Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Revolution 2.19: No to Nanites, Yes to Post-Apocalypse

Watching Revolution 2.19 tonight, after a four-week hiatus, it became more clear to me than ever how much the nano-tech story has hurt this series.  It connects to almost nothing.  Although it lead to at least one good episode - the Aaron thinking he had gone back in time thread - it lingers now in the series like a vague, bad dream.   It may lend some profundity to whatever happens at the end, but at this point it's contributing nothing.

For example, it didn't save Miles, which would have been a nice touch.   On the bright side, Miles had one of his best episodes as he managed to find his commitment to life and claw his way out of the cellar he had fallen into.   Charlie had a strong episode, too, as she struggled to recover from the trauma of killing Jason.   Tracy Spiridakos put in her most powerful performance of the season, as Charlie stood up to Tom.

The series would be much better if it was just a post-apocalypse narrative.   Seeing swordplay as common as gunplay, and fighters on horses with talk of nukes, continues to be fun.   The personal relationships are also being handled well, and are still capable of some surprises.  Bass kissing Rachel tonight was unexpected.   Her response was predictable, but who knew after all these months that his anger at her was at least in part fueled by good old-fashioned desire.

There's a lot of life left in this season, and I would say for seasons ahead if the series is given a chance. The new United States as villain was a good touch, as was the foray into Mexico earlier in the season, and the suggestion it holds for what might be going on in other parts of the world.

Just gives those nanites a rest.

See also Revolution 2.1: "The Last Surviving Friend" ... Revolution 2.2: Reanimation ... Revolution 2.4: Nanites and ... Maybe Aliens? ... Revolution 2.7: Firestarter Aaron vs. the Creepster ... Revolution 2.9: The Boy and the Attitude ... Revolution 2.10: Mexico and More ... Revolution 2.11: Captives and Nanites ... Revolution 2.12: Eugenics and Lubbock ... Revolution 2.13: Steve Tyler, Mummy ... Revolution 2.14: Time Travel! ... Revolution 2.15: Not Time Travel ... Revolution 2.16: The Manchurian Post-Blackout Candidate ... Revolution 2.17: Arabic Writing on the Wall

And see also Revolution: Preview Review  ... Revolution 1.2: Fast Changes ... Revolution 1.14: Nanites and Jack Bauer ... Revolution 1.15: Major Tom and More 24 ... Revolution 1.16: Feeling a Little Like the Hatch in Lost ... Revolution 1.17: Even Better Nanites ... Revolution 1.18: Whodunnit? ... Revolution 1.19: Cheney's Bunker ... Revolution Season 1 Finale: Good Pivot

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Like stories about near-future espionage?  Check out The Pixel Eye

Tetrad on Eyeglasses Flipping into Google Glass

I was just Skype interviewed by Nick Kyrouac at the University of Arkansas for a documentary he's doing as a Senior Project.   We talked about my work with Marshall McLuhan, among other things, and I came up with a tetrad for eyeglasses flipping into Google Glass:


Eyeglasses enhance seeing the world around you.

Eyeglasses obsolesce poor vision.

Eyeglasses retrieve 20/20 vision.

Eyeglasses flip into Google Glass, or literally seeing not just the world around you but anywhere and everywhere in the world.


For more on the tetrad ...



                               the spoken word
      McLuhan and the Kindle          |     McLuhan and the Selfie

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Pixel Eye excerpt

Nice long excerpt from the beginning of The Pixel Eye (3rd Phil D'Amato novel, hardcover published by Tor 2003, ebook published by JoSara MeDia 2014)

Part I: Cold Spring

                                                                    Chapter 1


A cold November wind stalked Central Park.  Leaves strafed the pavement, squirrels ran for cover.   I put my arm around Jenna.

"I don't see any fewer squirrels than usual," she said.

I looked around and agreed.  "Birds?"

She pointed to a lone hawk, coasting above.  Then to clusters of pigeons and sparrows on the ground.   She shook her head.  "I'd say they're the same.  But maybe you should call in a professional birdwatcher or something."

"I can't believe I'm wasting even my own time on this," I replied. "This has to be a new low in my career: investigating missing animals."

"Are birds animals?" Jenna asked, and snuggled.

"Sure, in the 'animal, vegetable, mineral' sense," I said.

