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Jack of Shadows
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

This is our discussion of the classic SF/F novel...

Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

(1971) Hugo & Locus award nominee.


message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments This was one of my first Zelazny books & an early one where the hero was less than a sterling character. I think it taught me the true meaning of amoral.


message 3: by Phil (last edited Aug 01, 2016 07:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Phil J | 329 comments Here's the copy the library sent me:
description
I pity the fool that that has the lame '80s edition instead! This looks like a Black Sabbath album cover, which totally suits the tone of the book.

I read Jack of Shadows for the first time last weekend. Sometimes, a book is so great that while I read, I just keep wondering why the other books that get published can't be as good. This is one of those books. Please, somebody, write more books like this one.


message 4: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 01, 2016 06:48AM) (new)

I have a lot of Zelazny on my bookshelf, and this paper back is the thinest...



so thin, I might think it a novella, except I presume the Hugo committee counted the words. (It was published the same year a Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, another title barely long enough to qualify as a novel.)


message 5: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael | 152 comments Phil wrote: "Here's the copy the library sent me"
That looks like the same cover as the old SFBC edition I used to have. IIRC, Jack of Shadows was the first Roger Zelazny book I ever read and after reading it I pretty much bought everything else he wrote. His untimely death was a tremendous loss to the SFF community.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Does Zelazny ever write stories about characters who aren't immortal ?


message 7: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael | 152 comments I don't think the protagonist of Zelazny's Doorways in the Sand was immortal.


message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments G33z3r wrote: "Does Zelazny ever write stories about characters who aren't immortal ?"

Quite a few. Here's a few off the top of my head.
Changeling & Madwand
Damnation Alley
A Rose for Ecclesiastes
My Name is Legion
Doorways in the Sand
The Dead Man's Brother
Coils


Phil J | 329 comments He did have an awful lot of immortal/mythic heroes, though. I'm a little puzzled over some things in Jack of Shadows. Specifically, Morningstar. The character is named after Lucifer, looks like a sphinx, and is apparently being punished by somebody for something, but we don't know what. Any ideas? Is there a specific meaning to this character, or is it just drawn from multiple sources? I feel like there's something I'm missing.


message 10: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 02, 2016 06:43AM) (new)

Jim wrote: "G33z3r wrote: "Does Zelazny ever write stories about characters who aren't immortal ?"
Quite a few. Here's a few off the top of my head...."


Thanks, but I was kind of going for a rhetorical question. :)

When he wrote Jack of Shadows (1971), he'd previously written This Immortal (Call me Conrad), The Dream Master (He Who Shapes), Lord of Light, Isle of the Dead, Creatures of Light and Darkness, Damnation Alley & Nine Princes in Amber, which is 5 of 7 immortals (or at least extreme longevity).


message 11: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments G33z3r wrote: "Thanks, but I was kind of going for a rheto..."

Sorry.
;)

He does like his characters shrouded in time & mystery. Probably all that reading of The Golden Bough. Even when the main character isn't immortal & mysterious, they seem to run into many things that are.


message 12: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments Phil wrote: "He did have an awful lot of immortal/mythic heroes, though. I'm a little puzzled over some things in Jack of Shadows. Specifically, Morningstar. The character is named after Lucifer, looks like a s..."

Notice the name of the peak, Panicus, that Morningstar is trapped on? Think it is based on Pan's name? I'd guess that the character is an amalgamation of several: Lucifer, Pan, & the Oracle of Delphi. He certainly complements Jack well. Both are ammoral immortals, although Jack is more of a Coyote type of trickster.


message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 02, 2016 07:55AM) (new)

Speaking of name plays, I love that the Lord of Bats lives "in High Dudgeon".


message 14: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments G33z3r wrote: "Speaking of name plays, I love that the Lord of Bats lives "in High Dudgeon"."

I wonder if that's Zelazny's big pun in this book. He always includes at least one. Have you found any others?


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

About the world Mr. Zelazny has created here...

The world is divided into the lightside and the darkside, at the East and West poles, respectively.

On the Darkside, magic works and science/technology doesn't. On the Light, science and technology rule and magic fails. The Darkside has a magical shield that keeps out the cold; the Lightside has a technological shield that reduces sunlight to keep temperatures tolerable.

Lightsiders are moral, with souls. Darksiders get multiple rebirths in the Dung Pits of Glyve, but they don't have souls. (I don't recall a theological discussion on the benefits of souls, other than MorningStar commenting that lightsiders can feel things Jack can't — though he doesn't explain what those feelings are.)

