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Messages - Rococo Modem Basilisk

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1
Literate Chaotic / Re: Unofficial What are you Reading Thread?
« on: September 21, 2020, 02:22:07 pm »
I keep on trying to read Marx, currently mulling over the Third Economic and Philosophic manuscript, on The Power of Money, specifically. Very condensed good.

I'll have to give that one a try.

Have you read Critique of the Gotha Programme? I hear it's unusually direct for Marx, because he was dying at the time and didn't have the energy to give a damn about propriety anymore.

2
Literate Chaotic / Re: Unofficial What are you Reading Thread?
« on: September 18, 2020, 04:17:26 pm »
Foucault's Discipline and Punish is pretty dense & I'm wondering if maybe I don't need to read it, itself, having already been familiar with his ideas second-hand. He gets really deep into the history of specific laws, trends, and punishments in early modern France. I've run into a couple interesting ideas in it that usually don't make their way into summaries (for instance, the idea that breaking the law is a personal insult to the sovergn because the law is an extended part of the sovergn's body, or the idea -- now common in folk-ideas about american law but actually present in france in the time of the inquisition -- that multiple kinds of evidence need to overlap to form a conviction, which underlies the use of torture to produce confessions at that time), but I got it at the cost of reading a few hundred pages of twisty prose about arguments dead people had in letters about 500 year old french legal precedent. Foucault is less inaccessible than his reputation would have you believe, but he tends to write sentences long enough that it is easy to forget the beginning by the time you get to the end (and unlike with McLuhan or Deluze or Zizek, you can't just float along: his style is very straightforward and informational, so if you miss what one sentence means you will not understand the next at all & neither will you get a poetic kick from reading it!)

yeah, I found that Discipline & Punish really changed my whole worldview


But reading the the wikipedia entry on it, and a few other essays... is basically as good as reading the whole book.


those summaries boil down a lot of complexity into their essential guts---which is almost more powerful than reading the long, detailed construction of those arguments.

I get why he did it that way, though. Until these ideas got assimilated into the culture, in order to defend them you gotta really show your work. It's not like McLuhan, though, where the cultural-osmosis version is super simplified & lacks most of the explanitory power.

I've got one of his more obscure books, Power/Knowledge (a collection of his late lectures), on my to-read pile for once I finish D&P, & maybe that'll contain more that's new. He's clearly a compelling thinker & I doubt that all his interesting ideas have gained saturation.

3
Literate Chaotic / Re: Unofficial What are you Reading Thread?
« on: September 18, 2020, 02:32:55 pm »
I recently finished The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution by P. D. Ouspensky (and, I guess, edited by his students). It's a great deal more accessible than the comparable material in his other book on the subject, the posthumous In Search of the Miraculous, and much shorter -- I read it in two sittings, and could have read it in one. Ouspensky brings up some interesting ideas (some of which look familiar because they influenced RAW), but is extremely dogmatic & says a bunch of things that are major red flags for cultishness (like, if I was at a lecture and somebody told me "in order to become conscious, you must join a school and follow directions without question or even thinking", I'd get the hell out of there). This book omits the weird planet & numerology stuff that In Search of the Miraculous focuses so much on (and that Beezlebub's Tales to his Grandson jumps right into).

Ouspenky is an interesting character... in Gurdjieff circles, everybody kinda acknowledges that Ouspensky only kinda got what Gurdjieff was putting down. He thought of himself as the Most Special Student. He was always angry that Gurdjieff only tried to decrease his feeling of specialness.

The planet/numerology stuff is the worst part of that book, IMO -- its useful to understand in an abstract sense, but Ouspensky is hyper literal. Like that whole section towards the end of the book where he starts doing math to calculate how long a "breath" is for a tree, an insect, etc... he just did a bunch of literal calculations about a mostly symbolic topic, and then expected Gurdjieff to say "Oh you advanced both of our knowledge!" except Gurdjieff was actually like "the fuck are you talking about"

Ouspensky, most notably, thought that you could develop yourself just by thinking. He didn't really buy into the PHYSICAL PRACTICE.

