whispers, now. I doubt many people know about the press. Sadly, a lot of people do not know about Leiber’s fine and excellent work.

I wonder what Leiber would make of the current debate among the World Fantasy Awards to change the statue from H.P. Lovecraft to something else. Leiber had – if I remember right – a small correspondence with Lovecraft early in his career, but if he was alive today, he’d be a hundred and four, and because of that, perhaps less inclined to want change, as a lot of older men and women do. But then again, perhaps not. Perhaps he would agree that Lovecraft was an awful racist and that it was reasonable that some people might be offended by receiving a statue of him. Perhaps he’d simply say that all things change. Perhaps he’d say that for a modern writers who were receiving the award, the statue ought to perhaps represent someone that they respected, rather than someone they did not. Who knows. I personally ask why the award doesn’t have a cash prize attached to it, but that’s me.

***

A couple of months out from the publication of the Godless and I think it is fair to say the book hasn’t picked up a lot of reviews. A couple of official ones, a handful or two of blog ones, and largely positive.

It is often why I make a point of saying, in these little blog posts, that you should talk about it, drop reviews, and so forth, because for all the frankly excellent store presence it has had, the other side, the talk of it, is part of letting other people know about it as well. Similarly, Dead Americans and Other Stories, sits in the same boat – though it does not have the store presence to support it (short story collections rarely do). For me, there’s a lot invested, but that is no real different to any other author.

Still, that’s why I prod people who have liked it to speak about it, in case you’re curious. It helps all editions, in all countries, and in 2014, I’m shockingly in a few.

***

I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood recently. He is, I think, one of the best film makers to emerge from America in the last two decades. Daniel Day-Lewis is excellent, as well.

I saw the trailer for his new film, Inherent Vice, during the week, and I’m pretty keen to see that.

Anyhow, enough for today.

 

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The Grand Australian Show

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

Last night, I got out of bed, and glanced down to find two black cats asleep on the covers, tail to tail. In the dark, they looked like an ink blot, a test that would describe my sanity to another.

***

I finally listened to the latest episode of the Coode Street about the Australian SF scene.

It’s not a bad recap of the scene. The business of it and the changes in the last couple of decades is pretty fair, I reckon. And I was both pleased (and saddened) to hear Alisa Krasnostein talk about Rosaleen Love’s new collection, Secret Lives of Books. My sadness came from the fact that she said that Love had not written for a decade until she was asked for this book. I have long, long loved Love’s work – yes, I know, love Love – and I’ve always thought that she deserved a much bigger following than she has. If you take anything away from my little post today, you ought to check out her work – it’s sly and funny and often biting, and it’s quite unique. Yet while I was sad to hear that, I was not terribly surprised: there are lots of excellent authors who struggle to keep publishing and rarely is money invested in short fiction voices like Love’s.

There’s a thread in the podcast that I found interesting and that’s the one of nurture and support for authors and I think that it’s a very important conversation to be having in Australia right now. Quite often, you’ll hear people talk about Australian identity in fiction (and in this case, speculative fiction) – and they will say how it is difficult to describe, or how it is non-existent. The latter is not entirely true: George Turner’s Genetic Soldier, Anna Tambour’s Spotted Lily, and more recently, Andrew Macrae’s Trucksong, are all examples of speculative fiction books uniquely Australian. There’s more, as well – Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria and the Swan Book and I could keep going – but it’s also true that a lot of this investment is no longer taking place in the major publishing houses, but rather the small ones, and that that needs to change. The task of growing voices cannot be a burden given to the independent press alone. It especially cannot be given to them as major publishing houses go forth with the rise of the churn and burn that is electronic publishing in this country. The latter isn’t about nurturing authors and discovering voices and growing an Australian vision, but it is what I think this country needs, especially now that the Abbott years are upon us and our national identity is becoming so fractured and abused. The arts are an important measure against this kind of racism and intolerance and if we’re not investing in it, then how can we claim to be surprised when it arises and thrives?

***Anyhow, just a small post today, then back to work. The Godless is moving along, but as always, if you’ve dug it, please, let someone know, and drop a review somewhere. It helps me out.Now, back to work.