In a conversation with MorningStar, Jack says he knows the center of the world houses a great machine, while the LightSiders can prove conclusively it's molten metal (so convincingly they almost convinced Jack even though Jack knows firsthand it's a mechanism.) MorningStar responds that they are both right (it's a floor wax and dessert topping), they are just looking at it differently. Which is hard to grok.

In between is Twilight, where beings from light and dark can mingle, and both magic and technology sort of work.

Zelazny has drawn & blurred lines between magical realms and technological realms in other works, including Amber & Changeling. Mixing magic/science seems one of his things.


message 16: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments G33z3r wrote: "...In a conversation with MorningStar, Jack says he knows the center of the world houses a great machine, while the LightSiders can prove conclusively it's molten metal (so convincingly they almost convinced Jack even though Jack knows firsthand it's a mechanism.) MorningStar responds that they are both right (it's a floor wax and dessert topping), they are just looking at it differently. Which is hard to grok...."

Here's a review that takes umbrage with this (spoilers):
http://www.castaliahouse.com/retrospe...

Personally, I think that reviewer is taking everything too seriously & missed a lot of things to take issues with if he was really trying. (e.g., why/how did everything wind up in the dung pits?) I find the concept & the vagaries of the world intriguing. The jail in the jewel was a great mind bender. I doubt very much that Zelazny meant for it all to make sense logically. Like so much of his work, it appeals to me on an emotional level.

He wanted to be a poet, but decided it wouldn't pay, so he wrote short stories & novels instead. Still, he puts a lot of poetry into his books, especially with his descriptions. He manages to use very few words to evoke vivid scenes & characters. He uses a lot of allusions, too. I'm not catching as many in this book as This Immortal or A Night in the Lonesome October, though.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) Weird. I feel like I read a different book than everyone else.

I really enjoyed the first Amber series but I never read anything else by Zelazny so I was looking forward to this one. The book felt half-baked (per Wikipedia it was written in one draft) and for every part I liked there was something I didn't like.

Characters for example. Zelazny was so good at them in the Amber series, but in this book everyone seems to be good or bad (defined solely by their relationship to Jack) with no real substance and their motivation is unexplained or just doesn't make sense. Everyone hates Jack (except women who all love him) but we don't really understand why. The dialogue is snappy though, in an Elmore Leonard sort of way.

The world is interesting but the idea of light/dark extremes is probably the least interesting part. The machine at the center of the world, the shield, the Compact, the various critters scattered around, all felt underdeveloped and underused, as though the reader is just required to take their existence for granted.

I gave it 2 stars. Per the GoodReads reviews I appear to be in the minority but it's worth pointing out that noted editor Lester Del Rey (per Wikipedia) used words like "grim," "ugly," "dull," and "pointless" to describe the 2nd half of the book - he liked the first half but hated the conclusion.


message 18: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments Randy wrote: "Weird. I feel like I read a different book than everyone else..."

I agree that the characters weren't complex, but I think this is done on purpose. The only ones that much time is spent on are Dark Siders who have no soul. They're very uncomplicated, driven simply by desire, pride, & power. Jack personifies most & his thoughts are well documented. I thought his lame attempts at introspection were great. The few glimpses we get of those with souls are normal, complicated people.

I think the comparison to Elmore Leonard is apt. They have the same sparse prose, too.

I agree with some of Del Rey's thoughts on the end of the book. It was grim & ugly, but hardly pointless. Unfortunately, if a person doesn't get it, I don't know how to explain it. I see it as a remake of MacBeth mixed with other things - maybe Prometheus Unbound, although I only remember that from school, which was a while ago, to put it charitably.


message 19: by Phil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Phil J | 329 comments I took the whole book as an unreliable narrator piece, so I chalked up the characterizations to Jack's perspective rather than reality. There were plenty of hints that Evene and the Lord of Bats had more to them than Jack percieved.

About the ending- I've seen lots of hate, but I don't get it. It was jarring when Jack turned bad when he went from underdog to overlord, but it shouldn't have been a surprise.

I read The Tempest less than a month before this book, and the similarities are notable. A magic user gets overthrown, his betrayors fall into his clutches. The endings are very different, because Prospero shows mercy whereas Jack does not. Zelazny would've studied this play as part of his Elizabethan theater major.

I was on the lookout for puns when I read this. The only one (other than High Dudgeon) I caught was the name of the key was Kolwynae, which is roughly A New Lock backwards.


Murray Lindsay | 51 comments I'm not Zelazny scholar, though I am a great fan. It's always been my impression his earlier works were very "mythological" and "high fantasy" in tone. Later on, he took a lighter aspect.

