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Player of Games
May 9, 2012 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Iain M. Banks talks about his favorite games.
posted by Artw (72 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is about the night time alter-ego, Iain M Banks. If it were about Ian Banks, you could witness his love for Civilization in the novel Complicity, which is a wonderfully entertaining read.

By that same logic I also reason that he enjoys liquor, politics, cocaine, money, women, cars, and Scotland. But who doesn't?

Fantastic author, thanks for the post. Maybe one day I'll get around to reading some stuff of the Iain M books.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2012


One thing that’s put me off continually is the whole thing where you get these cutaway bits. You have your fun, then you have to go back and be lectured and brought back into the story. I hate that.

"Lectured." I like his phrasing for describing the cut scene problem.
posted by ignignokt at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Missed an i in his name, they're both Iain.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2012


Heh.

I've basically come to the conclussion that the differentiating factor is EmBanks gets to have spaceships on his covers and NoEm doesn't, since NoEm now has a couple of more-or-less SF books under his belt.
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


He finishes the interview by saying Civ III is his favorite game ever.
posted by localroger at 10:04 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mostly Transition. Transition is really very clearly science fiction, but doesn't fit into the universe that (I believe?) he sticks to for his Iain M Banks stuff.

Oh and mildly incestuous sexual indiscretions, I forgot to add those to my theme list. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:07 AM on May 9, 2012


I was thinking he was going to have an actual board game in there, given The Player of Games and all.
posted by Windopaene at 10:11 AM on May 9, 2012


He finishes the interview by saying Civ III is his favorite game ever.

This is my surprised face.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:11 AM on May 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I sometimes get a little depressed at how "games" has come to mean "video games only." When I read "Iain [M.] Banks talks about his favourite games," I was hoping more for chess or go or Diplomacy than Asteroids.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:12 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


New Culture novel in October. :D
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:12 AM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow, I would've never taken Iain M. Banks for such a fervent Digimon fan!
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mostly Transition. Transition is really very clearly science fiction, but doesn't fit into the universe that (I believe?) he sticks to for his Iain M Banks stuff.

Neither do Against A Dark Background or The Algebraist, but they do have spaceships.

A Song of Stone is pretty solidly SF, has no spaceships, and ends up with no M. The Business also exists in a sort of Bond-Villainesque quasi-SF world, and then there's The Bridge, which manages to be a non-SF Culture book.
posted by Artw at 10:14 AM on May 9, 2012


Stagger Lee, I'm not so sure about the Cocaine thing, given what he wrote about in it The Bridge (which I still think is his best novel).

Fascinating interview. I have trouble with his NoEm books, I find them harder to read. The more surreal and odd they are, the easier I find them- A Song of Stone and Walking on Glass were easier than Espedair Street (which I have to admit I did not finish).
posted by Hactar at 10:14 AM on May 9, 2012



Stagger Lee, I'm not so sure about the Cocaine thing, given what he wrote about in it The Bridge (which I still think is his best novel).


I'm being somewhat tongue in cheek, it's just a recurring theme. It's probably unfairly slanderous of me to include that in a list that contains things he obviously does feel passionate about.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:16 AM on May 9, 2012


A Song of Stone is pretty solidly SF

???

It's set in a counterfactual war, but what's SFnal about it?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:17 AM on May 9, 2012


My main problem with the NoEms is most of them suffer in comparison to The Crow Road, which is pretty much the definitive NoEm book that isn't sneaky SF.
posted by Artw at 10:17 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's set in a counterfactual war, but what's SFnal about it?

It's set in a counterfactual war. That passes the Damon Knight test.
posted by Artw at 10:19 AM on May 9, 2012


Mostly Transition

Which, weirdly, has an "M." in the US and none in the UK.
posted by RogerB at 10:22 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nicer cover in the US too, which is pretty much unheard of.
posted by Artw at 10:24 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I rather like his coining of the phrase "Outside Context Problem", which he credits to playing a lot of Civ.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:24 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


NoEM is more sentimental than Em, I would say. Complicity, for example, is an incredibly sentimental book, especially compared to something really cold like Consider Phlebas or even the parts of The Player of Games where the Azadian empire is collapsing. And The Crow Road? Sentiment all the way - it even has a happy ending! Perhaps this is because the Em books are at a more epic scale than the NoEm books.

Em: optimistic, non-sentimental, less emphasis on character, vast scope, landscapes as awe/epic

NoEm: pessimistic, sentimental, character-driven and interested in what makes people tick at an individual level, landscapes as local.

I think Em is the better writer, honestly.

