September 5, 2006
A Second Course of Spacejock
I finished Simon Hayne’s "Hal Spacejock: Second Course" yesterday and I must say that I enjoyed this book several magnitudes more than the first one. (And that is not to say I didn’t enjoy the first one – as you’d see if you read my review of the first book :p)
This book certainly shows that at least some authors mature over the course of years 🙂 The first book was enjoyable and a smooth read but the humour wasn’t a primary factor – especially in the conversations between the characters. From the opening pages of "HS: Second Course", the humour in the conversations is much more evident. I can’t say much more without spoiling the story for people and so I won’t. Just take my word for it 🙂
And another thing which really drew me to this book was the complexity of the plot and the hairpin twists and turns that Simon introduces into the plot. There is a bit towards the second half (which again I can’t comment about for fear of spoiling) which has so many plot elements packed together in a few chapters that Simon must have used a compression program :p It has lost alien civilizations, deserted planets full of alien technology, lonely towers standing guard far out to sea and a lot of other things that I really enjoy reading in a science fiction novel. In fact, I wish I’d written thins one 🙂
In fact, about the worst thing I can say about "Hal Spacejock: Second Course" is that I don’t like the cover as much as the cover of book one. Now don’t get me wrong, Dion Hamill is a good artist and there are elements in the cover of the second book that I do like but Hal looks a bit grim and old and Clunk looks a bit shifty eyed in the second book. Now the first cover (by Les Peterson) has what I’d think of as the "classic" Hal pose and while Clunk looks a bit big and purple in that one, he still looks really cheerful. And that’s how I personally see the books – one big, cheerful read 🙂
September 3, 2006
Of crapometers and poems
Miss Snark is currently running her semi-regular 3rd annual Crapometer where she reads your query letter and the first page of your manuscripts and tells you what you did right (or wrong). I sent in my entry but never received a number and by the time I got around to even thinking about contacting Miss Snark about it, she’d already posted the winners. You snooze, you lose :p Ah well, her comments about other participants still makes for interesting reading though and the comments themselves should help anybody figure out how to craft a good query letter. So go take a look 🙂
I’ve not written much recently since I wanted to put writing on hold for a bit so that I could spend my writing time on reading Simon‘s "Hal Spacejock: Second Course" 🙂 I’m enjoying the book and will post a review once I get done but it’s slow going at the moment (not due to any fault of the book) but because I’ve not been feeling a 100% recently. But I’m halfway through the book and this is an even better read than the first one – some writers, like wine (not that I have any experience mind you :p), get better with time.
Though I’ve not been working on "Hunt for ‘Read October’", I’ve actually been writing a bit of poetry after ages. I thought I hadn’t written much in the way of poetry for close to 20 years, but going through my archives here, I notice that I had indeed written a few poems during the time this blog has been existence. These new poems however, are slightly different in that they have a central them and are part of a series 🙂 But more on that tomorrow (perhaps). For now, let me just post the first poem.
Light and dark, day and night,
People walking in daylight bright.
Deeds foul or actions right,
Nothing ever is black or white.
Do you wonder ’bout the world of grey,
That often is just a thought away?
If you would bother to open your mind,
A different light you would find.
Where rights and wrongs are blown away,
And might does not ever hold sway.
A world of thought before deed,
With nary a hint of lust or greed.
A world where humanity really thrives
And towards excellence forever strives.
Like a sunflower opening its face
To the sun’s blessed life-giving rays.
August 25, 2006
Space jocks and good books
I finished reading Simon Haynes‘ "Hal Spacejock" today and I must say that it was a darn good read and something that I completely enjoyed reading, after a long time 🙂 What was interesting for me while reading the book was to note that I was hooked by the time I was barely a quarter of a way through the book and usually, it takes me much longer to be truly invested in a story. For instance, Terry Pratchett is my most favourite author and the last few books by PTerry took me at least till the middle of the book before I was really engaged in the story and could not put the book down.
Am I saying that Simon is better than PTerry? Not really. (Sorry Simon :p) But I’m saying that Simon’s style is very easy to read and to get into and that it is very different from that of Terry Pratchett – I enjoy books by both but I find that Simon’s is a much more easier page turner for me much more earlier on 🙂 But I’m not going to compare one author to another, that’s really not fair to either since each author has their own unique style and they bring completely different values and qualities to the table.
