Tag Archives: 5/5

Lost in Spam – a wonderful review of Vokhtah!

I was checking my emails after dinner when something made me open my spam folder. The first few items were genuine spam, but then I found an email from Chris Graham [aka The Story Reading Ape] alerting me to a brilliant review of Vokhtah. If this were fiction, you wouldn’t believe it!

“They were now just two frail iVokh pitting themselves against the might of the wild.”

Vokhtah is a difficult but rewarding book. If you like unusual conceptions of extraterrestrials, this is for you. Once you’ve read about half of it, the complexities begin to clarify themselves, but two readings are needed for complete understanding. For example, it took me quite a while to grasp that the Blue and the Messenger were the same individual, and I also didn’t realize that there were two traders’ caravans wending their way to Needlepoint – I thought the Junior and the Messenger were in the same caravan and I got confused. Part of the problem is that the characters don’t have names, only titles. In her end matter, the author addresses this – it seems there is a taboo in this culture about enunciating your real name.

Vokhtah is a grim and forbidding planet; it has two suns, one a hot white star and the other a red dwarf. Sometimes they both shine at once, creating a climate of extremes. The planet is populated with an assortment of mostly vicious and predatory lifeforms and that includes the intelligent ones, who prefer to consume their food animals live. It’s a tribute to the author that she can take these basically repulsive intelligent lifeforms and make them sympathetic. And I would recommend that any human ship of exploration steer clear of the planet Vokhtah – humans would probably be seen as prey animals!

My guess would be that the Vokh evolved from bat-like creatures – their ability to echo-locate is mentioned briefly. They have wings (which contain their lungs), so most of them can fly. They have two hearts. And they are telepathic hermaphrodites with seemingly magical inner powers, like mind-healing and also mind-killing (their Healers are also trained as assassins). There are two variant species – the Vokh (large and dominant) and the iVokh (meaning literally “small Vokh”). The Vokh have a serious flaw – breeding is consummated by means of violent rape; nobody wants to bear an offspring because the “female” always dies in childbirth (this doesn’t occur with the iVokh).

However, the people have a strong sense of honor and obligation – if you accept help from someone, you incur an obligation and if you don’t fulfill it, you are ostracized. In the second half of the book, after the episode at the Little Blue River, the main characters – the Messenger and the Apprentice – are shown developing a sense rare in these people – empathy, an ability to relate to and care about others with whom one has a relationship, beyond the obligations of the code of honor.

All this just scratches the surface of the author’s astonishing creation. I should also mention that the book is a cliff hanger, and no second volume has yet appeared.
I must say a few words about the language. Unfortunately, the Kindle version has no Table of Contents and so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the author provided a brief treatment of the language in the end matter. It seems to have no pronouns, and verbs are consistently rendered only with the present participle form, all of which helps to create the alien language effect. Certain words used in the text are self-explanatory, like “ki” for “no” and “s’so” for “yes.”

There is one etymological gaffe that I can’t help commenting on – the explanation of the word “boot” (a foot-covering). The character doesn’t know what the word “boot” means and it’s explained as a contraction of “bucket for foot.” And yet that derivation would be impossible since the iVokh aren’t speaking English. You have to assume that the Vokhtah words reflect a similar construction, which the author could have fabricated.

But that’s only a quibble – don’t be deterred! This really is an amazing book and while the culture may not be palatable to everyone (you need a strong stomach sometimes), I definitely recommend it to any serious reader of science fiction.

The review was written by Lorinda Taylor, also known as The Termite Writer. Some days just get better and better.

-hugs-

Meeks

 


When a foodie needs some time out…

It’s been a stressful time in Australia lately, and I feel as if I’ve been either horrified, or scared or angry or all three since well before Christmas. To say I needed some time out would be a gross understatement, so the last couple of days I’ve retreated to books. Or should I say, one book in particular : The Quiche and the Dead.

I gave The Quiche and the Dead 5/5 stars on Amazon and left this review:

I read lighthearted mysteries when I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up. Well, The Quiche and the Dead did more than just lift my mood, it left me in awe of the author’s imagination, writing skills, sense of humour and…cooking ability!

