Monkeys Throwing Poo in Space

This past Monday night, the Alamo Drafthouse here in Winchester held an advance screening of Syfy Channel’s The Expanse: Season 2.

Wow. Just wow.

First, Alamo Drafthouse is a national treasure. Just is. It’s a movie chain owned by people who love movies and anything that looks like a movie, heck anything that tells a story via film. A TV series on the big screen? For free? With free popcorn and a beer, to boot? Man. And NO ADS!!!!! Suck it, AMC.

Second, there is nothing better than well-done scifi. Blade Runner, Gattaca, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (both versions)…you know, scifi where the story is more important than the special effects, which rules out everything done by George Lucas.

And The Expanse is well-done scifi. Set centuries ahead, there are now three distinct human civilizations in the solar system: Earth, Mars, and the Belt, asteroid belt, that is. Earth is Rome, Mars is Sparta, and the Belt, well, they’re Dickens’ London. All three of them are ready to go to war with each other over anything at all and they might just have that ‘anything at all’ when a Belter salvage ship is nuked by what can only be a Martian stealth ship except, maybe the ship was built by a shadowy terrorist group that has about fifty different factions wanting to kill everybody else for a hundred different reasons and maybe Earth is using them to start a war with Mars and then again, maybe it’s something else entirely.


Season One ended with one of the most terrifying weapons tests ever. Season Two begins right after, and the nature of the weapon…Ho. Lee. Crap. And the implications. And the double dealing and things not what they seem. This is Game of Thrones in space. Complete with dragons.

Great characters. My two favorites: Joe Miller (played by Thomas Jane)

is a Belter detective employed by a private police agency on Ceres. He has seen it all. All. And he is jaded and sardonic but still willing to find some truth and to be surprised by justice. He conducts an act of pure sanity at the end of the Season 2 premier. Chrisjen Avasarala

(played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, whose hand I seek in marriage) is UN Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration…read “Gestapo.” She is cruel and murderous and she knows something is going on, she knows they are being played, and she is going to do whatever necessary, including hanging a Belter or two up by their clavicles, to find out.

Special effects? Oh sure. Marvelous ones, especially the rail gun battle between the spin station, the stealth ship and the Rocinante; the beer can breach of the station wall; and that weapons test. Man, that weapons test. The effects are right, as if somebody took the time to ensure the science matches the scene. F’rinstance, sitting inside a ship laced by rail gun slugs, you’re not going to hear Pew! Pew! and the sounds of tie fighters growling like Chewbacca’s pissed-off girlfriend as they go racing by. No, it’s going to be rather tranquil because you’re buttoned up in a pressure suit because, you know, rail slugs breaching the hull and look at all those fireflies shimmering and dancing all through your crew compartment, ripping everything to shreds in zero gravity and sound. Lovely.

If I have a beef, it’s the introduction of an outside-the-solar-system element. In other words, BEMs.

Too bad. IMHO, it lessens the story somewhat. The intrigue and the savagery and the backstabbing among the humans is fun enough and aligns rather nicely with my own view that, no matter how advanced our tech gets, we’re still monkeys throwing poo at each other.

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Hey! Look What I Got!

A YouTube channel!

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The Next Three

Books, that is. The next trilogy, that is. I’m working on it because Col’m, the last of the Partholon trilogy,


is done…well, I need to do one more rewrite before I submit it to my editor, Genghis Jane because, you know, she’s Genghis Jane and I wish to spare myself a flogging. But, the manuscript’s in pretty good shape after the second rewrite, just a tad short of 100k words, and I am confident it will withstand her iron-clawed scrutiny.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

So it’s time to finish up  what is actually my first trilogy. I wrote Frank Vaughn Killed by His Mom before I wrote Partholon…well, they were both ongoing projects, but I finished Frank Vaughn first. I wrote the second Frank Vaughn book, called Southern Gothic, before Tu’an. This third one, which I started a couple of days ago, is called Looking for Don.

It’s a much looser story than what you normally expect from a trilogy, in that it’s not an ongoing story so much as it’s ongoing characters spanning from 1965 through present day. It’s magical realism, sort of, in a way, in that the ghost of a murdered little boy shows up (sort of, in a way) in all three books. This series is different than everything else I’ve written because it is not horror or fantasy. It’s normal life. Whatever that is.

