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May 31st, 2014

04:09 pm - Manly on top of Manly on top of Manly...
Warbound by Larry Correia is a book in the "rag-tag band of heroes go on a noble suicide mission to blow up some big important thing" genre. The Dirty Dozen. Lord of the Rings. We know this story and we know what to expect from it.

It's the third book in a trilogy, but it's perfectly readable on its own. Correia does rather suffer from the later seasons of Buffy syndrome. Every season something bigger and eviler was needed and Correia's equivalent of the First Evil is the Enemy (pithy, Correia isn't), a creature that wants to eat all the magic in the world, and I assume kill all humans as well.

So Jake Sullivan Magnus Steelcock Guns Pantherbane (there, now that's manly enough) and his BFF Lance Talon (that one's real) are going on an adventure with pirates and scientists. And they are taking along Taru Tokugawa (son of the villain in the previous book) who, sure, used to rape and murder for sport, but now he is all about killing the Enemy. There is also a ladyprize on the journey, Lady Origami, just in case Guns does not die nobly.

In the other thread Faye, a teen girl is now the most powerful wizard elf in the whole world. Like all ladies with too much power, she's going to go evil and crazy or so she thinks. She's run off to find a watcher, but in France, so it is totally not like Buffy.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was camp, and it almost gets there. But no, this is a book about how manly American men are going to save the world because manly is the most noble thing and American takes the noble up to eleven. Yes, there are some non-Americans on the adventure, but it has a clear "Yay, America!" slant, with a side of "these Americans are still following the one true path and the rest of them are rubbish and ruining the country. Oh, and Correia's got your Libertarian rants right here:

“It stands for We Poke Along,” Francis answered. “It’s a new billion-dollar agency that pays the unemployed tax money to dig holes and then fill them back in.”
“Why, Francis, I’d never known you to be so political,” Jane said.
“I’ve got a right to complain. When I get mugged, I’m not expected to thank the mugger.”

Take that, unemployed poors!

For a book that could be a lot of fun, it's really slow going. There are three main action sequences with lots of filler traveling and talking in between. If I go to a movie to see a machine gun leg, I want that leg blowing up zombies from here to eternity. Correia fails to deliver nearly enough guys jumping from space and ripping people's faces off.

At the end Lance Talon has died, so Guns has gained a new BFF, Taru, (and if a manly man thinks you are ok, then all that raping and murder didn't matter.) He's also got a manly son and his ladyprize, Lady Origami.

On the other hand, Faye has given up her powers to go be wifey to a dude who was twice her age. Team manly wins again!

here's my blow-by-blow live reactionsCollapse )

Ladybusiness - One ladyprize and one lady who decides to give up the burden of being powerful to be with her man.
Sex - Lady Origami likes Guns Pantherbane's big dick.
Violence-Just imagine a bucket of blood dumped over your head, like that scene in Carrie.

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May 26th, 2014

03:40 pm - Well, I guess I should be thankful there were no sexbots
Neptune's Brood is a story of ideas. There are no characters and the plotting is weak and the worldbuilding is pretty damn thin (basically technology can do anything, except no FTL). And while I'd like a novel to have the whole package, I might grade on a curve if I like the ideas enough.

So what is the idea?

Let's imagine you own a house. To pay for that house you took out a mortgage for a cool million on 30-year T Bills, which is now the currency of buying houses. So you scrimp and save and then rather than paying off part of your debt, you decide that you'd rather buy a bunch of lumber and clone yourself. You then tell your clone(s) to build a house and oh, they now owe you one million T Bills. So they scrimp and save and decide to buy a pile of wood and clone themselves ...

Except instead of houses, it's space colonies and instead of 30-year T Bills it's 30-millennia T Bills or what's called "slow money" in the book.

Stross has posited three types of money - fast, medium and slow. Fast money is cash like we use now. Medium currency is backed by capital assets like real estate and slow money is the currency of world-builders, created to outlast the rise and fall of civilizations.

