TBR 2011


The fourth book about the adventures of Captain William Riker and USS Titan.

Publication year: 2007
Page count: 370
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books

The story focuses on exploring the space outside known space and I love that!

The book starts with “Epilogue” (which isn’t quite apt because the starting chapter would technically belong in the middle of the book) where one of the crew is in bad shape on a planet and hallucinating about his childhood and youth in refugee camps. He was in a shuttle that crashed.

The we jump to the start of the story. Titan is exploring a region of space dubbed the Occulus Ora while her First Officer is trying to work out some personnel problems. The chief engineer has managed to rile up quite a few people, and the captain and his wife are having some problems that are effecting the ship, too. However, soon they get a distress call and head out for rescue mission. Instead, they are caught in a sector of space where warp drive doesn’t work and they are dead in the water. When they investigate, they find a nearby planet Orisha inhabited by an insectoid species. Apparently, the Orishans are experimenting with warp drive but as a power source. They aren’t interested in exploring space.

The captain decides to send an away team to the planet but something goes horribly wrong.

I found the story’s structure near the start pretty weird. The Epilogue ended when Jaza started to remember what had happened before. Still, the majority of the start of the book is from the POV of the First Officer Vale and Jaza had no access to her thoughts. I also wasn’t wild about the time travel aspect of the book or the Riker/Troi tension. Otherwise, I found the concept of the Orishans and their culture fascinating. They seem to have two or three classes (the Dreamers who make the decisions and are scientists, and the Guardians who are the soldiers) but they don’t fight amongst themselves. They have a bigger problem: a large structure on their orb which destroys their world from time to time. Not surprisingly, the Orishans think it’s a god and try to appease it.

The main point-of-view characters are the First Officer Vale and the Science Officer Jaza. However, there are many other POV characters who are touched on just briefly. The familiar characters Riker, Troi, and Tuvok are minor characters in and Alyssa Ogawa doesn’t appear. However, there was a lot of interaction among the other characters and the multi-species crew seems to be finally working together, for the most part, anyway. Also, because most of the characters in the book were not established ones, they can and do have character development and might even really be in danger.

While I enjoyed exploring the new society (pretty different from usual Star Trek fare!), the ending left many mysteries open. What is the thing on the orbit and how did it appear here? Who built it or was is really sentient? Why was it there and behaved the way it did? No idea. This was frustrating.

You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon.

Apparently the next books in the Titan timeline would be the three book Destiny series. However, that one seems to have Ezri Dax in a large role and I’m still not ready for that. Reading about Data in the past tense in this book was traumatic enough. So, I’m going to dive into the Mirror Universe books!

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A stand-alone SF book focusing on gender issues.

Publication year: 1995
Page count: 320
Format: print
Publisher: Tor

Humanity spread on different planets centuries ago. FTL travel had its problems but humans solved it with a drug: hyperlumin. Unfortunately, the drug caused two genetic side effect: miscarriages are far more common and about one fourth of the population is born intersex. These days, the interstellar culture has five sexes and nine sexual orientations.

Warreven Stiller is a hermaphrodite but he was born on the planet Hara which was isolated from the interstellar culture for centuries and so still clings to the old ways: only two sexes are acknowledged officially and only heterosexuality is approved. The other three sexes are called halving or odd-bodied. Gender role are also rigid: women have to wear a customary dress that emphasizes their bodies’ femininity. Sexual roles are also rigid: women are passive in bed and men active. The only concession to the new reality is that people can officially change their official sex apparently pretty easily. Warreven is officially a man.

Haran culture has a strong hierarchy descended from the ship that brought the humans to Hara. The Stiller and Stane families are still hostile to each other because of the ancient history and the Captain is a great mythological figure. The roots of the local religion seems to be in Christianity but there are five spirits between humans and God.

Warreven is a lawyer and part of a three person firm. Often enough, they handle cases around “trade” as the commercial sex trade between Harans and the off-worlders is called. However, Warreven has a comfortable life and he even knows the Most Important Man and his son. One of Warreven’s partners is another hermaphrodite who tried to sue Hara over the gender issue and be called legally a hermaphrodite. However, the person lost the case and their legal gender was changed to a woman.