I know Simon. I have read his story of how he got published and I admire him for his determination, tenacity and courage 🙂 I wish I could call him friend but I don’t know him well enough and he doesn’t know me well enough. But he certainly is somebody that I wish was my friend. So, it’s a bit harder to review one of his books objectively. If it was somebody who didn’t know me and somebody who I didn’t know, I’d simply say what I thought. But when it is somebody I know, I always wonder whether I’m being too nice (or too harsh :p) simply because I know them.
So I shall not go into the nitty gritty stuff 🙂 There are things which annoy me about the story … OK, maybe "annoy" is too strong a word. It’s more like that there are some elements in the story which offends the nitpicky obsessive compulsive in me – the one who wants every t crossed (and for it to be exactly perpendicular) and every i dotted. For instance, I find the robots to be entirely too human and the humans a bit inconsistent at time. But what’s important is that while the inner-nitpicker complained bitter about these things I was still busily turning the pages. So I guess he was still doing something right 🙂
Basically, I enjoyed the story. It came together well and by the time I completed it, I wanted to get my hands on the sequel, "Hal Spacejock: Second Course" and continue reading. That’s all that an author can ask for, right? 🙂
May 12, 2006
As you go through life, one thing that you don’t stop accumulating (besides bills :p) is information. Now if you’re one of those people who can keep all that useful (and useless) information in your noggin, the more power to you. Me, I prefer to rely on one of Sherlock Holmes‘ maxims – as Holmes himself says in "A Study in Scarlet": "I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
So what do I do to not fill up my brain attic with useless information? Why, store it all on the computer of course :p The problem with storing information on the computer is that you have to remember where you stored the information in the first place 🙂 The easiest way to solve that problem is to have all your information in one place. So I began using TreePad a long, long time ago. In those days, the app was free and it was fairly straightforward – you saved text in a file which represented various folders and branches of information in a treeview.
For close to ten years, TreePad was all that I used. But during that time, TreePad itself evolved, spawned new versions, added new features and my information capturing needs changed as well. A year or so ago, I looked at what was available for capturing, storing and organizing information and after going through several possible candidates, I selected TreeDBNotes. One of the reasons for my switch was the much better interface on TreeDBNotes, but that wasn’t the only reason :p I believe it was also cheaper, had more in the way of features and it was free to upgrade. I’ve been using TreeDBNotes for a year now and have been perfectly happy with it but a few days ago, I got that old itch to change information managers :p
The reason? The tree paradigm no longer cuts it for me. Sure, I can organize information into different tabs of trees and different branches in each tree but I still have to remember which tab or which branch holds the information I want :p For instance, I have like 4-5 tabs in my TreeDBNotes file – for work, writing, personal information, passwords etc. On the work tab, I have different branches for the different things I work with – mysql, Plesk, cPanel, qMail and so on. But what happens when I have a bit of information that relates to mySQL under Plesk? Do I put it in the Plesk branch or the mySQL branch? Sure, I can put it in one or the other and put a bookmark to it from the other location but that is a lot of work and I still have to remember where to look for the information the next time I need it. Or I have to keep hitting "Search" and hope that I know what to search for :p
So I began thinking of a keyword based information manager. Simply store the information but tag the information with keywords. So, for the above scenario I described, the bit of information would have both the mySQL and Plesk keywords and I’d find it no matter which keyword I used. Simple right? Well, not quite :p The problem is that such information managers don’t appear to be there yet. Or if they are, they are either very expensive and meant for the corporate market or not very user-friendly. About the closest approximation to what I want, that I’ve been able to find, are Personal Knowbase and knowledgeBase. But they each have their own shortcomings. Yes, I’m picky :p So I’m still in search of that perfect information management tool …
Posted by Fahim at
April 25, 2006
Round and round it goes …
The whole thread of searches and information found in the process from that original reference to Asoka in my blog has been somewhat fascinating 🙂 First, it led to the Nine Unknown Men and now it’s led me by way of yesterday’s entry (which referenced Philip Jose Farmer) to the Wold Newton family :p
Yes, I know, you’re probably bursting with curiosity by this time to learn what the Wold Newton family is (yeah, right :p) but let me sidetrack for a moment (and if you’re really impatient, you can go follow the link above and come back here later :p). I have read Farmer’s "The Other Log of Phileas Fogg" a long time ago and was fascinated by it. I liked the alternate story behind Verne‘s "Around the World in 80 Days" and how deftly Farmer wove in and out of the story written by Verne. I’ve also read quite a bit of other stuff by Farmer and have been fascinated by his alternate takes on fictional characters. However, I had not been aware of his theory/history about the Wold Newton family and how they encompass a lot of different fictional heroes from all areas of fiction.