The first two books simply need some edits and cleaning up and they’ll be ready to go, but I’m not going to release them until the third one is done, cleaned up and ready to go. I’ve learned that a hungry public demands its trilogies completed, not dribbled. In that way, trilogies are like a fine wine.

Stay tuned.

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Rogue One, Prequels Zero

Rogue One is a Star Wars universe I could get into, dark and murderous and crazy and action packed. Not the George Lucas Star Wars universe of namby-pampy muffin religions summarized by a bumper sticker, and adolescent barely-shaving heroes who really don’t want to hurt anybody, and muppets, and outlandish aliens which are there just to give the make-up people something to do and a story line right out of My Weekly Reader. That’s because George Lucas didn’t really have anything to do with this movie other than putting his name in the opening credits. Residuals, doncha know.

So this was an actually GOOD Star Wars movie. A damn good one, probably the best of the first three (which is NOT the prequels! They are NOT the first three movies! They are afterthoughts, embarrassments, more of Lucas’ muffin universe where we gotta have clones because, ewww, we can’t show PEOPLE getting hurt! Except Darth Vader. Who becomes evil because of a girl. Isn’t that always the case?)


Based on an offhand remark made early in the first Star Wars (yes, dammit, the FIRST Star Wars!), Rogue One is a Star Wars movie for grownups. This is war as it actually is: people die, things get broken, great tragedies are visited over large swaths of territory usually because some overbearing, nasty, and oppressive power wishes to be overbearing and nasty and we freedom loving people object. So, war, because oppressive powers don’t understand anything else (got that, bleeding hearts?) And what a war, fought with the terrible intensity you would expect from high-energy weapons and technology. You will be stunned. You will be engrossed. You won’t even notice some glaring inconsistencies.

Like…there’s still a Senate? Didn’t that kinda end when the Emperor made his move? But, wait, wasn’t Princess Leia a Senator or something in the first movie and, wait, that didn’t make sense back then, either.

I’m confused.

But, don’t worry about it, because this is a straight up story. The Death Star has been activated and nobody in the Senate (which, really shouldn’t exist anymore) knows about it…I mean, the zillions of dollars and zillions of diversions of labor and materials from all over the friggin’ galaxy just wasn’t noticed by anybody. Jedi knights didn’t even pick up on it (that Force can be fickle). So, the evil Director

(played by absolutely one of the greatest actors of our time, Ben Mendelsohn. If you don’t believe me, start watching Bloodline) is trying to keep it hidden before unleashing it on the unsuspecting Rebels, because, ya know, nobody has even HEARD about this gigantic metal moon that’s eating up all the dilithium crystals (or whatever they are) in the universe when Peter Cushing shows up (wait, isn’t he dead?) and wants to take over so prove to me this hunk of junk actually works and so the Director does. Hoo boy, does it work, in a constrained test shot that is ten thousand times more graphic and terrifying than the much-beloved destruction of Alderan.

But, don’t worry, there’s a heroine, pulled into this entire mess by some of the most convoluted and downright implausible means that only a scriptwriter could manufacture, and she’s going to get those Death Star plans. Or die trying.

And there you have it.

Darth Vader is in this one.

The real Darth Vader, not that petulant kid you just want to slap the crap out of, or that Kylo Kilo pajama boy, but Darth friggin’ Vader hisself, all broody and scary and living in his Fortress of Solitude on the lava world. I swear he told his architect to make his home as intimidating as possible, to discourage visitors, I guess. And I guess he saved money by incorporating old Star Wars sets into the place, but it was good to see him. And he is a true badass, as the last sequence will reveal, when you’ll get to see Stepford Princess Leia, too.

There is a battle sequence involving a master switch that will make your head explode, because someone has to go to the master switch and set dial 7 to the 400 mhx range and then throw fuse 11765883 into the neutral position and then wait five seconds and turn the base plate 28.5 degrees magnetic north and then jump on one foot and hold your breath and…really, somebody should write this down. And, of COURSE, the switch is right out there in the middle of the entire Imperial storm trooper army. Of course. Wouldn’t it be easier to drive an Imperial Star Cruiser right through the Star Gate?