Mhyre Tatian is an off-worlder and in the employ of one of the medical companies that buys stuff from Hara. The company’s mandate is to steer clear of any local trouble and Tatian does his best to do just that. He’s a man but still Hara’s sexual politics make him uneasy at times. He also has intersexed friends and is gradually drawn into Haran politics.

The plot focuses on intrigue, local customs, and the possibility of social change, so it’s a bit slow. Also, there are some scenes that don’t really go anywhere; people going about their daily lives. They are great from character perceptive and for showing off the culture but not so good for plot. However, when action starts, it’s fast and furious and has consequences.

The three additional sexes have their own pronouns in the interstellar language and they all have letters that my keyboard can’t make. I find this a very interesting choice because surely Scott could have used more ordinary made up words, or words that mean something different for the new pronouns. Still, this forces the reader to really see the different sexes as different and to acknowledge them in a way that the Harans refuse to do. The book has a number of made up words for Haran and galactic cultural stuff and there’s a glossary at the back of the book.

I wonder if this book would lose some of the impact if it were translated into Finnish, because we don’t have gendered pronouns. Everyone would be just “hän”. In fact, I would think that just one non-gendered pronoun would have been more useful to the galactics than adding more gendered pronouns that segregate people more effectively. But maybe that’s the point. The galactics have also pretty rigorous customs, boundaries, and stereotypes even though they are different from the Haran ones. I mean, unless you’re thinking of dating every person you see, what difference does it make what genital configuration, for example a waiter, a cashier, or a plumber has?

The book’s world if full of shades of gray. Even those whose actions are pretty vile from their victims’ POV are motivated by fear or even a need to balance old and new, and not change too quickly because it might destabilize the whole society. From their POV, they are keeping people safe by forcing them to conform.

Oh, the book doesn’t have any sex scenes and there’s no romance.

The fourth book in the Hollows Urban Fantasy series. I bought this one first and didn’t know that it’s a part of a series. I really like the book titles which all allude to Westerns. The stories don’t resemble them, though.

Publication year: 2006
Page count: 528
Format: print
Publisher: HarperTorch

Rachel Morgan is again in trouble. She became part of David’s pack in order to get cheaper health care but right at the start another Werewolf alpha challenges her. Rachel has to fight her surprised and weaponless while six other alphas back up Rachel’s challenger. Rachel manages to win but only barely and she knows that she has pissed off several Werewolves. So, she searches for a way to defend herself in the future – and finds one in a demon curse. The curse allows her to change herself into a wolf but takes a toll on her soul. Rachel convinces herself that she will only do it once.

Jenks is still angry to Rachel and doesn’t want to talk to her. However, when Jenks’ wife Matalina tells Rachel that Rachel’s former boyfriend Nick has convinced Jenks’ oldest son Jax to leave with Nick and help him steal something, Rachel realizes that she has to help Jax – and at the same time Nick. Nick and Jax are out of town and as a small pixie Jenks can’t go after them. Rachel manages to convince Jenks to work with her again and together they go after the thieving duo. However, Nick is in a lot more trouble than Rachel could have imagined.

In order for Jenks to travel to another city, Rachel uses a demon curse (just this once!) to make him six foot tall. Jenks turns out to be a really handsome young man and Rachel drools over him several times. However, we also find out the real reason why Jenks has distanced himself from his previous partners. It turns out that he’s actually quite old and he’s worried that his skills are going to deteriorate soon.

Ivy and Rachel’s relationship seems to come to a turning point. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really change anything as they are both just as angsty about each other as before, if not more so. Poor Ivy has to also do a pretty bad thing to bail out Rachel and she seems to be more messed up than before. Rachel is now with the vampire Kisten but she still has feelings for Nick and Nick wants her back, so there’s also lots of angst about them. She’s also increasingly confused about Ivy and insists that she’s strictly hetero while wanting to ”filling in the emotional void” inside Ivy. So, the soap opera content is high. The unresolved plot thread is Kalamach doesn’t continue. Also, Ivy and Jenks call Nick “crap for brains” and constantly threaten to mutilate or kill him. I think he deserved it but it got old quickly.

After being angry with Rachel for a long time, Jenks starts to quickly trust her again and becomes extremely loyal to her. He’s also very effective fighter even though his size has changed drastically. We also get to see the more savage side of the pixie up close and personal. Even though we’ve been told about the bloody fights between pixies and fairies, it didn’t really feel real to me, or supposed wild fighting between four inch people felt even humorous, until Jenks kicks werewolf ass with just a lead pipe.

