Sci-fi poll and updates

Hello readers!

Please read this whole post even if you aren’t going to join us for our next books, because I have some exciting updates for you.

Firstly, our next genre is sci-fi, the poll for which you will find here as usual. Our follow-up genre is thriller, so please shoot me your recommendations if you have them! Also let me know what genre(s) you would like to see afterword.

Related to this, the google form for submissions is now readable by all. You can visit submissions.ratherbereading.net or click here to access it.

Next, I want to remind everyone about our creative writing group and extend the invitation to join! Our plan for now is to have those who are interested meet weekly on Zoom to share companionable writingspace, and to meet every other week or so to do workshopping, check-ins, etc. It is an incredible group of kind, welcoming, creative, and talented individuals, and I strongly encourage anyone with even the slightest interest in writing of any kind to get in touch with me so you can be included.

We have also, with the help and encouragement of Riane and Simon, created a musical group! Whether you already play an instrument, enjoy discovering new music, or want to learn something new, you are welcome to join us in our quest to spend more time and energy being musically inclined. We have a Telegram group that you can join, and we will be setting up a meeting to discuss our plans and structure sometime soon.
If you would like to be added to one or both of these groups, please reach out to me. You can respond to the text update number if you're signed up and that's easiest, or you can message me anywhere you have me. My only request is that these remain RBR members only for now. This will give us a chance to establish how it all works with familiar faces before potentially expanding to non-readers.
 I realize that these expansions may be intimidating to those who expected only to join a book club, and I strongly encourage you to get in touch with me if you have concerns, discomforts, or worries. RBR will remain, first and foremost, a place to discuss books, and our hope with the new additions is to encourage people to spend more time engaging with what they love and are passionate about. Change can be disconcerting, believe me I know, so please come to me if there’s anything I can say or do to help. 
It’s important to keep in mind the following:

• You are never, ever obligated to attend or keep up with any group you join
• You are free at any point to decide that you can’t commit to something, even if you have already joined
• Social engagement will continue to occur within RBR itself; the other groups will remain focused on their topic
• The goal is to foster enjoyment and contentment in a world where we are not often permitted to spend time with what we love

And on that note, here are your options for sci-fi! Thank you all for the fabulous recommendations.

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

A feminist Guardians of the Galaxy—a smart, swashbuckling, wildly imaginative adventure of a rag-tag team of brilliant misfits, dangerous renegades, and enhanced outlaws in a war-torn future.

A wildly successful innovator to rival Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, Vivian Liao is prone to radical thinking, quick decision-making, and reckless action. On the eve of her greatest achievement, she’s trying to outrun those who are trying to steal her success.

In the chilly darkness of a Boston server farm, Viv sets her ultimate plan into motion. A terrifying instant later, Vivian Liao is catapulted through space and time to a far future where she confronts a destiny stranger and more deadly than she could ever imagine.

The end of time is ruled by an ancient, powerful Empress who blesses or blasts entire planets with a single thought. Rebellion is literally impossible to consider–until Vivian arrives. Trapped between the Pride, a ravening horde of sentient machines, and a fanatical sect of warrior monks who call themselves the Mirrorfaith, Viv must rally a strange group of allies to confront the Empress and find a way back to the world and life she left behind.

A magnificent work of vivid imagination and universe-spanning action, Empress of Forever is a feminist Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with Star Wars and spiced with the sensibility and spirit of Iain M. Banks and William Gibson.

Notable Review by Bradley

First things first: I had a great time.

As in, this is a goofy, fast-paced, unabashedly hard-SF, galaxy-spanning space-opera mania that mixes cloud-computing universe-spanning quantum-computing with the afterlife, instant travel, world-eating gods, cyborgs, huge space battles, and a HUGE baddie in the Empress of Forever who is literally impossible to defeat because she IS the substrate of the entire universe I just described.

When it comes to the whole grab bag of SF concepts and the way it is all put together, this is no lightweight SF. It made me dance around, happy as a pig in muck, and I pretty much forgave anything else because Gladstone KNOWS his genre inside and out. I thought he couldn’t be topped in the UF field, but I should have had a bit more faith. 🙂

So why aren’t I giving this a full 5 stars? Because the plot is kinda standard and predictable. The twist, especially, and although I DID like the backward hints residing in the naming conventions that spelled it all out, the SECOND twist that I expected didn’t come.

