StarTroopers: The Final Episode by Ged Maybury

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A children’s adventure tale with surprisingly complex characters and plot. Gripping to the end.

Spencer Sockitt is a huge fan of the science fiction franchise, StarTroopers, and is ecstatic to get to interview the author – Arthur Thorsen – for his school magazine. However, the author is not what he was expecting: he is a strange man who claims that, rather than writing fiction, he has visions of battles in far off space, and he is merely a vessel that writes these down. But Spencer uncovers a conspiracy: the evil Blitzoids are here on Earth and are manipulating Thorsen. They believe that he doesn’t have visions, but is in fact a legendary Imaginor – his words and thoughts and beliefs shape reality around him. The stories he writes become real, and the Blitzoids are dictating his latest novel in their favour. Spencer and his friend Rebecca find themselves embroiled in a galactic battle as the powerful Star Troopers try to overcome the evil Warlord Kruel and his Blitzoid army. But things are never black and white; the lines between good and bad become blurred. In war, good is always merely a point of view…

Those who are familiar with Maybury will know that he is a quirky and outlandish character, and this book fully encapsulates those ecclectic qualities of his. What starts off as typical children’s book fare, with over-the-top names and language to pander to the younger readers and quirky mannerisms to define characters, quickly descends into quite a thoughtful and action packed tale. It is a deeper tale than you realise, as the plot is developed and the story explored from both sides. Maybury presents children with a complex story; the main antagonist has a deep and complicated background and the protagonists are flawed, biased and must overcome their cultural and social conditioning to draw their own conclusions. Ultimately, the book reveals that there is no bad guy, or rather, when it comes to violence and war that there is no real good guy. The growing sense of ominousness comes to a full, complex and satisfying conclusion through investigation and politics. Maybury teaches children that violence and conflict only propagate more violence, and that the only true solution is through understanding and diplomacy. A message that most adults still have yet to learn.

Maybury is a New Zealand writer. New Zealand, being a British colony like so many other nations, has a past that is speckled with racial and cultural injustices. And even though New Zealand has been a nation to quickly embrace equality with women and the indigenous Maori having full voting rights by 1893 (irrespective of status). Despite this, there is still colourful debate and controversy surrounding the initial land purchases made of the Maori people by the British Government in the 1800’s. This can be a divisive issue for modern New Zealanders.

This history would seem to serve as inspiration for the villains backstory, and Maybury approaches the topic from a neutral point of view. He doesn’t favour any one side and presents both sides as being wrong (a bold and contrary stance to make on an important issue that affects the cultural heritage of both Maori and Europeans.)

The language is colourful and infused with plenty of sci-fi technobabble that will surely entertain and impress the younger reader. For the older reader it can be over-cooked and often unnecessary, but it is also used very deliberately as a colouring method for the universe he has created and gives it a depth and an age found in franchises like Star Wars, and this helps to ground and normalize the more fantastic elements that are introduced.

I was apprehensive about reading a children’s book featuring an alien race called ‘Blitzoids’, and also based on the artwork of the cover. Childrens fiction tends to pander too much to children, or it ignores them completely and forgets they are the target demographic. Maybury has successfully written a tale that treats the young readers with a bit more respect; he isn’t afraid to throw in large confusing words or complicated concepts: StarTroopers is both colourful entertainment and also an intellectual challenge for children. This is exactly how it should be. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and for lovers of children’s science fiction, or New Zealand fiction, I highly recommend StarTroopers.

Space: Above and Beyond #1 The Aliens Approach by Easton Royce

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A fast-paced and exciting read set in a complex multi-faceted future.

In the mid 21st century humans have begun to colonize other worlds. But mankind soon learns it is not alone when an unknown alien force destroys the settlement, and humans quickly finds itself in a race to defend the Earth and all of humanity against this new blood-thirsty foe.