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The Disenfranchised and Angry

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

Last week, an eighteen year old Afghani Muslim kid – some reports say he was but seventeen – in Melbourne was shot dead by the Police. The local cops and the federals had called him in to answer for his behaviour. He had been seen with an IS flag, and had reportedly said things against the Prime Minister – the latter, which lets be frank, should have a whole lot of us under watch by now. Anyhow, it all went bad. It is terrible and tragic all round.

Abdul Numan Naider was branded a terrorist, but truthfully, he was most likely an angry, disenfranchised kid. It isn’t such a difficult thing to imagine that a kid could feel alienated in the world when he is eighteen. Certainly, when I was at the same age, I felt like the world was a piece of shit and I couldn’t find my place in it. Maybe I still feel about half of that, and I assure you, it’s not the latter half. But there are lots of ways in which an eighteen year old could be made to feel that he wasn’t part of Australia – this Junkee article entitled ‘Here’s A Quick Recap of All the Times Australia Treated Muslims Like Complete Garbage This Week’ will help you understand it, I suspect.

***

Picked up a stellar review of the Godless in the Newtown Review of Books this week:

The Godless marks the beginning of a new epic fantasy from Australian author Ben Peek, and it’s a remarkable achievement. Because as much as George RR Martin produces the gold standard of this type of story, Peek gives him a run for his money.

The world of The Godless is a strange one indeed. The gods were all killed in a war thousands of years before the novel begins. In that unbelievable battle the sun god was torn into three pieces so the landscape is lit by a morning sun, a midday sun and an afternoon sun, and the mountains of Mireea are built on the Spine of Ger, literally crystallised on the bones of a dead god who fell across the land. Of course, many peoples of our own world have such creation myths to explain how the world they observe is the way it is. But in The Godless these are not myths: the bodies of the gods are real. If you tunnel into the mountains of Mireea you will find deep channels that open onto the carcass of Ger. As you can imagine, the war and subsequent death of the gods had a profound effect on those who worshipped them, many of whom were also killed in that titanic struggle. But the power of the gods was not finished. It inhabited certain individuals, giving them fantastically extended lifetimes and strange and different powers…

Peek handles all these epic fantasy elements with great sensitivity. Everything feels as if it’s working together and I found myself eager to return to the world of The Godless every time I picked up my e-reader. He even manages to pull in the beginnings of an expansive geography for the world. Just as in Westeros, there are lands beyond the city of Mireea: oceans of blood created by the death of another god, kingdoms where the animals speak, cities where the dead hold sway … It seems we’ve witnessed events in only a small corner of this world, and there are many more wonders to explore.

Finally, and as with all good epic fantasy, The Godless ends with a revelation that will have repercussions for all the characters and the world they inhabit. The experience of reading this book was so immersive, and so ultimately fulfilling, I can’t wait for the next instalment.

There were a couple of blog reviews, here and here. The first one is positive, the second one less so, but it’s mostly by someone for who the book didn’t work for, and it happens. I suppose I could not link the second, but it’s not a big deal if someone doesn’t like your work, really. It’s nice to be liked, but if you need perspective, think about what I wrote before this paragraph, and then imagine an Immigration Minister – white, balding, and with a scowl on his square face – standing in Cambodia and drinking champagne after he has signed for his Government an agreement that will send refugees to there.

Yeah, if someone doesn’t like my book, I’m doing alright.

Still, if you did read it and dig it, drop your nice words somewhere. The Godless is clicking along nicely on Goodreads, though Goodreads can be – and often is – the worse of ‘Don’t Read the Comments’ and it needs more intelligent things on it than not, y’know?

***

This week, Prime Minster Tony Abbott said, ‘The delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift.’

Be proud, Australia.

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Our Man in Havana and Other Such Things

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

During the week I saw this quote from Richard Deniss. “It’s meaningless to say the debt might be a bit higher in 30 years’ time,” he said. “If the government really was worried about long-term problems, you’d think they’d be worried about climate change, and yet they downplay that.”

