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Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

This is hilarious:

😀

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book cover wailing asteroid

I’ve gotten way behind in my science fiction reviews, so let me jump back in the saddle (or choose another cliché) with a short review of Murray Leinster’s “The Wailing Asteroid.”

My brief evaluation: Recommended with strong reservations.

Regarding Leinster, I’ll confess, for a science fiction fan, I’m embarrassed to say I had never heard of him, even though he was referred to as “The Dean of Science Fiction.”  Speaks to my cultural poverty, I guess. This Wikipedia entry gives a good summary of his career, and there is also a informative entry for him in the online Science Fiction Encyclopedia. He wrote in many genres besides science fiction, including mysteries, adventure, and romance; his earliest science fiction tale was published in Argosy in 1919, making him one of the pioneers of the genre.

Spoiler warning. The rest is “below the fold” (more…)

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Having read way-too-much politics and history lately, I needed a break and felt the urge for some classic science fiction. Andre Norton’s “The Star Born” fit the bill nicely.

Norton’s story begins as the tale of Dalgarth, a human teen on his coming-of-age trip with his “merman” (think large, humanoid otter) friend Ssuri. Humans are not native to this world, having come here centuries before after escaping a tyrannical government on Earth. Lacking what they needed to maintain their civilization, the “colonists” have retrogressed to a roughly Iron Age technology, but they do recall where they came from and why. On their new world, “Astra,” they made friends with the mermen, who communicate largely through telepathy. And, over the course of generations, humans began to develop similar abilities.

Problems arise for Dalgarth from two sources: first, he and Ssuri discover that the cruel “Those Others,” the former humanoid masters of Astra who destroyed their civilization in a global war and who genetically engineered the mermen and other races and used them for sport, have recovered on another continent and come to Dalgarth’s to reclaim their ancient and deadly technology. As Ssuri tells him, this could mean death for everyone else, including the humans.

The other problem comes from the arrival of a ship from Earth. The oppressive government was overthrown over a century before, but the war to do it was so devastating that Earth is only now recovered and re-entering space. The focus character here is the pilot, Raf Kurbi, who becomes our second main character.

The story lies not only in the defeat of “Those Others,” but also in the realization on both Dalgarth and Raf’s part that the humans of Astra and their cousins from Terra are no longer really the same people, that they are along different paths of development, and need to let time pass before they are again ready to meet.

I enjoyed this book, which I would rate for teens and young adults. The tech is by no means up-to-date (It was written in the early-mid 50s), but the themes are evergreen: exploration, friendship, and choices that have consequences. For gamers, Norton’s “Astra” makes a nice change from the standard pseudo-medieval worlds common in fantasy roleplaying games and is closer to the hobby’s actual literary roots.

Recommended as a pleasant diversion.

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Oh, my. This looks like it actually might be good:

“I am the Law!”

Love it.  😀

Courtesy of Duane Lester

 

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The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has (finally!) finished their movie version of Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness,” and the DVDs are almost ready to ship. In fact, you can pre-order and have it arrive in time for Christmas? And what better way to celebrate the holidays than by watching a movie about brain-stealing jumbo shrimp from outer space?

I knew you’d agree.

In the meantime, you can enjoy the trailers.

RELATED: Earlier posts on TWiD.

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I mean, someone has to invade the Earth!

They’re here

Exclusive: NASA Scientist Claims Evidence of Alien Life on Meteorite

We are not alone in the universe — and alien life forms may have a lot more in common with life on Earth than we had previously thought.

That’s the stunning conclusion one NASA scientist has come to, releasing his groundbreaking revelations in a new study in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology.

Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has traveled to remote areas in Antarctica, Siberia, and Alaska, amongst others, for over ten years now, collecting and studying meteorites. He gave FoxNews.com early access to the out-of-this-world research, published late Friday evening in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology. In it, Hoover describes the latest findings in his study of an extremely rare class of meteorites, called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites — only nine such meteorites are known to exist on Earth.

Though it may be hard to swallow, Hoover is convinced that his findings reveal fossil evidence of bacterial life within such meteorites, the remains of living organisms from their parent bodies — comets, moons and other astral bodies. By extension, the findings suggest we are not alone in the universe, he said.

“I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet earth,” Hoover told FoxNews.com. “This field of study has just barely been touched — because quite frankly, a great many scientist would say that this is impossible.”