The main plot starts fast-paced but slows considerably once Ivy shows up. Unfortunately, there’s little character development. Rachel is still doing stupid mistakes; somehow she assumes that demon curses aren’t black magic and she still doesn’t know much about vampires even tough she lives with one and is dating another. She’s also again keeping secrets from her partner and walking around with a vampire bite.

The book has as much humor as the previous books; the people in the small town aren’t used to Interlanders and they are really racists towards Jenks and Rachel. However, the duo get their revenge. As pixie, Jenks has to constantly do something and that’s amplified when he’s so large. The local ladies are also very attracted to him. And of course, Rachel has her humorous lines.

The first book in a historical fantasy series about the very old vampire who is currently called the Comte de Saint-Germaine. The first book is set in the year 1745 and in Paris.

Publication year: 1978
Page count: 252 including the authors notes about the locations, people, and vampires
Format: print
Publisher: St. Martin Press

Comte de Saint-Germaine is a mysterious man who has recently taken his place among the Parisian nobles. Some think that he’s a fraud but others, particularly the women, are charmed. He seems to be interested in them as people, and not just to get (sexual) favors, and he keeps the confidences he’s told.

In a sense, those that call him a fraud are correct; he’s not a Count. He’s a vampire who remembers Ancient Rome because he lived there. He also has a double life in Paris as Prinz Ragocy who employs sorcerers and opposes the Satan worshiping clique of men lead by Saint Sebastien. Saint Sebastien is looking to sacrifice a couple of women in his rituals to Satan in order to get more power to himself. Unfortunately, one of the women is the young and vibrant Madelene de Montalia whom Saint-Germaine has fallen in love with.

The plot is about equal parts about Saint-Germaine fighting the Satan worshipers and romancing Madelaine. Still, the plot moves along quickly. The book has several point-of-view characters. In addition to Saint-Germaine, there’s Madelaine, her aunt Claudia, and a few others. The book starts and ends with a letter, and every chapter ends with a letter or a note. The letters are important. In fact, one subplot is resolved in the letters and the structure worked well for me.

Most of the characters are Parisian nobles and their servants and many of the chapters are set in parties or dinners. However, to balance them, there are the sorcerers who work in gloomy cellars.

The cast is pretty large In addition to the thoughtful Saint-Germaine, there’s Madelaine who’s intelligent and wants to study. However, she’s spent most of her life in a convent, so some things are a shock to her. Her aunt the countess Claudia is trapped in an unhappy marriage; her husband is a drunkard and a gambler, and resents it when Claudia tries to help him. Claudia advices her niece that she can’t expect a happy marriage, either. In fact, many of nobles are unhappy. One of the women is married to a gay man and her priest just tells her to pray for children. Saint-Germaine also rescues an injured coach man who becomes loyal to Saint-Germaine. The group of sorcerers includes a Spanish man who escaped the Inquisition and an Englishman who is the group’s leader. They can do actual magic.

Near the start, Madelaine finds out that Saint-Germine is a vampire but she isn’t disturbed by it. Instead, she wants him to suck her blood and later she wants to become a vampire so that she’ll have a longer life. I found this to be a bit strange, to say the least, especially for a woman raised by nuns. The vampire doesn’t have to kill anyone; he seems to need very little blood. Like Dracula, he can walk in daylight but is strongest during the night. He ages very slowly.

There are a lot of historical detail in the book. In fact, I was quickly bored with the clothing descriptions but religious talk about how women have to submit to even abusive husbands but those were a big part of the life of the nobles. However, otherwise I enjoyed the glimpse to a fantastical 1743 France.

There are two Satanistic ritual descriptions in the book and both are cruel. In both cases, a woman is the victim and in the first ritual she’s gang raped. The rituals have also homosexual acts. The book doesn’t have any non-Satanistic gays which, on the one hand fits the time period but is also a bit disappointing.

Saint-Germaine himself is based on real-life figure who was a mystery to his contemporaries.

All in all, I did enjoy the book and intend to read a few sequels, especially if they don’t have any Satan worshipers!