I mean, really! A murder mystery that actually makes some [subtle] social commentary? has realistic dialogue? has main characters who are instantly recognizable and come across as real people? has secondary characters who aren’t 2 dimensional plot devices? is well written and edited? and does all this whilst making you want to try one, or all, of the pies featured in the story? Oh, and has a tight plot and excellent pacing?

Frankly, I was going to give The Quiche and the Dead 5 stars even before I reached the final page, but then I finished the story and discovered that the author really did know how to cook and had provided recipes for all the pies in the story!

Apologies if that was a spoiler, but I’m a foodie and intend to try those recipes in my own kitchen. In fact, I intend to buy more of the Pie Town series in case there are more goodies at the end. And for the story, of course. 🙂

Would I recommend The Quiche and the Dead…you bet, with bells on!

Drat, just realised I forgot to mention the cat! Seriously, buy this book and read it!

cheers

Meeks


The best historical who-dunnit…EVER!

Okay, I know the title of this post is a little over the top, but January must be the month for brilliant books. Seriously, I’ve just finished ‘A Star in the Sky’ and I’m in awe of the author’s talent. Under the ‘Look Inside’ you’ll find the review I just left for ‘A Star in the Sky’ on Amazon. 5/5 of course.

Not only does the author, Zichao Deng, [d.z.c. for short] make the world of the ancient Mayans come alive in all its barbaric splendour, he’s also created a murder mystery which could only have occurred in that time!

This is no ordinary murder disguised with a thin vineer of history. Every clue, every backward step, every twist and turn of the plot is woven out of the facts of that world:

  • The man who died was poisoned,
  • The poison was the same poison as used on darts, but he was not shot,
  • In fact, there did not appear to be any way for him to have been poisoned at all,
  • The politics of the situation could have seen the death explained away as ‘magic’, but
  • The female doctor who is charged with investigating the death refuses to allow either politics or superstition to get in the way of the facts, or logic.

And, like the very best who-dunnits, the clues are there all along, but the great reveal doesn’t happen until the very end. In fact, there are two reveals and the second is even more astonishing than the first.

‘A Star in the Sky’ kept me reading when I should have been doing other things, and that was despite not dumbing down the names and Mayan words sprinkled gently throughout the story.

I love alien sounding names, so I had no trouble with the female doctor being called ‘Lady Tz’unun’. I likewise had no trouble with the name of the Queen – Sak K’uk – at least, not inside my own head. As a reader, all I wanted to do was identify the character, so who cares whether my pronunciation was accurate or not? And those names were part of the reason I knew I was not in Kansas any more.

Another thing I loved about ‘A Star in the Sky’ was the richness of the characters. Lady Tz’unun may be the Sherlock Holmes of the story, but her servant Three Rabbits, plus the Queen’s councillor, the Ti’sakhuun are all part of an ensemble cast that just work, individually and as group. The story is finished but I still want to know more about them, and I definitely want to know more about their slice of history.

I sincerely hope that Zichao Deng has more murder mysteries for Lady Tz’unun and her team to solve. Simply brilliant.

My review won’t go live on Amazon for a few more hours, so I’ll just leave you with a concept drawing done by the author himself:

a-star-in-the-sky-concept-drawing

You’re welcome 😀

Meeks

 


The Communion of Saints – a review

I haven’t done a review in a long time, but I finished The Communion of Saints last night, and I simply had to review it.

But first a little background. Communion is the third novel in the John Ray series that began with Hope Road and continued with Father and Son. My reviews of Hope Road and Father and Son are here and here. It’s been a long time between drinks, but the wait was worth it. Here is the review I just posted on Amazon:

Like ‘Hope Road’ and ‘Father and Son’,  the first two John Ray thrillers, The Communion of Saints is that rare beast: a character driven genre novel. And like its predecessors, Communion is brilliant.

The Communion of Saints can be read as a standalone novel because the author weaves enough prior knowledge into the story to make the character and motivation of the protagonist  realistic and satisfying. Nevertheless,  I highly recommend that you read the earlier novels first.

Why? Because all three novels are character driven thrillers, and it’s the character of John Ray, the protagonist, that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.

John Ray is the last surviving member of a crime family. He’s the white sheep, the one that broke away and tried to live a straight life. But it’s hard to remain divorced from your past when you see your brother shot to death in front of your eyes. It’s even harder to stay detached when the Law tries to lay every nasty crime at your door.