"Well we can get all three at Sambuca's," she said.  "I'm starving."

I took her hand and we walked toward West 72nd Street. "You're going to have mineral water instead of wine?" I asked.

"Why, is wine vegetable?" Jenna responded.

I nodded.

"Maybe I'll have both," Jenna said.  "I could have just plain water too -- that would count as a mineral, wouldn't it?"

"Probably -- yeah."  We reached Central Park West.  The restaurant was just across the street.  The wind was even colder on this corner. "I'm getting calamari or some kind of invertebrate," I said. "That way I won't feel guilty about eating a possible subject of my case."

***

I knew, of course, that missing animals could be a symptom of something much more serious -- they could be the first victims of a new germ-warfare salvo, to pick the obvious.  I tried to keep this thought in mind as I went in the next morning to see Jack Dugan, just appointed Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, a newly created post in the new administration.  But I also recalled the time way back in the 1980s when cats started disappearing on the New Jersey side of the Hudson.  A Chinese restaurant in need of a free supply of "chicken" turned out to be the culprit.

Jack smiled.  "Phil, good to see you!"  The same greeting he had been giving me for years.  Same slicked-back hair too -- still mostly black, now with some gleaming strands of grey.  But his dark blue woolen vest was new, and fit the job.

Technically, he was no longer a cop -- he was New York City's equivalent of the Secretary for Homeland Security, a top-secret position at least as powerful as the Police Commissioner, maybe more. Technically, I was still with the NYPD -- but one of the conditions Jack had set on his appointment was that he could call me in on a case.  I didn't object.  It wasn't the head of the task force Jack and other brass had been dangling in front of me for years.  That position had fallen victim to the reorganizations of "security governance" that seemed to happen in this city every month now.  But being the de facto Deputy Mayor for Homeland Security's eyes and legs -- and sometimes brains -- had its advantages.

He gestured me to a seat. "So what have you got for me?" he inquired.

"I've been on the case just two days."

His smile broadened.  "You would have called and cancelled the appointment if you had nothing to tell me," he said.

"The Parks Commissioner is sure that squirrels are missing," I said. "I interviewed most of his sources – four workers in Central Park, three in Prospect Park, one in Van Cortlandt Park -- and they're sure too. I looked around those parks myself, and Ft. Tryon Park as well, and saw plenty of squirrels, but, hey, what do I know."

"Your take at this point?" Dugan prodded.

I shrugged.  "The same as with possible human murders.  Without bodies, we have no proof of a crime.  And with squirrels, we have the additional problem of no family members to report them missing."

"Other than the park workers," Dugan said.

"Right."

"Didn't Paul McCartney have a song about birds not falling from the sky when they die -- they go off and hide someplace?"  Dugan asked. "Maybe that's why there are no obvious bodies."

"Elton John," I replied, "and Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics." But I still had to admire Dugan's command of popular culture. Impressive for a man in his job.  "Anyway, we're talking squirrels not birds.  I asked some of the park workers if they'd noticed any reduction in the numbers of pigeons, sparrows, crows, and they said no.  I didn't see anything untoward, birdwise, either.  I did get hit by a nice big splat of something from some bird in Prospect Park, but that's par for the course, too."

Dugan nodded.  "So at this point it doesn't look like a West Nile virus thing -- no dead crows."

"Right.  At this point, it doesn't look like anything at all."

Dugan nodded again. "Let's beat the out-of-the-way places in the parks for squirrel corpses, anyway. I guess we should bring in a squirrel expert -- what are they, rodents?"

I nodded.  "The squirrels are, yes.  The experts presumably are human."

Dugan snorted.  "Let's find out where they go to die."

That was a good exit cue.   But I’ve never been particularly good at taking them.  "I'm not sure they go anywhere, " I said.  "I've seen a few dead squirrels just laying on the sidewalks over the years."

"Me too," Dugan said, "but talk to the experts anyway.  And I'll see if I can get the Parks Commissioner to conduct some kind of squirrel census -- presumably they have a rough count of the number of squirrels running around last year, so we can compare and see if the current numbers are lower."

"All right," I agreed, and started to leave.  "Oh, one other thing." I reached into my manila folder, and pulled out a printout of a news story I had pulled off the web.  It was from the Bergen Record, a local Jersey paper.