A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 2002
Page count: 403
Format: print
Publisher: Aspect

Lee Enfield is a forensic lanthanomancer; she serves Justice directly and can see what is True about places and people. She’s also a freelancer prosecutor and, when her cases demand it, a detective. Her long-time business partner and best friend is Gelert, who is madrín, he looks like large white wolfhound who can talk. Together, their office solves crimes and becoming quite famous at it. Unfortunately, Lee used to date Assistant District Attourney Matt, who is still their boss when they do freelance work for the DA. Their relationship isn’t easy.

Lee and Gelert live in an alternate, high-tech Earth where the people have discovered other alternate Earths and gating between them is commonplace. They even have a five world Interpol to catch world-hopping criminals and the Five World Geneva Pact as law.

When an Alfen is killed in Lee’s Earth, she’s called in to investigate it. However, when she and Gelert start to work on the case, they find out startling facts and are targeted by their opponent.

Lee’s world is high-tech; her house is voice-activated and has entire comwalls for communication. She also has an implant that serves two functions: she can silently communicate with Gelert and she can also record things she Sees with her psychic senses. Teleportation, or gating, is a favorite way to travel from place to place on Earth, and apparently the only way to move between worlds. The gating technology depends on fairy gold which only Alfhaim produces. So the Alfen, or Elves as they are often called, are important people. The various universes have also aliens who are mentioned but not seen much.

I was highly amused by the descriptions of the Alfen. They are immortal, or rather unaging, and very beautiful. They look as humans should look but don’t or can’t. This makes other people jealous, sad, or even angry, and they sometimes lash out against the Alfen. The Alfen are also rather insular and arrogant people. Their world looks also the way that things should look and when humans go there the sight of building alone can make them cry. The Alfen discourage tourism.

Lee herself is a very engaging main character. She loves her job, Justice, and wants to the best work she can. About a month ago she found out that Matt was cheating on her and broke off their relationship. She’s still hurting a lot. She’s somewhat impulsive, which is a good trait in a main character.

Her partner, Gelert, was great! He’s smart mouthed but also acts are the voice of reason, when that is called for. He’s also an experienced investigator and equal with Lee. He’s also happily married and has puppies, which was great. In essence, this is a buddy book without a romance.

Most of the rest of the characters are well rounded. Matt who is selfish but can be apologetic when it’s pointed out of him. He’s ambitious but can still be uncomfortable when he’s sending his ex-girlfriend in to danger. His boss, who is a politician (slimy) and steals others’ glory. Lee is briefly assigned a bodyguard who stubbornly does his job as best he can, even when it makes Lee uncomfortable. The Alfen weren’t as well developed.

I found it a bit strange that the case investigator is also the prosecutor. Isn’t that giving a bit too much power to the prosecution? Or is the defense using similar investigators? If so, they aren’t seen. Or perhaps the idea is that since the investigator is working directly to Justice and will record everything in her implant, the evidence can’t be faked? Or that they wouldn’t be able to withhold any evidence? I’m a bit dubious about that, since we are dealing with humans, after all.

We don’t get much information about the other Earths which is a shame. I was fascinated by Mithgarth’s description which included a winter where the (local?) gods warred amongst themselves and drew any mortals on the planet into the conflict, too. Most of the locals made a point not to be on the planet then. I also really enjoyed the concept of Justice in person who shows up to judge the guilty. On the other hand, there’s already a lot of world-information to absorb.

Near the end of the book, the characters go to a newly discovered world which I suspect is our own Earth and find out some disturbing things about it. Sadly, I think they are right.

The first book in the Shakespeare fantasies series where Shakespeare is one of the main characters.

Publication year: 2001
Page count: 298
Format: print, paperback
Publisher: Ace

Will Shakespeare is an unhappy man. He married the woman he loved, Nan Hathaway, and they have an infant daughter. In order to support his family and declare his independence from his parents, Will took up job as a petty schoolmaster in Wilcot where he has to walk two hours one way, every day. He’s away from his family a lot. Also, his mother Mary insists that “velvet-clad gentlemen” visit Nan while Will is away and tries to get Will to leave Nan.