I really like it when writers have multiple personalities, although I can't think of very many women writers who do, and I wonder why. (Michael Moorcock really has at least three writerly personalities, for example, but even a really prolific pop/highbrow writer like Doris Lessing really has only one.)
posted by Frowner at 10:27 AM on May 9, 2012


He finishes the interview by saying Civ III is his favorite game ever.


Yes.

And I do too wonder if anyone plays Diplomacy anymore...
posted by infini at 10:29 AM on May 9, 2012


I was thinking he was going to have an actual board game in there, given The Player of Games and all.

Can you imagine all the little paper tiles for Azad? Ugh, nightmare.
posted by Artw at 10:30 AM on May 9, 2012


I wonder which Civ he likes to play in III.....
posted by The Whelk at 10:31 AM on May 9, 2012


And I do too wonder if anyone plays Diplomacy anymore...

I don't play Diplomacy with my friends, since I'd like to stay friends with them, and it's difficult to schedule a game with your enemies.
posted by zamboni at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can you imagine all the little paper tiles for Azad? Ugh, nightmare.

DUDE I'M NOT GONNA BRING OVER THE AZAD EXPANSION PACK IF YOU CAN'T KEEP YOUR CAT AWAY FROM THE TABLE
posted by Greg Nog at 10:34 AM on May 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


/kicks over table, burns down planet.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


When a cat jumps on the game table you must roll for Who's A Pretty Kitty?
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speculative Iain M banks book covers
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on May 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's set in a counterfactual war. That passes the Damon Knight test.

Only if we all point to it when we say science fiction.

I don't btw; one of his weakest novel as well.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:45 AM on May 9, 2012


Iain M. Banks - The Player Of Games Cover Art Gallery
posted by Artw at 10:46 AM on May 9, 2012


I'm picturing Banks playing Civ with a mod that let's him play as the Idiran, and he's also wearing a little paper hat that says "OUTSIDE CONTEXT PROBLEM" in Sharpie.
posted by griphus at 10:47 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


ricochet biscuit: "I sometimes get a little depressed at how 'games' has come to mean 'video games only.' When I read 'Iain [M.] Banks talks about his favourite games,' I was hoping more for chess or go or Diplomacy than Asteroids."

I agree. Then, I think "gaming" for most people probably means gambling, so no one has a real lock on the word.

Back to the article:
Different types of people can go into the game and choose to focus on different aspects – a sort of comprehensive game. If it was based on the Culture, you could either have a completely fulfilling shoot ‘em up, with all the exciting adversaries the Culture’s come up against in the past, or a much more subtle political game – that’d intrigue me. If I had the complete freedom of a team of programmers at my command, the game would be adjustable… [it wouldn’t] force you to play in a certain form.
Mr. Banks, please allow me to introduce you to roleplaying games.
posted by jiawen at 10:56 AM on May 9, 2012


‘Uh-oh, not only have I not read a book for ages, I haven’t written one either.'

Great author. Good to know he has the same weaknesses as I do: Civilization is a scourge to productivity.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:56 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Speculative Iain M banks book covers

those are gorgeous.
posted by shmegegge at 10:57 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Civs are like Star Trek movies - all the odd ones are shit*, whereas Civ 2 and Civ 4 are the most awesome.

*Except for Civ 1, the tried-and-tested original, Civ 3, which introduced borders and culture-bombing, and Civ 5, which, well, looks pretty cool. And Star Trek 10, which was crap. And Star Trek 11, which was good.
posted by adrianhon at 11:03 AM on May 9, 2012


Okay, I've only ever played 1 and 5. What am I missing? (Other than a distraction from the book I'm supposed to write this summer?)
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:10 AM on May 9, 2012


Complicity, for example, is an incredibly sentimental book

It even has a happy ending. But it's a happy ending for The Bridge, not for Complicity....
posted by daveje at 11:12 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's kind of overwhelming that he's a successful prolific writer (twice, so to speak) AND he's a Civilization addict
posted by Bwithh at 11:12 AM on May 9, 2012


There will be no minecraft addict writers...
posted by Artw at 11:13 AM on May 9, 2012


Needs to have a mandatory elaborate torture as set dressing scene.

Mr. Banks, please allow me to introduce you to roleplaying games.

Use of weapons has a brief scene where Zakalwe, the outsider, tries one of the culture's cool Pirate themed rpgs and declares the 100% immersive swash buckling virtual reality a possible source of addiction.

Okay, I've only ever played 1 and 5. What am I missing? (Other than a distraction from the book I'm supposed to write this summer?)