If this research is borne out, it will also give ammunition to the argument in favor of the “seeding” theory of the origins of life: that life’s building blocks developed somewhere in space and were deposited here as the early Earth was pummeled by comets and meteorites. It could, of course, also be indicative of parallel development — similar processes on Earth and elsewhere leading to similar results.

Or it could all be cold fusion all  over again. That’s why I’m gratified to see Dr. Hoover and his associates using a very open and broad peer-review process to challenge and vet their theories. Hopefully, it will have the integrity lacking in the climate-science peer review scandal.

Mind you, I’m biased. As a guy who grew up reading science fiction, watching movies like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and TV shows like Star Trek (the original, natch), a universe with aliens  just seems much more fun than one in which we’re alone, in which “we’re it.”

Besides, they have to destroy Los Angeles.

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I’m a great fan of fantasy and science-fiction, much preferring it to “mainstream” fiction. Give me spaceships or wizards any day over the adventures of desperate suburban housewives or men trapped in a job they hate. So it struck me as odd the realize I had never read much of the work of a writer regarded as one of the greats of the Pulp era of “weird fiction,” Clark Ashton Smith. I’d of course seen him referred to in other works, such as Fritz Leiber’s “Our Lady of Darkness,” and knew that he was friends with one of my favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft, even contributing elements of Lovecraft’s bleak fictional universe, but I don’t recall ever actually reading Smith’s stories.

So it was, after reading several posts and comments full of effusive praise for Smith at James Maliszewski’s Grognardia blog and after mostly enjoying a small folio of three of his stories, that I decided to dive into the deep end and read a collection of what were regarded as his best stories, “The Return of the Sorcerer.”

My one-word review: Ugh.

Okay, okay. That requires some explanation.

The tales contained in Return… come from a time when the barrier between fantasy and science fiction wasn’t as strong as it is today, and so elements of both would often mix in a story, as in “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” or “The Chain of Aforgomon, both stories in Return… . That’s representative of the period and something I enjoy quite a bit. Burrough’s John Carter stories on Mars do the same and are quite a lot of fun.

However, two things ruin this collection for me: pathetic endings that break the rules of good storytelling and Clark’s language. That last is sure to be the most controversial assertion in this review, so I’ll deal with the question of endings, first.

There was a convention in weird fiction of the time that one could end a story, not with a real conclusion, but with an ending that the reader left wondering at the horror and… weirdness of it all. “Weird,” in the older, more poetic sense of things strange and unnatural, not that which leaves one puzzled and thinking “that’s weird.” Lovecraft often did that, and it mostly works fine. In the stories in Return… however, Smith often crosses over to the latter, ending a story with something that doesn’t leave one with a satisfying sense of wonder, but rather with the urge to throw the book across the room in frustration. Which is exactly how I felt at the end of “The Seven Geases:” the protagonist suffers a mors ex machina that literally had me saying “That’s it?” aloud. This is the worst example in the book, though several others had similarly unsatisfying endings.

But what really killed my enjoyment of Smith’s stories was Smith’s prose. This, I know, will be heresy to some, but it’s true. Smith was a poet and, as James observes in in an appreciation of Smith on the anniversary of his birth:

In particular, CAS reminds us of the power of words to transport us to other places and times and to induce in us feelings and moods. Smith began his literary career as a poet, which is why so many of his stories are better understood as prose poems rather than as narratives in the traditional sense. That’s not say that Smith’s stories are devoid of plot, but plot is often secondary to the evocation of emotion in the reader through the use of exotic language. Critics of Smith’s approach deem his vocabulary unnecessarily ornate and they would be correct if one were to indulge in a steady diet of such language. But, as a “palate cleanser,” such language is both useful and inspirational.

I’ll have to demur, with respect. Even in very small doses, I found Smith’s prose florid and often pretentious, indeed precious. Smith regularly indulges in circumlocutions that had me more than once muttering “Will you please get to the damn point.”  Perhaps that reflects a failing on my part as reader, an impatience that makes me ill-suited to Smith’s writings. It’s worth noting that I don’t often appreciate poetry, either. Others may well enjoy Smith prose — in fact, many do. In my defense, I offer my enjoyment of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, which often engaged in similar “purple prose.” Why I should like Lovecraft while reacting badly to Smith is a mystery to me; perhaps it has to do with discovering Lovecraft in my teen years and having fond memories from that time, whereas I came to Smith only recently and thus I wasn’t willing to “cut him some slack.” Maybe, but I still think Smith’s use of language is inordinately self-indulgent.