The characters were pretty fine. The focus did have some self-realization going on and this is definitely a Lesbian space adventure that has a lot of Iron Man overtones. Otherwise, the description in the blurb is accurate. Guardians of the Galaxy misfits, indeed. No complaints here.

Fun stuff, ESPECIALLY after you get through the opening bits in the book. It really takes off once a certain lady gets woken up. Definitely popcorn fiction for the nanotech infected galaxy. 🙂

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.

But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

Notable Review by Joel Rochester

T/W: This story contains mentions of domestic and emotional abuse through past traumas experienced by our main character.

The Space Between Worlds follows Cara, who out of the 380 worlds that Earth Zero can resonate with, she is alive on only 8. Cara works for a company that specializes in gathering intel about these universes. However, when one of her counterparts is murdered under mysterious circumstances, secrets about herself and the multiverse are revealed that may change the course of her destiny. This is a story about a black bisexual woman, fighting for survival, and falling in love with her female co-worker. I don’t think you’ll want to miss out on this one.

This book surprised me in a multitude of ways. I initially heard about this book through randomly browsing on Goodreads and it immediately made its way onto my radar. Being one of my most anticipated sci-fi reads of the year, I went in with slightly high expectations of this novel and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Micaiah Johnson can write.

She was able to beautifully craft a world, characters, and a story that I truly cared for and left a lasting impression on me right after I finished it.

Honestly, my first thought after finishing the book was “I need more Cara and Dell content STAT” but I was also super satisfied with how this book ended should it remain a standalone. However, I felt that this book handled it’s multiverse very well and it was explained in a clear and concise way that made it easy to follow along with.

I loved Micaiah Johnson’s writing. There’s just something about it that’s so poetic and yet grounded in the harsh reality that her story takes place in that makes me scream with amazement. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the story:

“I have seen two worlds now and the space between. We are a wonder.”
“The first thing a monster learns is when to lie.”
“The universe erases me, but it also remakes me again and again, so there must be something worthwhile in this image.”
“I want to ask her why that’s a good thing. I want to tell her that I’m not even sure I can die anymore, that I think my destiny is this: to watch every version of myself bleed on different ground until I am all that’s left.”

I find that the writing for this story was extremely easy to follow and that Micaiah Johnson nailed her pacing throughout. There was one moment in the story where I was like “uh, what’s happening?” but then literally the next page sorted that right out for me.
Specifically, I loved how the plot moved at a reasonable pace and allowed us time to gather the right information and letting it steep in our minds before delivering us to the next major plot point and it was GREAT! Plus, I got to theorizing and some of my theories actually turned out to be correct so, I was quite proud of myself!

Cara, as our protagonist, I found was extremely concrete and three-dimensional. She has her flaws, being extremely stubborn but she also carries her own personal traumas with her. Cara explores her history with being physically and emotionally abused and I couldn’t help but one, feel for her but also understand her on a deeper level as someone who was emotionally abused. Cara goes THROUGH IT in this story but I can’t help but feel proud of her and proud of the life she has made for herself.

Now, let’s talk about DELL. Not the computer, my QUEEN. Dell is honestly one of the most amazing characters in this book, admittedly a little stand-offish but for reasons that are explained later on in the story. Dell truly cares about Cara and the two of them do have some witty banter now and again and I just adore the two of them so much. I need them married and I need more content from them.

Other characters worth noting were Esther, Jean, and Adam. Esther and Cara’s sibling relationship is just so cute and reminiscent of my own relationship with my younger sister. I find the pair of them to just have a dynamic between siblings that is written super well and something that I easily related to. Jean, on the other hand, was Cara’s father figure in the novel who tried to offer nuggets of wisdom whenever he could. Jean was a good man and I loved him whenever he appeared.

Adam, he’s such an interesting mind, as the man who was behind the ability to explore the multiverse, he’s definitely got a lot on his plate. I found him to be extremely intelligent, calculated, and reminiscent of his other-universe counterparts, whom you meet in the story.

This book is set on a futuristic Earth, where it has been designated Earth Zero. The science behind the multi-dimensional range is answered very quickly, as since there are technically an infinite amount of universes, it wouldn’t make sense if there were only 380. Earth Zero can only resonate with 380 other universes because their frequency is only *ever so slightly** different from Earth Zero’s. Big enough to make a change on the Earth but small enough that the frequency is almost the same.