Based on the failed TV series (despite winning 2 Emmy awards, a Saturn award, and being ranked by IGN in the top 50 sci-fi shows) this book is a teen novelization of the first episodes in the series. The story centers on three main characters – Nathan, Shane and Cooper. Nathan finds himself being sent to a different colony to his girlfriend, Kylen, and tries to sneak aboard her ship but is caught and is kicked out of the colonization program – now his only chance to be reunited is to join the Space Cavalry and hope he can find her. Shane, forced to watch her parents killed during the AI wars, enlisted, vowing to avenge her parents deaths; and Cooper is a synthetic, created in a test-tube in a lab and, as a member of a undesirable social class with little rights, finds himself punished for a crime he didn’t commit: being sentenced to the military.

Space: Above and Beyond follows these three as they are enlisted, train, and encounter the alien menace on their first mission on the surface of mars. The prose is sharp and well-paced, designed for a younger audience: it effectively leaves enough ambivalence in the description to let the younger reader imagine as much or as little as they want to, without either pandering to their age or being vague or obtuse. The plot, however, suffers from being rushed. Many episodes were written into this book and as a result sometimes it feels more like an extended training montage than a novel (and it is a short novel, at 138 pages and has a slightly larger than average type-face size). Novelizations are supposed to expand on the film or television source, but this book feels a little flat when it comes to characters, and though I have never seen the show, can surmise that it may actually be the superior product.

The over-all feel of the book, though, is something with spectacular potential: AI wars, racial tension, politics of war and hard core action – I would definitely read the rest of the books in this series to discover more about this universe. In terms of tone, it is similar to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Busby’s Star Rebel, or even Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. An entertaining teens book that can be enjoyed in several sessions by adults as well. Highly recommended to those who enjoy the aforementioned authors, or those who are fans of classic sci-fi franchises like Star Trek or Battletech, or series such as Firefly or Babylon 5.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

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A classic book that, after sixty years, still has the magic to enthrall young and old alike in adventure rich in scope and sentiment.

When four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) are relocated from their home and sent to a large country estate during wartime in Britain, they find a large wardrobe in an empty room that, upon entering, takes them into the magical land of Narnia. It is a beautiful, snowy land inhabited by talking animals and mythical beasts. But they soon discover that the snow is a wintery curse cast by the evil White Witch who, in fear of an ancient prophecy which names the four children as the true Kings and Queens of Narnia, seduces Edmund and attempts to use him to betray his siblings. But she is too late, as the ancient and powerful lion Aslan, lord of Narnia, returns to the land, and her magic begins to fade and spring once more returns to Narnia. Her last chance now being a desperate and bloody battle to rid Narnia of Aslan and the children, lest she be killed or exiled.

The book is written in a clear style that speaks directly to a young audience without pandering to them or being condescending. The brisk prose uses powerful imagery in short bursts, preventing the reader from getting distracted from the plot or the characters. And the characters also well represent the different facets of a child’s personality – each one effectively giving the reader something different to relate to and associate with. And though the Christian imagery is both strong and recurring throughout the book, Lewis himself swore that this book is not allegorical at all, but merely a fairy tale to entertain children.

Perhaps most surprising is the violence and brutality of the book. The narrative is clearly for a very young audience and the violence is so under-used that when it suddenly appears it has real weight and tension to it. Edmund goes very quickly from being in the Witches favor to being mistreated; he has fulfilled his purpose to her and she has no real need of him. Where only a chapter previously he was being treated as important and special, the story declines quickly to a point where the Witch punches him in the face for speaking out of turn, and two chapters later we see her preparing to slit his throat in the forest; and of course, the culminating low point is seen when she tortures and mutilates Aslan before executing him only several more chapters after this.

The Chronicles of Narnia is Lewis’s seminal work, and that for which he is most well known. And like his contemporary, Tolkien with The Hobbit, his name is established in English speaking cultures around the world. Unlike Tolkien, who chose to focus on the journey and even used the world itself almost as a main character, Lewis uses Narnia as a springboard and he leaps between scenes to keep the pace brisk and exciting between action, accounting for the limited attention spans of children nicely.