And credit where credit is due - this is a pretty fucking cool idea. How do you create the hardest of hard currencies, one that is going to keep its value over the long haul? Unfortunately, in the Strossverse the answer is pretty poorly. Here's why Stross's slow dollars doesn't work for me:

1. Colony founding in the book is very risky - only around 60% of the colonies mature into money making enterprises that are able to pay back their debt. Much of the book is taken up with the search for the Atlantis Carnet - an incomplete transaction for 6 million slow Atlantis dollars -whoever can find all pieces to the transaction gets to keep the money since it's so old. (slow money is not a single currency - each colony issues its own bitcoin like slow dollars.) Am I really supposed to believe that some day the colony will be re-founded and someone will take on the original debt plus the debt associated with re-founding the colony rather than just picking a new planet? I don't buy it. And if this isn't true, why would anyone still accept Atlantis slow money?

2. Since space travel is very slow - only a tenth of the speed of light, there isn't much incentive for a colony to actually pay back the debt - no one will come and take the colony away.

They could easily just walk away and live in their own little paradise cut off from the rest of the universe. Stross attempts to address this by saying:

We—those of us who are of Post Humanity descended from the Fragile—are accustomed to being part of a greater economy. We expect to participate in a greater culture, vicariously abstracting the arts, amusements, insights, and personalities of hundreds of star systems. Autarky sucks for everyone except the reigning monarch or other tyrant who ordered it.

Basically, walking away from the debt would mean giving up twitter between stars. (And this is made even less believable because you don't see any of this in the book--it's just an assertion without the worldbuilding to back it up.)

3. Slow money is founded on a Ponzi scheme, which is pretty much the antithesis of a hard currency - failure in a Ponzi scheme is inevitable as soon as people lose faith in the system.

It's obvious that Neptune's Brood is a response to the crash of the housing bubble in 2007. But what Stross doesn't provide is insight into the sort of thinking that would buy into this scheme. After the crash there were so many heartbreaking stories of people (and of the corrupt bankers who encouraged them) who bought too much house for their income and were then left destitute. Reading the stories you could understand what made them act the way they did - wanting to get in on what (at the time) appeared to be easy money.

There's none of that mindset conveyed here. Krina is basically an observer throughout the novel, so rather than being caught up in the hype of the scheme, it's made clear that slow money isn't nearly as solid as those in the book act.

Though Krina seems aware of this, towards the end of the novel this appears to be a revelation to her:

In picking up my part of the Atlantis Carnet, I had laid claim to the repayment of a debt serviced by millions of now-dead people; people presumably killed by my lineage mater and her coconspirators. I found myself looking at it from outside, with newly opened eyes. What I saw looked uncommonly like a different kind of fraudulent vehicle: a Ponzi scheme sprayed across the cosmos, the victims entire solar systems, the pyramid spreading on a wave of starships.

Basically the book is lots of running around by characters who are little more than stereotypes with lectures on scams and Stross's monetary system in between. These are supposed to be post-humans, immortal and able to modify themselves in any way, and yet they act just like humans. Or at least a stereotype of a human.

So let's take a look at the portrayal of the main characters:

Krina - sack of flour
Rudi - lovable rogue (despite his mindraping and kidnapping)
Sondra - mass murderer

Krina, the protagonist narrator of the story is basically Princess Buttercup, perfect virginal maiden. Anyway, she's carried around from place to place like a sack of flour while others direct her action and she acts as infodumper-in-chief.

There is an inadvertently comical moment when Rudi (the hero privateer) compliments Krina for unraveling part of the Atlantis mystery.:

“Capital! You’ve been doing your homework!” Rudi snapped his jaws again. “I knew offering you a job was the right thing to do! You were wasted on Sondra.”

Humorous because she hasn't actually figured anything out-the information was spoon-fed to her by her sister Ana.

She's kidnapped(by the hero), mindraped (by the hero), mutilated (by her sister).
She's portrayed as a bastion of strength:

“We’re all going to die!” I wailed.
“No we’re not,” Rudi assured me. He reached out sideways and squeezed my hand. “Just lie back and enjoy the ride, Krina. Everything’s going entirely according to plan.”
“Ugh-ugh!” I wibbled incoherently.