Civ 2 is good if your desire is story building, not being a real human civilization. I tend to think in narratives, cultural or otherwise, so the fact that the national 'personalities' (ie expand viciously, make few big cities, invest in discoveries) are closer to arbitrary attachments to colour than one set gender/country and it had a game editor with a nice map maker, mean that you can make your own world with its own nationalities and then mentally waste a lot of time speculating how depending on chariots and mountain cities for roll-down-hill defence advantages shaped your little culture.
posted by Phalene at 11:16 AM on May 9, 2012


Iain Banks has generally good taste, but Civ IV with the later add-ons is a superior game to Civ III. If for no other reason than you can install the Fall From Heaven 2 mod and associated modmods.
posted by Justinian at 11:21 AM on May 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Iain Banks has long been one of my favourite writers. Banks's best novel is The Crow Road, closely followed by Complicity and The Bridge. The Wasp Factory and Espedair Street are jolly good too. A Song of Stone is one of the most depressing books ever written and is quite wonderful. His later "Non-'M'" works have been largely disappointing except for Dead Air, which was beautifully ranty, simple, and featured one of the most page-turningly white-knuckle endings I have read in a long time. Transition was, unfortunately, a bag of arse.

His SF is okay but overrated, and it's been diminishing returns since Consider Phlebas, which was pretty damned good. Excession's central idea was a shameless rip-off of 2001.

He is a jolly fellow, he knows his whisky, likes a larf and is an in-your-face atheist. I love that man like my brother.

I have spoken.
posted by Decani at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


CIV IV with the Beyond The Sword add on and others is the only game where total non-violence is actually possible and not punished. For that reason it is my favorite. (Also CIV V looks pretty but seems to like ...run without me? I don't feel like I'm in control, there)
posted by The Whelk at 11:36 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frowner: "NoEM is more sentimental than Em, I would say. Complicity, for example, is an incredibly sentimental book, especially compared to something really cold like Consider Phlebas or even the parts of The Player of Games where the Azadian empire is collapsing. And The Crow Road? Sentiment all the way - it even has a happy ending! Perhaps this is because the Em books are at a more epic scale than the NoEm books. "

Huh. I would argue otherwise, Banks channels his sentimentality through the filter of the Culture, they are sentimental books, about what sentiment and meaning mean in a specific kind of life. I would discount Player of Games as not a great example, but the Culture is deeply about a society that has turned its back on sentimentality for utilitarianism. Borza fights in the Idiran War against the Culture explicitly for sentimental reasons: life in the Culture is inevitable and in a way boring. Boredom in the Culture's utilitarian hedonism also drives most of the worst of the Culture's traits : drawing its best and brightest humans and Minds into SC and inter-species manipulation.

Similarly, the main character in Use of Weapons is also a sentimental actor; a person whose true essence, his relationship to war is an expression : excitement and of betrayal and sorrow. It's this internal need for war that is appropriated by the Culture, and we find out, is completely drained of meaning by the time we see his 10^10000 incarnation in Surface Detail.
posted by stratastar at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2012


Heh. Everyones different - I'd probably rate Dead Air as my least favourite Banks book, and Consider Phlebas I warn people off of as a first Culture book as it's a sprawling mess, albeit with a few great set-pieces. Excession and A Song of Stone I love.
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on May 9, 2012


A book about sentiment is not necessarily a sentimental book - I probably should have said that in my first comment, because I seemed to be contrasting "warm and fuzzy" with "cold and cruel" to mean "sentimental" versus "non-sentimental".

It's much more that, to me, the NoEm books are doing this "I am trying to break your heart" routine, this "you should get all choked up in either sadness, warm-fuzzies, horror or some combination" thing. Also, the NoEm books that I've read (which actually isn't all of them; I've read the majority of the SF ones but not all those either) do a lot of stuff about childhood and family as self-formation....they're very interested in individual self-formation, which the Em ones aren't.

I feel like even a book like Inversion (which to me is the unaccountably neglected Culture novel) has a distance from the emotional events of the book. Love, rejection and vengeance drive the actors, but it's still a very cool-toned book. I really like the character of the doctor* - but I don't feel her struggle or her feelings. I am not moved by her self-ness; instead I feel sorrow and regret for her incomplete knowledge and the way she suffers excessively for something from her past.

*I think she's simply fabulous, a true example of a woman written as just a human being rather than as Feminine, even though love motivates her. She's written like a regular human in love rather than a Woman In Love, as most men would write her. (I try really hard not to think about Banks and his Younger Replacement Partner, because male authors who do that annoy me a lot and I don't want to be annoyed with him.)
posted by Frowner at 11:49 AM on May 9, 2012


If there was a Culture game, I'd spontaneously Sublimate in a TRON-style way so fast and hard that it wouldn't even be funny.

and probably end up getting a second account so that I could dual-box with an unbeatable drone-Affront team.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:51 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I do too wonder if anyone plays Diplomacy anymore...

