What have you read recently?

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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 9:42pm on 14 Oct 17

The Darwath Trilogy: The Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air, and The Armies of Daylight, by Barbara Hambly

I got the ebook version of the omnibus a while back along with The Sunwolf and Starhawk trilogy, but I have only just got around to reading it. The print versions have been in my library since they were first published, but it’s been a while since I read them.

A couple of modern Americans (as of the original publication date - 1982!) are drawn into a parallel fantasy world beset with Lovecraftian monsters. Here they discover themselves - retiring scholar Gil(lian) Patterson becomes an expert swordswoman and joins the Royal Guard and body-shop paint artist Rudy Solis becomes the lover of the (supposedly) widowed Queen and discovers himself to be a mage.

The story line has stood the test of time pretty well, although I can see some Mary Sue elements in the Gil Patterson character (but they’re not particularly blatant). Equality is something of a theme - both sexual and racial, with a monolithic religion (complete with a female bishop and an Inquisition) being a secondary source of conflict against the primary source of conflict - the struggle for survival against The Dark.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 8:02pm on 16 Oct 17

Mother of Winter, book 4 of the Darwath series, by Barbara Hambly

Set 5 years after the events of the original series, more disasters happen to the survivors of the Rising of the Dark. It looks like some ancient mages are bringing about 'snowball' Earth to raise the Mother of Winter, a being from the dawn of time, predating the Dark. Gil and and the mage Inglorion travel south to Alketch to try and prevent this, leaving Rudy holding the fort back at the Keep.

I can't help thinking that there is a plothole wide enough to take a 12-carriage train sideways in this series - if Inglorion is able to create portals and cross the Void to other worlds, why on earth doesn't he do that with the survivors? It's got to be better than grubbing around in an incipient Ice Age...

Either way, a well written installment. Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 7:53pm on 18 Oct 17

Vallista (bk 15 of the Vlad Taltos series), by Steven Brust

Seriously weird. Vlad gets trapped in a manor which has pathways to the past, the Halls of Judgement, and probably the future. The spatial geography of the manor is also skewed. He is supposed to rescue Devera who has been trapped there. Although told in a straight-forward style, the shifts in time made the story-line rather confusing, especially as it took Vlad time to figure out exactly what was going on.

Not much advancement in the meta-plot of the series, but it gives insight into House Vallista and the Demon Goddess' machinations into the creation of the Dragaeran Empire.

Probably not recommended unless you know the rest of the series, but if you do, you'll want it.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 7:10pm on 22 Oct 17

Icefalcon’s Quest (Darwath bk 5), by Barbara Hambly

Oddly, I don’t remember this one at all, and thinking back I don’t remember Mother of Winter either. I suspect that both ended up in a TBR pile and got slotted into the library in a tidy-up and never got read (mostly because the library tended to be hard to access back in the old house).

Set about 2 years after Mother of Winter, the 7-year old King Tir is kidnapped by Bektis the Mage and a group of renegade Alketchians. The banished White Raider, Icefalcon, sets out to rescue him, a journey which takes him back to his roots among the White Raiders, and ends up in a forgotten Keep buried in the ice of the North.

The usual well-written story by Hambly, this concludes the main Darwath series, although there are 3 self-published novellas available from the usual sources (unfortunately expensive for 50+ pages).

I enjoyed the story, although I thought it the weakest of the sequels to the original trilogy. The trouble with revisiting earlier worlds is the law of dimishing returns - once you’ve defeated the big bad, the only thing left is to defeat a bigger bad - which is what Mother of Winter involved. Here, the focus was on search and rescue - and although there was a big bad to defeat, it was human in scale and not world-spanning.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 1:12pm on 23 Oct 17

A Summer in Amber, by C Litka

A self-published book from Amazon, which looked intriguing enough to try out. Despite the occasional infelicities of spelling and grammar, the story was compelling enough to keep me engaged.