Oh those ladies, always wibbling. Good thing she has a big strong man to hold her hand. And if you were wondering if she was sullied with the sexytimes, of course not-her mother had her libido shut off. (Rudi will fix that for her, I'm sure, just like he did for her sister Ana.)

Here's a riddle for you - How can you tell when a lady is evil?

Answer: When she's got power.

There are three powerful women in the novel and all three of them are evil. Sondra and Cybelle were partners in crime and killed millions as part of an advanced fee fraud scam.

Queen Medea throws her lot in with Cybelle and tortures someone just so we are clear which team she plays for and sounds rather like the Queen of Hearts in triplicate.

Here's another riddle for you - Guess which one is the fat one?

One mother is described as having had a nervous breakdown, paranoid, weepy, hysterical.

The other is a member of a hippie squid commune where everyone selflessly works for the common good and they all plan to form an independent collective farm in upstate New York or the local gas giant. Oh, and if you weren't sure, this is the one the hero plans to procreate with. (aka, also perfect virginal maiden until she has approved sex with the hero.)

It's like Science Fiction was catapulted back to the 1940s. Seriously people, we can do better than honoring something like this.

Your alternate read: The Self-Reference Engine by Toh Enjoe. I have to say I'm surprised at how little talk this book has gotten. It's funny, it's meta, it's got AIs who have a snit when aliens won't talk to them. Its high concept and chock full of ideas, and it has one of the most interesting singularities that I've read. I was disappointed this didn't appear on the Hugo ballot. Even more so now that I'm working my way through the nominees.

Ladybusiness - Stross has clearly never met any ladies as the female characters are one dimensional (to be fair, so are the men.)
Sex - Only the fat lady gets laid, and of course the narrator finds it gross.
Violence-We've got your mindraping and your flaying and your mass murder right here.

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May 5th, 2013

01:20 pm - Three Attempts at a Review
1. Reading 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson is like having a friend who thinks they are smart and wants to tell you all the clever things they are thinking so they do, relentlessly, and at first this is a bit amusing but as time passes it becomes wearying and if you think about the cool things they are telling you then you start to see holes so best not to do that--it's better to just let everything wash over you, but you aren't nearly as interested in the things that they are interested in and oops that bit was rather racist but at least they've moved on but when will it ever become your turn to talk anyway so eventually your only hope is they will some day reach the end and stop talking.

2. In many ways, it’s not a novel at all – or, if it is, it’s a disastrous one. He [Robinson] wants to make you engage with the fundamental imaginative choreography of SF in ways that you may not have since you began reading it. The attractions of this future beckon powerfully as Robinson treats us to marvelous scene after scene of breathtaking beauty and wonder in which Swan makes the solar system her playground. There are two excellent descriptive set-pieces - the long walk through the tunnels of Mercury, and the dangerous spacewalk in the orbit of Venus - which really grabbed me.

a member of the pampered elite, having risen to power through bared-faced nepotism, allies with her fellow well-meaning hobbyists to inflict unrequested aid on a long suffering Earth, often against the wishes of the nation states there. The results may in fact be good (and conveniently the novel tells us they are, though I have severe doubts as to whether such a scheme would work at all even in the context the novel sets up), but regardless of result, what has really happened is not civil disobedience but incursion. Yet by not challenging their view in more than a half-hearted way, the author slips into a colonialist rant that threw me right out of the book.

The romance is also a problem, however, because though Robinson does a good job of persuading us that Swan and Warham love each other (and of making us root for them to realize this and act on their feelings), he's a lot less persuasive at arguing that they have a future together. I started to feel very uneasy, flipped to the end of the book and discovered, Yes, wedding ring and a promise “forever” (though there is no promise of exclusivity that I could see).

3. I think I would have like this book a lot better if it had been half as long and I was twelve.

Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recently been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.