"See? I knew you had something more for me." Dugan grinned.  "What's it say?"

I gave him the single sheet of paper.  "Half a dozen hamsters were reported stolen from a pet shop in Teaneck last week -- Jenna's friend's little brother works in a deli next door, that's how I first heard about it.  Probably has no relevance to our squirrels, but hamsters are rodents, too."

***

I'd known Melvin Kaplan since Junior High School 135 in the Bronx.  In those days, he had two hamsters in a cage in his bedroom.  They, along with his collection of 1950s early rock 'n' roll 45s, were his pride and joy.  By the time he got to college -- City College, on 137th Street in Manhattan -- he had dozens of hamsters hanging around his one-room apartment off campus.  He sold some to pet shops, and used the money to buy more records.  He went on to own a pet shop or two. Last I'd heard of Mel, though, he'd decided to indulge his love of music, by purchasing the Grace Note in Greenwich Village. He turned it from a jazz-only to a jazz and early rock club.  I went down there to see him the next evening.  Mel still knew more about hamsters -- and rodents in general, I'd bet -- than anyone else I knew.  He was a little crazy, but weren't we all these days.

The Crows' "Gee" was playing on what looked to be an original Wurlitzer Juke Box by the door.  I had just been talking with Dugan about crows yesterday -- not the first time in my life that music seemed to come out of the world to reflect what was already on my mind.  Mel was sitting at a table, sawdust at his feet -- it was all around the floor of the club -- nursing a beer.  He looked exactly as I had last seen him, about five years ago -- tortoise-rimmed glasses, scanty beard, salt-and-pepper hair.  The glasses could have been the same he wore in junior high school, though the present ones did seem to take up a bit more of his face.

"Phil." He smiled and beckoned me over.

"Good to see you, Mel." I shook his hand and took a seat. "Looks like you're doing very well here."  The club was about half full. I had no idea whether this was good or bad for a Thursday night.

"Can't complain," Mel replied.  "It's a labor of love, anyway. I did ok in the stock market in the last boom, and socked enough away that I don't have to worry."

"Squirreled some away, eh?"

Mel laughed.  "What are you having?"

"A Stella would be great," I replied.

Mel called out the order to the waitress -- blonde, bouncy, in a short black skirt.  "So you want a little primer on squirrels..."

"Right," I said.

"Not really my speciality -- hamsters are -- but I can tell you what I know about them."

"Good.  Then we can also talk about hamsters."

"OK.  Well, you know, they -- squirrels -- have sort of a schizophrenic role in our culture.  Kids love 'em.  Adults don't always agree. Some folks call them 'tree-rats' or 'rats with tails'.  In  some parts of the South, squirrels are called 'tree-rabbits' -- I guess folks down there love squirrels a little too much."

"They eat them?"

Mel nodded.  "And here up north -- in fact, everywhere there are birds and bird-fanciers -- squirrels are often considered nuisances, because they outwit even the best squirrel-proof birdfeeders.  They can jump so far they look like they're practically flying.."

"You think some bird-lovers in Central Park are snuffing squirrels to protect bird-feeders?  Pretty extreme."  My sister had a couple of bird-feeders in her garden in Brookline, Massachusetts.  "They're usually attached to trees in backyards, right?

Mel agreed that vindictive bird-watchers were not likely to blame.  "You'd have to kill all the squirrels in New York City -- hell, in the whole northeast -- to make a difference, anyway.  They breed very quickly.  They're everywhere, especially in
urban environments where rabbits and chipmunks don't do as well."

The blonde arrived with my beer.  She leaned over and put the glass on the table.  I thanked her.

"They can also take up residence in attics," she offered. "They love eating through soft soffits – my neighbor had a real problem last year."  She smiled and left.

"Why do I get the feeling I'm about to enter a Walt Disney movie here?" I asked Mel.

He chuckled.  "Hey, life's a demented Disney movie, my friend." He started whistling.

I sipped my beer.  "We don't even know that they're dead -- just missing, some of them, maybe . . . ."  I drank some more. "All right, let's switch to your true expertise -- hamsters. A bunch were reported stolen from a pet shop in New Jersey -- you hear
anything about that?"