It's a shame, because Ouspensky knew how to write clearly & accessibly! (Though Gurdjieff claimed to be writing more densely and inaccessibly on purpose to weed out the insufficiently-dedicated, right?)

I haven't read a LOT of Gurdjieff, but it seems like Ouspensky shares about half of what bugs me about Gurdjieff, and they have their own irritations & red flags. Good on you, Cram, for actually joining the cult so the rest of us don't have to ;)

Maybe now that I've gotten through Psychology I'll join your reading group for [u[In Search Of...[/u]; I ground to an utter halt around 150 pages in, a year ago, and had to really labor to put in a couple pages, basically because of the numerology shit, but I might be able to stomach it better now.

---

I've also got a bunch of books I'm currently reading (to various degrees of activity). (Half the time, when a book is hard to get through or is making me angry, it's really because of my mood so I put it aside until I feel in the mood to finish it, so this leads to situations where my currently-reading list is 50+ books and some of them haven't been touched in 5+ years, but I have a good track record of eventually coming back & finishing all of them.) Selection of interesting ones below:

Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott is a meme in political & rationalist circles for a reason: like On the Origin of Species, it exhaustively illustrates a powerful but counterintuitive idea in such a way that it's borderline irrefutable and unignorable. Scott is also a very lucid and entertaining writer, which helps a lot, because this is absolutely an academic work. The reason people reference it instead of actually reading it is that the basic idea is understandable from a couple chapters in, and the rest of the time he's aggressively showing his work: prepare to learn more than you ever wanted to know about the history of scientific forestry, russian agricultural zoning, important philosophical figures in modernist and brutalist architecture, the internal structure of bolshevic vanguard organizing, and a bunch of other shit I haven't gotten to because I'm only halfway through. (The basic premise, by the way, is that centralized authority not only is incapable of fully understanding all the details of the things it ostensibly manages, but also because of this tends to modify the conditions on the ground in order to more closely map to the abstractions it uses to understand the world, with unexpected and ultimately unpredictable results -- basically a synthesis of RAW's 'communication is only possible between equals' & Ashby's law of requisite variety, but with a focus on the concrete ways our models of the world end up affecting the world itself in situations of power asymmetry.)

The Talisman combines the strengths of Peter Straub (absolutely beautiful language) and Stephen King (well-drawn and believable characters), along with some of their flaws (they both love 'magical negro' characters & if you have a sensistivity to that, you'll have a hard time with the first 100+ pages of this book) into an extremely horrific take on the visitation-narrative / portal fantasy. The 12 year old protagonist is well drawn, and sometimes this feels like an exceptionally well-written middle-grade book until something really horrible happens & you realize this is definitely aimed at adults. That said, thus far (~200 pages in) this is a lot more in the fantasy realm than the horror realm. In some ways it feels like a test run for both Straub's Shadowland (which I've read & loved) and King's The Dark Tower (which I haven't read). It's notable for being the first book cowritten over computer network: Straub and King were both writing on (different brands of) word processor, and they set up a mechanism to dump nightly revisions on each others' machines by modem. (Details of this are covered in the book Track Changes, a compelling history of word processing technologies that I recommend anybody interested in tech history to pick up.)

Foucault's Discipline and Punish is pretty dense & I'm wondering if maybe I don't need to read it, itself, having already been familiar with his ideas second-hand. He gets really deep into the history of specific laws, trends, and punishments in early modern France. I've run into a couple interesting ideas in it that usually don't make their way into summaries (for instance, the idea that breaking the law is a personal insult to the sovergn because the law is an extended part of the sovergn's body, or the idea -- now common in folk-ideas about american law but actually present in france in the time of the inquisition -- that multiple kinds of evidence need to overlap to form a conviction, which underlies the use of torture to produce confessions at that time), but I got it at the cost of reading a few hundred pages of twisty prose about arguments dead people had in letters about 500 year old french legal precedent. Foucault is less inaccessible than his reputation would have you believe, but he tends to write sentences long enough that it is easy to forget the beginning by the time you get to the end (and unlike with McLuhan or Deluze or Zizek, you can't just float along: his style is very straightforward and informational, so if you miss what one sentence means you will not understand the next at all & neither will you get a poetic kick from reading it!)