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10:29 am - Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
I was actually a wee bit excited when I started reading The Throne of the Crescent Moon - the hero was an old, fat man who really just wanted a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. And no pseudo-medieval, faux-European setting. Instead we have ghuls and dervishes and djinn. Fine, pseudo-Arabian, but it's definitely not the usual beaten path.

But it's quickly clear that my hopes were going to be crushed. Right about the time we assemble our mighty questing band.

We have our ghul hunting wizard and his assistant, the warrior priest. The shapeshifter barbarian. The other flavor of wizard and the alchemist. On an adventure, with scientists. And they are all fighting the evilest evil that ever did evil for no real reason other than EBIL! Eventually.

Look, even that wouldn't have truly been a problem - taking a formula and twisting it on its head (or even doing it really well) still can work for me. Actually, let's be honest, if enough exciting stuff happens and its well-written enough, you don't even have to stretch much and I'll probably enjoy it enough.

But this book is some really slow going.

That's because other than a little ghul fighting in the early chapters, not a lot happens for a really long time. There is a ponderous assembling of the evidence. All the men need to wrap their testicles in twine so that they can give a mighty yank at the first sign they might get an erection. As everyone knows, getting a woody causes wizards and warriors to lose their powers for at least day.

Once they complete the tour of old boyfriends and girlfriends past who conveniently have all the information required to decipher the ghul of all ghuls puzzle, it's time to head out and catch some evil. Or get caught by the local Robin Hood-esque revolution leader called the Falcon Prince.

Because after the dull middle, it's time for the bad ending. The Falcon Prince is convinced that if the Khalif's heir holds hands and skips with him, he will get all sorts of wondrous powers. Except this doesn't really work so the Falcon Prince goes for the drinking the blood of the heir instead and gets all the EBIL powers. And much like young Tod at the end of The Ask and the Answer, Adoullah decides that the newly evil spellridden Falcon Prince should get to rule. Except Tod is a painfully stupid boy so that when he turns over power to the Mayor, you can actually believe he would do something that dumb. I expect we are meant to see Adoullah as complicit because of his weariness at fighting, but he just seems stupid.

I'm sure everything turns out fine and there won't be any need for a sequel.

So about all the men wrapping their balls in string? Of course that wasn't actually in the book. No, no - men having a nonsensical weakness dubiously tied to biological function? Don't be silly! It was the shapeshifter who lost her powers every time she was getting a visit from Aunt Flo.

A rueful scowl spread across Zamia's face. "I don't know, Doctor,. Each month for several days when I am --when women's business is upon me --I am unable to take the shape.

Zamia spends a good bit of time moaning while she's injured about how she can't change shape. Apparently, she just forgot she was on the rag the whole time.

So why does a lady lose her powers during her lady time? Perhaps it's because her estrogen and progesterone levels are low at that time? That would seem to imply that men wouldn't be shapeshifters, but no, she's the first Adoullah has ever seen. Perhaps it's the blood itself - anybody bleeding can't shapeshift. Nope, that doesn't wash because Zamia gets mauled pretty badly in the big battle and she doesn't lose her powers then. Basically her powers are a gift from God and when she's having her lady times, God withdraws his grace from her.

But at least there's some nonsensical equivalent for the fellows, right?

But in some things, rigidity was the only way. Saying marriage vows before God would cause a ghul hunter's kaftan to soil, and it would cost him the power of his invocations. As with many of God's painful ways Adoulla did not know why it was so, only that it was.

Damn those women and their ladyparts! They ruin everything. But how can there be a sequel if the Doctor will lose his ghulhunting magic when he gets married to his hooker with a heart of gold? Wait, priests can't get married. This whole thing is sounding a bit familiar. Let's all hop in the popemobile and check out some Leviticus:

19: And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.
24: And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.

But surely there is some cure for this curse of the contagious unclean woman?

29:And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

30: And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.

Well thank God there's a way to reverse this terror of ladybits and their sinful unclean biology! Otherwise, without the turtles, how could Adoulla be back on the case in the sequel?

