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Book Review: Heaven’s Shadow by David S Goyer, Michael Cassutt

Book Review: Heaven’s Shadow by David S Goyer, Michael Cassutt

And so ends my summer of happy reading. What began with a Three for Two offer at a Doncaster Waterstones and took in books like The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman and Glen David Gold’s debut novel Carter Beats the Devil reaches its conclusion with a book that Guillermo Del Toro tells us on the sleeve to be a “Pulse-Pounding Tale” – Heavens Shadow by the writer of the Dark Knight (David S Goyer) and the Twilight Zone (Michael Cassutt). I’ll start with a disclaimer. As a teenager I read dozens and dozens of books from series like Sharpe and other historical fiction sagas. By my old age of 25, I’m pretty burnt out on on going books. I’ve discovered a passion for reading self contained novels that contain all the information I ever need to know between its two covers and leave no questions unanswered at its conclusion. If I had realised in the shop that Heavens Shadow was the first of a series of books from the Bat Zone team, I would not have bought it – regardless of how sumptuous the cover looked.

Lets be grateful for lazy book buying eh? Not doing my research meant I picked up a book that I read cover to cover in 7 days and was left panting for more. Before I go into the detail let me just give an overview of the book.

Set in the next decade, this science fiction tale feels immediately familiar in all its references to technology and procedures and tracks two competing international teams of astronauts (respectively called cosmonauts in Russian, and vyomanaut for India) as they race to be the first humans to touch down on a Near Earth Object. Not the moon, though that had been what everybody had trained for, but what appears to be a rogue meteorite approaching Earth from below the south pole. It’s going to miss, so no panic, but it does provide a unique opportunity for national pride and demonstration of technical feats. So off they go, only to find on their final approach massive volcanic activity on the meteorite causing it to tumble into orbit around the earth. Analysis by the brains in Houston and India confirm the unbelievable truth – those eruptions were not so much volcanic in nature as similar to thruster’s on a space ship. In other words, the NEO suddenly becomes a UFO with two unprepared crews landing on its surface unsure what to expect.

For what is clearly going to be an epic piece of science fiction writing by the authors, Heavens Shadow manages to accomplish the feat of building a near future world that seems very familiar. For anybody who keeps well read on science and space, almost everything referenced in this book has been talked about in journals and the media. It takes it from Science Fiction to Science Possible, which is the first step on the road to greatness for a Sci-Fi story in my opinion. It has been plotted to such an incredible detail that not one of its 400 beautifully laid out pages seems wasted. In fact the whole book feels like a prologue to the main event. ordinarily that would be a criticism, but the tension, wonder and sheer fantasy that is ratcheted up page by page leave you hoping the book doesn’t end. I am glad there will be a sequel! So many questions are open at the end of this book that thrill rather than frustrate, amongst which I wonder just how big are the writers thinking? Its a story that could span generations of characters.

Cassutt and Goyer do a sublime job of re-stoking the cold war space paranoia introducing the new players in the space race – Brazil, India, Europe, and preserving gratuitous displays of pig-headedness from American bureaucrats. The story lurches from petty politics, to the brink of galactic warfare between our old Super Powers, before throwing everybody in to the same mess together. From nuclear detonations, to the living dead, crash landings, extremely dangerous aliens, and the enforced conscription of thousands of humans into a conflict, a war, that we cannot begin to comprehend… its a story with all the big ideas and concepts. Its about how we treat each other, how we treat the memory of our loved ones and how we should face the wonders out in the universe which no matter how clever we think we are will always surprise us.

Heavens Shadow is published by an imprint of Macmillan in the UK but copyright is owned by Phantom Four Films and St. Croix Productions. This is no surprise. The clean way it is written and set out screams for a television adaptation. Cover to cover this could be an entire television season in one book. I look forward to seeing if anything develops and also waiting for its sequel Heavens War.