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Naziism, and the Politics of Identity is a deeply researched & at times surprising history of various far-right groups and their internal disagreements. If you like Robert Evans' Behind the Bastards podcast, you'll find this book fascinating. I've been saying for a while that the alt-right's "right unity" is extremely fragile -- this is an alliance between folks who normally would literally want to kill each other because their ideologies, in many important ways, do not align -- and this book illustrates in detail some of these schisms (specifically in the esoteric neonazi sector). The big schisms thus far seem to be christian nazis vs hindu nazis vs heathen/generic-pagan nazis and populist american-style neonazis vs elitist british-style neonazis. Julius Evola is in there somewhere too.

J. Allen Hyneck's The UFO Experience, while historically important for introducing the taxonomy of close encounters (and also various other taxonomies, including sighting types) is extremely dull for somebody used to reading better writers like Vallee and Keel.

4
Literate Chaotic / Re: Unofficial What are you Reading Thread?
« on: September 17, 2020, 06:21:45 pm »
I haven't posted in this thread in years, so this is going to be a long update (even though I'm going to limit what I mention).

I recently finished The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution by P. D. Ouspensky (and, I guess, edited by his students). It's a great deal more accessible than the comparable material in his other book on the subject, the posthumous In Search of the Miraculous, and much shorter -- I read it in two sittings, and could have read it in one. Ouspensky brings up some interesting ideas (some of which look familiar because they influenced RAW), but is extremely dogmatic & says a bunch of things that are major red flags for cultishness (like, if I was at a lecture and somebody told me "in order to become conscious, you must join a school and follow directions without question or even thinking", I'd get the hell out of there). This book omits the weird planet & numerology stuff that In Search of the Miraculous focuses so much on (and that Beezlebub's Tales to his Grandson jumps right into).

I also recently finished Stephen King's Firestarter. The book reads like a spy thriller, and is intensely 70s in the way that most of King's 70s and early-80s books are. It has none of the bloat we normally associate with King's work, up until the denoument, where he spends about 25 pages dicking around with uninteresting stuff before getting to the stinger. If he cut it down to five pages, it would be a basically perfectly-paced book.

Richie Billings' Thoughts on Writing was a freebie, and I didn't expect much from it, but it delivered an awful lot of good advice & theory. The author had the interesting idea to crowdsource his subjects: basically, he distributed polls to facebook writer's groups about what frustrated or mystified them, and then focused on those frustrations. There's a little fluff here and there, but mostly he is summarizing and synthesizing ideas from other writing manuals -- however, he picks ones that are relatively obscure, so it was mostly new information for me. (He leans a lot on this particular book on dramaturgy...)

Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca hits a lot harder than Hitchcock's film adaptation, and also has a great deal of interesting commentary on class and gender. We spend most of the book inside the unnamed protagonist's head, keeping her anxieties company, and so we get an extremely rich sense of exactly what she fears.

Mondo 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge is in a rough encyclopedia style, and much of the material in it we have heard before (this came out prior to the break between the Mondo and Wired crew, and in particular, Kevin Kelly has recycled a lot of this for his own, substantially worse books), but there are a few gems here and there that have not been endlessly retold. It's a nice snapshot of a particular moment in cyberculture, much like the Cyberpunk Fakebook that Mondo released later.

I picked up the first three volumes of the Castle of Horror Anthology because one of my stories is in the upcoming fourth volume. The first volume, which I have finished, is not very good: a bunch of big names contributed stories, but those stories would not have been out of place in a high schooler's fictionpress account. The second volume is more cohesive (due to a theme -- holidays) and the quality is on average much better. (I have read a bit of the ARC for volume 4, and I'm glad to see that the stories in it are actually quite good: after reading volume 1, I worried that I, a previously unpublished and basically amateur writer, would be bringing the average quality up too much!)