I’ve always been fascinated by family trees and grand sweeping sagas which span decades (if not centuries or millennia) and paint a majestic mural of dashing individuals on the canvas of time 🙂 (Woah, talk about wordy sentences :p) I’ve only attempted one such story myself and that was a long time ago. It could almost be called my first "real" story. It was about a family named Forman who left Earth to colonize a planet circling a star in the Sagittarius system. It had the grand sounding title of "The Sagittarian Saga". Initially, the story was just about the Forman family on the new planet after centuries of being there but later, I began adding more family members and more history. There was the story of Professor William Forman, the founder of the Forman clan and then Jano Forman, who actually discovered the means to leave Earth and so on.
Now that I think about it, perhaps Farmer (and a few other writers who liked to link things together) influenced me unconsciously when I wrote these stories (never mind the fact that I hadn’t read Farmer when I originally started the stories :p But the history is a bit vague in my mind and I might have gotten to Farmer by the time I started adding to the history of the Forman family …) I know for a fact that my later reading of the greatest linker of totally-unrelated-and-disparate facts, Terry Pratchett, has certainly influenced my style of writing these days. So perhaps, Farmer did too. And perhaps, I owe him a debt of gratitude 🙂
Posted by Fahim at
April 17, 2006
Ray Bradbury‘s "A Sound of Thunder" is a short story that I have remembered even after many many years of reading it. Of course, today, I don’t remember anything much of the plot. All I do remember is the basic premise – that somebody goes back in to the past, steps on a butterfly and causes cataclysmic changes in the future. Of course, I realize that I remember these incidents probably because they have somewhat of a connection to the "Butterfly Effect" – another favourite theory/hobbyhorse of mine 🙂
I got reacquainted with "A Sound of Thunder", albeit in a slightly modified version when we watched the movie version of the story a couple of days ago. The movie version started off pretty much the same way I remember the short story to have been though to be honest, I don’t really remember much about the short story. The story is about a business named Time Safari’s which sends people from the future to the time of the dinosaurs so that hunters from the futures can bag the greatest game that ever walked the earth, or something like that. The Time Safari people take great pains not to introduce anything from the future into the past or to bring back anything form the past back to the future so as to prevent any time paradoxes or alterations to the timeline.
The movie continues on from where the short story ends and in true movie fashion, finds a heroic solution to the whole issue and the protagonist ends up saving the future and putting and end to the time travel menace in one fell swoop. But I gotta tell you, the movie was downhill all the way after the original short story bit ended :p In fact, the movie would have been great as a comedy but it was laughable as a science fiction flick because, as Laurie likes to put it, "there were plot holes big enough to drive a galaxy through" :p
Leaving out the really bad special effects and the extremely timely deus ex machina fashion accidents and saves that happen frequently in the movie, let me move on to the more absurd points. Apparently, Time Safari goes back to the same time in history for their dinosaur kills – that is part of the plot. However, except for the final scene when the protagonist goes back to stop the butterfly being killed, the Time Safari people never meet themselves. Strange? I would think so :p
Then there’s the outlandish "time waves" :p The butterfly being killed in the past introduces changes to the future. But one would think that the changes would be immediate. But no. These changes come in waves. And you can actually see the wave rolling over the landscape. And the wave (of time, mind you) causes actual physical destruction like flipping cars over or flinging the protagonist all over the landscape like a child’s rag doll 🙂
That is just the tip of the iceberg. There are the strange mutated plants which somehow had evolved over 65 million years to be more vicious because a butterfly was killed. Boy those plants sure must have loved that butterfly :p Then there’s the strange baboon dinosaurs who just make me laugh. I can go on and on and on but why bother? If you haven’t seen this movie, don’t go in expecting good SF. But if you do want a good laugh, this one’s just the ticket :p
April 5, 2006
Yesterday while meandering through the web, I came across a message from writer Dan Simmons. Apparently, Dan Writes a message to his fans every once in a while but this one seemed to be slightly darker in tone. I say "seemed" because I know nothing of Dan’s politics nor his intentions. All that was there on the site was a rather bleak message which seemed to hint at total annihilation as the only possible solution to the "Islamic menace".