After the gruesome death of his father, the old crime boss, John Ray tries to start afresh. He gives his business away and takes a job as a lowly lecturer’s assistant, but he’s shrivelling up inside.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Shirley Kirk. She needs John’s help. Or, to be more exact, she needs the help of his historical links to the underworld because someone is making allegations of child abuse against an institution to which they both have ties.

In the process of unravelling truth from lies, John discovers yet more about his own past, none of it good. He also becomes a suspect in two murders, simply because of who he is.

The plot is tight, with no ‘what the…?’ moments, and the prose is elegant, painting a vivid picture of the characters and their world without ever being flowery or pretentious. But the true joy of Communion is in the characters. Not even the walk on/walk off characters are two dimensional. All of them possess a vitality that makes them feel real, no matter how minor.

As for John Ray and Shirley Kirk, they’re real people to me.  I care about them. I’d like to meet them, talk to them, spend time with them. More importantly, they are people I will not forget.

I cannot think of greater praise for an author’s work.

Something I didn’t write in the review was that I wondered whether I’d still have a wee bit of a crush on the charming rogue, John Ray. The answer is yes. He’s still a bad boy with heart, and we know how women like them. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


State Zero – short, sci-fi movie – brilliant and Indie

I don’t like zombie movies, or horror movies in general, but I loved Alien when I first saw it at the movies.

Okay, stop sniggering, I was a lot younger then. Anyway, this Indie short reminded me of the very first Alien movie with a hint of Silent Hill because of the intelligent use of fear. Plus the graphics blend seamlessly with the live action. See for yourselves:

State Zero is top quality movie making at an Indie price.

Apparently DUST is a channel on youtube created to showcase short, Indie movies and I, for one, intend to see more of what’s available.

Happy Sunday,

Meeks


‘Ready Player One’ a #5star review

Before I begin, a warning to all non-gamers – tune out now.

ready player oneOkay, for those of you left, let me begin by saying that ‘Ready Player One’, by Ernest Cline, is the first non-Indie novel I have read in a very long time. I broke my unwritten rule about supporting only Indies because I’d heard the story was brilliant. It is. It’s a tour de force of imagination, but not for everyone.

Why? Because it’s all about gaming. MUDs, consoles, MMORPGs, VR, you name it. There’s even an homage to all things 80’s thrown in to season the mix. But if all those acronyms mean nothing to you, then neither will the plot because gaming provides the structure and mindset that makes the plot compelling.

And it is a compelling story. Set in the 2040s, ‘Ready Player One’ paints a dystopian picture of a world in which we left things too late. Climate Change is no longer a theory to be disputed, it is a reality to be endured, and for the majority of America’s population, that means living in abject poverty.

With the real world so grim, most people escape to the virtual reality of the OASIS, which is like our internet on steroids. VR immersion rigs – goggles, haptic gloves and suits – and cheap OASIS access mean that even the very poor can escape reality, at least to some extent.

But as with all good stories, there is a villain of the piece, and in the case of ‘Ready Player One’, that villain is a corporation known as IOI.IOI want to control OASIS because by doing so they would gain control of vast swathes of the world’s population.

Standing against this corporate threat are a bunch of teenaged geeks – Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto – called gunters. The action, however, unfolds on both the VR and real world planes, blurring the lines of both.

Is the plot innovative and new? Um, yes and no. At its core, the story is about the fight between good and evil, which is as old as human time itself. But how it’s done is why the story is so compelling. Being able to empathize with all of the main characters also helps.

The main character is an avatar called Parzival. The young man behind Parzival is Wade, an orphan who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriends in a ‘stack’. Stacks are trailer parks that have been built upwards rather than outwards [to save space] and they provide shelter to the very poor.

Wade can access the OASIS because at the beginning of the story, he is a school-age boy and all school-age children are provided basic access for free – so they can attend virtual schools on a virtual planet called LUDUS.

As always, of course, money talks, even in a virtual reality, so we become invested in Wade’s life because he is the stereotypical geek. The big difference between him, and say someone like me, is that Wade/Parzival is one of the smartest geeks around. Luckily, his insecurities make us love him even as we wish we were more like him. -cough-

And then there is the gentle love story I mentioned. It’s there, and it’s an integral part of the story, but it is not the integral part of the story, the pivot around which all else revolves. If you need a comparison, think Chani and Paul Muad’ib from the Dune saga.

