Book Review – Ancestral Night

I do enjoy a good Elizabeth Bear novel. Also I can’t remember ever reading a bad Elizabeth Bear novel, so I tend to pick them up when they come out these days.

Ancestral Night is no exception. It is a fine piece of space opera, which may well turn out to be the first book of a series set in the same universe as the Jacob’s Ladder books, but is perfectly serviceable as a stand-alone novel. If you’d like to learn a little more, click here.

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Introducing Modern Fairies

Many of my academic friends will know about this project already, but the rest of you will want to catch up too.

Modern Fairies is a collaboration between artists and academics to bring fairy tales into the 21st Century. That’s not re-writing and updating as you might get in a novel, but rather bringing back the stories and performances. The academics are providing the tales, and where necessary the translations from Old English and context. The artists are looking at narrating and performing these stories for a modern audience.

Phase 1 of the project has been a series of podcasts that introduce us to the major themes and stories. It addresses tales of people being kidnapped by amorous fairies, and fairies being kidnapped by humans; of changelings; of helpful fairies who assist the poor; and of loathly ladies who torment handsome knights. One of the presenters is Professor Carolyne Larrington who, in addition to being an expert on mediaeval literature, also wrote this fine book on the myth and history behind A Song of Ice & Fire.

Phase 2 is over to the artists, who will be putting on Fairy Gatherings around the country throughout the summer. There will be music and performance. One of the writers involved is Terri Windling.

And finally it will be back to the academics at the end of the year for a second series of podcasts looking back on what was done, and how it was received.

Look out, Britain. Fairies are coming to a town near you. And, dear Goddess, we could surely do with some right now.

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Maria Dahvana Headley in the Salon

Continuing my efforts to catch up on audio recordings, I have posted my interview with Maria Dahvana Headley, which I recorded when Maria was in Oxford talking about The Mere Wife to experts on Anglo Saxon literature. We did talk a bit about Oxford and Tolkien, but basically this was Maria & Cheryl Go On An Extended Feminist Rant. Some of this was on Ujima, but there’s around 50% more here because once we get going on such a rant we are pretty hard to stop. Enjoy.

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Fringe on Monday

I will be hosting BristolCon Fringe again on Monday. We have an excellent line-up. The readers will be George Mann and Anna Smith Spark. George will presumably be reading from his brand new Newbury & Hobbes novel, The Revenant Express. Anna has suggested that she might read some from her work in progress, The House of Sacrifice, if we ask very nicely (and presumably buy her some spikey shoes as a bribe).

As usual we will be upstairs at The Gryphon on Colston Street. Doors open at 7:00pm for a 7:30pm start.

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Slippered!

My interview on the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast is now live. It was specifically about the representation of trans people in SF&F, so obviously my essay in the above fine Luna Press book featured prominently. We did talk about a few other things as well, including talking more generally about feminism, and about Wizard’s Tower Press.

They don’t have embed links for the podcast, and anyway you will want the show notes, so click here.

My thanks to Lucy, Megan & Charlotte for a fun conversation.

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Book Review – The Raven Tower

Well, this is a new departure for Ann Leckie: a fantasy novel.

The good news, folks, is that it is a stand-alone fantasy novel. It is not book one in an interminable epic saga. But will it please fantasy fans? Will it please fans of Leckie’s science fiction? Oh, and it has a trans character as one of the main protagonists. I have opinions. You can read them here.

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It’s Nominatin’ Time

The deadline for submitting nominations for this year’s Hugos is on Friday. To help you on your way, here are a few things you might not have considered.

In the Lodestar, the brilliant Anna-Marie McLemore has a 2018 novel, Blanca & Roja.

In the Campbell I shall continue to keep my fingers crossed for K Arsenault Rivera. If she doesn’t win this year, Shefali & Shizuka may get a bit angry, and no one wants that.

For fan writer I want to put in a good word for Bogi Takács who has been doing a fine job in writing about fiction by trans authors. I’m also nominating Bogi in Editor: Short for Transcendent 3.