***

I watched Carol Reed’s Our Man in Havana last week. It’s one of Reed’s later films – made in 1959, he would make only a handful of films after it, including, perhaps most famously, Oliver. Yet, more importantly to me, it was one of his films that the novelist Graham Greene had a hand in, and though Our Man in Havana was not near the hights of The Third Man it was pretty decent. Alec Guiness plays the title role, and he does it with the usual Guiness charm. The film struggles a bit in trying to decide if it’s a thriller or a comedy, and the line is sometimes a bit awkward, but overall, it’s pretty cool. I especially liked the science fiction drawings.

You’ll have noted that Our Man in Havana is not a recent film, just as the last two weren’t, either. It’s a bit of a phase: I just can’t seem to get overly excited about newly released films and so I’m just watching the things I haven’t seen before that have been round for a while.There’s plenty of films I haven’t seen, so it’s not really a problem, except that I do miss going to the cinema at times – but I figure there’ll be a flow of films that interest me soon enough.

I also read Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century during the week. I’ve been a big fan of the series since the start: I love all the references and characters that Moore and O’Neill work in and this one was no different. It gets a special mention for referencing not just Iain Sinclair and Dave McKean’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy, but for designing the character of Norton after Sinclair (as it should be, of course). Anyhow, I liked it. Others may not, but I did.

***

In other news, the Godless is doing alright, sales wise. We’re playing a long game here: the release of the mass market paperback is in Febuary, and after that, the second book, and so on, and so forth, but we’re doing alright. Thanks for everyone who has talked up the book or mentioned it to a friend, or who found in it an airport and thought, the best way to try an author I don’t know is when I’m trapped in a metal cage thousands of feet in the air.

Still, its not quite over yet, and I still need to impose on you all to make a mention it here and there. It really does make a difference, I assure you.

Other than that, everything is moving along, and I’m back working on the third book, though I still don’t have a title for that.Anyhow, back to that. Books – perhaps for the best – don’t write themselves.

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The Day of The–

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

Once upon a time, I blogged every day of the week. It was partly a way to keep writing daily and partly an attempt to build an audience for my fiction. To varying degrees, I did both. I managed it for a number of years until I fell out of it for all the reasons you fall out of a habit. Now, however, I am modestly trying to keep to a blogging schedule of every Monday. For the most part, I think blogs have shifted into other social media, and I use those a little bit here and there, but time is just not what it used to be, so I am pretty inconsistant unless asked a question.

At any rate: Welcome to a month after the Godless was released.

It’s a strange experience, still. Last week I caught up with a friend of mine. We met up in Glebe Books and he said, ‘Do you want to sign your books while we’re here?’ And I laughed and said that my books weren’t there. Then he pointed to the counter, where a stack of ten or fifteen were sitting, right where people would go up to pay for their purchases. It’s still pretty surreal to see a book of mine like that, really. Maybe I’ll never get used to it. I suspect not.

I heard on the weekend that Dead Americans had also had a bit of a bump in sales from the publisher, which I put down to the Godless. It is nice to see, regardless of what is responsible – a short story collection very rarely gets the love that a novel does, so in this way, for store presence, the two are quite opposite.

I watched the original Day of the Jackal and Serpico during the week, both of them cool films. Sidney Lumet, the director of Serpico, got two really fine performances out of Al Pacino in both this and Dog Day Afternoon, and while the latter remains my preferred, Serpico was pretty decent. Likewise the original Day of the Jackal, directed by Fred Zinnemann – it starts off a bit rough, but when it settles into itself, it becomes a pretty taunt thriller, and you could do a lot worse than checking it out.

Lastly, I finished Brendan Connell’s the Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black, a collection of shorts and novellas that you could argue is a novel, and which follows the short statured, bearded, and cigar smoking Dr. Black through a set of adventures. At times slyly funny, at times surreal, and always with a deft hand at workplay, and a confident voice that is willing to break down the traditional structures of a story and a paragraph, it is a hugely strong book by Connell. His best? Perhaps. It’s certainly one of my favourites, and is of interest to anyone who likes a book that is both ambitious and aware of itself. Also, I’ll drop a small note into the design of the book, with features some sketches by the late John Connell, and which are worked between chapters, and on the back cover, adding to the air that the book is private creation, given out to a select group of men and women. Totally cool – totally worth scoring yourself a copy.