Sheesh, Captain Kirk would have just photon torpedoed the whole mess.

Anyway. Go see it. It’s a blast. And if you don’t cry at the end, you’re a Sith.

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I am Thankful For…

1. Being Alive. Especially given the events of the summer.

2. Believing in God. Because it makes the universe wondrous and unlimited. I feel bad for people who don’t believe in God. Your universe is so small.

3. Some people I’ve known these past sixty years or so. We still talk. And we still laugh at things.

4. Writing five books. Actually, I’ve written nine, but the remaining four aren’t readable. Yet.

5. Getting older. Even though the side effects suck. This is the best time of my life, hands down. I don’t owe anybody anything. I’ve got great memories. I’ve got bad memories. I ain’t rich, but my bills are covered.

6. A wild, insane, cringe-worthy life that no one would believe. But I do.

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Free. Free. Free. Did I say, “Free”?


Free at Smashwords. Eventually, free on Amazon, too. Only thing it’ll cost you is time and memory. I mean on your EReader, not your brain.

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Luke Cage

I love the 21st Century. My entire childhood is being brought to screens, both silver and small and…whatever size you consider smartphones and mobile game consoles to be. I’m referring, of course, to the Marvel franchise and its explosion over the last few years. Avengers, Iron Man, Thor…every comic book I bought and every superhero I worshiped, right up there live and in color, including the less galactic ones like Daredevil, Punisher, and now, Luke Cage.

Luke Cage? You mean, Power Man? (not the original Power Man,who was an Avenger enemy and minion of Baron Zemo)

Yeah, him.

Now, admittedly, I was not big into Luke Cage when he made his Marvel debut in those yon 70’s. I was very big into Iron Fist,

though, so had passing familiarity with the character. About the time the Hero for Hire series started, though, I’d drifted away from comics so the familiarity remained passing. At least I knew who he was when he showed up on Jessica Jones, so I was looking forward to the Luke Cage series, especially since Jessica Jones was so outstanding.

Luke Cage, unfortunately, was not.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, just not as good as Jones. Or Daredevil…at least Daredevil’s first season, and the Daredevil second season episodes that focused on Punisher. And maybe that’s why Luke Cage didn’t fare so well: it lacked the focus of Jones’ and Daredevil’s best episodes. A single villain, for one: Daredevil had Kingpin; Jessica had the Purple Man. Luke Cage has Cottonmouth and Shades and Stryker and Holy Hannah, guys, you kinda went all over the place. It was like they were trying to do the entire Luke Cage saga right up to the Thunderbolts in one season.

It’s a bit difficult to figure out the timeline here, but it looks like Luke Cage begins right where Jessica Jones ends. Problem is, the Jessica Jones episodes are treated like they happened on another continent and a few hundred years ago. Luke Cage comes as a complete surprise to everybody. Even when he makes himself very obvious, everyone is surprised. This, after the Avengers leveled New York. Twice. Think people are a bit more tuned in, fellows.

There was too much of a blaxploitation feel to the episodes, too. Yes, yes, I know, Luke Cage debuted back in the middle of Shaft and Foxy Brown but, c’mon guys, that was decades ago. Just do a straight up story.

There’s one truly great Marvel moment when Luke puts on his old costume

…for about three seconds, tearing it off when he realizes how ridiculous it looks. Good scene.

But moments like that aren’t enough to save the series. And it needs saving, because we have Iron Fist

around the corner and Misty Knight needs to acquire her cyborg arm and Jessica needs to marry Luke…okay, wait, maybe that’s the problem I just complained about: too much coming at once. So maybe slow it down a bit, re-establish Luke as a Hero for Hire and then ease Danny Rand and Matt Murdoch into it while Luke deals with Mariah Dillard and maybe Punisher from time to time. The story kept simple, and powerful.

And better.

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Oh no! There Goes Tokyo Again…


Godzilla! Or, more accurately, Shin Gojira, the latest iteration of the much beloved rampaging monster, who has been everything from a Hasbro Toy to a Saturday morning cartoon. Nothing endears more than destructive forces.