Gothic Tales of Terror, edited by Peter Haining, is interesting mostly for historical reasons. It's a survey of short stories from the first wave of gothic literature (starting with Walpole's Castle of Otranto) -- during which the movement was mostly in novels. So, he dug out what he could from chapbooks. There's a smattering of well-known figures (Horace Walpole himself, "Monk" Lewis, Percy Shelley & the rest of Byron's slumber party crew), but I was unfamiliar with most of the authors. I didn't much like the stories, but they were certainly interesting insomuch as the distribution of subjects was unexpected: first-wave gothic had a lot of orientalism (Shelley's contribution is basically a straight history of the Assasins) and a lot of straight medieval romances bordering on arthuriana, Byron and Polidori's stories (though generally implicated in inspiring Dracula) are very focused on the idea of a friend-of-a-friend being hoodwinked during a grand tour of europe into performing a ritual in Greece to renew the vampire's hold on life, and about half the stories are essentially Faust fanfiction.

On the other hand, on the subject of what we tend to assume gothic literature involves, the first two Vampire Hunter D books are fantastic. A lot of words are wasted on describing the brooding hero's sex appeal, which is occasionally distracting, but the author also paints a dense and lurid world, deeply strange, with a complex history, and combines it with interesting plots and relatively well-rounded characters. I intend to read the rest of the series (which, if I recall, has something like 20 books).

Carl Abrahammson's Occulture had glowing blurbs on the back from Erik Davis, Mitch Horowitz, and Gary Lachmann, but I was disappointed in it. It's a collection of lectures the author previously gave, which is usually fine, but the distribution of subjects is not great: he repeats himself from chapter to chapter, veers off-topic, spends whole chapters without actually saying anything, and about 25% of the book by volume is off-topic off-handed cracks about how millenial SJWs have ruined the magick community with their memes and short attention spans. I spent twenty dollars on this book -- ten cents a page -- and it was not worthwhile.

The Compleat Enchanter is a collection of four novellas by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt about a group of experimental psychologists who discover that they can physically enter the worlds of mythology and literature by encoding the laws of those worlds into formal logic and meditating on those logical elements. They're charming swashbuckling adventures, without a great deal of intellectual content but with plenty of fan service for folks who habitually read norse mythology and the like, and I enjoyed them thoroughly. Aside from the treatment of women, they've aged remarkably well.

Hyenas by Michael Sellars is an inventive and philosophically interesting zombie novel. I got it as a freebie, but it would have been worth full price. It's also a fast read.

American Cosmic is Dr Diana Walsh Pasulka's foray into UFO books, and unfortunately, she didn't do her due diligence. She spends an awful lot of time reminding her readers that in religious studies, you aren't supposed to make judgements about the factualness of religious beliefs -- which any reader ought to already know -- and she then promptly gets herself hooked by an obvious con artist (Mr Startup Guy who claims to receive multimillion dollar quantum space prosthetic patents from aliens telepathically but only when he drinks pure spring water and sunbathes, and who at the end of the book has a dramatic and clearly-staged conversion to catholicism inside the vatican's library). She repeatedly claims that she's deepy familiar with Jacques Vallee's work, but then she shows her ignorance of that work by claiming he was ignorant of subjects and events that he wrote at length about in his most famous books, makes claims she contends to be original that were put forth by Vallee, et cetera. She says that she's interested in making UFO study more scientific, but she simply doesn't have comparable rigour to the most slapdash of the well-known ufologists. Another short, expensive book that I wanted to love but ended up hating, simply because it couldn't pass my extremely low bar of "say something interesting".

Jason Heller's Strange Stars is a well-researched and entertaining history of the intertwining of science fiction and pop music in the 70s. My one complaint is that he focuses on Star Wars and treats it as a positive force. Star Wars basically annihilated the market for philosophically interesting science fiction for years, and set science fiction's own literary merit back decades, because it repopularized the kind of kitchsy turn-your-brain-off style-over-substance space-adventure bullshit that all the big literary movements in science fiction had been trying to distance themselves from since the 40s. Before Star Wars, science fiction was Foundation or Left Hand of Darkness or The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, and after Star Wars science fiction was fucking Buck Rodgers again.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose has a great book inside of it (basically the middle half), but it's marred at the beginning because the editor failed to remove the author's long, off-topic rants about an imaginary PC brigade ruining literature by demanding to find meaning in it, and it's marred at the end because she just pastes long paragraphs from the middle of unfamiliar works and fails to explain why they are relevant to the subject she's ostensibly illustrating or provide context for understanding them. She's a professor of literature, but shows basic misunderstandings of literary theory that ought to embarass an undergraduate in an entirely different field. This book made me angry, because it's clear that the author could write a good book on this subject, and chose instead to waste my time.