Today, Will has walked back home through poring rain and finds out that his wife and daughter are missing. He panics at first but then he concludes that Nan is helping her sister who is nine months pregnant. Will decides to walk to the Hathaway house to be with Nan and Susannah. On the way there, he sees a magical castle and Nan dancing in it clothed in silks and pearls.

Prince Quicksilver of Elvenland is an unhappy man. He is the youngest son of King Oberon and Queen Titania who were killed five years ago. According to elven law, the youngest inherits. However, Quicksilver’s elder brother Sylvanus managed to steal the throne with innuendo about Quicksilver’s youth and unstable dual nature. While Quicksilver’s natural body is male, he can change into a dark haired elven woman. Gender change is typical of the lesser fae and the noble scorn Quicksilver’s ability. Also, when his parents died, Quicksilver was barely an adult he hadn’t had the time, nor inclination, to gather supporters. So, Quicksilver wear mourning black in court. He has only two allies: Pyrite, the Duke of Air Kingdoms, and his sister Ariel who is a seer.

King Sylvanus’ mortal queen has died and left him with an infant. So, Sylvanus decided to kidnap a suitable mortal nurse maid for his daughter. He was smitten with the coarse country woman and wants to now marry her.

From Ariel, Quicksilver learns that his parents were murdered and that his brother arranged it to get the throne. If anyone kills an elven ruler, the power of the hill that he commands will kill the murderer. So, Quicksilver will need someone else to do it for him… perhaps a mortal man who wants his wife back?

I expected a lighter read from Ill Met in Moonlight, along the lines of the play which inspired it. However, this is a darker story of revenge and struggle of a mortal man caught in the middle of elven scheming.

Will is young man who is trying to distance himself from his parents and prove that he is his own man. His father fears apparently illusory debt collectors since he doesn’t have debts, and has mostly stopped working on his glover’s shop. Will had helped him when he was younger but resents it now. Her mother openly disapproves of Nan who at 26 is considered an old maid and a shrew. Will has nothing but contempt for his slow-witted pupils and regrets his choice of career. Still, he’s trying the best he can. We also get a few chapters from Nan’s point-of-view.

She clearly loves Will although she also thinks that he could have gotten a much better wife than ugly Nan. She grew up in a strict Puritan household, resisting her father’s demands and lectures. From time to time she dressed in her brother’s cloths and escaped to dream and play in the woods. She’s loyal to Will and able to resist faerie glamor because of her stubborn nature.

Quicksilver had a carefree, if lonely, childhood and he regrets that now. He’s broody nature makes him a loner now, too, and he even resents his few friends. He treats Ariel horribly. However, he learns and grows a lot during the book. He’s pretty human though, even with his alien-like gender shifting.

Ariel is shy and timid elven maiden. She loves Quicksilver but he has nothing but cruel and impatient words for her. Still, she hopes that some day his cold heart will thaw.

Hoyt borrows a lot from Shakespeare: not just phrases but names of characters and fragments of dialog, too. This is apparently jarring for those who know his works well, but I liked it. Each chapter starts with a short scene description.

There are a few references to Kit Marlow as well. Apparently, he was Quicksilver’s earlier lover who went a bit mad because of the contact with the fae world. We also get to see the Hunter who is a shadowy figure who hunts elves and occasionally tempts them with great power and everlasting damnation. I think he’s a variation of the Wild Hunt.

Here, Shakespeare is a fairly normal young man and not a genius. He did learn to read and write far quicker than his brothers and has written a few poems but I don’t think he’s shown them to anyone else than Nan. I doubt that anyone shows genius if he has to work hard on a completely different field, so I was fine with that. However, near the end, the narrator (who only appears at the end and implicitly in the prologue and the scene settings) says that what Will has seen “kindle strange fires in his brain”. I was a bit disappointed with that; humans don’t need outside influence to excel at something.

Unfortunately, the ending felt a bit too convenient and rushed.

Anyway, I liked the book a lot. Will and Nan make an excellent established couple who have to endure a lot from others. Quicksilver and Ariel have a sort-of courtship romanc which I didn’t really care for.

The first book, or branch, of the Mabinogion, a retelling of the old Welsh legends.

Publication year: 1974
Page count: 179
Format: print, paperback
Publisher: Del Ray

The short book is split into to two books which are almost individual stories. In the first one, Descent into the Abyss, our hero Pwyll King of Dyved, encounters Death and exchanges places with him. In the second one, Rhiannon of the Birds, Pwyll finds himself a bride.