This version is all Japanese, which makes it a lot of fun. For one, Godzilla’s actually IN this movie, and not just making a cameo as he did in the recent American production. Nope, the Goj is right there big and bad and on screen in the first five minutes or so after the Japanese Coast Guard discovers a boat drifting aimlessly about the Bay (said boat becomes important later on. Sort of. If you’re paying attention. And you might not be by that time) and suddenly there’s steam and blood―yes, blood―pouring into a tunnel…wait a minute, tunnel disaster? Did we not just see something like this? Then Godzilla appears…in the guise of a giant sock puppet weasel. With button eyes. Kinda cute, in an Ultraman kinda way. But then it evolves into the Godzilla we’ve all come to love…actually, the most insane looking Godzilla ever. Really. This guy looks completely deranged, teeth and all. With a tail twice as long and a mind of its own. And lasers and an air defense system. Really.

The Japanese response is to legislate Godzilla to death. Never have you seen the formation of more and more elaborate committees, themselves evolving from “Basic Emergency Committee” to such things as the “Ad-Hoc Cross Party Unexplained Creature Smashing Us Committee for Peace and Well-Being and the Next Elections” committee, which can’t make a decision so they bring together the “Committee of Nerds, Dweebs, Mavericks, Rebels, Outcasts, Druids, Compound Interest, and A Couple of Guys who Are Standing Around” to make a decision but they can’t, either, but at least they can do research. Guys running around the instantly well-equipped and prepared conference room (I mean, wow, the moment a new committee is formed, phalanxes of toadies are putting tables and chairs and servers together in pleasing and tasteful manners) throw laptops at each other the moment they discover something interesting, like radioactivity is rising everywhere the insane sock puppet goes. You will be amused.

But, mostly, you will be baffled.

The onslaught of subtitles will blind you. There are two sets, a top one superimposed on the kanji explaining which committee this is and who comprises it (very important because you can’t know the players without a scorecard) and what their relationship to the government is, and the bottom set of subtitles telling you what everyone is saying. Essentially, it’s a movie sandwich, and I advise you to stick with the bottom ones only because the committees change so fast you don’t really care anymore. There is US intervention, honchoed by a Japanese woman who’s a US government representative…suuure she is…who essentially wants to nuke Japan. Again. The committees take a dim view of this and they invoke a National Emergency (finally! Someone makes a decision! We don’t know who!) and unleashes the Japanese military on the sock puppet.

Hoo boy. Shoulda nuked it.

Because vintage Godzilla swings into action as the sock puppet shakes off missiles and tank rounds and smashes Tokyo like the Hulk under the influence of the Scarlet Witch (see what I did there?) A couple of US bombers show up and put a hurtin’ on the Goj (to the enthusiasm of at least one cabinet member. Nice to know we’re still appreciated) but all that does is make it mad. You wouldn’t like him when he’s mad (see what I did there, again?). And the smashathon, radioactive-breathathon of Tokyo goes into overdrive. Oh no. Let’s freeze him.

Yeah. Freeze him.

But, don’t be put off. This is, indeed, a very fun movie…as long as you stay awake between committee changes.

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Down and Out Under the Earth

Korean films are over-the-top crazy. And they are over-the-top good. If you haven’t seen A Hard Day yet, stop right now and go watch it…see what I mean? Well, Seong-Hun Kim, the director, has a new one: The Tunnel. And it’s over-the-top crazy. And over-the-top good.

A car dealer, Jung-so, just closed a deal for a fleet of cars and it’s his daughter’s birthday and he’s driving home with her cake and happily enters Hado Tunnel Number One (which apparently runs for about 475 miles through the most untraveled stretch of highway on the Korean peninsula) when it collapses. Always something, isn’t it? And not just “collapse,”…a friggin’ apocalyptic cave-in of not only the tunnel but half the mountain, leaving only a few feet of the far exit still open. Jung-so’s Kia sedan withstands a pummeling of rock and earth that would have flattened an Abrams tank (good cars, them Kias), living him dirty, bruised, intact, and trapped.