Apart from that, those on Earth Zero who are white and/or rich live in a high tower whilst those who are not live in slums and shantytowns, victims to a blazing and scorching sun. This draws a lot into the themes and criticisms that Johnson makes as those with paler skin don’t work and don’t go outside, which draws a lot into the argument of colorism as the rich intentionally have paler, whiter skin, giving them more privilege and more power as they’ll appear more conventionally beautiful to those in their society.

Overall though, I found the worldbuilding to be highly intriguing and I enjoyed finding out each little new nugget of information when it was revealed to me.

Micaiah Johnson also draws critiques towards classism, more specifically racial classism and how the quality of life differs between white people and Black and other minority ethnic people. She does this wonderfully when she notes that the advanced society she has built “needed trash people. Poor black and brown people. People somehow born on the “wrong side” of the wall, even though they were the ones who built it.” It depicts the societal issues that are deeply rooted within the society that Johnson has built and it is one of the many focal points of this story.

This story also draws criticism on human greed and how our hunger for knowledge can do more harm than good. My thoughts when I started Part Four of this novel were, “It doesn’t matter if we discover multiple realities, the reality is always going to be the same, filled with hatred, strife, and greed. We as a collective are greedy and once we discover more universes, we will want to control them all. We desire power and control and we will stop at nothing to claim it. But by doing so, we ignore what’s best for the greater good.” Whilst I would love to discover multiple universes, I think it would set up an entire debate about futuristic colonisation.

These themes matter strongly in The Space Between Worlds because they’re in essence, what drives Cara throughout the story. She’s a Black woman struggling to survive in a higher class society that refuses to accept her because of the colour of her skin, and her hunger for power so that she can remain in this society but also, prove herself useful to them. It’s a constant struggle for people of colour as we’re constantly having to prove ourselves to white people to show that we’re “good enough” when instead, that shouldn’t need to happen at all, they should accept us just as we are without having to challenge our intelligence nor our integrity.

I feel as though in the end, Cara’s world and our world aren’t that much different. In her own words, “it’s not a different world. It’s still our world, just with different paths taken”.

All in all, if you’re a fan of soft sci-fi and interdimensional travel, you need to read this book. If you’re looking for a good sci-fi to get into, this is a great book for that.

This story showed me that survival isn’t only just about surviving, it’s also about what comes after. How you cope with that pain and how you grow from it.

The Space Between Worlds is a phenomenal book, and I highly recommend you pick it up.

Today I Am Carey by Martin L. Shoemaker

REMARKABLE DEBUT NOVEL FROM CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED AUTHOR MARTIN L. SHOEMAKER. Shoemaker proves why he has consitently been praised as one of the best story writers in SF today with this touching, thoughtful, action-packed debut novel, based on his award-winning short story Today I am Paul.

TODAY

Mildred has Alzheimer’s. As memories fade, she acquires the aid of a full-time android to assist her in everyday life. Carey. Carey takes care of Mildred, but its true mission is to fill in the gaps in Mildred’s past. To bring yesterday into today by becoming a copy. But not merely a copy of a physical person. A copy from the inside out.

I AM

After Mildred passes, Carey must find a new purpose. For a time, that purpose is Mildred’s family. To keep them safe from harm. To be of service. There is Paul Owens, the overworked scientist and business leader. Susan Owens, the dedicated teacher. And Millie, a curious little girl who will grow up alongside her android best friend. And Carey will grow up with her. Carey cannot age. But Carey can change.

CAREY

Carey struggles. Carey seeks to understand life’s challenges. Carey makes its own path. Carey must learn to live. To grow. To care. To survive. To be.

Notable Review by Dave

“Today I Am Carey” is told in short diary-like chapters from an android’s point of view. But not just any android. Carey is a special unique android designed as a caretaker (get it -Carey), and more particularly an empath who is designed to caretake the elderly suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia and to emulate the people they think they are seeing. Carey understands human emotions and empathizes. He’s really closer to a sentient being than a mechanical man and is eventually accepted as a part of the family – except when he’s in the laundry closet recharging.

This novel is a bold tribute to Asimov’s three laws of robotics. You can hear those immutable laws and echoing throughout the narrative as Carey figures out how to help his family and take care of them. Amazingly, this warm, touching heartfelt novel stays interesting throughout without any sex or violence. And, along the way, it addresses not only the difficulties of being the one empathic robot on Earth but the human condition as well. Despite his programming, Carey is often a stranger in a strange land trying to negotiate a treacherous world of human emotion, not all of which is fully logical or sensible. If you thought this was going to be just another story about a mission from starfleet command, you are in for a surprise.