Shame I have to go back to reading textbooks for the courses I’m teaching. What a fun summers reading.

P.S. I’ve subsequently done some digging and the Heaven trilogy of books has been picked up by Warner Bros. to make into films. Bit of a disappointment as the number of cliff hangers and surprises in the book I thought would have made it great fodder for TV.

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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Fiction

 

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Book Review: Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

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Today’s review is the second of three books I purchased on my last trip around the UK for a series of job interviews. At the start of the summer I purchased The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman, Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold and ‘Heavens Shadow’ by David S Goyer (he of  The Dark Knight) and Michael Cassutt (he of The Twilight Zone), from a Waterstones in Doncaster. It was unusual enough of me to be purchasing paperbacks since I buy most of my books on my lovely Kindle, but all the more unusual to buy from a Waterstones,  a company in recent years which gives bad names to brick and mortar book stores. They also treated my fiancée terribly when she worked for them. However I digress, this was a taint free branch store and I have to say, two books into my Three for Two deal, I am delighted with my purchases. Religion, Magic, hard Sci-Fi. I had quite the eclectic choice that day.

Carter Beats the Devil is the first novel from Glen David Gold who reveals a debt of gratitude to the UC Irvine Creative Writing Program as “the greatest learning experience of my life” It took him five years to write this book and vast quantities of his student loan to buy biographies and memoirs of magicians and other pieces of research. If you had doubts about the usefulness of creative writing programs or writing circles this should underline how valuable they are – with the right mentor, with the right class of fellow students reading and peer-critiquing, and suitable inspiration it can have incredible results – with a bit of luck. Glen David Golds debut here earns every one of its cover quotes; Addictive (Guardian), Electrifying (Independent), Magnificent (Charles Pallister), Magical (Independent on Sunday, yes I groaned at the pun pre-reading), Extraordinary (Daily Telegraph). It is all of them, and more than everything earns that description of magical. The writing is as magical as the characters and events described.

Charles Carter (‘the Great’ as he is proclaimed by Houdini in the novel) is a thoroughly likeable chap who finds tricks and illusions more readily understandable than the magic of stocks and bonds that his father and brother practice. This love affair with music sees him skip college, travel the world as a bit part ‘Kard and Koin’ man on a vaudeville show and eventually graduate to headline act before the real drama even gets going featuring cannons, murder, Presidential assassinations (x2), fallen women, blind persons dogs, Lions that roar on command, vanishing elephants, pirates, prohibition and discoveries that could change the course of the world (fought over by Radio executives on one side seeing money, Military men on the other seeing conquest, and Charles Carter seeing a neat trick). The book is fiction, inspired by real life, and it does what all great fiction and magic does – it disguises the point where reality ends and illusion begins. I’m not ashamed to say I kept googling events!

The author evokes a time of wonder and change transitioning from a period when travelling fairs were still largely animal fairs (slowly becoming rides and skill stalls) to the arrival of radio and dawn of television which the book takes as one of its three main plots. This sees the plots get so wrapped up and convoluted that you would doubt a magician could escape let alone the author but this is one trick Glen David Gold does with aplomb and he had me wanting to applaud aloud at his final chapters.

For a book to truly resonate with me it has to have a point – it has to say something meaningful by its final page and one line, a few paragraphs from conclusion did just this for me;

“There were never moments in your life when you actually saw something end, for whether you knew it or not something else was always flowering. Never a disappearance, always a transformation.”

Any person who reflects back on their life will see the truth in these words. I find myself in my own time of flux going from the end of studies into a life of work teaching but must acknowledge its not as clear as that as I began cover teaching whilst still training, and had stories published whilst doing both. So no part of my life had a hard end and abrupt beginning (besides my birth). You can apply that passage to good writing – character development should be a transformation over the passage of many pages not a sudden change. Look at the chronologically earliest chapter of this book and you find a boy completely different to the almost heroic, world worn magician at the end.