I was originally going to post a message about writers and their responsibility to their readership here. About how whatever we write and how we ourselves mean it, that it could be taken a completely different way by somebody else. Dan’s message could have been a satire along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s "A Modest Proposal". Or it could have been an April Fool’s joke with the traveller’s final three words being "Happy April Fools!" :p But I cannot know what Dan Simmons intended. All I have are the words on the website and how the words themselves are interpreted.
The words on the page sent me off on another hunt. Or rather, one word – "dhimmi". I am a Muslim but I had not heard this word before. And yet, supposedly this was a word which had great meaning to Muslims. I looked at Wikipedia and found an article that had its neutrality and factual accuracy questioned. I searched Google and came across hundreds of thousands of pages but the interesting thing was that most of the pages seemed to be by non-Muslims on the topic. The only Muslim site on the first two pages that I found was Islamic propaganda rather than an impartial article – I wasn’t interested in propaganda. I wanted the true account of things and the more I searched, less I found in the way of truth. Opinions, sure. Conjecture, yes. But facts were scarce.
I then went on Dan Simmons’ forums to see what the regulars there had to say. I saw a whole bunch of people saying that Islam was a militant religion, that nobody wished Muslims ill but if things came to that, they’d beat the Muslims down "out of need". Truth be told, there were those who opposed this point of view as well but it seemed as if that was the minority. Now I’m a Muslim. I’ve never wished ill upon Christians or Jews or people of any other religion. I believe that God lets us choose our own path and whether we choose good or bad depends on us – not our religion. After all my web browsing, I feel a great weariness, a sadness. Why can’t people see that the issue is not with different religions or ideologies but with people?
I am not angry at the people who will not see the wrongs on their own side as people of a particular nation or people belonging to a particular religion. But I do feel anger at our own stupidity, arrogance and blindness. We always believe that somehow "we" are right and that "they" are wrong. We keep finding a new "us" and a "them". It’s as if all humanity can do is break into ever smaller groups and keep fighting each other till we dwindle away into nothingness. Is that our fate?
March 24, 2006
Holt comes to a halt
One of the biggest problems when you start writing yourself, at least for me, is that I can’t be as critical of other authors as I would be if I wasn’t writing :p Or maybe it’s just that I spend more time being critical because I write as well but don’t actually get anywhere 🙂 See, in the old days when I wasn’t watching what another writer wrote, I’d simply read a book, decide if I liked it or not and then move on to another book. If I liked the book I’d just read, then I’d read more by the same author, if not, then that is that. Now, there are so many shades of grey :p
I just finished Tom Holt’s "Here Comes the Sun" yesterday. I’d read his "Expecting Someone Taller" sometime before and I loved it. So, when I came across a bunch of Tom Holt’s a while back while book shopping, I had no hesitation in buying them. However, "Here Comes the Sun" kind of disappointed me. The thing is, it’s kind of difficult to put my finger upon it. Tom Holt writes well and there are many instances when I stop and say "Hey, I wish I could have come up with that" but the thing is that his way of being funny is kind of repetitive. The book is littered with funny sentences which go something along the lines of "he quivered like a bunny rabbit with a fever sitting on top of a running washing machine" (I made that up – that’s not from Holt … too lazy to get up and get the book :p). Individually, those statements are funny and I wish I could write half as well as that. But when you run into he did something like blah and she did something like blah and it was like blah over and over and over again, it becomes a bit monotonous. I still enjoy the individual sentences and the wit contained in them but overall, the book becomes a bit tedious. In fact, the book took me probably six months to finish :p
No, I’m not that slow a reader but I took a long break in between and then recently finished the last five chapters or so. IN doing so, I actually disocvered the best way to read the book – in small doses 🙂 I read a chapter each every day and finished it in five days! I will read the other Holt’s I’ve bought to see how his writing progresses since I believe "Expecting Someone Taller" was the earliest book and "Here Comes the Sun" comes next in order of publication. The other books I have from Holt are even newer. (Oh yeah, the title of the entry does not mean that my reading of Holt’s books have come to halt – just that my reading of "Here Comes the Sun" has come to a halt because I finished the book :p) But for the moment, I’m moving on to Pratchett again and am "Going Postal" :p