36 years after a combination of global warming and solar activity triggered the ‘Storm Years’ wrecking 21st century technology and causing the global population to collapse, a Cambridge post-doctoral student is trapped into spending a summer transcribing a set of research notes for a Scottish peer. The peer’s grandfather apparently developed a way to transmit electricity wirelessly and losslessly but the lab was badly damaged when the first of the ‘Storms’ hit. 36 years later, the notes have been found, albeit badly damaged by water and mice.

The story is told in the form of a series of diary entries as the post doc settles into the remote Highland estate where he is to work and interacts with the locals and the family.

An odd combination of sci-fiction and suspense, well worth the read.

Note: the author has 4 books up on Amazon; this one and 2 others are currently free: https://www.amazon.co.uk/C.-Litka/e/B00 ... players-21

The prequel to this one is 99p.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby Dom » 12:55pm on 05 Nov 17

Time for the latest update...

# Books in October 2017
A fair bit of gaming reading[^1] this month has eaten into the available time. That, along with Furnace and family weekends. That said, I’ve passed through the target of 52 books that I set myself on Goodreads this year.

## *Nightblind* (Ragnar Jónasson)
The second of the Dark Iceland sequence. This continues the story of a young Police Officer, recently passed over for promotion in favour of one of his colleagues. All of a sudden, the colleague is shot, and the town comes under the spotlight from the media as firearm related crimes are rare. Against this backdrop, the investigation continues, set against a backdrop of the normalcy of life, and the challenge of relationships. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first book, but I liked it enough that I will read the third.

## *The Furthest Station* (Ben Aaronovitch)
The latest entry in the PC Grant series, this one is a novella rather than a comic book or a full length novel. Grant is drawn north, following up reports of hauntings on the Underground. His cousin tags along as Nightingale thinks that giving a nearly 16 year old with the potential for magic an internship is a good idea. This was fun, but it never really got going in the way that the novels do. In that respect it was a little disappointing. However, it was nice to touch base with all the familiar characters again.

## *Blackout* (Ragnar Jónasson)
Set after the recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland, this is the third in the series, but second in the timeline. A construction worker building a tunnel to the town that the protagonist works as a police office in is killed, and the story follows the investigations of both the police and a journalist. Dark secrets from the past are revealed before the police have their murderer, but was the act really a cruel one? I will be reading the fourth in the series, but someday I need to find a book with happier stories about Iceland.

## *The Corporation Wars: Emergence* (Ken MacLeod)
The final part of MacLeod’s latest trilogy; the conflict between the AI of the Direction, the AI of the Discorporates, the human minds stored and upload into combat mechanoids and the free Robots (those that have evolved AI naturally) escalates to a conclusion which while satisfying verges on confusing. There are multiple factions, and alliances shift, and the references change from the ‘real’ world to simulations. The story wraps up more quickly and simply than I expected, but it fits well with the preceding plot. I enjoyed this series, but find myself wanting to know more about the backstory.


[^1]: The new Paranoia RPG, Swordfish Isles, November Metric, Coriolis and more.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby Peanut » 2:44pm on 06 Nov 17

And finished all the Dresden Files books. When is the next one due? :D

Now going to read some RPG books.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 8:58pm on 06 Nov 17

The Boundary Magic trilogy: Boundary Crossed (1), Boundary Lines (2), and Boundary Born (3), by Melissa F Olsen

Part of the October monthly deal, these were 99p each. They looked interesting, so I took the plunge. Basically, they're an urban fantasy towards the paranormal romance end of the spectrum, but without the usual smut. Iraq War veteran Allison 'Lex' Luther is trying to fit back into her life Stateside after her medical discharge following the death of her platoon in an IED. Having died several times on the operating table (just how many levels of 'hard to kill' was that???), she's returned to her wealthy family, and is working night shift in a dead end job (the only assistance she accepted was the gift of a family cabin outside town as she found living in town triggered PTSD).