The son of a good friend of mine, who just turned 17, is really getting into board games and was waxing rhapsodic about Axis and Allies at his dad's birthday party.

I have now given him a copy of Diplomacy with the warnings that this game:

a) requires optimally seven players; you can fall back to five if needed.
b) will take up at least a day of his life
c) will destroy friendships
d) will destroy any belief that humans are fundamentally good

He is stoked. I can't wait to find out how his first session went.
posted by Shepherd at 11:58 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm with Decani on this one.
The best thing about this particular disagreement of opinion is that we're all appreciating the same author.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2012


Stagger Lee, I'm not so sure about the Cocaine thing, given what he wrote about in it The Bridge (which I still think is his best novel).

Banks certainly used to be pretty keen on cocaine. I even know someone whom he was kind enough to share with simply after a chance meeting in a bar. He has since given up illegal drugs, which is probably good for him, if not for random strangers hoping to score free gear off wealthy authors.
posted by howfar at 12:07 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Phalene: "Use of weapons has a brief scene where Zakalwe, the outsider, tries one of the Culture's cool Pirate themed rpgs and declares the 100% immersive swash buckling virtual reality a possible source of addiction."

It sounds like Mr. Banks has only been introduced to computer RPGs; I'm talking about pen-and-paper, tabletop RPGs. Until artificial intelligence exists, tabletop pen-and-paper RPGs are the only ones that allow for the kind of infinitely variable interactions between players and world that he seems to be looking for.
posted by jiawen at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2012


I was chatting on twitter about Banks a bit ago and remarked that game in Complicity ('Despot') was impossibly overblown for the machine the protagonist had at the time (A mighty 486 laptop - with a colour screen! - he bankrupted himself to buy)... probably overblown for what he have now. Person on twitter I was chatting with put forward the idea that the game might actually be in the protagonists head (or at least the complexity of it)

Anyway the other week I went to a signing for Stonemouth and I was able to ask the man himself and Banks said the game was real and it was actually what he though Civ was like before he actually played it from the descriptions he had heard. Later, when he actually signed my books, we were able to briefly discuss Civ addiction.

I while ago I started a big Banks re-read, between reading other things.... that kinda ground to halt when I came to the non-good The Business (the first book of his I've never re-read). Might have to give it another go once I've read the next Culture and I'll have a bit of a gap, going back to the beginning again and blog the fuck out it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:50 PM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's really interesting to me is that games form quite a core part of many of his stories, Walking on Glass, The Bridge, Steep Approach to Garbadale is built entirely around a Civ like game, The Wasp Factory (you could argue the wasp clock is kind of like a game). While those stories kind of made me think that Banks (non-em, I haven't read any of the em-banks) liked games, it's great to read an article where he expands on it in some detail.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2012


Why isn't Stonemouth out in the US yet? Grr.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:34 PM on May 9, 2012


I have a UK contact bringing one over any day now... I'd actually kind of forgotten that things could get published in different places at different times so i was annoyed at having to do that.

I did vaguely think about seeing what would happen if i tried ordering the kindle version from Amazon.co.uk, but it costs more than the hardback.
posted by Artw at 1:36 PM on May 9, 2012


A Song of Stone is pretty solidly SF, has no spaceships, and ends up with no M. The Business also exists in a sort of Bond-Villainesque quasi-SF world, and then there's The Bridge, which manages to be a non-SF Culture book.

And there's Walking On Glass, which is a science fiction novel as well (and oddly similar to Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World, I thought, which was also published in 1985, in another language, on the other side of the world).
posted by dng at 3:06 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


His SF is okay but overrated, and it's been diminishing returns since Consider Phlebas

Pistols at dawn, sir. Use of Weapons is one of the greatest SF novels of the 90s. Or the 2000s. Or the 80s, 70s, 60s, or any other decade.
posted by Justinian at 3:27 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I clicked the article thinking, "I'll bet Iain Banks likes Civilization." I've never played Civilization. It's just one of those things that makes total sense.

So. Kind of an aside, but. I really like Iain Banks, but my only exposure to Em was Matter, which I...neither completely enjoyed nor particularly disliked, I guess. I loved lots of the ideas and locales, but I didn't feel like there was enough story there, and I felt disappointed by the grimness of the ending.