Posted by Fahim at
December 20, 2005
Much Ado About Narnia
First there was J. K. Rowlings doing a hundred-eighty from loving Narnia so much that she couldn’t put it down even today if she was in a room with the book to saying that she’s never even completed the Narnia series and that there is something about C. S. Lewis’s sentiments that gets on her nerves. Now there is Philip Pullman saying that the Narnia series is everything from "propaganda in the cause of the religion [Lewis] believed in,", misogynistic, racist, sadomasochistically relishing violence and even anti-vegetarian :p (Of course, the last one might not be Pullman – I just read that bit somewhere in reading about all the brouhaha over Narnia and how somebody claimed that the stories were anti-vegetarian or something because Mr. and Mrs. Beaver had sausages for breakfast …but haven’t done the research to see if that was Pullman … yeah, I know, bad journalism :p)
Now, I’ve read Harry Potter (who hasn’t? :p) and I enjoy Rowling’s writing. I haven’t read any of Pullman’s work and I mostly knew of him as the author of the "Northern Lights" series since a friend of mine raved about it and encouraged me to read it. However, Pullman and his "His Dark Materials" is what is touted when anybody talks about Pullman and the Narnia issue. Not having read any of his stuff, I can’t really comment. Quite a few of the commentaries online say that at least in the case of Pullman, this whole Narnia thing is a case of sour grapes. I personally don’t believe so. I think that both Pullman and Rowlings are victims of not being able to perceive something from a different perspective, something written at a time when things were simpler, when everybody didn’t have to conform to what was "politically correct" or have to write within permitted boundaries. In fact, Rowlings and Pullman have done the worst possible thing from both the Narnian children’s perspective and that of Peter Pan – they have grown up :p
See, one of the things that Rowlings has objected to in Narnia is that Susan is condemned to damnation because she was interested in lipstick and being a woman. Of course, she misses the point entirely. What happened with Susan was not that she became interested in being a woman, but that she dismissed all that the wonder they’d experienced as children as "fancies" and wanted to be all adult, grown up and serious. What some people don’t realize is that you don’t have to give up the wonder of childhood to become an adult – you can still have the best of both worlds.
Of course, there is a lot more that people say about Narnia. They say it’s racist. They say that it’s anti-Islamic and that the Calormen, who were the bad guys in "The Last Battle", (well, at least most of them) were patently Muslims. Now I’m a Muslim and I’ve read the Narnia series over and over and over so many times and I’ve never, ever thought of the Calormen as Muslims till all this hullabaloo started in the first place. In fact, even the Christian symbolism passed over me when I first read the books as a child. I understood the goodness in the books and agreed with it – I still do and I wholeheartedly in the principle espoused in "The Last Battle" that it doesn’t matter who you believe in as God, that as long as you do good in the name of God, it means that you always believe in the "right" God. (Yeah, I’m phrasing it badly but hopefully you get the idea :p)
I had this friend of mine, who is the only other Sri Lankan that I’d known till then who’d read Narnia, introduce another friend of his who loved Narnia. Her first question was "How can you like Narnia when it is so heavily Christian?" Fortunately, we were talking online and she couldn’t see my look which said "Are you insane?" :p I’ve never thought of the Narnia books as Christian and I don’t think I ever will. If you want to take everything with Christian symbolism in it, you might as well call "E.T." and "The Matrix" Christian works as well :p I think of the Chronicles of Narnia as a great story with a simple (and true) philosophy behind it. Why can’t we all just leave things at that and go back to our own writing? :p
Posted by Fahim at
August 8, 2005
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Muggles, muddles and missives