Mel shook his head no.  "They're cheap as dirt.  Can't see the point in stealing them."

"Unless the thieves didn't want to be known, or maybe they were kids," I said.

"I suppose," Mel replied.  "But stealing -- rather than buying -- to conceal who you are suggests some sort of unsavory purpose in getting the hamsters.  They're just sweet little creatures, is all."

"I believe you--"

"Never heard anyone say a bad word about them -- they're much better liked than squirrels," Mel continued. "Well, I guess you can see where my heart is on this. Hamsters even have their uses in laboratory science -- they're much better than squirrels in the lab, who can get really vicious when caged."

"What kind of experiments -- running around mazes like rats?"

"Yeah, that," Mel replied, "and I heard they were being used in some sort of music research up the Hudson -- in Cold Spring."

"Music?"  I became aware that it had changed in the jukebox. It was playing "Come On Baby Let the Good Times Roll."

"Oh yeah," Mel said.  "Hamsters are real rock 'n' rollers.  They got great hearing -- bad eyesight -- and they come out at night.  They're nocturnal.  They're real gone cats." Mel slapped a rhythm on the table to bring home his point. My empty glass, which I had put back down, provided rattling accompaniment.

I smiled and realized I was tapping my foot.  "And squirrels?"

The song ended with its saxophone flourish.  "Just the opposite," Mel said.  "Squirrels have great range of vision -- they're always scanning the peripheries with those beady eyes – and they're out all day, except for the siesta they take after lunch."

"So we've got squirrels in the day and hamsters in the night," I said.

Bill Halley and the Comets started on the juke box.

"That's right," Mel agreed. "Rockin' around the clock."

***

 A dead squirrel came to my attention the next morning. It had been spotted by a group of girls on their way to school on the northern end of Central Park.

"I can't believe we're even having this conversation," Ed Monti, the city's Medical Examiner, groused on the phone.

"My feelings entirely," I responded, "but let's just chalk it up to indulging Dugan."

"I guess one consequence of real homicides being down is we have time for the rodent kind – rodenticide."

"So you think this squirrel was deliberately killed?" I couldn't bring myself to utter the word 'murder' in these circumstances.

"Well, Rachel Saldana -- she performed the autopsy--"

"Right, I know her."

"-- Rachel's performed about half a dozen autopsies on squirrels found in the city in the past few days--"

"Is that typical?  Half a dozen squirrel deaths in New York in a few days?" I asked.

"Yeah," Ed replied.  "I checked into that -- for this time of year it is, if you take as your territory all five boroughs.  Squirrels are rushing around getting acorns for the winter, they're more vulnerable to getting hit by cars, that sort of thing."

"I'm surprised the city even keeps statistics on that sort of thing."

"We've been doing lots of that, quietly, ever since the anthrax and West Nile virus business."

"Ok," I said.  "But this morning's specimen died of something else?"

"Ketamine and Acepromazine," Ed replied, "standard anesthetic cocktail for rodents."

"Ketamine the date-rape drug?"

"Yeah, but not in these small amounts," Ed said.

"You really researched this."

"Rachel did.   The stuff's supposed to put the animal to sleep, not kill  it.  Her best guess at this point is that the squirrel received the dose in a dart, fell out of a tree,  and broke its neck in a fall to the  curb."

"Jeez." I was actually beginning to feel bad for the poor thing. "So some wildlife biologist is getting his kicks taking shots at squirrels now?  Last time I looked, they're not exactly selling those darts, or the tranquilizer, on Amazon."

"Could be the biologist's kid -- but yeah, I'd say you should check out supply houses, research labs, any place that might carry those drugs.  And I'll keep you posted on any new squirrel-cides that show up here."

"All right," I said. "I'm actually off to a research lab right now -- Cerebreeze Laboratories, up in Cold Spring."

"Cerebreeze?  I didn't know they were into wildlife," Ed observed.