So, given I disliked Return… so much, was there anything I liked? Sure. Many of the stories, such as the aforementioned “Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” and the eponymous “The Return of the Sorcerer” contain great ideas for fans of roleplaying games, whether fantasy, science-fiction, or horror. Often I found myself being intrigued by a concept Smith introduced, but wishing it had been written by his contemporary, Robert E. Howard. And, should I ever again gamemaster a RPG campaign, I’ll surely come back to the tales in The Return of the Sorceror as an “idea mine.” But for enjoyable reading? No, not when the first word that comes to mind is “chore.”

Summation: Recommended with strong reservations.

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Awww… nuts! You mean I bought an auto-shotgun, chainsaw, and flamethrower for nothing? Dude!

Here’s one reason:

#6: They Can’t Take the Heat

It’s generally accepted by zombie experts that they’re going to continue to rot, even as they shamble around the streets. What the movies fail to convey, however, is the gruesome yet strangely hilarious effect the hot sun has on a rotting corpse.

The first concern is putrefaction. Thanks to the plethora of bacteria we use in our colon for digesting plant matter, called gut flora, our bodies are ripe for decay the second our heart stops. Since heat speeds the growth of bacteria (which are plenty happy to start feasting on you once your immune system is no longer a concern) the zombie’s got a looming expiration date the very second it turns.

Dead bodies bloat because of the gases created by the bacteria, meaning that in warmer areas even Abercrombie Zombies are going to start getting fat in the first few days. After a few weeks of this, the nasty, bloated zombie army is going to start doing something that is simultaneously the most awesome and disturbing thing a zombie can do: they will start exploding (CAUTION! Pictures!). The warm, moist conditions in the tropical and subtropical parts of the world (or even just summer in the temperate parts) speeds this condition, meaning a July zombie outbreak pretty much anywhere would be over in a few weeks just by virtue of the rampaging monsters bursting like rancid meat balloons.

Ew!!

Of course, in a world in which the dead rise and act  like Democrats, who says they have to obey the laws of physics and biology?

Better hang on to at least the shotgun…

h/t The Jawa Report

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I was sorely tempted these last few weeks to buy myself a Kindle as a Christmas present. Being a fan of screen space, I gravitated toward the 9.7″ Kindle DX. But… I decided it was too pricey for now*, so I passed.

I was sad. 😦

However, the gods at Amazon decided to take pity on me and ran a one-day sale yesterday on the 28-disc, boxed set of The Twilight Zone: The Complete Definitive Collection. How much of a sale, you ask? The MSRP is $299.99 and Amazon’s normal price is $243.49.

I snagged it for $93.99 — a 69% discount.

I call that an adequate consolation prize. 😀

*No promises about next week, though. I really, really, want a Kindle.

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A planet from another galaxy has been discovered in the Milky Way, orbiting a dying star:

Astronomers claim to have discovered the first planet originating from outside our galaxy.

The Jupiter-like planet, they say, is part of a solar system which once belonged to a dwarf galaxy.

This dwarf galaxy was in turn devoured by our own galaxy, the Milky Way, according to a team writing in the academic journal Science.

The star, called HIP 13044, is nearing the end of its life and is 2000 light years from Earth.

(…)

HIP 13044 is nearing its end. Having consumed all the hydrogen fuel in its core, it expanded massively into a “red giant” and might have eaten up smaller rocky planets like our own Earth in the process, before contracting.

The new Jupiter-like planet discovered appears to have survived the fireball, for the moment.

We’ve watched enough late-night science fiction movies to know what this means, don’t we, folks? They need our world!!

Fortunately, children in the UK are being prepared for alien search and destroy operations:

UK Schools Hold UFO Crash Drills

When Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang “Teach Your Children,” do you think they meant to instruct students on how to properly investigate UFO crashes?

Well, that seems to be a trend in some U.K. schools where UFO drills have been periodically staged over the past two years, according to Dateline Zero.

In a typical drill, a UFO crash incident is created, and police arrive to show 8- to 10-year-old pupils how to handle such a scenario, which includes gathering “wreckage,” and the students are encouraged to share and write about the experience.