The series starts with her working a night shift and encountering two kidnappers trying to buy nappies for a baby - who turns out to be Lex's niece... Cue mayhem as Lex rescues her niece, dying again in the process. It turns out that Lex is a boundary witch - the boundary being the one between life and death - and is insanely powerful. She is introduced to the local supernatural community - the vampires and the witches (the other supernaturals - the werewolves - had been driven out some years previously), and takes service with the local vampire community to protect her niece who turns out to be a null - a person in whose presence other magic does not work. She is supposed to be trained by the local witch clan, who consider boundary witches to be an abomination, and is working with a vampire enforcer who she is attracted to.

The second book deals with another supernatural woken by someone boosting magic, and the third book deals with Lex's birth family. (Lex and her sister were adopted, and nothing was known about their family, their mother dying in childbirth).

I didn't have any high expectations for these, but they were not bad. I did think at the end of the first book that the reason Lex survived the IED that killed the rest of her platoon by unconsciously draining the life force from her comrades, but it turned out not. Otherwise, there were no great plot twists. I'd call the books workmanlike, but not worth paying full price for.

The Mark of Ran, book 1 of The Sea Beggars, by Paul Kearney

An epic fantasy, but not the usual pseudo-medieval setting. It's more Age of Enlightenment; and is a maritime fantasy. Rol Cortishane is raised by his grandfather and 2 golems on an isolated island in the archipelago that is the world. He flees when his grandfather and the golems are slaughtered by the islanders and ends up working for a magus and learning the art of murder. After the magus' death, he ends up on the high seas. Shipwrecked after a storm, his surviving crew mates are taken for pirates and executed, and he flees to the Hidden City - the pirate stronghold. Defending the city from attack, he becomes a pirate in truth.

This was projected to be a 4-book series, but was cancelled shortly before book 3 was completed. Unfortunately, the rights are being held by the original publisher who refuse to let anyone take over the series - or publish it as ebooks. I have owned this for many years in paperback, and have reread it on the occasion of finally acquiring book 2 in hard copy.

Very enjoyable; I liked it when I first read it, and liked it as much on re-reading. The maritime setting and the Age of Enlightenment technology make it an unusual read; magic is low key and is more connected with supernatural creatures - of whom Rol Cortishane is one although he looks entirely human.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 10:09pm on 13 Nov 17

A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer

I’ve owned most of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in paper form for many years now, and they’re something of a comfort read for me. I’m slowly collecting the Kindle editions as they appear in various deals. They’re light and undemanding, and as Heyer was something of an expert on Regency England the plots and the dialogue ring true unlike many so-called historical romances which read more like 20th century women in fancy dress (quite apart from the gratuitous sex). This one is one of my favourites.

Set in 1814 & 1815, Adam Deverill has to return urgently to England from the Peninsular following the sudden death of his father, Vicount Lynton, in a hunting accident. The family are in dire financial straits, and Adam has to try and ensure his sisters don’t suffer. He is in love with Julia Oversly, the daughter of a neighbour, but in truth he cannot support a wife - it’s likely he will have to sell the family estates. However, a different course is proposed to him: marry Jenny Chawleigh, the only child of a very vulgar but fabulously wealthy Cit and he can keep his estates and provide for his sisters in the bargain.

The story covers about 18 months, and ends just after Waterloo. Adam and Jenny must come to understand each other, deal with Mr Chawleigh who is inclined to ride rough-shod over everyone, and deal with Adam’s family. An arranged marriage matures into contentment and love, if not the passion Adam felt for Julia.

Recommended.

White Hot Hidden Legacy Bk 2, by Ilona Andrews

The sequel to Burn for Me. Set about 6 months later, Nevada Baylor accepts a contract to investigate the murder of some lawyers from one of the bereaved husbands. Connor Rogan turns up again in Nevada’s life, and it turns out that the people behind the events in Burn for Me are involved in this crime.