Lewis clearly wrote for children, whereas Tolkien wrote for a wider demographic; stories set in Middle-Earth being deeper and more mature than those of Narnia. But perhaps this is the defining strength of Lewis’s work – Tolkien alienates the youngest readers, whereas Lewis is able not only entertain them, but to speak directly to them. Despite Tolkien’s clearly massive influence on the fantasy genre, it could be argued that Lewis is the more influential of the two – his work is enjoyed and appreciated earlier in life, and this in turn grows the interest which will later lead readers on to Middle Earth and beyond.

As a novel it is riddled with plot holes and flaws, but as a children’s book this is acceptable – the intended audience don’t need deep backstory or contexts to get enjoyment; if anything, the lack of over-writing makes this an exceptionally well written book. Despite being set during late the late Edwardian period the book has stood the test of time relatively well – though some colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies do exist which will date the book to modern readers.

A classic, and an instant favorite for many children, and a beloved memory for many adults: it is worth reading again to relive your youth, and even though there are countless film and TV adaptations, I think you will find that while reading this book you will not be limited to those visuals and will adequately incorporate your nostalgia with your imagination.

Galaxy9 by Darryl Brent

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A fast-paced read that meanders as aimlessly as his characters motivations.

Galaxy9 is Darryl Brent’s first published novel. The book is about three engineering students who come across a spaceship and then explore space. That’s it. His command of the English language is good, and he can write a well-paced story with well described settings and locations, but he lacks the skill at creating depth in character or plot.

Described as “Science Fiction Comedy Adventure for Young Adults” this book undershoots drastically, missing all the standard benchmarks of young adults fiction. The characters are two dimensional and often make illogical and sometimes nonsensical decisions. There is very little emotional input by the characters and there isn’t particularly much at stake for them either. This makes it hard for the reader to emotionally invest in the characters or the book.

The story jumps between chapters like a frog on steroids – each chapter does little to add to character or atmosphere, and reads more like the transcript for a children’s saturday morning show with chapters being heavily disconnected to each other and lacking an overarching plot. Brent is heavily inspired by Star Wars, and this comes through very clearly in this book and, unfortunately, he doesn’t do a great job disguising this fact. The opening chapter reads like a scene from Star Wars complete with Han Solo Isaac flying the Millenium Falcon Midnight Shrike, and the rest of the book descends into a smuggling/mercenary/freight-delivery serialization, not unlike Star Wars: Rebels.

What Darryl Brent lacks in skill he makes up for through sheer ambition, creating a large-scale universe with many exciting characters and exotic settings. With so much material and so many ideas, Brent would have been better off writing a larger book and spending a bit more quiet time with the characters. He is currently writing a sequel called Galaxy9 Breakout. 3/10.

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Kumari: Goddess of Gotham

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Dark and humorous, Kumari is a fun read that comfortably bridges the divide between Adult and Young Adult fantasy. Lees has written a heroine that is complex and endearing.

Amanda Lees parents met in the Borneo jungle where her Glaswegian-born mother had set up a hospital and her father was an Oxford-educated Gurkha officer. Goddess of Gotham was written as a tribute to her late mother, and to reflect Lee’s own exotic upbringing, exploring her love of the world and it’s different cultures.

The first in a trilogy, Goddess of Gotham is the story of Kumari, a thirteen year-old girl who is a goddess-in-training and lives in a hidden kingdom in the mountains. Despite being a goddess, her life is full of restrictions and instructions and she becomes disillusioned with her preordained role in the universe. All of this changes when her mother, the goddess, is killed and Kumari attempts to resurrect her and find the truth. But Kumari has not yet mastered her magical powers, least of all resurrection, and suddenly finds herself in the strange and fantastic world of modern day New York.

The city is no place for children, and she quickly finds herself placed in a foster home, attending state education and falling in love with a cute boy. The mortal realm is not so bad and she thinks she could get used to living here with her new friends and family. But there is a downside – she must leave her new-found life behind, or she will become mortal and never be able to return to her kingdom. But she does not know where her kingdom is, or even where New York is. Time is running out. Soon, she will lose all her powers and become mortal and she will never find the truth of who killed her mother. And who are the men that keep trying to capture her. Who do they work for, and how do they know who she is?