In closing I highly recommend this debut novel – many a night I’ve been nudged by a grumpy sleepy partner wanting me to turn out the light after I’d become engrossed in reading for hours – and will myself be looking to pick up Glen David Golds second novel Sunnyside featuring 800 Charlie Chaplin’s. A sample chapter is in the back of the edition of Carter Beats the Devil that I read.

Read this book and pass it on. Take Carter The Great – Everywhere! (cookie to the person who explains that reference).

carter

P.S. Rumor has it that Johnny Depp is being courted to play the film version. This I would absolutely love.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2011 in Fiction

 

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Review: ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ by Philip Pullman

Review: ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman is as known for his excellent writing as much as for his raging against the Church and other religious organisations. His Dark Materials is essentially a story of a war between free thought and belief and corrupted doctrine. It is a particularly controversial topic for a Young Adult book, but superbly delivered and dressed up in fantastic characters. I was involved with a production of the stage play His Dark Materials by a youth theatre group in York a couple of years ago and heartily recommend it as a thought provoking entertaining read.

Given Pullmans record then, when you come across a book in the store titled ‘The Good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ the tabloid sensationalist in me bounced excitedly that here must be a quite visceral assault on the Church and Christianity as a whole. My fiancee couldn’t believe their was a book with such a title, but there it was and on purchasing it in a store in Reading I immediately went into a field and read the entire book in a few hours.

The Good Man… is Pullmans reimagining of the story of Jesus – a man no sensible person denies actually existed as the historical record is quite strong on this – but introduces a twist right from the start; Jesus has a twin called ‘Christ’. At this point I have visions of the author in one of those Spanish Inquisition torture devices. However here is the second major surprise; this retelling of Jesus’ life is quite favourable. Except for a few occasions there are no cheap shots by Pullman, no denigrating of the image of Jesus and in fact I found the Jesus of this book a much more appealing and accessible person. You get a feeling that Pullman respects the man, respects the ideas he preaches, and the real axe grinder comes with the character of Christ who Archbishop Rowan Williams correctly identifies as filling the role of Judas who is missing from the narratives band of followers. Christ represents the perverted ‘truth’ that history and the Church has handed down.

Christ tries repeatedly to convince his brother Jesus of the need for a church to organise and create a representation of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Jesus doesn’t buy it though, and in fact consistently tries to limit his notoriety instructing people he performs miracles on not to tell anybody. Of course they go and tell everybody. Christ retreats into the role of an observer, encouraged by a mysterious stranger to record Jesus life not in how it happened but in the ‘eternal truth’ of his actions. Christ, longing for the same kind of appreciation as his brother, is told by the stranger that he has a role to play to secure the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The book for me was a fascinating discussion of interpretations of stories such as Mary’s visit by an ‘Angel’, a faked resurrection and a collapse in Jesus’ personal faith when praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Rowan Williams finds this passage as a weakness in the text, coming as it does apparently from nowhere, but for myself as someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression I see it as representing a clear breakdown. Jesus has achieved much, but in this story is himself a believer in millenarianism  – that the end of days is imminent, and every day nothing happens weighs heavier on Jesus who begins to feel that he is misleading people into very dangerous actions in what was a violent society. It makes logical sense to me that Jesus the good man would have such a very human response to his disappointments, and Christ in his desire to make the truth of Jesus speak through time would naturally eradicate this or play it down in the recorded text. The fact that the passage exists in this book is a bit of an inconsistency since we are supposed to be reading the words Christ wrote from eye witness accounts and Jesus was alone during his prayer in Gethsemane. Pullman I guess had a point he wanted to make and made it, though i’m sure there could have been a better way of constructing that scene to make it fit with the overal text.