Nevada discovers she is a Prime - she is one of the rarest of talents, a truthsayer. It turns out that her late father was the son of a truthsayer, and all three of his children are Primes. As a result, Nevada can set up as a House - which will be necessary as her paternal grandmother wants to force Nevada to join her house by threatening her family. She and Connor finally enter into a relationship.

I like the world-building in this series, it’s more believable than most paranormal romances. The book starts setting up the backstory for the concluding volume; I got given a Kobo credit which paid for this one, so I might actually pay full price for Book 3.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 11:21pm on 15 Nov 17

The Paladin, by CJ Cherryh

A re-read for me, I've owned a paperback copy for many years, but recently acquired the ebook version.

A pseudo-Oriental low fantasy that's well worth reading.

An aging warlord is living the life of a hermit having retreated from politics after the death of his childhood sweetheart who was married to the Imperial Heir by order of the old Emperor, and executed for adultery along with the Regent after the death of the old Emperor. Greedy and self-seeking men have seized power, and rule in the young Emperor's name even though the regency should have ended.

A peasant girl comes and disturbs his solitude, seeking revenge on one of the Regent's cronies who has killed her lord and her brothers. She persuades the warlord to train her in the arts of war and swordsmanship in exchange for acting as his servant. The warlord would prefer her to share his bed but she refuses and he is too honourable to force the matter although he thinks it would be best for her in the long run to give up the desire for revenge and become a wife and mother, if not a nun. (Although not explicitly stated, it's likely she was raped on her journey across the Empire and fears intimacy.)

The first half of the book deals with her training and the growing attraction both have for each other. It's quite slow-moving - it covers the period of about 2 years. The pace picks up dramatically in the second half when the couple leave their retreat and head to exact retribution on the Regent's crony. On the way, they manage to raise the provinces to rebel and attack the capital and the Regent, and against all odds, they succeed in destroying the Regency.

At the time, it read like a breath of fresh air amid the reams of pseudo medieval high fantasies in vogue at the time. Re-reading it after the space of a couple of decades, the relationship between the warlord and the peasant girl now comes across as a bit pervy given the age difference between the two, but there is a historical precedent in the age difference given that many women died in childbed, and were 'replaced' after a suitable period of mourning. Oddly, it's not the first book I've read recently with the same plotline - Hambly's Darwath series springs to mind, and Peter S Beagle's In Calabria.

Recommended
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 11:06pm on 30 Nov 17

Simon R Green’s Hawk & Fisher series, collected into 2 volumes:
The Swords of Haven, comprising Hawk & Fisher, Winner Takes All, and The God Killer
The Guards of Haven, comprising Wolf in the Fold, Guard Against Dishonour, and The Bones of Haven

I originally got the print editions way back in the day and enjoyed them enough to still have the paperbacks, so when I cames across the Kindle omnibuses working out at about £2.20 per individual book, I grabbed them. Well, I sort of wish I hadn’t; I still enjoyed them, but I enjoyed them far more when I originally read them. There’s several reasons - the writing now seems rather repetitive (although that may be because I read them back-to-back rather than dipping in and out), I no longer find violence very attractive especially when it is the focus of the storyline, and in some ways I find the stories simplistic.

Hawk and Fisher are a husband and wife who are exiles from the Northern Kingdoms and have ended up in the city of Haven in the Low Kingdoms where they have joined the City Guards. Haven is a Sanctuary-like cesspit of a port city with Dickensian squalor and poverty contrasting with aristocratic wealth and privilege in a Medieval society. H&F are about the only uncorrupted Guards on the force, and the six books deal with various cases set more or less sequentially. The books are stand-alone, although some references in the later books may not make much sense without having read the earlier books. There are also references to the Forest Kingdoms series; and it’s likely H&F are the hero and heroine from Blue Moon Rising.