5
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: September 17, 2020, 04:47:52 pm »
A couple:

A stuntman, a makeup artist, & a stage magician start a detective agency

In the 70s, a radical disillusioned by the infiltration of the black power movement decides instead to study voodoo. She makes a deal with Papa Legba and Baron Samedi: go back in time to just after the emancipation proclaimation and ressurrect all deceased slaves as zombies to fight the confederates -- with their fighting power equivalent to the total labor enslaved africans have performed on north american soil. She becomes an important figure, courted by union officials, because (due to the increase in essentially-invulnerable-though-not-immortal manpower), she shortens the war substantially. She uses this position to make it clear that, if reconstruction is not managed in such a way that former slaves are given what they were promised, the powerful in the now-unified united states will be held responsible (by the armies of the living dead who are now defending black americans from groups like the KKK and Golden Circle) -- including the (now surviving) Lincoln. Although she cannot return to her own time, Legba shows her a vision of the 1970s in the timeline she has created: an advanced an equitable society, kept that way by the threat of the weight of history (and the massive remaining reserves of labor-power of former slaves).

A surgeon involved in cutting-edge life-extension research is killed in a hit-and-run, and his widow begins to have insomnia while grieving. She eventually starts a regimen of sleeping pills. She experiences increasing sonombalism and vivid nightmares, but is afraid that if she stops the sleeping pills, she won't sleep at all. Eventually, as a result of putting together clues, she goes into the basement, and finds that she has, in her sleep, created a remarkably lifelike replica of her late husband out of animal carcasses. The replica opens its eyes, turns to her, and says "I'm home".

In an anarcho-communist far future, a celebrity space janitor, famed for the craft and passion with which he cleans toilets, struggles with progressively worsening hand tremors that threaten his ability to continue to clean toilets while also coming to terms with the fact that the new generation of toilet-cleaning robots are finally doing a really good job.

6
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: April 18, 2020, 04:07:02 pm »
THE KEENING:
The patriarch of an old irish family is dying -- or so it seems, from the family banshee's wails. He himself seems healthy, & does not believe that the rest of the family hears the wails -- which the family takes as evidence that he is the one who will die, since a family banshee can only be heard by members of the family whose death is not imminent. So, his two estranged sons are brought home, in preparation for one of them to take the inheritance. It is then discovered that the banshee is, in fact, a local keener -- a human professional mourner who has been paid by the patriarch to impersonate a banshee so that his sons would be brought home, as part of a test to determine if one of them is (as he suspects) illegitimate, the product of his late wife's affair (which she confessed to him on her death bed). The keener, apprehended, stays with the family during the storm that has just begun -- so they can keep an eye on her -- but the banshee wails continue that night, and the patriarch is found murdered in his bed the next morning. Our protagonist, the younger brother and second to arrive, suspects his elder brother -- a suspicion shared by the keener, with whom he has become romantically entangled after a series of encounters. The wailing is reported by the rest of the family the next night too, except the two brothers, neither of whom hear anything. In the dead of night, the keener kills the elder brother & her paramour finds her washing her bloody clothes by the river in the rain: she expected the two of them to get married, and was trying to protect the inheritance from a usurper from outside the bloodline proper. That night, for the first time, he hears the banshee wail -- and nobody else does, save the keener.

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Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: August 17, 2019, 02:20:57 am »
When a vampire bites a person, a portion of their personality enters the vampire proprtional to the amount of blood. Each personality has equal control over the vampire's body, and they all feel the cravings for blood equally. Vampires are tortured by the increasing company in their heads.