I view religion as being a forum for discussing the human condition. In that context, for both practicing Christians, people of other faiths and the secular I feel Philip Pullmans work is an excellent offering to the discussion. As a confirmed agnostic, I find the story told by Pullman inspiring and heart breaking. The good that man can do, and the evil it can do in the name of good deeds. On the back and inside of the book are printed the words ‘THIS IS A STORY’. It has a double meaning I think. On the one hand he’s reminding people that his is a work of fiction, but it may just also be a shot across the bows of the original text.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is in the Kindle store and as such a sample is available to read for free before purchasing.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Fiction

 

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Review: ‘Sin in the Second City’ by Karen Abbott

Review: ‘Sin in the Second City’ by Karen Abbott

Readers to the blog will recall that late last year I read a book called The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, a non-fiction, brilliantly vivid account of the Chicago World Fair 1893 and the exploits of a serial killer in the shadows of the festivities. The use of the principle figures own words and documentation to tell the story in such a narrative manner brought the period alive for me and hooked me on the story of this magnificent and brutal American city.

‘Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul’ by Karen Abbott is, amongst being a rather wordy title, another look into the Windy City’s very soul and picks up almost immediately after Erik Larsons book finishes. Indeed both books are published by the same company (Random House) and there is a little overlap in that Larson refers vaguely to the ‘disappeared’ women who travel from far and wide to Chicago in search of a better life. Karen Abbotts book picks up the tale of the disappeared and tackles the issues of ‘white slavery’, police and civic corruption and a nation wrestling with its own morals.

Much like the Devil, Sin is written exclusively from the testimony of people of the time, newspaper and county records and other recorded evidence. It is a marvellous feat in informative storytelling, and I do wish that all history books were written like this because the take up in colleges of History would be so much the higher. The language is never too dense, though it liberally sprays colloquialisms from the time which using the Kindle dictionary I was able to look up if I needed to. A very professionally laid out hyperlinked contents page, breaking the story up into vignettes that can last from two page turns to 20 page turns lends a certain momentum to the plot. You can put it down at any moment given the opportunities for a break, but its very lay out makes you want to keep pushing on. Once again Random House have included a wealth of original photography in the Kindle edition, maximising the potential of the format and providing a reading experience that is a real pleasure.

The figures at the heart of the story – the upstart madams known as the Everleigh Sisters, bitter and vengeful former Queen of the Levee Vic Shaw, Zoe Millard, Bathhouse John Coughlin, Hinky Dink Kenna, Ike Bloom, the Weiss brothers, Big Jim Colosimo (predecessor to Al Capone), Ernest Bell, Clifford Roe, Mayor Carter Harrison II (his father having featured prominently in Larsons book as mayor) – all loom larger than life. The portrait photographs of the notorious and grand, and the notoriously grand, alongside descriptions of their personality and quotes from their own lips provide intimate insights into real people living extraordinary lives.

It almost seems impossible to believe now, but the Levee district, being the designated segregated area for prostitution, gambling and drugs with the full endorsement of politicians and police at the turn of the 20th Century feels like a part of the fabric of life. At times you could almost be forgiven for agreeing with the principles that a ‘segregated’ area was better than driving it underground such is how well Karen Abbott draws the personalities of the people involved.

The central narrative line for Karen Abbotts work is this issue of White Slavery – innocent white American girls being tempted or forced into coming to Chicago to work in the vice trade and being unable to leave it until their ‘debt’ is paid. This was a toxic topic for politicians (who received much of their electoral money and votes from the vice district leaders) and reformers at the start of the 20th Century. They could accept foreigners working the vice trade but not the idea that the wholesome young American woman was being corrupted and coerced into a (very short, according to the reformers) life of sin. Still, the topic was a bit of a taboo and religious ministers and lawyers spent considerable time looking for that one story that could blow the whole issue up into a national crisis.