All the stories are fantasy murder/mysteries; magic takes the place of science, gods have a real presence, and technology is Medieval, and society is Dickensian. Although there’s nothing explicit, it’s possible this is an alternative timeline or a far enough ahead future where society and technology have regressed and magic has returned (the mention of Christianity as one of many religions makes me think this).

These are an OK read, but they do come with a warning about the blood and guts violence (literally). One thing they don’t include is sex; it’s there, but it forms no part of the plotlines.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby Dom » 7:53pm on 02 Dec 17

# Books in November 2017
Reading this month has suffered a little from the *Stranger Things* effect - catching up on two series of that excellent show has eaten into available time.

## *Provenance* (Ann Leckie)
A new novel set in the same universe as her first trilogy[^1], this story takes up the tale of a young woman from a politically influential family who has just spent her life’s savings breaking out someone sentenced to ‘Compassionate Removal’, a form of prison from which no-one every returns. She does this to try and secure her position in the future, but the plan does not go as expected.

I enjoyed the story[^2], although it was a little slow to start with. It showcased different parts of the Imperial Radch universe to the Ancillary trilogy. I certainly would like to revisit the universe again.

[^1]: The ‘Ancillary’ books.
[^2]: I think that the [Adam Roberts review](https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/ ... ry-justice "Ann Leckie review in Guardian") of this in the Guardian is a touch unfair, perhaps because of the commercial success that the previous books had.


## *Grandville: Force Maejure* (Bryan Talbot)
This is the (sadly) final instalment of the lusciously illustrated set of graphic novels featuring Inspector LeBrock of the Yard. Set in a world of anthropomorphised animals that parallels our own, LeBrock, a working class detective, the best in the Police forces becomes embroiled in foiling a gangland war. I loved this and read it in one sitting; I heartily recommend the whole series.

## *Ashes of Berlin* (Luke McCain)
Set in 1947, this is the third of the books featuring Reinhardt, a German Police Officer. This story sees him back in Berlin, working in in the Kripo when he gets involved in a double murder investigation which soon escalates to bring in the conflicts between the four powers. Unlike the previous novels (which were set in the Balkans during the war), this has a different feel. Sponsored by the Americans for his job, Reinhardt is seen as both a dinosaur and at odds with the Soviet influenced Police force. However, he’s one of the most experienced detectives and one of the few who follows due process. He has to face his own demons as the investigation starts to shine a light onto the scramble of the various Allies to gain control of personnel, technology and records developed by Nazi Germany[^3]. The ending went a different way to I anticipated, and it was excellent. Sadly, just like the *Grandville* book, this is the last of the series.

[^3]: Like the ‘Station’ novels, this book is worth reading if you ever want to run the ’Cold City’ RPG.

## *Austral* (Paul McAuley)
Dedicated to the memory of his wife, Georgina, who died unexpectedly earlier this year, this is Paul McAuley’s latest. Set in Australia once global warming has brought about sea level rise, it tells the story of Austral Morales Ferrado, a genetically edited human, adjusted to survive in low temperatures. Geo-engineering has failed to hold back climate change, suffering from the same short term political will that prevented the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The ice is retreating, and the Antarctic Peninsula has become an independent Republic.

Austral is a child of the last generation of ecopoets[^4], despised and discriminated against because of her ‘husky’ heritage. Orphaned at a young age, she fell into crime, served time but now works as a corrections officer in the labour camps that are used to drive development of the peninsula. An opportunity presents itself and she ends up kidnapping her teenage cousin, the child of a neoconservative politician who refused to acknowledge her side of the family, looking for a ransom and a way out of the Antarctic to somewhere that she won’t face the same discrimination.

I enjoyed this book; it blends an interesting thought exercise on the consequences of adapting to global warming with a kidnapping and deeper history of friction between two branches of a family. It’s not McAuley’s best, but it is different and interesting and held my attention all the way through for a late night finish.