He whips out his cell phone, which doesn’t explode, and calls the most incompetent 911 dispatcher in the Korean peninsula, triggering the most epically inept rescue operation in human history. Apparently, about the only things that work well in Korea are Kias and cell phone towers (and the battery in Jung-so’s phone, which lasts forever, and even his car battery which lasts even longer. Without exploding) because it turns out the tunnel was built by the most incompetent construction company in all of Asia, one that put in too few support rods and doesn’t know how many fans it installed, nor where they installed them, and didn’t bother to draw up the blue prints to any kind of scale or accuracy. And, which is in charge of building Hado Tunnel Number Two, a few feet away from where Jung-so is trapped. After about an hour, said company starts lobbying to resume blasting on its new tunnel because, hey, Jung-so is trapped in our first shoddily built tunnel so he’s a goner so let’s stop wasting time here and get on with it. All of which drives the rescue commander, Dae-kyong (played by Dal-su Oh of Oldboy fame)―the only competent man in the entire Korean government―nuts to the point he drinks a bottle of urine in solidarity with Jung-so.

No, seriously.

All of which emphasizes the point that, if you’re trapped in a tunnel in Korea (or a haunted island, or a sealed apartment) you’d best start thinking about getting yourself out of this pickle because the government honchos in this movie don’t put a whole lot of value on your individual soul. I don’t know if that’s Seong-hun Kim’s particularly political viewpoint or the result of having a lot of crazy people to your north with nukes, but it doesn’t take long before the ministries and bureaus and the population decide to write Jung-so off and get on with it. Now why they would allow the obviously inept construction company to get on with it, I can’t say, but it may be due to the particularly gruesome death of a rescue worker (apparently saw blades in Korea are made by Samsung) which is blamed on Jung-so’s wife, who apparently has the last say on whether Jung-so should be rescued or not (someone should check to see if she recently upped his life insurance). Scratch of the ole noggin’ here because rescue workers who die on duty in the US are considered heroes, not victims. ‘Course, we don’t have crazy people to our north with nukes. Just bacon.

It doesn’t end all happy and resolved, but it does get resolved, primarily through the individual effort of the one or two motivated and competent people in this whole cockup. Which is a lesson. No one’s going to save you but yourself.

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Capclave 2016

Now that the torture laughingly called cardiac “rehab” is about over, I’m easing back into my former life of conventions and conferences, starting with Capclave. I love Capclave. It’s small, informal, and all about books. No cosplay, no movies, just a bunch of famous and semi-famous scifi and fantasy writers mingling with the Great Unwashed. And I almost missed it. Only by a casual glance at my calendar last Wednesday did I realize it was two days away. Too late for me to grab a hotel room, so I drove up on Saturday morning and spent the day.

First thing I did was drop by the cleverly hidden Seneca room for Scott Edelman’s

(guy in the red shirt) reading of his story, 101 Things to Do Before You’re Downloaded, coming out in a Dark Regions Press anthology pretty soon. For the two or three of you who don’t know, Scott Edelman is Marvel royalty, which makes him my Leige Lord and Ruler. And, he ain’t no slouch in the short story department, needer. Blown away, I was.

The next reader was Doc Coleman,

a guy I didn’t really know, and I stayed more out of politeness because seems a rude thing to walk out as an author is walking in. Boy, am I glad I did because his story, The Shining Cog, in The Way of the Gun anthology, blew me even more away. Coleman is a master story teller, perfectly paced, does all the voices. Good stuff.

Two more anthologies I gotta buy now. Oy.

Sarah Beth Durst

and Tim Powers

were the Guests of Honor but, through some inexplicable set of circumstances, I didn’t see them until the Saturday night ceremonies. I think the Secret Service was involved…

…hey, look! It’s Hugo Award-winning artist Steve Stiles!