For me, the love story in ‘Ready Player One’ struck just the right balance because it provided a change of pace when needed, as well as motivation for parts of Wade’s character development. All without ever overshadowing the science fiction element. Then again, I may be a bit old-fashioned when it comes to science fiction and romance.

And finally a word about the writing. Here too, the word that springs to mind is balance. At its core, science fiction [like its cousin Fantasy] is all about world building, so info. dumps are almost inevitable. The trick, then, is to balance the info. dumps with the action so the reader wants to keep reading.

As you can imagine, balancing two such conflicting elements, whilst also juggling character development, social commentary and that hint of romance, is one heck of a job. Ernest Cline, the author of ‘Ready Player One’ manages to keep all his balls [pun intended] in the air…most of the time.

I think I only really became aware of the info. dumps once or twice during the entire story, and even then, I was interested enough in the world to feel no resentment.

This was a story I enjoyed from start to finish, and it saddens me to think that such quintessential science fiction has been largely ignored by the establishment. It did win the Prometheus Award in 2012, but for my money, it should have won the Hugo and Nebula awards as well. It didn’t, but perhaps, as with The Martian, Ready Player One will gain the recognition it deserves when/if Steven Spielberg turns it into a movie.

In the meantime, why not read the book? Honestly, if you have ever played a video game, of any sort, then this novel is a must read.

cheers

Meeks

 


My review of The Remnant and #Amazon’s new review format

Click to go to the Amazon page

Click on the cover to go to the Amazon page

I’ve just discovered a new, fresh, wonderful voice in sci-fi! The author is Paul B. Spence and the book is The Remnant, book 1 of The Awakening series. Better still, books 2 and 3 have already been published so I have reading material for a couple of weeks at least. 🙂

This is the review I just left on Amazon:

I don’t normally enjoy so-called ‘military’ sci-fi because it often reads like a boys own fantasy with impossible Star Wars type space battles that are completely unrealistic, and woefully unscientific. But /this/, this story seems to be built on real science and real possibilities, no matter how remote. It is also a finely balanced blend of politics, archaeology and psychology where all the elements work together to create a very compelling story. From my point of view, the most compelling part is that the main character is both heroic and damaged. I like him as a hero, but I care for him as a person. This is how all sci-fi should be.

The only negative thing I will say is that the editing could have been better, not in terms of the prose – the prose is crisp, clean and at times almost lyrical – but in terms of the odd missing word, the odd typo. I noted them as I read them, but immediately dismissed them as the story drew me on.

Paul B Spence is a new voice in sci-fi [at least to me] but not for long. This is a storyteller who deserves recognition. Very highly recommended.

Seriously, I wasn’t exaggerating. This man knows how to write. 🙂

Now, to the second part of this post, Amazon’s new review format. It’s quite a departure from the past and has some good points, but also some strange ones. The following is a pic of the review screen as I was writing the review for The Remnant:

amazon new review format The Remnant

You can click on the pic to see an enlarged version, but the main features should be readable even in this one. The main innovation is the multiple choice meta reviewing now available. You can select options in four major categories – plot, mood, pace and character – to give a kind of snapshot of the book, presumably for people who don’t want to wade through reams of prose.

As an attempt to make the reviewing process less prone to abuse*, I have no issue with the multiple choice categories because they:

  • require at least some thought on the part of the reviewer, and
  • are not all polarized options ranging from ‘good’ to ‘bad’.

To illustrate the second point, let’s say I have some axe to grind with Amazon, or sci-fi in general, or Paul B. Spence in particular. To make my displeasure felt, I can still give The Remnant a one star ranking, but now I also have to provide a less black and white response via the multiple choice questions.

Under plot I could probably select ‘predictable’ as the most negative option, but some readers look for predictability in their reading material. Similarly, selecting ‘slow’ for the pace and ‘one dimensional’ for the character would be construed as negative by some readers but not all. Finally, under mood, I have no ‘bad’ choices at all.