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

After thousands of years searching, humans stand on the verge of first contact with an alien race. Two human groups: the Qeng Ho, a culture of free traders, and the Emergents, a ruthless society based on the technological enslavement of minds.

The group that opens trade with the aliens will reap unimaginable riches. But first, both groups must wait at the aliens’ very doorstep for their strange star to relight and for their planet to reawaken, as it does every two hundred and fifty years….

Then, following terrible treachery, the Qeng Ho must fight for their freedom and for the lives of the unsuspecting innocents on the planet below, while the aliens themselves play a role unsuspected by the Qeng Ho and Emergents alike.

More than just a great science fiction adventure, A Deepness in the Sky is a universal drama of courage, self-discovery, and the redemptive power of love.

A Deepness in the Sky is a 1999 Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel and the winner of the 2000 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Notable Review

This is an excellent hard SF story, and it won the Hugo for good reason: well developed characters, complex but tight plot and subplots, a fine literary style, and intriguing prediction of technology, science, and societies. While I enjoyed Vinge’s Rainbow’s End (my review), I think this is even better.
This is a long book, but I never felt bogged down. Vinge, a former Professor of Mathematics, uses his education and ability to research to underpin a book full of hard science but never too technical or pedantic. The technology (and the cultural inventions for future humans and aliens) all service the story.
The book, subtitled Zones of Thought series Book 2, takes place 30,000 years before the Book 1 (yes, you read that right)—reading them in order is unnecessary (I didn’t). The major characters come from three different groups: two human groups with distinct cultures (Qeng Ho and the Emergents) and an alien race recently discovered and uncontacted. The aliens inhabit a planet with a bizarre cosmology: their star is dormant for most of a 250-year cycle, when even the air freezes, resulting in the need for a hibernation in “the deep” during the brutal “Darkness.”
The two humans are on a joint mission to investigate the sun and its race, hoping for some scientific and trading benefit. What they find stuns both groups of humans, but as they wait for the sun to relight and the aliens to appear, the two sides clash with catastrophic results. The survivors—masters and slaves—must find a way to survive the decades, hoping to find their respective hopes fulfilled (freedom from oppression, technology for a way home) when the aliens emerge.
Subplots work their way through the major story, giving the reader surprises, revelations, and moving back stories, all of which come together at the end for a major payoff. It takes skill to weave such an epic, lengthy, multifaceted narrative in a way that engages the reader like this novel. Vinge has done an exemplary job. I recommend this book, not only for SF fans, but anyone who enjoys epic storytelling.

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow

Don’t miss this spectacular debut novel… Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity? This road trip is truly out of this world! A beautiful and thrilling read for fans of Marie Lu and Veronica Roth.

Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.

Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. With humans deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, emotional expression can be grounds for execution. Music, art and books are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.

Born in a lab, M0Rr1S was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for the love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.

Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while creating a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.

Notable Review by Fadwa (Word Wonders)

CW: colonization, violence, execution, oppression, brainwashing and mind control, anxiety, panic attacks.

I’ve been pushing away writing this review for weeks now because I’m unsure of what to say. Not because the book is bad, mind you, it’s the complete opposite. I loved this book so much and it made me feel so many things that I just…don’t know how to put into words or how to properly convey those feelings and emotions it left me with, even now several weeks and books later. But I want to give it a try now because I want more people to hear about it and give it a try.

So if you know me, you know that I rarely pick up sci-fi, it just doesn’t appeal to me, spaceships and futuristic things aren’t really my thing if not laced with other things which is the case for most sci-fi, especially since the writing tends to be direct and kind of…rigid? I don’t know how else to explain it. But The Sound of Stars made me question everything I ever thought about the genre and made me want to look into it more and explore other titles. The writing is beautiful and powerful, it never fails to drive the point home with a punch and leaves you thinking about it for a while after reading it, but it also does so in such a good manner, with words weaved together so gorgeously that you take those words in with open arms.

Full review posted on my blog : Word Wonders

The Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor

After scrimping and saving for two years, Ivan Pritchard lands a berth with the mining ship Mad Astra. His one share buys him six months of searching the asteroid belt for that elusive cache of metals that could make the entire crew wealthy, and allow Ivan to pull his family out of the depths of poverty.