In Fancast I would suggest that you check out Breaking the Glass Slipper, which has done some very fine feminist work over the past year.

I am woefully out of touch with what is happening in fanzines, but when it comes to semiprozines I will always have a place on my ballot for Tähtivaeltaja.

I am equally clueless about art and art books. I see that there is a book of the art of Into the SpiderVerse, but artist friends tell me that such books generally have poor reproduction quality as they are intended to cash in on the movie, not sell to art lovers.

In Editor: Long I’m nominating Navah Wolfe who has done great work with writers such as Rebecca Roanhorse and Rivers Solomon.

Dramatic: Short will doubtless be full of Doctor Who episodes again, but I’m nominating “Man of Steel” from Supergirl, Season 4. It is a fine description of how circumstances can conspire to turn ordinary people into far-right extremists. Kara and the DEO are partly to blame, because they can’t be everwhere all the time.

Dramatic: Long is going to be a fabulous fight between Black Panther and Into the SpiderVerse, but please do’t forget Dirty Computer: The Emotion Picture. Also season 1 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is eligible. If it isn’t on your ballot, Catra and I will want to know why.

In Related Work I’d like to put in a good word for my pal Jason Heller’s Strange Stars, because we all need a book about the likes of David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix.

Series is a category that is still finding its feet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Emma Newman’s wonderful Planetfall books, and of course for Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire.

I don’t read much short fiction at all, but I do want to put in a good word for GV Anderson. “Waterbirds” is available on Lightspeed.

Novellas are a different matter these days. They are available as books, I’m reading a lot, and it is a hugely competitive category. Much as I love Murderbot, my top pick this year is The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark.

And finally, in Novel, I’m sure you are all nominating Space Opera and Blackfish City, but please don’t forget The Mere Wife. Also I’m going to be nominating The Green Man’s Heir, because any book that can sell over 8000 copies despite being published by me has to be a work of genius.

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Marvel Iconography

I went to see Captain Marvel today. I loved it for all sorts of reasons. I continue to be in awe of how Kevin Feige and crew manage the overall story arc. I enjoyed the glimpses of young Fury and Coulson. I can’t wait to see Monica in Endgame, which she surely has to be. Annette Bening totally stole the show. And of course there was Goose.

But there was one thing in particular that sticks out for me about the character. Captain Marvel’s symbol is an eight-pointed star. And she is accompanied by a particuarly dangerous cat. What’s that all about? Well here’s a clue.

By the way, Wonder Woman’s tiara originally sported a classic Texan five-pointed star. They changed it to an eight-pointed one for the movie. DC’s iconography is all over the place.

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Joanne Harris at FantasyCon

This is another interview I did at FantasyCon last year and subsequently used on Ujima. It is with Joanne Harris who, as she explains, is very much a fantasy writer no matter what bookshops might think.

Joanne and I talked about Norse myths, her new book, The Blue Salt Roads, fan fiction and who might play Loki if her books about him ever get filmed. We also discussed the Child Ballads, a collection of Scottish folk tales which have become a source for some of Joanne’s recent work.

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Book Review – The Ruin of Kings

The Ruin of Kings

For World Book Day I have something a bit special for you. I read a lot of fantasy debuts (Crawford award, remember?), but I have rarely seen one as sophisticated and assured as this one. It is, in many ways, a very traditional epic fantasy, but it is definitely not stale and hackneyed, despite the number of familiar notes that it hits.

Of course it does one thing that is absolutely guaranteed to get me excited. What can that be? Read the review to find out.

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Book Review – The Haunting of Tram Car 015

The Haunting of Tram Car 015

I do love the thing that Tor.com is doing with novellas. I adored The Black God’s Drums. P Djèlí Clark and his editor, Diana M Pho, will be on my Hugo ballot as a result. But that’s last year. This year we have The Haunting of Tram Car 015 which is delightful in a whole new way. It has trams, and djinn, and suffragettes, and strange Armenian candy. What’s not to like? The review is here.