The Everleigh Club where working girls and punters had to meet criteria

Into this tension come Minna and Ada Everleigh who open arguably the most famous(They were referenced recently on an episode of crime drama The Chicago Code) brothel in the history of the United States – the Everleigh Club at 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street.  Naturally a target for reformers, they also alienated their fellow madams with their attempt to elevate the oldest profession in the world to some kind of classy respectable level. No drug abuse here, no stealing from the punters either. The Everleigh sisters ‘butterflies’ as they called their working girls were educated in order to hold their own in conversation with the leading men of the city, who after spending some hours listening to the ‘professor’ on the golden piano and enjoying the glorious Pullman Buffet in one of the themed rooms would then retire upstairs with one of the girls of their choosing. It wasn’t so much an act the Everleigh sisters were selling but an experience. And those ‘butterflies’ could earn more in one night at the Club than in a week at other brothels. Minna and Ada had to fight against the jealousy of their fellow madams, play the game of greasing the wheel of local politics and smile sweetly in the face of ranting preachers foreseeing fire and brimstone for the women.

Do the Everleigh sisters succeed in transforming the perception of prostitution? Do they be able to counter the attacks by fellow Madams, preachers and politicians alike? What is the ultimate destiny of the thousands of people working and living in the Levee? Download a sample from the kindle store, and I am sure you will purchase the full ebook (which isnt cheap but is worth every penny). It is as thrilling and unpredictable as the best fiction, and every word spoken, every major action taken… really happened, down there, in rooms like the Japanese Throne Room of 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street, Americas most famous brothel.

Did you know? The expression “I’m going to get laid” according to Karen Abbott can be traced back to South Dearborn Street. She believes it to be a corruption of “I’m going to get Everleighed”. That’s how famous Minna and Adas venture became – it won a permanent place in the English language.

Next: Having read up on 50 years of Chicagos history now, I am itching to get a book in the same style on the life of Al Capone which should link via Big Jim Colosimo to the items I’ve already read.

The Japanese Throne room was just one of many themed rooms including the famous Pullman Buffet.

 

Final Word: The Everleigh Sisters retired to New York with $1,000,000 cash. ($22m in 2007 terms)

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Non-Fiction

 

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The Lazarus Experiment – now an Android App!

The Lazarus Experiment – now an Android App!

Very short update today with news on yet another outlet that you can get my short story ebook “The Lazarus Experiment“. Last week my publisher Books to Go No announced that you can now ask your local library for an ebook loan of The Lazarus Experiment! So if you can do, please run on down and ask them to order it for their collections. It costs you nothing! Its an exciting move that opens up a much larger potential readership.

However, today I can also announce another way that you can read about death row prisoner Frank Swan; just as Ether Books have several of my stories available on iPhone, Books to Go Now have published The Lazarus Experiment as a standalone app on Android operating systems!

That means that any android capable phone can now go into the Android Market

and purchase it to read on the move for as little as 99c (62p UK).

Not a bad week for Frank Swan eh? Do leave a comment or review if you purchase the app!

Read a sample before you buy, click here.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Publishing

 

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Now available from a library near you..

Now available from a library near you..

When I was looking for publishers to submit The Lazarus Experiment to back in February 2011, one group – my eventual publisher – Books to Go Now, were modestly distributing from their own website and through amazon. Like about a thousand other ultra small indy publishers in the digital space. But the little Seattle company that could was enthusiastic, did a brilliant job on editing The Lazarus Experiment with me and giving it a much needed bit of polish after its stint as a weekly serial on Tuesdayserial.com and loftily pledged to it’s authors that they were chasing new markets and avenues for distributing our stories to readers. First came Barnes and Noble’s Nook, then the Germans got some Kindle goodness, and at the end of May I was delighted to find The Lazarus Experiment discreetly distributed to that most English of book/stationary stores WH Smith. I couldn’t tell you how more pleased I was to be available from a high street store than just electronic companies up in the ether. Whether anybody actually shops at WH Smith’s website for ebooks I couldn’t say – but they should, particularly for The Lazarus Experiment which is discounted quite heavily at the moment.