It's not just that Ahmed elected to literalize some religious sexism that exists in our world, but that he seems to have done so unthinkingly. It's not a critique or commentary of religion in our world. He doesn't even appear to have thought through the consequences of what this means in his world or what it says about his god. Basically, he seems to have thought a random bit of sexism was a cool idea and didn't stretch himself any further.

Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recently been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.

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April 25th, 2013

01:04 pm - Why didn't someone tell me there was a romance novel on the Hugo ballot?
I'd always thought that those Vorkosigan books were Mil SF or Political SF and just plain old space opera. (And looking through the plot synopses for some of the others it appears some are.) So it came as a surprise to me when I realized Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold was actually a romance novel.

So how do you define a romance novel anyway? (as opposed to a book with a romantic subplot, a love story, etc.) Here's what makes a book a romance to me:

1. The romance drives the plot. If you take out the romance elements, the plot would collapse in a heap. When Captain Vorpatril's Alliance starts off it looks like the plot might be "Tej and Rish are on the run and her family's enemies are trying to kill them. Can they escape and restore the family's fortune?"

But this is not actually the plot. The people trying to capture Tej and Rish are the inciting incident for Vorpatril and Tej to marry and then danger falls out of the book. Similarly, the restoration of her family's fortunes happens off the page and in the epilogue. The caper subplot serves to drive the romance between Ivan and Tej to a head where they admit to each other that they do want to remain together.

2. The book follows a formula. In the case of CVA, the formula is "A couple marries accidentally/enters a marriage of convenience and falls in love." My next most recent exposure to this formula: The Decoy Bride, which I watched over Easter.

3. The book will have a HEA ending. Yes, CVA has this in spades as Ivan and Tej have been exiled from their busybody/annoying relatives to a tropical island where they have to work around 20 minutes a day and drink fruity drinks and make love the rest of the time.

So, tick, tick, tick, we have ourselves a romance novel on the ballot, and to be honest, one that could win. I have to admit this does rather delight me as I would love to see the crown jewel of the Hugos awash in girl cooties.

Now the romance genre generally isn't my thing, but I do enjoy a good one now and again, and for a romance to be enjoyable, it's generally all about how much you like the characters.

This is book one million in the series and I have read exactly one novella in the world before (the really dreadful fanservice novella "Winterfair Gifts") so much like last year's reading of Dances with Misogyny, Bujold doesn't come with any cookies from me for past books.

This book could easily be a stand alone book - you don’t really need to know who Ivan is at the start of the book, though Bujold is clearly banking on it - she obviously wants us to see Ivan as an affable bumbler when to the uninitiated he's a creep stalker. Here's how our heroine meets him:

"Hi, there"--with difficulty he dragged his gaze from her chest to her face--"Nanja"

As if this were not jerkish enough, he then proceeds to aggressively hit on her until she threatens to call the cops and then turns up at her flat (which she had never given him the address to.) Understandably, this freaks her out. But even his apology is rubbish and reeks of privilege:

"Do you ever give up?" Tej demanded.
"Not until you laugh," he answered gravely. "First rule of picking up girls y'know; she laughs, you live." He added after a moment, "Sorry I triggered your, um, triggers back there. I'm not attacking you."

Yes, because the problem in the situation was her "triggers," not his creepy behavior.

I was ecstatic when he got tied to a chair to be eaten by wolves. Sadly, he's just marking time until he gets to be the love interest.

Tej suffers from the Bella problem. Which is to say that she is bland and uninteresting and I was quickly bored with her.

With two such leads, you won't be surprised that there's no electricity between them. The secondary romance between By (think Barney from How I Met Your Mother) and Rish suffers from the same problem.

The bit characters were more interesting, though everyone has the ugly American problem -- they find themselves and their country planet super awesome, sneer down their nose at others, and are shocked/insulted when everyone does not agree. They're sexist and classist, and not since JK Rowling and her house elves did servants seem so delighted to serve.