8
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: August 17, 2019, 02:17:46 am »
 A modern retelling of Frankenstein emphasizing period details lost in most adaptations by use of modern equivalents -- specifically, the fact that Doctor Frankenstein is not actually a medical doctor but somewhere between a med student and a talented amateur, and the role of ressurectionists in medical research. In this version, a bitcoin-rich biohacker with a transhumanist philosophy makes a new & improved human out of black market organs, using home-synthesized anti-rejection drugs, experimental nootropics, stuff for building muscle from the transhumanist side of the bodybuilding community, and sense extension drugs from grinder circles. The brain ends up being from a Chinese doctor who was killed after failing to complete a similar project. After escaping, he uses his familiarity with physical therapy to rebuild his coordination, learns English (difficult because of aphasia caused by mistakes in brain handling and transplant -- he has to sing everything but curse words), and comes back to take revenge on our protagonist not for resurrecting him but for his incompetence -- the 'monster' was awakened in a state where every bone and muscle was broken & needed months to heal, but without anesthesia, & there were no physical therapy plans, rudimentary anatomical mistakes led to tendons being connected up wrong in ways that caused mobility issues, some tissue had improper circulation and necrotized, etc. The 'monster's kills this guy, assumes his identity, recreates his work properly, & takes credit.

9
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: August 16, 2019, 12:55:11 am »
A woman believes that if she doesn't leave flowers at her late husband's grave daily, he will rise, an angry revenant. This gets in the way of her work, social life, & romantic prospects.

10
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:35:12 am »
Because psilocybin increases sensitivity to scent in mammals, it begins to be used on both truffle pigs and drug-sniffing dogs. This periodic tripping in social situations with clearly-defined expectations causes both these sets of animals to quickly develop the complexity of their language & their ability to conceptualize & express abstract ideas. Truffle pigs and drug-sniffing dogs develop cultures and philosophies. A scientist discovers this new complexity in vocalizations and decodes it -- figures out how to 'speak' trufflepig and how to 'speak' drugdog -- and although these groups are not granted citizenship, they are given a special status as conscious non-human animals. This requires them to be represented in certain matters of international governance. It is during such meetings that the truffle pigs and drug dogs first meet, and their cultures first clash...

11
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: July 03, 2019, 12:45:24 am »
Following a brain injury, a man's autobiographical memory becomes highly context-dependent: he is unable to recall past events that do not smell the same as his current location, and instead confabulates elaborate false memories, which become consolidated. His personality and history begins to change drastically based on scent.

12
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: July 03, 2019, 12:43:39 am »
Freddy Kreuger isn't the only one -- it turns out that any lucid dreamer responsible for the death of a child gains the power to visit and manipulate other people's dreams, and this power extends after death. A former pediatric oncologist, desperate to use this new power for good, embarks upon getting a second doctorate in psychology, while training his skills on whoever seems like they need his help. However, he must deal with unexpected problems from three directions: his overly honest nature makes it uncomfortable for him to lie about his intentions, there's a tendency for his own neuroses and traumas to slip into his patients' dreams, and his cures sometimes backfire as banishing his patients' demons have left them unable to properly identify and calculate risk in their waking lives.

13
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: July 02, 2019, 02:07:28 am »
Man-man: the only superhero whose only power is a pathological inability to acknowledge weakness or defeat. The mask of Man-man is passed from father to son, but since he usually does not survive his first outing, it often passes among men of the same generation.

14
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: July 02, 2019, 02:05:11 am »
An instructional video on choosing the right tornado for your home

15
Literate Chaotic / Re: ITT: Original Story Ideas
« on: July 02, 2019, 01:49:56 am »
The alien invasion was for political reasons: in order to bolster their own claim to power, the leaders of Planet X have claimed a similarity between "human politics" and the ideology of some past foe, & attack earth in order to stop it from spreading. The war, woefully underfunded and managed from light-years away with subliminal ships h liminal comms, becomes a seige as the aliens lack the manpower to raid bunkers, the spare munitions to bust them. Eventually they leave: we have won. Earth unifies under a world government promising efficient defense against (and maybe revenge against) the invaders, who have already forgotten us. We become a spacefarinh race.

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