The best example of this, to me, is his Dilvish the Damned stories. The first ones are baroque and full of very serious high fantasy. By the end with "The Changing Land", Dilvish and his horse, Black are full of wry quips and sarcastic banter (as are the other characters).

"Jack of Shadows" falls in the "mythological" -poetry vein. I liked it.


message 21: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments I finished it today & love the ending. (view spoiler)


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Murray wrote: "It's always been my impression his earlier works were very "mythological" and "high fantasy" in tone. Later on, he took a lighter aspect....
"Jack of Shadows" falls in the "mythological" -poetry vein."


It comes across to me as a creation myth, though not with any particular religion or culture in mind, or perhaps more precisely, borrowing hints from many. The fall of the immortals, destroying the barrier between light and darkness, releasing Morningstar.

Back in the late 1960's, there really wasn't anyone else writing SF/F like this (or Lord of Light & Creatures of Light and Darkness.) In some ways this might be considered an ancestor of Brust's To Reign in Hell (to which Zelazny wrote the original forward.)

On the other hand, it's not my favorite Zelazny, by far. The hero is unlikable in so many ways; he's not just flawed, he's a wretched person. That makes the entire reading experience very distant and uninvolving.


Dennis | 5 comments This will be my second read of Jack since it first came came out in paperback so very many years ago. I'm really enjoying it. This is giving me the motivation to hunt down the very few novels and stories I haven't read. By the way if you want to read one of the inspirations for his Amber novels and maybe Jack look for The Dark World , Its in the public domain.


message 24: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments Thanks, Dennis. I hadn't known about that inspiration.


Dennis | 5 comments Your welcome. I guess Phillip José Farmers World of Tiers was also an inspiration . He wrote an introduction to "A Private Cosmos" in my old Ace copy.


message 26: by Mary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mary Catelli | 774 comments Jim wrote: "Randy wrote: "Weird. I feel like I read a different book than everyone else..."

I agree that the characters weren't complex, but I think this is done on purpose. ."


"On purpose" is really a defense only against doing something through sloppiness. 0:)

Thin characters can be a real obstacle to getting into a story, and I'm afraid that Zelazny does not make it easier to overcome it.


message 27: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments I loved the first World of Tiers book & most of the rest were good. I was highly disappointed with the last 2 books, though. I'm not a real fan of authors going back to finish a series decades later. They've changed too much.


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

Jim wrote: "I loved the first World of Tiers book & most of the rest were good. I was highly disappointed with the last 2 books, though. I'm not a real fan of authors going back to finish a series decades late..."

My experience with Farmer's World of Tiers began with the 4th book (Behind the Walls of Terra.) The cover & interior of that 1972 Ace paperback was a pains to not reveal it was part of a series – apparently with good cause; they didn't have the rights to publish the first three books in the US. I read it with that odd feeling of missing something. Some time later I discovered it was a part of a series and tracked down the UK (Sphere Books) paperbacks, which made more sense. (It wasn't like today when a few clicks brings you products from around the globe; how did we survive?)


message 29: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments G33z3r wrote: "... (It wasn't like today when a few clicks brings you products from around the globe; how did we survive?)"

No, it certainly wasn't. I spent decades tracking down some books. It was SO FRUSTRATING!!! I used to carry a list of books to look for in used book stores & library sales. When I found one, I'd do the Snoopy Dance. Yes, people looked at me strangely as I clutched a ragged paperback & danced with joy, but who cares? I'd found it!
;)

I read Var the Stick in the early 70s, but it wasn't until about 1990 that I found the other 2 books in the series. Shortly thereafter they were reissued as one book. Same thing happened with Modesitt's The Forever Hero, although I think that search only lasted a decade. I found the second book, loved it, & couldn't find the other 2 for ages.

I did read The Maker of Universes first & that was the only one I had for years. I think I found another paperback & then found the first 5 bundled up in a 2 volume set from the SF book club used somewhere. It wasn't until about 5 years ago that I found out he'd written books 6 & 7. Kind of wish he'd skipped book 6.


message 30: by Phil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Phil J | 329 comments I remember the brick and mortar days well. For me, the search was for the Lancer/Ace Conan paperbacks, The Guns of Avalon, and The October Country.


message 31: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments Theodore Krulik wrote the Complete Amber Sourcebook. He spent some time talking to Zelazny & recently published some short articles about it on Tor here:
http://www.tor.com/author/theodore-kr...

Note that they're in reverse chronological order on the page, so scroll to the bottom & work your way up. Interesting stuff. A couple discuss his fascination for long lived characters, others talk about the genesis of his books & relationships with other authors. Very interesting.