Sure, this may seem like a harmless exercise to engage the imaginations of the kiddies and encourage them to practice their writing skills, but we know it’s not just a game.

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Either this is going to be one of the most fun movies, ever, or it is going to be really, really bad. And I can’t decide which.

You try:

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I changed the “What I’m reading” widget in the sidebar; I was distracted from Howard’s “Conan” by the arrival of a collection of the best stories of Clark Ashton Smith, “The Return of the Sorcerer.”

I’m enjoying it, but not as much as I had expected. While the stories are entertaining and the imagery vivid, Smith’s florid, purple prose doesn’t wear well with me. I regularly find myself thinking “Oh, get on with it, will you?”

And that’s odd, because I love the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, who also employed pretentious, magniloquent prose and greatly admired Smith. But, thinking about it, Lovecraft was my introduction to this genre of Pulp weird fiction in my teen years, so he’s always held a special place for me in my “literary heart.” Smith, on the other, hand, I’ve only just started seriously reading, so I have less patience with his endless exploration of his thesaurus.

Still, as my friend James Maliszewski has often remarked, Smith was also a source of wonderful ideas for roleplaying games. This much is undoubtedly true, based on what I’ve read so far. Should I ever run a game again, Smith may be a large influence.

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Here’s another trailer for the forthcoming The Whisperer in Darkness movie from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society:

I’m really looking forward to this. Their silent-movie rendering of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” was brilliant, and I fully expect this to be just as good.

Popcorn, Dr. Pepper, and Cthulhu. It just doesn’t get better than this. 😀

RELATED: The previous trailer.

(via Moe Lane)

 

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This has been making the rounds of the Internet lately; I think it’s very amusing and oddly appropriate. Not surprising, since silent movies were often melodramatic, and Star Wars is modern melodrama. Enjoy!

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Lovecraft on the Love Boat? Gopher meets a Great Old One on the high seas where hilarity ensues?

Or is this the true, sanity-blasting face of the 70s?

(via Moe Lane)

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Stephen Hawking is a certified genius and, when he says we shouldn’t want to talk to the space aliens, maybe we should listen:

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

Stephen’s a bit older than I, so he was probably raised on movies such as The Thing From Another World and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, just as I was. Or maybe a viewing of To Serve Man was all it took. Regardless, I’m glad to see he’s absorbed the subtle lessons contained in these documentaries disguised as science fiction….

Keep watching the skies! (Just be quiet while you’re doing it….) 😉

LINKS: Fausta is wary of aliens, too.

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blueseed-beyond

(The following is a review I posted at Netflix for Blue Seed: Beyond, the sequel to the wonderful anime Blue Seed.)

The original Blue Seed is my favorite anime; it has everything I like about the form, Blue Seed Beyond, however, doesn’t live up to its predecessor. These three episodes feel more like a coda or an epilogue –or even an afterthought– than a true continuation of the story of Momiji and the TAC.

The first two episodes tell the story of a reappearance of the arigami, only this time as a mad plot by a US scientist. (Blue Seed has always had a hint of Japanese nationalism to it.) While all the main characters appear, and we learn what has happened to most of them in the intervening two years, the story is quite rushed, especially in comparison to the pace of the original series.

The third episode is unrelated to the first two: the women of the TAC travel to a Japanese hot spring to enjoy the baths, and a terrorist plans to blow them up. The highlight for me comes when Kome, my favorite character, tracks the bad guy to his lair. Things go wrong and her reaction is typically “Kome.” The animation is good, though sometimes strange. At times, Kome looks like an identical twin to Momiji. The rest of the characters look mostly like themselves from the original series, however. The voice acting is adequate, though the English-language actor for Kusinagi just doesn’t compare to his predecessor.

It must be noted that this series give in far more to “fan service” than the original series: Momiji has grown from a flat chest to a very full “C” (thus killing one of her humorous anxieties from the first series), while all the women of the TAC regularly run around semi-nude. I’ve no objection to nudity or sexuality in anime, but this much feels out of place and, indeed, gratuitous in Blue Seed. Parents who let their kids watch the original series might want to preview these episodes.

Overall, for those who are new to Blue Seed, rent the original series first; it’s surprisingly good. For fans who have already seen the original, rent Blue Seed 2, but don’t expect too much.