One of the areas Books to Go Now were very keen on pushing was getting a foothold in the library system. I confess to not paying much attention to their notices about attending relevant conferences – I had enough on my plate in my ‘other’ life – but as promised, in my mailbox on Thursday night was an announcement that Books to Go Now had placed a catalogue of stories onto the OverDrive digital distribution system.

OverDrive has been at the digital distribution game for a while. They opened their harddrives in 1986 for petes sake. The days of tiny capacity floppy disks and the very start of the CD Rom generation. To say they have cred is an understatement and today they have an archive of more than 500,000 titles from more than 1,000 publishers available to the thousands of public libraries, colleges, schools and retailers that depend on OverDrive for their know-how.

I am understandably delighted to be part of this wave of Books to Go Now titles that are now available. This now means that if you want to read The Lazarus Experiment or another title from Books to Go Now simply pop down to your local library and request it – the ebook can be downloaded over their systems to mobile phone apps, ipods, ereaders and computers. If you request it, let us know here at christophermichaelbell.com so we can rightly worship you for your awesomeness. And that review you know you will write once you’ve read the ebook!

The full list of Books to Go Now titles on OverDrive library systems;

Elsati’s Reward
The Vampire Tree
The Lazarus Experiment
The Mad Scientist
Martian Rebirth
One More Night to Kill
Beacon of the Night
A Perfect Opportunity
A Look of Love.
Anita’s Menage
Auld Lang Sigh
Born Free
Desert Dreams
Heart of Deception
Heroes Live Forever
I Am Pain
The Great 1000

Use OverDrive Search to find a library near you with their system, Costs nothing to request!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Publishing

 

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Taking Byte Sized Reads to the Next Level

Taking Byte Sized Reads to the Next Level

Ether Books, the crazy 2010 start-up that became the first publisher to release stories by me, are today celebrating the launch of version 1.4 of their fantastic iPhone App. For those who don’t know the Ether Books App, quite surprisingly, offers its users the opportunity to download short reads on the move. So if you have a tedious commute every day, which doesn’t involve you having to keep your hands on the steering wheel (!), you can load up on loads of stories to pass the time away.

The range of content available has expanded from the first time I heard of Ether Books on the great Bubblecow website and optimistically submitted my stories. There is Science Fiction, Romance, Crime, Non-fiction, Humour, Contemporary, Serials, Horror, Flash Fiction, Erotica, Articles (Ether Columnists) and an unrestricted range of other types of content. The reliability of the Ether App comes from its screening of content before publishing and formatting specifically for the iPhone and iPad.

What has changed with the App in v1.4?

  • Share details of your favourite reads with friends and followers using social media and email.
  • OTA messages to alert you when your favourite writers and genres have new work released.
  • Re-organised the author search function to work by Surname to make it easier to solve.
  • Updated one tap function for ease of navigation when reading in the App.

Another area where writers and readers benefit with the Ether Books App, is that if you find writers whose work you enjoy, Ether have been very supportive in providing web links in the Author Profiles and adverts on their website for other work by their writers. So take Rebecca Emin for example or Trevor Belshaw or Rebecca Brown. Click through their profiles and you can go to their websites to see what other work they have published. Indeed, Ether Books have proved to be a great confidence booster for many aspiring writers in the last year. I would not have had The Lazarus Experiment published, and I’m sure Rebecca Emins self-confidence and case for her new children’s novel was helped by being best selling Ether writer month after month (no jealousy here!), you can’t put a price on the confidence and motivation boost Ether have given rookie writers and the new market place for established and award winning writers.

So if you haven’t got the Ether App, download it today!

If you do have it already, make sure it gets updated!

And when you have the app, why not check out my current collection of stories on the app? Just click on my pretty face in the Authors list. You can see it below.

etherAppW2

Do you love the Ether App? The Sunday Times is currently taking nominations for its annual App Awards. Support mobile publishing and take a minute to cast your nomination for Ether Books here.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Publishing

 

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