Chris Kovacks turned us on to this over in the Zelazny group. He's one of the editors of the complete collection published by NESFA. If you ever have a question about something Zelazny, he's probably the person who can answer it & there's likely a topic already made.
https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...


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Andrea | 2761 comments Jumping in a bit late since it took some time to get my hands on a copy but it was a fast read at 140 pages (got the same copy as G33z3r). I'm basically a Zelazny newbie.

The thing that really caught me was the character of Jack, of course. And the thing I liked was Zelazny's ability to make a convincing "other". So many authors end up making a vampire/monster/whatnot that is just a regular old human with some fancy powers, but Jack really felt not human. And as such I forgave him many of his faults. Like his treatment of Clare and Rosalie, he wasn't cruel, he just lost track of time kind of thing. Can't bring myself to forgive him for Evene though that was kind of the point at that part of the book.

The scenes with his soul were brilliant, loved the short, choppy sentences. Felt so sorry for sad, rejected Jack-soul.

Even the secondary characters were so wonderfully bizarre.

The world building was great, and I mean that for all the parts of the world, whether we are wander with Jack on the bizarre darkside, or at a familiar school setting on the lightside (in fact there was one chapter that just jumped in there so abruptly I was wondering if I'd changed books!) and especially enjoyed the gem prison. Such an imagination.

Because it is nearly a novella, some things do get skimmed over, like what was that key? A magical thing that one could apparently decypher if you have enough computing power. And ugh, cliffhanger ending!

But if nothing else, it was an interesting romp through a very strange world with even stranger characters. The amoral characters would make this a hard sell to turn into a movie but the visuals would be amazing.

Sometimes these short ones can make a much bigger impact than some sweeping epic series. Was a nice changes of pace.

Now onto one of those big epic series as I'm reading Promise of Blood next.


message 33: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments If you like this one, Andrea, you might also want to try Donnerjack. Nicer people.


Haaze | 55 comments Hello all! Ahh, so amazing to find a group that is reading Jack of Shadows. It was one of my first SF books in high school that I somehow later never was able to find in used bookstores (and didn't buy online since it was too expensive). I have such great memories of this book as it really turned me on to reading SF and Fantasy. Now I'm trying to catch up with you guys and read it quickly. Somehow the writing is weaker than I remember it. I prefer more of a denser vocabulary with more descriptions and psychological interactions. However, I love the story line as Zelazny throws us into a very interesting universe with a unique character. Great stuff!!! Only two chapters in at this point, but I will carry on diligently to pay homage to Zelazny and my own memory of Jack of Shadows. Thanks to the group for choosing this classic for this month's reading.


message 35: by Haaze (last edited Aug 23, 2016 03:29PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Haaze | 55 comments I completed the book late last night. It certainly did not live up to my expectations as my teenage self had placed it on the top of the fantasy pedestal. The work seems a bit rough and unfinished in so many places (especially in the last third of the book). Did anybody else have that impression or is it just my imagination?


message 36: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments Several people noted that Zelazny wrote it in one draft & thought it could have used more polishing. I've always appreciated the raw feel of it.


Haaze | 55 comments Jim wrote: "Several people noted that Zelazny wrote it in one draft & thought it could have used more polishing. I've always appreciated the raw feel of it."

Interesting Jim! I often felt like he oscillated between creating a wonderful atmosphere to hastily moving through events. Besides, I have so many questions about his actions in the last third of the book. Was it simply revenge that motivated him throughout the events leading up to Götterdämmerung? He seemed like a lost soul (which perhaps was the whole idea, i.e. acting without a soul throughout the book). The book almost calls for additional ones exploring Zelazny's dark/light world.


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Michael | 152 comments I agree it's probably not one of his best books but it was the first Zelazny book I ever read so it will always have a place on my bookshelf.


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Andrea | 2761 comments I agree it was quite uneven, at times really slow, it took about a third of the book for him to return from the dung pits, and then the end just sort of all jumbled together so much happened. However rather than be annoyed by that I found it rather interesting. Though that only worked because it was also short, I think the uneveness across something much longer would have been harder to tolerate.

In fact, I'm not entirely sure what the whole point of the end was, other than an exagerated fall from grace (not that he started in a state of grace) and almost more an excuse to get someone to go down to the center of the earth and fix things already...or was that break things?

Why did a working machine cause the earth to stop turning? Why did one have to break it to start things moving again? Who built it, why would they want to stop the earth's rotation?

I've researched the book a bit and there were two other stories, Shadowlands and Shadowjack. Anyone know anything about those? They are harder to get one's hands on than Jack of Shadows itself, but they are supposed to expand on the world and the characters.