While investigating a promising asteroid, Ivan triggers an extraterrestrial booby trap, which squirts a strange liquid substance onto his arm. The next morning, he wakes up to find his forearm turning into living metal. Soon his other limbs begin to change, and worse yet, there’s an artificial intelligence growing in his head and talking to him. As alien nanites eat his ship out from under him, the AI reveals its mission: to convert the solar system and the human race into a war machine meant to fight in an interstellar battle that has raged for millions of years.

To save his family—and the human race—Ivan will need to play a deadly game of brinkmanship with the military, all the while hiding his plans from both his crewmates and the alien computer residing in his brain.

Notable Review by Melissa (Mel’s Bookshelf)

Forgive my absence of late. I’m doing my masters and unfortunately this means that my reading time now consists of reading research reports and text books instead of fiction. And there is another 2.5 years of this! Thankfully with travelling to and from work, and lots of cleaning up to do with two young kids, there is plenty of time for audio books!

This was the first Dennis E. Taylor book I have encountered. It was a lot of fun. I will pretty much listen to anything that Ray Porter narrates so I was excited to see he had narrated another sci-fi – and I was not disappointed.

Down on his luck, Ivan scores a job on a mining ship, searching for metals that will make them all rich so he is able to provide for his family. While on an asteroid, Ivan touches something and all hell breaks loose. The substance clings to his suit and makes its way into it. It starts to change him… All of a sudden Ivan is not quite Ivan anymore. And all of a sudden he has to save the human race!

This was a really fun ride! I thought it might be a bit slow at first, despite Ray’s narration, but man, it quickly got into it and I found I couldn’t stop listening!

It had a really great message embedded between all the drama, action and adventure. What do we have to do as a species to get our act together!?? I really enjoy this kind of sci-fi. A lot of fun, but also makes you think and opens up your mind.

I loved the characters, loved the action, and I am looking forward to giving more Dennis E. Taylor books a go!

I do wish there was a little bit more romance. There was a little bit, but it didn’t quite hit the spot for me, even though I realise that it wasn’t what the book was about, and I imagine some would argue that it was just the right amount as to not detract from the story… But I enjoy a bit more romance in a book.

Would I recommend The Singularity Trap?
Absolutely! It was a really great ride, with twists and turns. It was intelligent and a lot of darn fun! And if I ever write a sci-fi adventure, I hope that I can get Ray Porter to narrate it! Brilliant!

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Notable Review by Emily May

First off, welcome to 2015!

Let’s kick this year off with a review of a book about a guy who deserves to survive more than anyone I’ve ever known. This book has been lurking around in my Goodreads feed, gaining hype, and all the positive reviews from my friends eventually got too much for me – so I had to check this out for myself. I’m glad I gave in.

The Martian has so many good things going for it. First and foremost, it is a classic tale of survival against very huge odds. In this book, Mark Watney becomes one of the first people to walk on Mars but after an accident causes him to be believed dead and abandoned by his crew, it looks like he will be the first person to die there. Like Cast Away x a million, Mark must battle extremely foreign territory, the likelihood of starvation, and the possibility of technical failures.

It’s pretty hard to see an outcome where he isn’t totally screwed.

The best thing about this book is the juxtaposition between the very scientific nature of everything Mark must do to survive – gave me a renewed level of respect for how damn smart astronauts have to be – and his absolutely wonderful personality. Mark maintains his sense of humour throughout every hardship he faces – it’s pretty much impossible to not be charmed by him.

Here are some quotes:

“The screen went black before I was out of the airlock. Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid.” I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”

“As with most of life’s problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.”

This book is part “serious” science-fiction, part an hilariously dark comedy that imagines a horrifying situation infused with humour and the overwhelming human desire to stay alive. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who picks this up won’t find themselves dragged into Mark’s world, desperately needing to know what will happen to him.

Vote Here

Choose up to 3.

What shall we read next?

  • Today I Am Carey by Martin L. Shoemaker (24%, 12 Votes)
  • The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (22%, 11 Votes)
  • The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (22%, 11 Votes)
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (12%, 6 Votes)
  • Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone (10%, 5 Votes)
  • The Singularity Trap by Denis E. Taylor (6%, 3 Votes)
  • A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (4%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 18

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