In the first story Pwyll meets Arawn, the King of Abyss. Pwyll had been hunting and had taken as his the deer that Arawn’s dogs had killed. So, Arawn suggests that Pwyll should kill Arawn’s greatest enemy, the god Havgan who could threaten the world of men as well. Pwyll is doubtful but agrees. So, Arawn and Pwyll exchange places; Arawn makes them look like each other so that no-one should know. Pwyll rides to the Underworld on Arawn’s gray horse and encounters monsters whom he has to fight. He also encounters the Goddess whom the Old Tribes worship and falls in love with her. He also has to face the temptation of Arawn’s young queen before he can fight Havgan.

The second story starts six years after Pwyll has returned to Dyved. The country has had one bad year and the Druids are worried. Pwyll hadn’t done the ritual of marrying a White Mare, as a substitute for the Mother Goddess, and the Druids think that Pwyll has so brought the gods’ wrath on Dyved. Worse still, Pwyll is unmarried. Pwyll agrees to go to the dreaded mount Gosedd Arberth where only kings can go and return alive. Also, the king can only return alive if the gods have smiled on he and shown him a vision.

So, Pwyll and his ninety-nine True Companions go to the mountain. They are touched by a weird sleepiness and in his sleep Pwyll dreams of the Fairy woman Rhiannon who is a part of the Goddess. Pwyll falls in love with her on first sight and Rhiannon agrees to marry him if Pwyll can stop her father who wants her to marry a man she doesn’t like. After a year and a day, Pwyll and his Companions start a journey to the Fairy world to claim Rhiannon. However, all of this happens in a dream and the High Druid wants to kill Pwyll while he sleeps.

The stories are told very much in the myth/fairy tale way. Pwyll is the archetypal hero who embodies the male virtues of the time: brave, loyal, keeps his word, and thinks that women are beneath him. He’s also stubborn and it takes several tries until he learns a lesson. He keeps his word even when a saner man would not. In a way, Rhiannon or the Goddess is Pwyll’s counterpoint: she’s calm, clever, merciful. She’s also extremely beautiful in the way that women in fairy tales are.

One of the themes of the book is culture clash. One is, of course, between the Fairy folk and humans. The fairies make it clear that they don’t care for Pwyll as a suitor. But in the human world Dyved is just one kingdom among many and in the second story it’s mentioned that their closest neighbor has a warrior king who wouldn’t mind conquering Dyved if Dvyed’s king is seen as weak. Also, in Dyved there are the Old Tribes whose ways and power are going away, and the rising New Tribes. The spiritual leaders of the New Tribes are the all-male Druids who are trying to wrest power from the Goddess whom the Old Tribe still worships. In fact, the High Druid says this in the second story. Pwyll resents the Druids but has to deal with them.

The Old Tribes are said not to have the institution of marriage. Women would lay with the men they wanted and a man’s heir was his sister’s son. Yet, even Death is married, the Fairies have marriage and the bride has a to be a virgin (which might be seen a counterpoint to the Old Tribe ways), and there’s an ancient tradition where a king married a woman who represents the land. So, marriage doesn’t seem to be a really new idea. Linked to this is are the roles of women. The High Druid seems to think that women among Old Tribes have a lot of power and wants to stop that. Yet, the roles of men and women are very rigid in both tribes and the underworld: men are warriors and women are beautiful and kind. The New Tribes also seem to have casual domestic abuse.

Even though the book is short, there’s time for the characters to talk about philosophy. In the first book, Pwyll and Arawn talk about the gods. There’s apparently only one god and all the others are a reflection of that one being. Yet, the gods can and will do battle with each other because they also reflect what the humans (or men rather) think about them. In the second book, the Druids’ want to steal the power from the Goddess worship and the High Druid at least wants to lower all women to nothing more than walking wombs.

The role of women in the book is quite old-fashioned. While the Goddess and Rhiannon both seem to have great powers, they can’t use them to save themselves; they have to have a male agent to work on their behalf. This is, however, in the nature of fairy tales where the men are the heroes and women tempters or maidens to be rescued.

Edited to add: It’s also in the original tales from around 13th century and Walton kept those attitudes and values in her story.

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