I absolutely love the idea of the Culture (my favorite bit in Matter was the little vignette where the First Protagonist realizes there is no sickness or inequality in the Culture; I actually found that inspiring and beautiful). I do plan to read another book in the series. Which one would you guys recommend for me next?
posted by byanyothername at 3:32 PM on May 9, 2012


I'm also super fond of Inversions, but have no idea what it would be like as a reading experience without at least one other Culture book.
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on May 9, 2012


As the man says Use Of Weapons is the best... but Excession is good too. And yeah Inversions isn't really a culture novel per se and I whilst it's not an actual sequal, I would not read Look to Windward without reading Consider Phlebas.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:42 PM on May 9, 2012


After Use of Weapons it seems like he kind of ran out of things to say about the Culture, which is pretty much the problem anybody has trying to write about post-Singularity life; he wrote CP, POG, and UOW in 1987, 1988, and 1990 respectively, and then didn't write Excession until 1996. It was an interesting attempt to tell a story more from the viewpoint of the Culture's AI Minds than its humans, but while it was full of great ideas (including the aforementioned Outside Context Problem) I thought it was working too hard to connect all its dots to arouse much empathy for the characters, machine or human. (Though I do have a soft spot for Meatfucker.)

Then we got Look to Windward in 2000, and I found it disappointingly forgettable. Matter in 2008 was just plain silly, on top of (1) I don't like royalty much either and (2) I read Ker-Plop too. (It does get some redemption for the line "she'd taken a pretty serious hit.")

Surface Detail came in 2010, the picked up pace suggesting he'd figured out a way to write more stories about the Culture but unfortunately they were more stories like Matter. It had some higher points but overall felt like two or three stories that should have been told separately, one of which should have been made into a film by Insex (and thanks for spoiling one of the high points for the newcomers, stratastar).

Meanwhile, he wrote The Algebraist in 2004, and it's absolutely brilliant, on par with any of his original Culture novels, and unlike the later Culture books I've re-read it three or four times.
posted by localroger at 3:49 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


byanyothername, by all means read Player of Games, Consider Phlebas, and Use of Weapons in that order. (I know I just said CP came first, but POG is a much better introduction to the franchise.) Then read Excession and based on it and your reaction to Matter you can probably figure out whether to bother with the rest.

And read The Algebraist, which is set in a sort of anti-Culture with a very different mix of relativistic sublight and FTL technologies than you've seen elsewhere, well used.
posted by localroger at 4:00 PM on May 9, 2012


The Algebraist is great, although its plot is either a Mievillian balking-of-readerly-expectations or a bit of a fizzle. I would read many more stories about the various non-human inhabitants of that universe, particularly the Dwellers. I adore the Dwellers, not least because Banks has written a species that isn't motivated by sex at all - just thinking about the various types of things that fall away from a society when no one is even interested in getting laid and there isn't any particular "breed more children to work in the fields"-type imperative, that was fun.
posted by Frowner at 6:24 PM on May 9, 2012


Thanks! I'll start again with Player of Games then, I guess, and go from there.
posted by byanyothername at 8:51 PM on May 9, 2012


At first I was like "Edge.org finally got a half-decent looking website!" Then I was like, "wait a second, this doesn't fit the edge.org format." And then I was like, "Nevermind". Oh well.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 10:25 PM on May 9, 2012


Thanks! I'll start again with Player of Games then, I guess, and go from there.

For the record, I read Player Of Games on the advice of mefi, and thought it was incredibly bad, with flat characters and stakes I didn't care about at all, despite the fact that I went into the book enamored with the general idea of The Culture. Maybe try a different one?
posted by Greg Nog at 6:59 AM on May 10, 2012


My ranking of Cultere novels:

Great:
Excession, Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons, Surface Detail

Good:
Matter, Look to Windward

Meh:
Player of Games, Inversions

I liked the Algebraist. Future me loves the Hydrogen Sonata.

I have no problem telling people to start with Consider Phlebas; I think the outside-looking-in perspective is a good way to start with the Culture.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:25 AM on May 10, 2012


Re-reading The Player Of Games again recently I realised that it was basically a mash-up of The Dispossessed and The Left Hand Of Darkness.
posted by dng at 12:03 PM on May 10, 2012


Ack! I thought it was a small point!

Now that I think about it, Matter is just a giant Civilization game (with Premier League like ascensions and descensions), also a fucked up end-game, and a nasty cheat-code.
posted by stratastar at 12:55 PM on May 10, 2012


Well, if you don't like Player of Games it has the advantage of being short. CP and UoW are definitely better, but take much more work on the reader's part. I think in particular PoG has a much more human machine character than any of his other books, in the sense that these guys are definitely not running under anything like the Three Laws of Robotics.
posted by localroger at 3:53 PM on May 10, 2012


A Page in the Life: Iain Banks
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:07 AM on May 15, 2012


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