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Black Cat Enterprises

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

On Friday, the girlfriend and I adopted two black cats, around eleven months old each. Before we left for London we agreed that, upon our return, we would take in a new cat, and these two, brother and sister, came as a pair from the rescue shelter. They are both settling in well, and it is nice to have a new pair of animals around – and in truth, I have missed telling my friends how the cat is doing when they clearly have no interest in it. Good times, ahead.

Anyhow: the cats are settling in, becoming used to us, and finding all the hiding spots around the house that neither of us know about.

In other news, the Godless is moving along, appearing in stores, being shared by people around. A friend of mine took this photo in Dymocks in Perth’s CBD.

thegodlessdymocks

Wild, hey?

For my part, I just try and get people to talk about the book in places, to let word of mouth build. I tell myself that it is a long game I’m playing – there’s a paperback next year, a second book after that, then the paperback of that and the third book, but it’s such a strange experience seeing a book I wrote shelved that like that I vaguely feel a sense of panic that it’s not going to work out, that everything is a disaster already… and it’s around that time that I get up, walk away from the ‘net and the computer, and try to do something different for a while. Occasionally it makes a difference. Occasionally not.

At any rate, there’s a bunch of stuff that needs doing today, and I ought to go and do that, really. Also, I’ve lost track of one of the new cats again.

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London, Returned

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

I got back from London on Friday, but having managed to board the flight with a cold that was only made worse over the next twenty four or so hours of travel, I spent the next three days sleeping and eating drugs. But it’s Monday now, and I feel a semblance of normality, and so what follows is mostly what I can remember, or at least what others assure me happened.

The big thing that happened while I was in London was that the Godless was released. It was pretty exciting, since it had been well over a year since I sold the series, and edits had taken place, and covers had been made. To have it out and have it so that people could buy it was pretty cool, but then, then–

godlessheathrow

This.

This photo (not taken by me, but by Iain Triffitt) is of the Godless in Heathrow airport, believe it or not.

It was a bit of a holy shit moment, really. The Godless is my fifth book and I have, literally, seen one single copy of my work in a bookshop, once. It was a copy of Black Sheep, and I saw it a handful of years ago in Galaxy Bookshop, which is one of Sydney’s specialist genre stores. That’s been it. That’s the only time I have seen a book of mine in a store – which is not to say that they haven’t been there, because they have and people have sent me photos of them, but you’ve had to search for them, you have had to know about them beforehand, and you certainly haven’t seen a motherfucking stack of them in a goddamned international airport with a promo sticker on them.

So, it was pretty cool, y’know?

(Later, My girlfriend and I saw them at Gatwick Airport, and I have been told, by those who traveled more than myself, that you could even find it in trainstations and all over places, which is frankly mind boggling.)

There have been reviews on blogs, and I have been thankful to see that a number of them have understood what it is that I wanted to do with the book. If you’re curious, you can check out a few here at the Bookonaut, the Book Plank, Lynn’s Book Blog, Gizzimomo’s Bookshelf, and A Fantastical Librarian. As always, there’s some people who didn’t like it, but so far no one has compared me to Michael Chabon as a criticism, so I’ll spare you the link. You’d be surprised by how many misspell names and incorrectly report plot details, but that’s negative reviews for you. You don’t much care if you do not care. However, that said, if you have read the book and have liked it, I’d appreciate it if you did drop a few words on it at the various amazons and Goodreads - I am not sure if it makes a difference, but despite the above photo of airport success, the book still needs help to find its audience, and for its audience to find it, especially in this month of big releases by big names.