Haaze | 55 comments Andrea wrote: "I've researched the book a bit and there were two other stories, Shadowlands and Shadowjack. Anyone know anything about those? They are harder to get one's hands on than Jack of Shadows itself, but they are supposed to expand on the world and the characters. "

I didn't know that! Thanks Andrea! They would definitely be interesting to check out. I wonder if the are available online?

Interesting perspectives by the way. I felt as if Zelazny really pondered the end very well with the soul issue as well as the final fall. It is a vivid image that will remain in my memory. Like you I am filled with questions. Why would he want to destroy the world in the first place? Was he disgusted by his own selfish existence and actions?


message 41: by Mary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mary Catelli | 774 comments Nah, the soul thing wasn't worked out well at all. Philosophically incoherent. It appears to have been his conscience and nothing more.


message 42: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments I really liked the soul issue, too. Jack had no empathy without it & was simply a creature of desire like all the Darksiders. Could he keep his powers if he had a soul?

I think the questions were left on purpose. He does that in most books & stories. Lord of Light has 4 possible endings. Who is Conrad in This Immortal, a mutant or the god Pan?

Much is unexplained so the reader can bring in their own interpretation of motives & world view. No simple conclusion ever makes sense fully, but there are a lot of shades that make more or less sense depending on the reader. That's what makes his books so rereadable over the years. I get different things out of them as my mood, age, & experience change.


Haaze | 55 comments Jim wrote: "I get different things out of them as my mood, age, & experience change. ."

Hmm, in a sense that is a definition of literature, don't you think? I need to read more Zelazny...


message 44: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 03:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments If you like. I often find definitions stifling, but reading more Zelazny is always good. Rereading Zelazny is even better. I don't think I've ever reread one of his books or stories without picking up on something new. Often the obvious story is good, but takes up most of my attention. On a reread, I can savor the nuances.

For instance, Doorways in the Sand has a really weird & wild style. Every chapter starts in the middle, looks back to the beginning & then concludes on a cliff hanger. We then start the next chapter without the cliff hanger being resolved - it must be, but we don't know how. We get caught up in the new situation, only to be brought back to resolving the original situation & then work ourselves back into the next cliff hanger & start it all over again. It's very effective for keeping the suspense up & not as confusing as you might think to read. The story isn't that complex, but it's distracting the first time through.

Roadmarks is also weird. The Road cuts through time with exits that vary. For those who travel The Road, time is a very personal thing. Zelazny broke the books into 2 chapters. One deals with Randy, the other with everything else. He numbered the chapters 1 & 2, put 1 in chronological order & through THREW all the others up in the air. He then inserted them in between the first chapters pretty much randomly. While it creates The Road effect very well, again, it's rather distracting the first time through. On top of that, he's tossed in a lot of references, some obvious, others subtle, & some downright confusing.

Roadmarks is a book I'd love to read with a group some time. I don't think it is as loaded with references as A Night in the Lonesome October, there are plenty to keep a group busy & guessing. I've read A Night in the Lonesome October with 3 different groups, consolidated the notes into a mere 20+ pages, & there are still unresolved questions. If Warhola could ever find his notes for the original painting that was used as the book cover, about half would be taken care of.

[edited because I can't believe I wrote 'through' instead of 'threw'. SMH]


Haaze | 55 comments Jim wrote: " Doorways in the Sand has a really weird & wild style. Every chapter starts in the middle, looks back to the beginning & then concludes on a cliff hanger. We then start the next chapter without the cliff hanger being resolved "

You certainly make Doorways in the Sand sound quite fascinating so now I have to find a copy. As you mentioned earlier Zelazny has a tendency to create story lines which are not fully explained giving us all room to think and ponder. I definitely prefer this type of writing compared to when everything is spelled out for you (more than once). Some of the newer (and very long) fantasy books have a tendency to go overboard explaining the events or motivations of the characters. Clearly there is much to explore in Zelazny's legacy!


message 46: by Andrea (last edited Aug 24, 2016 04:27PM) (new) - added it

Andrea | 2761 comments Jim's descriptions of some of those books reminded me of the movie Memento, that moves forwards in small segments but overall goes backwards, and had to be watched at least twice to really understand everything. It wasn't a regular story of where all the characters ended up, but rather it was about where they started.

Now I need to add those Zelazny books on my to-find list. I mean, I obviously had Amber on the list already (well, I have those already so are technically on my to-read list), but apparently there's so much more I didn't know about.


message 47: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2269 comments I never heard of "Momento". Thanks. Looks pretty wild.


Haaze | 55 comments After reading it I still feel as if Jack of Shadows is a keeper! It will live on my hall of fame fantasy shelf! :)


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