Now there’s all this brouhaha over a letter Terry Pratchett wrote to the The Times about an interview given by J.K. Rowlings. I first read the original BBC article (not the one I’ve linked – the original is gone) on a newsletter and it portrayed Terry as being more worked up about the whole thing and taking swipes at JKR and thought "Hmm … is Terry getting jealous, as unlikely as it might be?" I then went to the BBC site and what do you know, the article had completely changed it’s tone! So I was like, "Oh yes, another one of those!" But I went to mugglenet and read their reactions and I must say that it left me less than impressed with humanity’s capacity for reasoned thinking :p
First you have all the people going, "He’s jealous", "I’ve never heard of him", "How mean of him to do this on Jo’s birthday" and "Harry Potter rocks". Then you have a few people who actually came in and said, "Read the article people, it isn’t the way you think it is" and right below that you’d get, "He’s jealous!" again. Now what kind of stupid, gormless moron do you have to be if you will not even read all sides of an argument before jumping to a conclusion? Probably somebody like me – totally human :p
Now I had missed out one thing here too, I read all about Terry’s comments (or the BBC’s interpretation of them) but I hadn’t read the original JKR interview. So I went back and read that now and I must say, that between JKR and the interviewer (who seemed to be very full of him/herself) the interview came out making JKR look totally silly – she should get her money back … oh wait, this was an interview right? :p
First, JKR says she didn’t know it was fantasy that she was writing and had no idea it was till she’d published her book – this could be true I suppose though I find it a bit hard to believe. Maybe she was being flippant or maybe she did indeed start writing a book and didn’t consider what genre it was going to be. But then she goes on to talk about how she doesn’t like fantasy, that she’s trying to subvert the genre and so on and I began to wonder whether instead of Pratchett being jealous, if JKR wasn’t a bit too full of herself. She kind of dismisses the Narnia series and says that she didn’t read all of it but talks about a character (Susan) and what happens to her which you would not know unless you read the final book of the series. So is she basing her opinions of Narnia and fantasy on general on other people’s opinions? Or did she *gasp* read the series out of sequence and make invalid assumption? Oh the horror!
Then there’s the interviewer waxing poetic over her " lack of sentimentality, her earthy, salty realness" and we have Rawlings talking about "Harry getting some action and Hermione getting some action" and I cringed. This is supposed to be a children’s writer? Sure, I know I’ll have people jumping up and down on me saying, "Hey, she writes realistic stuff, what teenage kid doesn’t think about girls/boys" but this is the kind of series which was originally aimed at the pre-teens as well as the teens and call me a prude, but I don’t feel comfortable having a child reading stuff written by somebody who thinks in terms of "action". But then again, you can’t blame somebody for being themselves can you?
But what I do blame JKR for is the fact that she seems to have such a lack of respect for fantasy and continues to write in the genre. Writing to me is about passion – it’s not about money but about putting down what’s in your heart, characters who are so real to you that you just have to put them down on paper. If Rawlings felt that way, why would she dislike fantasy or think it needs subversion? There seems to be a bit of a dichotomy there.
Contrary to the opinion of the press, there have been many writers who’ve invented and re-invented fantasy for years. Heck, as much as it pains me to say it, (I’m a bit partial to science fiction :p) – fantasy probably has been around since the dawn of time and it has never been *just* about knights and swords and sorcerers and "people dancing to Greensleeves". Whether you take Alan Garner or Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton or a score of others, they wrote fantasy and they wrote it in contemporary settings – they did just what JKR is doing now but in my opinion, they also did it much much better in literary terms. Sure I enjoy Harry Potter as much as anyone else but there is a difference between a good writer and a successful one – the two are not always synonymous.
Lest that be taken to mean that I don’t think JKR is a good writer, let me hasten to add that I do believe she’s good. I enjoy her plots – they don’t signal stuff a mile away, they don’t give anything away, they make you work. But for pure turn of phrase and for making you think about people and their foibles, I’ll take Pratchett any day of the week – and considering he’s made me write all this over a letter to the Times, I’d say Pratchett has done it again :p
Posted by Fahim at
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