Anyhow, while the book was being released in the UK and USA, I attended Loncon, and met various people who I work with that I have not met before, and thought that they were all quite nice. It helped that the majority of them bought me food and drinks when they met me, as if they understood that the only way to win my approval was to purchase it quickly and cheaply, and who knows, perhaps it’s true, for I think well of them. I went to a few panels and I did my thing on them – including moderating the panel on Australian and NZ fiction after being told I was doing it five seconds before – and I met some lovely people there, and I did a signing. The book had only been out for a day, so I sat there politely surrounded by other peoples lines, and later introduced myself to Joe Haldeman, whose novel, the Forever War, I think highly of (and occasionally teach). But the signing was a good example of how to keep your feet firmly on the ground, I assure you. In fact, I believe I signed three things: a copy of Black Sheep, a copy of Above/Below, and an autograph collector’s card. To be honest, it was more than I thought I would sign. Later, however, I signed some books out at the Forbidden Planet stall and Steve Cameron took this photo of me while I was unawares.

bensigningforbiddenplanet

He claims he told me was doing it, but clearly, such is naught but slander, for I would have looked much better if I had actually known my photo was being taken. But that, for those of you curious, is the UK hardcover edition of the book and that is me looking like I know how to sign a book.

After Loncon, my girlfriend and I drifted around London for a week and a half. We saw a castle, we saw the London Eye, we saw the River Thames, and we saw pubs. A lot of pubs – seriously, I didn’t realise that you would be able to find a pub every block in London, but you can. In some I tasted the worse beer I had ever tasted – micro brew with spices, come on – and in others, some that was not. There was food, as well. My girlfriend discovered the Branston Pickle. And we toured through bookshops, and museums, and went down to Brighton where a friend of mine told us about the jealous peir that burnt down the other pier, and ate in a vast array of mostly fine food (except for that pork pie I had in the same pub as that bad spiced beer).

It was a fine trip, thought I have to admit, I would have preferred to have begun it under different circumstances. My grandfather died the week before we left, and the funeral took place on the day before our flight. For a while, neither of us were sure if we would be able to take the flight, but after the funeral, there wasn’t much reason to stay. Still, I carried his passing around with me for the two weeks, I suspect, and at times I’m sure made me a little less personable that I normally am (which isn’t much, really). Both he and my grandmother had been born in England, and had lived there for thirty five years, both before, during, and after the war, and the memories of them lurked around in every corner. I saw the sea of red poppies at the London Bridge (I think) and thought about how the Royal Navy had used its own sailors to test gas masks and chemicals, an event that would take my grandfather’s eyesight in his age, and see him discharged from the Navy he loved. Still, what can you do with the memories but live them?

In that fashion, the trip was a bit bittersweet at times, but still, it shouldn’t get in the way of the good things that I saw and experienced, of which there were many.

And I mean, my book was in a fucking airport – how crazy is that?

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LonCon (and London)

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

 

Tomorrow, I get on a plane, and I begin the long flight to London, where I will be at LonCon, and London. Somewhere during this, a book of mine will be released. I hope you all buy it.

My schedule at LonCon will look like this:

Thursday.

12.30 to 1.30: Worldbuilding Panel.

Capital Suite 9, Excel Centre.

Friday.

12.00 to 1.30: Signing Books and Looking Friendly and Approachable.

Exhibit Hall Autographing Space.

3.00 to 4.00: Coffee Chat and Looking Even More Approachable in Polite Atmosphere.

London Suite 5, Excel Centre.

Saturday.

6.00 to 7.00: Reading the Other.

Capital Suite 3, Excel Centre.

Sunday.

2.00 to 4.00: Launch of Helen Marshall’s Gifts for the One Who Comes After and Rob Shearman’s Do the Same Things Different There, A Planned Meeting of People to Represent ChiZine and Burn Effigies of Someone Yet to be Decided (well, not really the last bit.)

Beijing Tent in Fan Village.

4.30 to 6.00: The Australian and New Zealand SFF Panel.

Capital Suite 3, Excel Centre.

 

And on Monday, I will be at Goldsboro Books signing some books for them from around 11.00, so if you happen by, come in and say hi, for I will appreciate such kindness.

There will probably be some other things, but this is what it is so far, but regardless, if you’re there, and you see me, please, come and say hi, and have a chat. I’m a terrible hermit who avoids these things, so the truth is, I probably won’t be at them all that regularly, and lets be honest, no one is really going to know me from any other random, so I’ll be all too happy to talk for a while. If you want something signed, that’s no stress, either. Just hit me up and try not to notice how terribly unprepared for you I am.

Anyhow, looking forward to seeing who I see.

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Copies of the Godless!

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

godlesshere

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