Inspired and steeped heavily in Nepalese and Hindu belief, Kumari, Goddess of Gotham is a riveting read that blends the magical and fantastic with the real-world. Often times a dark and thrilling adventure, Kumari is also a brightly coloured and light-hearted story. The characters are well-written and are believable and relateable, the story is original and gripping from the first page.

The first book in a trilogy, and also Amanda Lees debut novel, Goddess of Gotham is an emotional and exciting read for Young Adults or Adults alike. 8/10

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Star Wars “Brothers in Arms” – FCBD 2005

cbcb1d1c-ecdf-439a-8e5a-429d5e614bf7Since 2002 the American Comic Book Industry began promoting Free Comic Book Day to encourage customers to visit independent comic book retailers, to encourage sales and attract new customers. The promotion was a success and still runs to this day. 2005 saw the release of the first Star Wars FCBD comic, which can be downloaded for free from Amazon.

Originally destined to be called “Brothers in Arms,” this title was already in use, and as such this comic was left without an official title, however it has retained it’s unofficial name. This story takes place after Attack of The Clones and approximately four and a half months before Revenge of The Sith. Anakin and Obi Wan, having found Count Dooku’s citadel, are shot down as they approach it.

They crash land on the heavily forested planet and are forced to trek the long distance to the citadel.Time works against them – they need to get Dooku’s castle and catch Dooku and Grievous unaware, capturing them and ending the Trade Federation’s military front. However, when they finally infiltrate Dooku’s citadel it is over-run with an army of droids waiting for them, and no sign of the Sith or his General.

Their ship, meanwhile, has finished being repaired by the crew they left behind with the wreck, and they swoop in at the last minute and rescue the two Jedi from the swarm of droids.

Brothers in Arms is a short comic and is very easy to read. The interactions between Anakin and Obi Wan are poorly written, despite being an adaptation of the films – Anakin has slightly more emotion than in the films, which is great, but Obi Wan has lost the calm demeanor that made him such a formidable Jedi Knight and is now on an emotional rollercoaster. Let’s be honest – even the banter in the films between the two characters was often flat and uninspired, but it was Ewen Mcgregor’s clear sense of fun that gave the character some life. In the comic book we have none of the charisma or sense of charm that Mcgregor brought to the film.

The artwork is very nice. The characters are drawn to very closely resemble the characters from the films. The backgrounds and scenery are detailed and have a lot of depth. The light-sabre fight scenes and the general action is done really well.

It is not a sophisticated book, but a great introduction to comics and Star Wars for youngsters or die hard Star Wars or comic fans. I rate this book a 3/5.

After the Plague by Jean Ure

d3b2b0d82912fb18c2d376fbd4ce1a98The second entry to her Plague Trilogy, After the Plague (originally title Come Lucky April) follows a young boy, Daniel, as he explores the wastelands in search of the diary of his great grandmother. This is his first time outside the safety of his village. April, a young girl who finds an injured Daniel in the wastelands, brings him back to her village where he is perceived as both a curiosity and a threat.

The society has pieced itself back together, using fragments of newspapers, books and other media to reinterpret the past. Unfortunately, as is evident in modern media, violence towards women, factual and fictional, is abundant, and this society is brought up on the belief that, based on these newspaper and book fragments, that the pre-plague civilization was abundant with rape and violence, and thus all the problems in the world, including the plague, are a direct result of men.

Men are believed to be incapable of controlling their violent and base urges, and are thus ritualistically castrated and are mentally conditioned to be subservient in all aspects. Men and women live in separate accommodation from each other and breeding is seen as a duty and chore. The male anatomy and the physical act of love is considered vile and disgusting.

It is never clear in the book how specifically this society breeds: it is implied it is through basic artificial insemination techniques. Another unanswered idea is that these people live in a homosexual society. The women have ‘mates’ that they share beds with and have emotionally intimate relationships with, but it is never stipulated if these relationships are phyiscal as well. It may be that this society is asexual and their relationships are merely homosocial – in which case this book becomes even more progressive by extending itself beyond straight or gay relationships and into relatively unvisited territories.