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Today on Ujima – Marlon, Periods, Queer Film & IWD

I began today’s show with some extracts from Marlon James’ Tolkien Lecture. You can listen to the whole thing here.

The second segment was an interview with Chloe Tingle of No More Taboo, the period poverty charity. We talked about how Bristol is leading the way in tackling period poverty, about a course that Chloe will be running in Bristol next week, and about how a film about periods won an Oscar. If you want to go on the course, booking details are here.

In segment 3 I was joined in the studio by Harry Silverlock of the Palace International Film Festival, queer film festival which originated in Poland (in an actual mediaeval palace) and is coming to Bristol next week. It sounds like a really great event. I’m particuarly pleased with how diverse the selection of films is.

Finally I was joined by Lisa Whitehouse who has an International Women’s Day event on Saturday to promote. It is going to be at Hannah Moore Infants School on Saturday but there’s an issue with the Facebook presence right now so I can’t link to it. The most important think is that Lisa assures me it is trans-inclusive, unlike certain other IWD events I could mention.

You can listen to the whole show here.

The music today was largely devoted to remembering the great Jackie Shane who died peacefully in her sleep last month aged 78. It is good to know that some trans women of color can live long lives. Here’s the full playlist:

  • Jackie Shane – You Are My Sunshine
  • Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
  • Liane la Havas – Midnight
  • Santana – Flor D’Luna
  • Andy Allo – Angels Make Love
  • Jackie Shane – Money
  • Jackie Shane – I’ve Really Got the Blues
  • Jackie Shane – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
  • Jackie Shane – Any Other Way
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Book Reviews: Embers of War & Fleet of Knives

Bonus time: two for the price of one. As I was reviewing Gareth L Powell’s Fleet of Knives I figured I should go back and do Embers of War as well. It’s not like you can read book 2 of a trilogy without reading book 1 anyway.

So if you want to know more about what the publishers are hailing as being in the same league as Al Reynolds, Iain M Banks and Peter F Hamilton, go here for the review.

Or, you know, just look at these fine examples of space opera book covers.

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Tade Thompson at FantasyCon

I’m trying to make a conscious attempt to catch up on the enormous amount of audio I have stacked up waiting to be published. There are interviews I did at Worldcon in Helsinki that I ran on the radio but still haven’t put online. But before I get to those there are some slightly more up to date pieces that I should run before they become completely stale.

I’m starting with an interview that I did at FantasyCon at the end of last year. Tade Thompson is one of my favorite people to interview because he always has plenty to say, and is always in good humor even when he’s having a rant. This interview covers the success of Rosewater, the scariness of The Murders of Molly Southborne, and what it is like for black writers to live in a post-Black Panther world.

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Marlon James’ Tolkien Lecture

I spent Tuesday night in Oxford attending this year’s JRR Tolkien Memorial Lecture on Fantasy Fiction. This year’s guest lecturer was Marlon James, whose Black Leopard, Red Wolf I reviewed here. Along the way I got to catch up with many friends including Olivette Otele, Stephanie Saulter, and of course Juliet McKenna. (Green Man 2 is progressing well; thank you for asking.)

I was hoping to get an interview with Marlon for Ujima, but sadly his schedule was too packed. However, I did get to chat with him briefly. We talked mostly about the X-Men. If anyone at Marvel is reading this, you need to get him to write for you. Seanan, Nnedi, please put in a good word for him.

The lovely folks at Pembroke have now posted the video of the lecture, so you can get to enjoy Marlon as well. I hope you find him as erduite and entertaining as I did.

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Classics Evolves

My final LGBT History Month event of 2019 was one that I was not speaking at. It was organised by my good friends Jana Funke and Jen Grove from the University of Exeter to celebrate the launch of their new book, Sculpture, Sexuality and History. It is a niche interest, but it does overlap with the history of robots as fictional entities. I need to read it for a talk I am giving later this year.