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Come on, don’t act surprised. Of course someone like me, who grew up loving old science-fiction movies and Japanese anime, would feel his heart go pitter-pat at the thought of US war robots that feed on the dead:

A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.

Robotic Technology Inc.’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that’s right, “EATR” — “can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable,” reads the company’s Web site.

Now, if only they were giant war-robots….

(hat tip: Allahpundit)

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TargetEarth

I’m a life-long fan of Fifties science-fiction films, so I was surprised when Netflix suggested Target Earth: I had never seen or even heard of it. So, I put it in my queue, didn’t really expect much, and found myself very pleasantly surprised.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way, first: the alien robot is laughable, the situation stretches credulity to the breaking point, some of the dialog is right out of a 50s Civil Defense film, and the short length of the movie creates a few forced coincidences.

Granted all that, this is a very good movie. The set-up recalls some of the best Twilight Zones in its eeriness: a few people wake up to discover they’re the only ones left in a city that’s been evacuated overnight in the wake of an alien invasion. They find themselves trapped between an American Army growing desperate enough to use atomic weapons, alien hunter-killer robots — and a murderer on the lam! In the empty concrete jungle (downtown Los Angeles), the question they face is not only one of escape, but even of survival.

This movie works because it focuses much more on the dilemma of average people caught in a terrible situation than on the science-fictional aspects. The characters could have straight from any film noir of the period: the “regular Joe” from out of town who becomes a hero; the good-hearted heroine who needs rescue; the boozy blonde and her likeable lunk of a boyfriend; the desperate gangster; and even the little weasel “who gets it.” The acting is much better than what one would expect from a low-budget alien invasion flick, but the cast was composed of many fine studio contract players from that time, notably Richard Denning and Virginia Grey.

The only real problems I have are the cutaways to the military sequences and the showing of the killer robot. The first detracts from the isolation of the characters in the abandoned city, for we know help is on the way. We see the military trying to find a way to defeat the enemy, and we just know the scientists (lead by the great Whit Bissell) will find a way to defeat the aliens before we have to break out the a-bombs. It detracts from the horror inherent in the helplessness of the main characters. It would have been better to keep the military as distant figures from the main characters’ point of view and leave them (and the audience) to wonder if they’ll be killed in a crossfire, or if the military can even stop the invaders at all.

As for the robot itself, while it’s fun to see in a campy sort of way, it would have been better if it had only been shown via its shadow and in half-glimpses, never a full shot. The audience’s imagination can conjure monsters far more horrifying; again, the robot rather detracts from what could have been a five-star science-fiction/suspense/noir film. In both cases, however, these scenes are what movie-going fans of the time and genre would have expected.

In the end, however, I highly recommend Target Earth to all fans of science fiction’s first cinematic “golden age,” and to anyone interested in good low-budget film-making in general.

(Netflix allows only 300 words in a review, so I thought I’d post full-length original here. What is a blog but a vanity press, after all?)

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I have to give in to my Inner Little Kid for a moment and share what I got for Christmas. This is some neat stuff:

Books

Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals. Abe Lincoln is a deeply-felt hero to me, so I’m looking forward to reading this.

Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle. Part two of his Liberation Trilogy, this one covers the Allied campaign in Italy from 1943-44. His first book, An Army at Dawn, was brilliant; I have high expectations for this.

Jon Meacham’s American Lion, a biography of Andrew Jackson. I have ambivalent feelings about President Jackson: On the one hand, he was unstinting in his pursuit of a strong American nation and faced down early moves toward secession. On the other, he was a prime mover behind the Cherokee removal from Georgia, which can only be described as a crime of ethnic cleansing. I’ll be interested to see how Meacham weighs all these and other factors.

DVDs

Seasons three and eight of Stargate SG-1. One of my favorite shows, it’s a model for what an adventure series should be, science-fiction or not.

Star Wars Episode Four: A New Hope, containing both the wonderful original version and the bowdlerized revision. Han shot first!

The Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. A deep-inside joke from my sister, I had to laugh when I opened the package. I will have revenge.

Miscellany

A new and very needed wallet, a pen so heavy I could hurt someone with it, magnetic bookmarks, cards from friends and family, a Borders gift card, and some always welcome cash.

A nice haul indeed.

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