The anti-male rhetoric can come off pretty thick in this novel. This is okay, as this society is built on this ideology, but when Daniel from outside this society debates with women their different lifestyles, he fails to come up with any arguments to defend himself. Sadly, the best quip he can muster is to suggest that all the evils that befall women are because they failed to defend themselves adequately, or because they allowed men to make the decisions.

In what seems like a progressive book strong with feminist overtones, the decision to make Daniel blame women rather than defend men actually propagates both misogyny and misandry at the same time. A more balanced approach would have had Daniel defend the virtues of mankind while still acknowledging the blames of mankind, instead of pleading ignorance and blame shifting.

But these social justice issues were not as vocal or prevalent in the 1990’s, as social media had yet to take over the way the world functions and these issues were not discussed as widely. This makes the progressiveness of this book more important, within that context, as it would have created a talking point. Based on many opinions found online, it was a very polarizing and controversial book and achieved sparking the debate before it was trending online.

The characters are well written and a lot of young adult tropes are successfully avoided (like the plague), or re-examined in a different context. The story line itself is very basic and doesn’t offer a lot, but the enjoyment of this book is the ideas and ideologies and the character interrelationships.

A highly recommended book for both adults and teens.

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Cry of The Sea by Donna Driver

cryofthesea4 (2).jpgIn celebration of Earth Day (April 22) I am reviewing a Young Adults book with strong environmental themes. Cry of the Sea is about June, a young girl who’s parents are pushing her to follow their paths in environmental issues. When she and her father are first on the scene of a major oil spill they encounter mermaids washed up, covered in oil and grime. Suddenly she finds she has a vested interest in the environment as she dedicates herself to trying to help these creatures.

This kick starts the main plot of the book. Donna Driver does a fantastic job exploring the ideas behind such a discovery – who would ‘own’ the creatures? Do they have rights like us? How would media, science and big corporations all handle this discovery?

June is on the verge of becoming an adult, and as such she must deal with the common issues of impending maturity – love, friendships, tertiary education and career choices, family issues (especially overbearing parents.) Somehow, during all this, she must also keep the mermaids secret while trying to understand them. Where have they come from? Why has there never been any proof until now?

Driver’s voice is clear and fluent, and she writers her characters well. Often times the melodrama of teenage social life or family dynamics can seem forced or overbearing, and though there is some of that with June’s parents, it is not overbearing or un-interestingly stereotypical. Also, June’s school life had very few instances to make me cringe – this is usually the point where a Young Adult novel begins to pander too much to the TV and film tropes and not enough to reality.

Driver shines with her ability to see life from a realistic teenage point of view, crafting a believable teenage wasteland for June. The only let down for me was June’s Native American heritage. It had almost no relevance to the story, and only so her father could step out of character and become a Wise Indian stereotype.

The mermaids weren’t Disney princesses, they were sentient creatures of the ocean. Their plight, successfully, evoked the same empathy as that of whales or dolphins. They were the dominant driving force of the book, though they were downplayed in small background scenes, which was the correct course for Driver to take. Too much time with the mermaids would have been farcical, but by rooting the story in real situations and real dramas, the fantasy element played a more realistic role – successfully fitting into the fictional ecosystem that is Cry of the Sea.

Donna Driver has been a published author for 21 years and is a member of SCBWI Midsouth. She has several critically acclaimed nonfiction books as Donna Getzinger. Her three Young Adult titles Cry of the Sea, Whisper of the Woods, and Passing Notes are all published by Fire and Ice Young Adult Books. When she isn’t writing, she is teaching or singing in a community theater musical. She grew up in Southern California, but now lives near Nashville with her family. Learn more about her at www.dgdriver.com.

This review was done to help recognize World Earth Day and Arbor Day. To learn more about these important days, and find out how to do your part to help the planet, please read more at wikipedia.com

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POD by Stephen Wallenfels

POD stephen wallenfels promo copyWhen the Cataclysm arrives, Megs, a 12-year-old streetwise girl, is trapped in a hotel parking garage in Los Angeles; and 16-year-old Josh is stuck in a house in Prosser, Washington, with his increasingly obsessive-compulsive father. Food and water and time are running out. Will Megs survive long enough to find her mother? Will Josh and his father survive each other? These are the questions that must be answered when giant black spheres appear in the sky and start disintegrating any people that are unlucky enough to be outside at the time.