"As far as I know, they're not.  They're into hamsters."



  
reviews
  • "The nuttiness of the premise and the grittiness of the near-future New York ambiance are equally appealing" - The New York Times
  • "a breezily chilling story ... enough to send a shiver down most readers' spines" - Publisher's Weekly
  • "a thoroughly enjoyable book, extremely readable, and brave" - SF Weekly
  • "D'Amato is a charming narrator and an intriguing character" - Cinescape
  • "Levinson's latest novel featuring the resourceful and wise-cracking D'Amato delivers another satisfying mix of hard-sf intrigue and detective story set in New York City" - Library Journal
  • "Levinson's descriptions of the unique hustle and bustle of New York City are right up there with Jeffery Deaver's." -MyShelf.com
  • "The Pixel Eye, much like Orwell's 1984 and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, presents a chilling vision of the future that hits way too close to home for comfort . . . a thought-provoking book that should be on anyone's reading list." -Royal Library
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more excerpts

The Blacklist 1.20: Unanswered Questions

An interesting Blacklist 1.20 last night, which seemed to move the major story of Lizzie and Red along a bit, but actually did not, or only barely.

Indeed, the best part of the episode concerned the villain de jour - the Kingmaker, played by Linus Roache, who brought the same presence and power to the role that he does for King Ecbert on Vikings. The other significant part of the episode involved Red's interactions with the Fitch (Alan Alda) nefarious group. Anything that peels back a little more of Red's ultimate doings on The Blacklist is a good thing.

But not much was revealed or moved forward regarding Lizzie and Red in this episode.  Yes, she finds out that Red killed her adoptive father and calls Red a monster for this, even though Red explained himself pretty well.   But we still know zero about Red's relationship with Lizzie, and, most crucially, whether he's her father or other blood relative or whatever.

In other words, here, in the final episodes of this first season, we still know next to nothing about what has been motivating Red in his relationship with Lizzie.  It's a mostly protective relationship, in which he usually is looking out for her interests, but not always.  For example, although he warned her about Tom, why didn't he do more than just express misgivings and irritations?   He was so sure that Tom was "the good guy" he said he was - whatever that is - that Red was ok with his beloved Lizzie asleep with this guy every night?   Or was it because Red had and has some interest that supersedes his protection of Lizzie - perhaps saving his own skin?  No, that doesn't quite jibe with what we've seen, either.

The Blacklist moves towards concluding its first season as one of the major mysteries on television today.

See also The Blacklist Debuts: Alias Meets Jay Z ... The Blacklist 1.2: Mysteries ... The Blacklist 1.3: Construction Site Heights ... The Blacklist 1.6: Truth and Enigma ... The Blacklist 1.7: Natural Immunity ... The Blacklist 1.8: The Father and the Husband ... The Blacklist 1.9: Field Transfusion ... The Blacklist 1.10: Those Words ... The Blacklist 1.11: Red's Retribution ... The Blacklist 1.12: The DNA Meister ...  The Blacklist 1.13: Red Writ Large ... The Blacklist 1.15: The Husband's Other Shoe ... The Blacklist 1.16: True Colors ... The Blacklist 1.19: Leveling the Scales?

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  Enjoy a little espionage?  Try The Pixel Eye


The Following Season 2 Finale: The Living

An excellent, nerve-wracking, powerhouse Season 2 finale of The Following tonight, in which, against all odds - almost no one significant dies.

So, as the series goes to black until next year, we have Joe, Claire, Mike, Max, Mark, and, of course, Ryan, all alive if not all well.   Mike and Max are especially good, though, finally connecting in each other's arms.   Claire and Ryan won't be together - her call, not his, though he doesn't object overly much - and Joe's off to prison.

All of which - none of these characters dead - is probably the biggest surprise of the finale.  It was a bold move.  Leaving Joe and Claire alive saves them for some future appearance, though it sure looks as if their stories on this show have run their course, lest the show repeat itself next season.  My guess is we'll be seeing both of them again, but not any time soon in this series.

So that leaves Mark.  Luke has apparently been killed.   But with these twin psychos you never know for sure - never know even more than you never know for sure about any deaths on television, unless you see a character's head clean blown or chopped off.   But these two guys, from the earliest episodes, relished play acting with the dead, dancing with them, clad in a bikini, as if the victim were alive.  So maybe Luke is dead, and Mark is taking care of his twin's body, or maybe Luke was badly wounded, and Mark is trying to get to a place where someone can give him medical treatment.

We'll presumably find out next season.  Which brings us to the final question, one which will likely set up the whole season to come.  Who was driving the car that picked up Mark, and Luke either dead or alive. Whom did Mark apologize to for calling?