[^4]: Interestingly, my spellcheck tries to change that to ‘cop-outs’. The Ecopoets tried to address global warming by adapting species to build new ecosystems in the face of climate change. They became outlawed and exiled.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 6:11am on 10 Dec 17

To Reign in Hell, by Steven Brust

Like many of Brust’s earlier works, I’ve owned the physical book for many years but haven’t re-read it for almost as long. With an introduction by Roger Zelazny, it certainly bore re-reading.

However, I would say that you need to have some passing familiarity with Milton, given the subject: the ‘revolt’ of Satan. I say ‘revolt’ rather than revolt as the story treats it as a series of misunderstandings and betrayal rather than an active rebellion as most would describe it, and Satan and his allies are treated rather more sympathetically than Yaweh and his allies.

Fans of Brust will enjoy finding the Devera reference, although there is no overt connection to Dragaera (but how cacoastrum and illiaster work may be linked to the Dragaeran Chaos magic, and the references to the artifacts of the senior angels may be a call-out to Dragaeran Great Weapons).

Enjoyable, but probably not to everyone’s taste given the subject.

Frederica, by Georgette Heyer

An enjoyable Regency romance. The even tenor of the Marquis of Alverstoke’s life is rudely disrupted when some poor relations come to London for the season and he takes them up to get back at his miserly sister who wants him to bankroll her plain daughter’s come-out.

The usual descriptions of upper class life in the ton are enlived by the Merrivale family’s antics: Frederica and her beautiful younger sister Charis are accompanied by their younger brothers, Jessamy and Felix, and Jessamy’s dog, Lufra (the ‘Baluchistan Hound’). Jessamy is horse-mad and is studying to go to University, and the younger Felix is a proto-Charles Babbage, being fascinated by all kinds of mechanical devices - which leads him into hair-raising adventures.

Light but fun; Heyer’s stories include many period details and her story-telling I rate very highly as the minor characters are as believable as the major characters.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 3:18pm on 11 Dec 17

When the Gods are Silent, by Jane Lindskold

A re-read of a paper copy as I was considering getting some of her backlist ebooks as they are relatively cheap (for the moment).

A stand-alone fantasy set around a Traveling Spectacular. The background is unusual as the show is being hired to take an elderly farmer to where magic was last known; magic having disappeared some 100 years ago. He hopes to find out what actually happened and to find enough magic to cure his terminally ill wife.

Based around one of the players, a striking red-headed female fighter called Rabble (who is not what she seems), the show has various picaresque adventures on their journey and succeeds in releasing chains on the magic, although the hoped for return doesn't happen in the way the farmer hopes. The setting is reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's Shadow of The Torturer series, but may be more based on North rather than South America (possibly around the Great Lakes), although I'm likely reading too much into it. It doesn't seem like the standard pseudo-European medieval setting in a wildly improbable world.

It was one of Lindskold's earlier works (originally published in 1997) and I found some of the dialogue a bit stilted. Still, it was worth the re-read and I may well get this and the Athanor series (depending on what I get for Christmas).
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 11:49pm on 14 Dec 17

My Lord John, by Georgette Heyer

A straight historical novel, set in medieval England. It’s incomplete; it was to be the first of a trilogy for which Heyer did an enormous amount of research but because of problems with the Inland Revenue she had to return to romantic fiction.

It deals with the life of John, Duke of Bedford, one of Henry V’s younger brothers. An interesting read, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea, mostly down to the language - a sort of Chaucerian style which is not very accessible. You can understand it from the context, but you have to concentrate.

The other issue is the enormous cast of characters, often with the same or similar names. In some ways, you need to read it with a relationship map to hand to keep everyone straight.

I seem to recall that at one time I owned a paperback copy, but it was long gone. I was never as fond of her historical novels as I was of her romances.

If this was a print copy, I suspect it would get culled again. As an ebook, it will be kept - and possibly re-read, but not anytime soon.
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