The book shares many elements in common with Stephen King’s Under The Dome where the main antagonists are other people and the alien/supernatural event is merely the backdrop behind the story. And, like Under The Dome, POD is focused around survivors trying to fend off starvation, dehydration and the savage nature of humanity.

The main flaws in this book are, despite adequate narrative, somewhat hollow characterization and a weak alien entity. The PODs only attack people whom are outside, but never once attack those hiding inside buildings. Perhaps Wallenfels could have covered this by having a character discuss the nature of aliens, suggesting that anything patient enough to travel across the universe can wait a few more weeks while the human race starves to death or tears itself apart, making for a much more efficient invasion to follow (as intergalactic travel would be very costly in terms of resources and fuel.) Unfortunately any suggestion of justification never comes up in the book, and instead of coming across as ominous and mysterious the PODs merely seem ineffective and underwhelming.

Also, having two points of view doesn’t offer us any new insights or opinions, instead just rehashing what we have read in previous chapters. Though the tone is good and the pacing adequate, Wallenfels missed an opportunity to have a third point of view from a military/political/scientific character to provide needed exposition and paint a more vivid image of just how hostile these aliens really are.

POD is Wallenfels debut novel and, despite it’s flaws and plot holes, is still an enjoyable read. It does make a nice change to have a character-driven alien apocalypse instead of the typical Hollywood guns and explosions treatment. The reality is, when the apocalypse occurs, the majority of people are going to just try and survive, not become warriors overnight. Humans are an adaptive survivalist species, we are primed to flee before we fight, and it makes for a decent and moody story to explore this element of an apocalypse.

Wallenfels has written a sequel titled MONOLITH, and hopefully, he has fine tuned his craft somewhat for this second installment so we can get some questions answered. I eagerly await getting my hands on a copy of this book so the characters and I can get some proper closure.

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Spider Worlds by Duncan Long

SPiderWorldDuncan Long’s Spider Worlds is a children’s science fiction trilogy is not to be confused with Colin Wilsons’ Spider World quartet; a series of dark post-apocalyptic stories for adults and young adults. Long’s Spider Worlds is a tale about a boy, Jake, who discovers a giant talking spider in his basement, Bekla, who is actually a being from another world, studying the inhabitants of Earth and looking for someone who can help the insect races.

This is an intriguing book for several reasons. Firstly, the meta-science behind the spiders is quite fascinating. It’s a fantastic idea I would love to see explored more in fiction. Once spiders reach a certain level of sentience they are capable of weaving ‘webs of travel,’ a uniquely patterned and textured web which distorts and warps space, allowing them to travel anywhere in the universe. The second key concept, is that spiders and other insect races can’t count. This is why they need Jake – they need his ability to count and use computers to help them figure out a monetary system to enable them to trade with each other and end lengthy barter negotiations or conflicts over inconsistent pricing. There are not enough children’s books where the main protagonist becomes an intergalactic stock broker, working for a hefty commission.

The writing is easy to read; Long’s prose is clear and uncluttered. The characters are what you would expect from a children’s story. If the setting were different it would be a pretty average read, but ti is the unique science fantasy elements that make this book stand out. Intriguingly, Duncan Long has also published dozens upon dozens of books on firearms, survival, tactics and other military subjects, and his books are used by American Federal agencies as part of their training.

Not only does this not creep into Spider Worlds, but the spider, Bekla, even tells Jake the importance of keeping her a secret from other humans because word would spread, gossip would grow, fear and uncertainty would rule over common sense, people would fear the threat of invasion and war would inevitably break out – because this is what humans do.

As enjoyable as this book was, it hasn’t changed my opinions on spiders in the slightest. I can ignore small ones but, like Beklas’ fears, the large ones will be forever eradicated from my home. Who knows, maybe the large Vagrant Spiders in the wood shed are merely trying to enlist my help to create an economic system on their homeworld, and I callously squish them with an indifferent bloodlust.

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