So, all in all, I see the new format as a fairer way of leaving a review, however the lack of real choice in the answers kind of defeats the purpose of a real review. For example, I found the mood of The Remnant to be both ‘suspenseful’ and ‘thoughtful’, but I could only choose one option so therefore that element of the review is already inaccurate.

To be fair, the designers of the new format would have sweated blood getting the multiple choice questions to be as effective as they are. Nevertheless, I would love to have multiple choices per category rather than just one – e.g. ‘select the words that most closely reflect how you feel about…’

All in all, however, I give Amazon a big 3/5 [see the *update below] for the new review format, and Paul B. Spence gets a glowing 5/5.

Man, I love discovering great new authors, especially when they’re Indies**. Please give this man some love. My review brought his total up to just 10. He is obviously as good at marketing as I am. 😦

cheers

Meeks

  • * Carrie Rubin just let me know that you can leave a review without selecting any of the multiple choice options, which kind of ruins the idea that this will help reduce review-abuse. Ah well…:(
  • ** -sigh- I really should do my research before I hit the Publish button. The paperback of the Remnant was actually published by Asura. The Kindle edition, however, may be Indie published as it sells for $2.99. I read the Kindle version so… 😦

Halfskin – a review

Science fiction is supposed to be about pushing the boundaries, and coming up with new concepts, but much of the time it simply regurgitates old ideas. And we’re happy with that because those ideas are familiar and comfortable, like a well-worn pair of slippers. We don’t have to think about them, we can just enjoy the entertainment on offer.

And then there are the stories that challenge us too much. Here I’m thinking of China Mieville’s Embassy Town. I enjoyed it, sort of, but I certainly did not understand it, and that left me feeling inadequate.

Halfskin, however, is that happy medium all writers aspire to – a bright, shiny new idea wrapped in the comfort of characters we can relate to, characters who do not so much challenge as persuade. They are not Other, they are like us, and so we can understand their motivation. In fact, most of us would probably agree with their motivation. I know I do.

The story begins with a familiar enough scene – a bunch of young kids getting up to mischief and egging each other on. One of them, Nix, gets cut, and we realise that Nix isn’t bleeding blood, he’s bleeding biomites.

Biomites are the result of bionanotechnology, and act like stem cells, becoming whatever the body needs to function properly. In reality, however, biomites are microscopic computers, and they are all linked wirelessly to a massive computer system dubbed MOther. But MOther, standing for Mitochondria Terraforming Hierarchy of Record, does more than just receive data, it has the ability to monitor the level of biomites present in each and every human body. And when one of those bodies becomes a halfskin – i.e. half flesh, half biomite – MOther has the ability to switch the biomites off.

But if 50% of the functioning of a body is handled by biomites, and they’re suddenly switched off, what happens to the other 50%, the flesh percent?

It dies, that’s what. Enter the villain of the piece, Marcus Anderson.

Marcus Anderson, Chief of the Biomite Oversight Committee, and a ‘pure’ who has no biomites in his body, believes that Halfskins are not human any more. Furthermore, he believes that if biomites are allowed to proliferate unchecked, homo sapiens are doomed. Something will survive the biomite invasion, but it won’t be human any more.

And this is where the persuasion comes in. Because we know that biomites saved the life of young Nix, and make ordinary people ‘better’ than they would be naturally, it’s very easy to empathize with Cali, Nix’s sister as she moves heaven and earth to keep her baby brother from being switched off as a Halfskin. We see being switched off as cruel, and unnecessary. We want Cali and Nix to survive because they are the human face of Halfskins, and they’re still nice people, right?

The delicious thing about Halfskin is that with just a little change of perception, the story could easily become as scary as the old Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Imagine if the biomites were tech gone wrong. Imagine if they took over those they infected …and turned them into zombies!

No matter how much I may dislike Marcus Anderson as a character and a person, I can see the fear that motivates him. Self righteous he may be, but maybe, just maybe he has cause.

Halfskin is just the start of the story, and I for one am very, very curious to see where the author, Tony Bertauski, takes it next. Will he give us his answer? Or will he continue to gently push us to find our own?