As part of the festivities, Jana & Jen invited three graduates students to give a seminar. They provided three great papers.

Rebecca Mellor talked about secret collections of “erotic” objects at museums, and how a museum makes the decision to class something as erotic. Interestingly the decision can often depend far more on who donated the object than on what it looks like.

Mara Gold’s talk was about how Western lesbians from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries used references to Sappho and Ancient Greek culture in general as code for their sexuality. I learned a lot. I had no idea that Hope Mirlees and Sylvia Townsend Warner were lesbians. And there’s another person who deserves a whole blog post of her own.

Finally we had Georgina Barker who talked about the Russian poet, Elena Shvarts, whose Sappho-influenced work scandalised mid-20th Century USSR. That’s less of interest to me, but Georgina and I spent quite a bit of time chatting about Scythians, who also fall into the Russia-Classics crossover.

On getting home I found email inviting me to view a colloquium on Diversifying Classics at the College of Charleston. South Carolina is perhaps not the place that would immediately spring to mind when considering progressive views of the Classics, but it turns out that it is an excellent event. The whole thing is available on Farcebook.

Rebecca Futo Kennedy talked about how the idea of “Western Civilisation” was invented by white people in the 19th Century. This is particularly ironic because at the time both Greeks and Italians tended to get views as “black”.

Arum Park talked about the need for women and people of color to revisit translations of ancient works. The white male bias that the likes of Emily Wilson and Maria Dahvana Headly have identied in translations of The Odyssey and Beowulf respectively are starting to look like the tip of a very large iceberg.

Nandini Pandey talked about the multicultural nature of the Roman Empire and what we can learn from how Rome went about encouraging multiculturalism. I think she let Polemo and the Physionomists off a little lightly on the origins of racism, but other than that she too was great. Romans and Greeks, of course, were Mediterranean people and thus compared themselves to those lighter skinned than themselves as well as those darker. They tended to assume that they were a perfect mixture of the two extremes. A good example is Vitruvius who was an architect. He wrote about how climate affected both building requirements and the people who lived in different parts of the world. According to him (Book 6, Chapter 1) people from hot climates tend to be smart but cowardly, while those from cold climates tend to be stupid and brave.

The final talk by Jim Newhard is also good, but it primarily of interest to people who work in Classics departments.

And finally, while I was watching Dr. Pandey’s talk my Twitter feed threw up links to New Classicists, a very interesting new journal run by post-grad students at Kings, London.

It is great to see Classics doing all of this stuff. Much of it is, of course, prompted by the likes of Steve Bannon and Boris Johnson using the ancient world to prop up their white surpremacist ideas, but it needs doing anyway. Also the more we can learn about the ancient world beyond the narrow confines of Greece and Rome the better. The Roman Empire’s trading links were extensive and all of the cultures that they met, conquered or traded with deserve study too.

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The HFRN 2019 Conference

As Twitter followers will be aware, I spent a couple of days in Manchester last week attending the Historical Fiction Research Network Annual Conference. This is a brief report of what went down.

First of all, what is HFRN? Well, it is a network for people interested in historical fiction. It welcomes authors, historians, and academics who study historical fiction. I think I kind of qualify on all three.

HFRN is currently run by Farah Mendlesohn, which means it is ferociously efficient, and also very friendly to people with special access needs, and special dietary needs. Kudos this year is also due to Jerome de Groot who secured Manchester Central Library as the venue. It is a spectacular building, and perfectly located right on St. Peter’s Square. Given that this year is the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, which took place in that very square, the venue was entirely appropriate, as was the conference’s focus on themes of resistance and rebellion.

Attendees came in a wide range of countries. There were Americans, Australians and people from all over Europe. I got in on the Thursday night and spent the evening chatting to a couple of academics from Stockholm.