Some highlights:

1. Putting Real Science in Science Fiction panel, with Bud Sparhawk, Michael Capobianco, Alan Smale, and Ian Randal Strock. Interesting observations made by all, including that, as science reveals even more details of the physical universe, there is less and less set in stone, meaning imagination is set free. For example, the New Horizons mission to Pluto revealed a planet unlike anything expected (which, seems to me, is fertile ground for a whole slew of new scifi stories). Back in the Gernsback days, science was in the forefront of the scifi story, almost as a means of teaching. Now, because we’re all older and smarter, there are two scifi short story models: the Analog style, where the science is prominent; and the Asimov style, where the story rules. Bud Sparhawk noted that most of new scifi is about engineering, not science, and engineering, itself, is becoming denser. Michael Capobianco said if you’re old enough, you can remember when things were comprehensible, which I thought spot-on. Who works on their own cars anymore?

2. I drifted over to the Dealer’s Room and immediately ran into Mike McPhail

and his lovely wife Danielle Ackley-McPhail, two of the best small press people around. Mike is into military scifi and has several titles and anthologies out now and planned for the future. I managed to snag the last copy of his 2007 anthology, Breach the Hull, and then spent the evening hunting down several of its contributors and forcing them to sign. Mike has a Kickstarter ( that may be finished by the time I get this posted, but go take a look. Danielle and he were gracious enough to let me sit with them at their table during the autograph session

and hawk some of my own titles, of which I got barely even passing interest. Eh. One day. Danielle is at the end of the table. The two women in the middle are Jean/Jeanne of the David Bowie song.

3. Panel: Social Media Promotion Without Being Obnoxious. Kate Baker, Inge Heyer, Natalie Luhrs, Michael A. Ventrella. Being obnoxious off the Richter scale, I figured I could use some pointers and did, indeed, pick up some pretty good tips from the panel members, like don’t waste your money advertising on Facebook and don’t be a jackass on Twitter. Too late for both but, hey, validation is its own reward. I was surprised to hear some newbie authors scattered about the audience contend with the notion that reviews are for readers, not authors. Absolutely true. Authors shouldn’t read their reviews…okay, I do, all two of them, because I’m thick skinned and I’m interested in what I’m doing wrong and I appreciate criticism. No, really, I do. And no, I’m not upset. Those are tears of joy.

4. Bill Freedman

is a Rebel E compadre, both of us sharing scars and wounds inflicted by our editor, Genghis Jayne, and we tend to commiserate on Facebook. So, there I was, sitting in the lobby doing a few Capclave tweets when I noticed Bill, too, was doing Capclave tweets. Wouldn’t you know, dude was sitting right in front of me. First time we had ever met so went out and grabbed some lunch at the most incomprehensible Japanese bento booth in America and then hung out with the McPhail phalanx. If I don’t get some rye whisky, I surely will die.

5. Panel: Military SF: More than People With Guns. Tom Doyle, Walter H. Hunt, Bud Sparhawk, Hugh Taylor. I was rather surprised that Mike McPhail was not on this panel because he IS Mr. Military SF, but, hey. There was much discussion between the audience and the panel about the execution of battle plans versus seat-of-the-pants strategizing in a FTL (faster than light. See? I know the lingo) space war because, you know, FTL, space, and things are moving a bit fast. “You, Squad A, go over there and do this! You, Squad B…” just ain’t gonna cut it. It’s more, “Fleet, Execute Plan 152!” The old military maxim that ‘no plan survives first contact’ leapt immediately to mind so, dudes, you’re gonna need a seat-of-the-pants guy nearby when things go TU (I’ll leave that one to your research). Yes, this is true, the panel acknowledged, but innovators would not do very well in a future command structure that favors Plans so there is little likelihood such a person would be in a high enough command position to pull chestnuts out of fire when things went TU (got that one, yet?). Which, to me, leaves open the possibility of novels and stories where some lowly lieutenant pulls said chestnuts out. When things go TU.

6. Neil Clarke

is an American treasure, editor of Clarkesworld, which has the good sense to reject my submissions (one day, one day) and he finally, FINALLY, after ten years of being nominated, won the WSFA Small Press Award. So, he read Susan Lucci’s acceptance speech. At some point, he meandered past our table and he and I sympathized with each other about the torture of cardiac rehab.


So, a good time had. Acquaintances renewed. Autographs hawked. Far too many books bought (holy moly when am I gonna get the time to read all this?). Definitely going back next year.

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