Without a doubt, Halfskin is one of the best science fiction stories I’ve read this year, and I’ve read a lot. The writing is smooth and assured, with no awkward sentences or embarrassing typos. The characters too are perfect. As a mother myself, I have no trouble understanding Cali’s fierce protectiveness. Faced with the same circumstances, I know I’d do exactly the same. And even Marcus the Villain isn’t completely two dimensional. Nonetheless, for me, it’s the underlying ethical questions that truly make this story stand apart.

Halfskin – 5/5 and very highly recommended.

Meeks

p.s. You can buy Halfskin from Amazon as a stand alone book for $3.50 or you can buy is as part of the eleven book Taste of Tomorrow bundle [for 99c].

Standalone:

Bundle

http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Tomorrow-Dystopian-Boxed-Collection-ebook/dp/B00HPM3PDA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415571362&sr=1-1&keywords=A+taste+of+tomorrow


Cats in Clover – 5/5

I read this little book back in June, and liked it so much I left a glowing review on Amazon, but somehow I neglected to review it on the blog. I meant to, but time slipped away from me. Or perhaps I thought Cats in Clover would be so popular it wouldn’t need any additional help from me.

Sadly, when I stumbled on it again today, I discovered my review is still the one and only. What the hell? If reviews are a measure of the popularity of a book then something is very wrong here. This book deserves better. 😦

Why? Because it’s the funniest thing I’ve read since My Barsetshire Diary, that’s why. And oddly enough, My Barsetshire Diary starred a cat as well… Hmm…

Anyway, moving on. Whether you actually like cats or not, you are going to find this story about two middle-aged cat owners laugh out loud funny. Seriously. The cats are gorgeous but the people, the people are hilarious. 😀

http://www.amazon.com/Cats-Clover-Adriana-Island-Book-ebook/dp/B00GW5U7SC/ref=la_B00GW5PJ7Q_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410416519&sr=1-6

Buy it! Read it! And if you agree that it’s a fantastic pick-me-up then please leave a review! [And no, I wouldn’t know this author from a bar of soap so no kick-backs are coming my way].

cheers

Meeks

 


The Queen of twist

Candy Korman is best known for her Monster novellas, but she is also a highly talented short story writer, and her stories always have a twist at the end. I’ve read quite a few of them now, so I know what to expect, yet the twists still take me by surprise.

I particularly enjoyed this one, so I thought I’d be nice and share. 🙂

***

Immortal Stranger

by Candy Korman

Very early in her life, Sonia began to entertain the notion of her immortality. When she was five, she received news that she took as a definitive confirmation. Her mother, then unexpectedly pregnant, told Sonia that she was adopted.

“We chose you, Sonia. You were a tiny, little baby and we picked you to be our daughter.”

The speech had the feel of something that had been rehearsed before a mirror many times. Her mother also seemed to expect a number of questions about the new baby, the origins of babies in general and about the nature of family. But Sonia only smiled. As far as she was concerned this simply added credence to her observations. She was not like her parents. She was smarter, braver, more important and definitely immortal. At this point, she wasn’t sure how to define her condition. Was she a creature from a fairy tale? Perhaps. Or an alien spawn from a movie on TV? Either way, she was an immortal stranger lodging with this human family.

When Jared was born, Sonia became a devoted older sister. She felt that she had to protect him and guide him. The extended family was very impressed by this. They’d expected some form of extreme sibling resentment, if not outright rivalry. As Bette, Sonia and Jared’s mother, was 46 and their father, Ben, was 45 when Jared was born there was chatter about the difference between accidents and surprises.

Grandma Anne, Bette’s mother, was appalled by the perimenopausal pregnancy. She continued to dote on Sonia, but was always a bit cool toward Jared. In this, she was not alone. Jared was a difficult child.; he was intelligent, but socially awkward; large and strong, but uncoordinated. This disturbed his sports-loving father. Jared bit another kindergartener during playtime, wet the bed until he was eight, was caught snooping in his grandmother’s medicine cabinet at nine, and walked in his sleep. Sonia was his only friend. Even the family’s cat didn’t like him. Fluffy slept in Sonia’s room and hid under her bed if Jared visited…

***

The link to the rest of the story, and the twist at the end, is below. Enjoy!

http://www.candysmonsters.com/immortal-stranger-a-strange-family-saga/

cheers

Meeks

p.s. While you’re visiting Candy’s new website, have a look at some of the other goodies you’ll find there. 🙂


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