So here's the thing - the main characters are pretty dull and the plot isn't very interesting, but it is a readable bit of fluff. I'm not planning on reading any of the others (and really if you want me to think Miles is super-awesome and charismatic, you need to have him do something more than sit in a corner and snigger at his cousin.) Captain Vorpatril's Alliance feels like exactly what it is: the latest book in a very long running series that (most likely) lost its energy and interest a long time ago.

Finally, as an engineer, I must protest the implausible sinkhole destruction of the ImpSec headquarters (not that there couldn't be a sinkhole, mind you, just that the potential degradation of the ground below would not have been designed for.) Dear Ms. Bujold, allow me to introduce you to the concept of piling. nolove, me

No, it doesn't really matter in how well the book works, but it still irritates me.

Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recent;y been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.

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April 6th, 2013

02:04 pm - Incest Saves the World
When we last left Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy...

Our hero, Shaun, was a jackass, crazy heading for psychotic, and had the super power of being immune to zombibification. Due to incest.

Our heroine, Georgia, was dead and had the superpower of coming back to life in clone form. Ninety-seven percent as good as the original version!

And I was moaning about the lack of zombie whales.

Blackout by Mira Grant is told in alternating threads from Georgia's and Shaun's perspectives. Shaun's sections pretty much consist of him moaning about his MANPAIN and running around pointlessly. He's clearly just marking time until it's time to join up with Georgia. (And since Georgia is the much more engaging narrator you might as well skip his sections pre-reunion.)

In the other strand, implausible VP Rick[1] has thought of a plan that is positively gnomish:

Step 1: Georgia.

Step 2: ?????

Step 3: Defeat the CDC and save the world.

Georgia wakes up in a CDC prison/hospital and is menaced by her cartoonishly evil doctor-jailors. There are also rival paragon doctors from the EIS who want to break her out (and are secretly working with Rick.)

Not a lot happens as Grant spends a painfully long time unfolding how the evil!docs cloned Georgia to control Shaun. Eventually she gets busted out. In a miracle coincidence she immediately hooks up with Shaun and they and the scoobies are off fighting crime again. Because this book was already too long, in short order, Maggie gets shot, they hop on a plane to DC, and they find out about the evil CDC government conspiracy and defeat it through the power of positive thinking shotguns blogging. (Yay! Bloggers! Yay!)

Pop quiz: Which one of the characters gets martyred?

Maggie, the poor little rich girl who found a family in the blogging misfits and we all get to enjoy her execrable poetry talents
Alaric: In love with Becks. Mostly not in the book.
Mahir: Loves Georgia. And allegedly his wife. I think he is meant to be the adult of the lot.
Becks: The chick who Shaun treated really horribly in the second book.
Our heroes, the incest twins.

If you guessed Becks, you are right. Of course Shaun's slate needed to be wiped clean so he could live happily ever after shagging his sister. Can't have that shadow lingering on. Now it's like he never slept with anyone besides Georgia.

The plot is laughably bad, the worldbuilding is unconvincing, and the characters are more a set of tics and plot conveniences than characters. And as much as Grant wants to sell the incest as two abused characters reaching out to the only people they could trust, it played about as well as the incest in Flowers in the Attic.[2]

Blackout reminds me of fanfic[3] in the way that some fanfiction fails to capture the essence of the original series or book that people love. It might work for you if you already have the love, but it doesn't if you don't haven't experienced the story, character and worldbuilding background.

Basically, reading this book is like starting to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with that season that was about the Initiative and why would anyone ever want to do that?[4]

[1] In the first book he was one of the bloggers following the presidential campaign and then gets tapped as the new VP because, um, reasons.

[2] Which, if you have never had the pleasure of some V.C. Andrews gothic bullshit, I'll remind you that their sexual relationship started when Christopher raped Catherine because she was so damn hot. (So of course it was really her fault and she loved him forever.)

[3] Specifically, Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossed with Firefly where Shaun and Georgia are Mal and Buffy.

[4] Yes, fine, there were some individually good episodes during season 4, but overall it was pretty piss-poor and the whole Initiative thing was stupid.

Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recently been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.

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