Friday began with a keynote speech from Josie Gill of Bristol University. Josie has been engaged in a project called Literary Archaeology that brought together archaeologists and creative writers to explore the lived enviromnent of African slaves in the West Indies. Some of the writers involved included my friend Edson Burton, and the brilliant poet, Vanessa Kisuule.

Interestingly Josie’s talk reminded me a lot of the issues involved in doing trans history. Some slaves did leave behind narratives, but their freedom to write about their lives was generally heavily constrained by the fact that they could only be published by white-run publishers, and for a white audience. Their output therefore tended to be tailored to the white gaze, in much the same way that trans memoirs have been tailored to the cis gaze. One of the goals of the project was to try to free slave narratives from those strictures.

Later that morning I got to chair a panel that included a paper by Jonathon Ball, a young man from New South Wales whose research is on the use of historical fiction in LGBT activism. As you can imagine, this was right up my street. My apologies to Jonathon and the rest of the audience if I somewhat monopolised discussion.

Also on Friday I heard a paper by two friends from Latrobe University in Melbourne. Catherine Padmore and Kelly Gardiner were talking about fictionalised biographies written by Australian writers. One of those was Half Wild, a book about the life of the Australian trans man, Harry Crawford, written by Pip Smith.

Given the current atmosphere surrounding trans issues, and the obvious opportunities for mischief-making (Crawford was convicted of murdering his wife) I feared the worst. However, it sounds from what Catherine and Kelly tell me that Smith has done a decent job. I will be interested to hear what any trans men who have read the book think of it.

I gave my paper on Saturday morning. It was a new version of my steampunk talk, updated to include the brilliant P Djeli Clark. The slides are available on Academia.edu.

In the same session was a paper by Nic Clear from Newcastle University about Le Corbusier as a science fiction writer. I know next to nothing about architecture, but the idea that avant garde city designers are in fact writing science fiction makes a lot of sense to me.

Possibly my favorite paper of the weekend was Blair Apgar talking about the amazing Matilda di Canossa. This woman lived in Tuscany in the 11th Century. She ruled her own lands, had her own army, and was instrumental in forcing the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, to submit to the authority of Pope Gregory VII.

Matilda’s story was largely forgotten in later centuries, as often happens with women rulers. However, Pope Urban VIII grew up in the region of Italy that Matilda once ruled and was apparently taken with the local legend of the woman ruler. He had Matilda’s body kidnapped and taken to Rome where he had her re-buried in St. Peter’s Basilica. There’s a large statue by Bernini on her tomb.

I confess to having bunked off for much of Saturday afternoon to watch rugby. It was so worth it! Victories over the English are always welcome, but more so when they are unexpected.

Next year’s conference will be held in Salzburg. We are moving to Europe because of the uncertainly surrounding Brexit and in particular the difficulty that foreign academics find in getting visas to come to the UK. That will only get worse, probably much worse, after we leave the EU.

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Book Review – The City in the Middle of the Night

I’m having a sick day today, having acquired a slight cold. All I had out in the world today were a couple of meetings, both of which can do without me, and both of whose attendees will doubtless be grateful not to be given any germs. The upside of this is that I have been able to read and write.

So firstly you are getting a review of the new Charlie Jane Anders novel, The City in the Middle of the Night. It is a fascinating book that I expect to see people writing political analyses of in the near future. You can find that review here.

I have also finished the new Gareth L Powell novel, Fleet of Knives. That will be harder to review because it is the middle volume of a triology, but I’ll get onto that next.

Twitter followers will know that I have also read the new Guy Gavriel Kay book, A Brightness Long Ago. I have written a review of that, but I’m sitting on it for a while as the book isn’t due out until May.

And currently I am reading The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by one of my favorite new writers, P. Djèlí Clark. I need to have read that one before giving a paper on decolonising steampunk later this week.