My wife thinks it's likely their father, whom we've never met.  That's a good hypothesis.  I'm also wondering if there was anyone else in the twins' past that we met this season, either dead but actually alive - like, say, Mandy - or someone we encountered who wasn't killed?   Could it be even Emma, who perhaps was not really killed by Claire?

In a show about serial killers, the ultimate question at this point may be who wasn't killed who's helping the killers.

See also The Following Is Back for Its Second Season ... The Following 2.2: Rediscovering Oneself ... The Following 2.3: Coalescing ... The Following 2.4: Psycho Families and Trains ... The Following 2.5: Turning Tides ... The Following 2.8: Coalescing? ... The Following 2.9: The Book Signing ... The Following 2.11: Lily not Joe ... The Following 2.13: The Downfall of Mike ... The Following 2.14: Twists and Deaths

And see also The Following Begins ... The Following 1.2: Joe, Poe, and the Plan ... The Following 1.3: Bug in the Sun ... The Following 1.4: Off the Leash ... The Following 1.5:  The Lawyer and the Swap ... The Following 1.7: At Large ... The Following 1.9: All in a Name, Or, Metaphor in the Service of Murder ... The Following 1.13: At Last Something of a Day for the Good Guys ... The Following Season 1 Finale: Doing Dead

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Like a Neanderthal serial killer in the current world? Try The Silk Code
   


Monday, April 28, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.4: Glimpse of the Ultimate Battle

Well, Game of Thrones 4.4 confirmed what I said in my review of 4.2 - that Oleena was the one who pulled the strings on Joffrey's killing.  And also what I hoped for after 4.3 - that Jaime would in some way come to his brother's defense.

Tyrion is of course still not out of danger, but with Jaime now somewhat on his side, and non-Lannister forces maneuvering for power in and around King's Landing, Tyrion's prospects looks a little less dire. Indeed, in 4.4, the most dire and amazing things are happening way up north.

That scene with the blue-eyed baby at the very end of the episode was chilling indeed.  At this point, it's looking as if Daenerys and her army and dragons will easily overwhelm everyone at King's Landing, and indeed in Westeros.    But will her army and dragons be a match for the strange beings in the ethereally deadly realms of the north?

The ultimate conflict between fire and ice has been implicit from the outset of the series.   The struggle between Lannisters and Starks, now nearly won by the Lannisters, pales in comparison.   And the two sides - the fire of the dragons and the specter of the north - are very different. Daenerys obviously has connections to King's Landing.  Her family has a history with it, to say the least.  And she controls, at least at this point, all elements of the fearsome force she is amassing to reclaim her throne.   But the powers that be up north are something else, something literally out of this world.   Other than their presumed loathing of humans and the south, their ultimate motivation is not clear.   For that matter, even their very being - what exactly they are - is unclear at this point.  And this makes them more terrifying than Daenerys and her dragons.

The game continues to be played with deadly and exciting effect in the middle.  But the ultimate story and action continue to build on the margins.

See also Games of Thrones Season 4 Premiere: Salient Points ... Game of Thrones 4.2: Whodunnit? ... Game of Thrones 4.3: Who Will Save Tyrion


And see also Game of Thrones Back in Play for Season 2 ... Game of Thrones 2.2: Cersei vs. Tyrion

And see also A Game of Thrones: My 1996 Review of the First Novel ... Game of Thrones Begins Greatly on HBO ... Game of Thrones 1.2: Prince, Wolf, Bastard, Dwarf ... Games of Thrones 1.3: Genuine Demons ... Game of Thrones 1.4: Broken Things  ... Game of Thrones 1.5: Ned Under Seige ... Game of Thrones 1.6: Molten Ever After ... Games of Thrones 1.7: Swiveling Pieces ... Game of Thrones 1.8: Star Wars of the Realms ... Game of Thrones 1.9: Is Ned Really Dead? ... Game of Thrones 1.10 Meets True Blood

And here's a Spanish article in Semana, the leading news magazine in Colombia, in which I'm quoted about explicit sex on television, including on Game of Thrones.

And see "'Game of Thrones': Why the Buzz is So Big" article in The Christian Science Monitor, 8 April 2014, with my quotes.

 

"I was here, in Carthage, three months from now." 

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