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An Ireland Adventure

This year’s invitations to do talks for LGBT History Month included one from Queen’s University, Belfast. I’d never been to Belfast before, and had a friend who teaches at the University who was able to put me up for the night (thanks Danielle!) so I said yes. It turned out that the cheapest way to get there was to fly to Dublin and head north from there, hence this little travel adventure.

Thursday started badly with heavy fog over Darkest Somerset. When I got to Bristol airport flights appeared to be coming and going OK, but mine wasn’t. I think the problem was that the likes of a 757 were OK, but the little turbo prop that Aer Lingus was using for my flight was too small to risk it.

I got re-booked on a later flight, but there was no time to fulfil my plan of going into Dublin and catching the train to Belfast. Instead I booked myself on an express bus from Dublin airport to Belfast. Thanks to Jon Turney for the travel advice. I normally travel very badly on buses, but this one was motorway pretty much all the way to Belfast. I actually ended up feeling much more sick on the short hop from plane to terminal at Dublin because we had a shuttle bus driver who thought he was in a rally.

The other reason I survived the bus trip was that I slept most of the way. I woke up when we got to Ulster and started making stops. We arrived in Belfast just before 17:00 and looking at the traffic I figured we’d be stuck, but there is a secret bus-only route that takes you right into the city centre. I’m impressed, Belfast.

By the way, that did mean that I was asleep when we crossed the border. There was no passport check at any point on the journey. That ease of travel will probably go away post-Brexit.

Having made it to Belfast on time, I did my talk. Huge thanks to the lovely students in the Queens LGBT+ group. We also had a great meal at a local Nepalese restaurant. There seems to be plenty of good eating in Belfast.

On Friday morning I was able to check out the trains. I caught a commuter service from where I was staying into the city, then the Enterprise down to Dublin.

It is worth noting that the main station for Belfast city is Great Victoria Street. However, the Enterprise leaves from Lanyon Place which is smaller and in a commercial/industrial district. The bus station is next to the Great Victoria Street station.

It is also worth noting that the train is much more expensive than the bus. I paid £30 for a Belfast-Dublin ticket on the train, and €8 for a Dublin-Belfast single on the bus. Of course I my case I can work on the train. On a bus I can only sleep or be sick. So the extra cost is worth it. Also the train has free wifi and a food & drink service, which the bus does not. The journey time is about 2 hours on the train. It is also 2 hours from Dublin airport to Belfast, because the airport is north of Dublin right on the motorway. If you get the bus from central Dublin you need to add at least an extra half hour to get out of the city.

There were no passport checks on the train either. I knew when I crossed the border because my phone told me that I had switched from a UK service to a (free) roaming provider. The free roaming will go way after Brexit too.

The other way that you can tell whether you are in Ulster or the Republic is the signage. In the Republic it is all dual-language. In Ulster it is defiantly English-only.

Having got to Dublin I spent an hour or two wandering around taking photos of things of interest close to the convention center where Worldcon will take place in August. I tweeted the photos, and you can find the thread here.

I also got into a lengthy conversation with a lovely Croatian woman who was working at the Tourist Information Office in Dublin. She gave me a lot of advice about places to visit (most importantly whiskey distilleries). But I’m saving that up for another post.

Thankfully my trip home was a lot smoother than the outward leg.

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Book Review – Black Leopard, Red Wolf

It seems like a long time since I did one of these things. I got out of the habit while I was on the Tiptree jury because I wasn’t allowed to review any submissions. Hopefully I can get back into the habit again. Certainly I have a lot of great books that I want to tell you about.

Reviewing Black Leopard, Red Wolf was a little complicated because there’s so much I would love to ask Marlon James about the book. There’s not a lot of information about African culture available online. I’m hoping to get a word or two with him when he gives the Tolkien Lecture in Oxford next week, but as the book appears to have been released a couple of weeks early in ebook I figured I should get something out there.

Anyway, there may be a follow-up once I know more. In the meantime, the book is out there, and it is a lot of fun (unless you are a homophobic white surpemacist, in which case what are you doing reading my blog?). For the review, click here.

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