Favorite fantasy/sci-fi literature other than Tolkien
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Post Posted: Sun May 27, 2012 11:07 am 
 

DiscoDadda wrote:A couple months back I picked up an anthology The Best of HP Lovecraft... primarily because several guys here gave Lovecraft 5 stars... I managed to read about 10 or so stories got about 1/2 way thru it before setting it aside.  Some of the stories were The Call of Cthulhu, The Hunter of Dark the Colour of Space, the Dunwich Horror... etc...  I found most to be okay and I can respect Lovecraft's ability to write... None of the stories really grabbed me and said you have to read this now!  Maybe its just too "old school" and I know this post will be sacreligious but the stories were kinda bland.

Probably my favorite was the Dunwich Horror which should have been a longer novel...

Also, there was one technique he seemed to use over and over again, where he would have the main character read the notes of a departed soul who was being driven crazy by some horror that was sooooo horrific, as to be >>>>>> "unspeakable" >>>>>> I really wish he would have described the "unspeakable" horror.... but then it would not have been "unspeakable"

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Lovecraft is definitely a product of his times.....along with Robert Howard and Clark Ashton Smith he was one of the "Three Horsemen" of Weird Tales.  You have to take Lovecraft's stories as they are, perfect examples of 30's pulp fiction, rather than any sort of great literature.  Lovecraft was much more about setting and atmosphere, not a lot of action, but building a sense of dread and horror....definitely of the "old school" of not showing the gore onscreen, so to speak.  If you read some of his predecessors in the genre (Robert Chambers, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany and of course Edgar Allen Poe) you can see the progression in Lovecraft's works, even as he took the themes in a slightly different direction.

I don't know if you got to these, but my favorite Lovecraft tales are "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "Dreams in the Witch-House", "The Temple" and "The Festival".

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Post Posted: Mon May 28, 2012 12:55 am 
 

DiscoDadda wrote:A couple months back I picked up an anthology The Best of HP Lovecraft... primarily because several guys here gave Lovecraft 5 stars... I managed to read about 10 or so stories got about 1/2 way thru it before setting it aside.  Some of the stories were The Call of Cthulhu, The Hunter of Dark the Colour of Space, the Dunwich Horror... etc...  I found most to be okay and I can respect Lovecraft's ability to write... None of the stories really grabbed me and said you have to read this now!  Maybe its just too "old school" and I know this post will be sacreligious but the stories were kinda bland.

Probably my favorite was the Dunwich Horror which should have been a longer novel...

Also, there was one technique he seemed to use over and over again, where he would have the main character read the notes of a departed soul who was being driven crazy by some horror that was sooooo horrific, as to be >>>>>> "unspeakable" >>>>>> I really wish he would have described the "unspeakable" horror.... but then it would not have been "unspeakable"

Disco


Disco - You've hit your head square on the nail with Lovecraft.  He is an acquired taste.  When you read Lovecraft, you have to think in terms of the overall feel of the piece as well as the whole fun of the Lovecraft Game.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 10:23 am 
 

In many ways Lovecraft's work was ground breaking and set the direction for many other horror writers in the 20th century.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 10:48 am 
 

jasonw1239 wrote:In many ways Lovecraft's work was ground breaking and set the direction for many other horror writers in the 20th century.


What surprised me when I started reading some of the author's that Lovecraft talked about were the number of creepy old bastards there were out there writing fiction. Blackwood and Machen stand out. One of Lovecraft's greatests crimes is that all these no talent hacks like Lin Carter couldn't understand what anyone else saw in Lovecraft and were jealous as hell.

I was reading somewhere the other day that the guys at Marvel Comics feel that they are the ones that made Conan popular and that if they had gotten to do Thongar like they wanted (Carter turned down the $125 an issue fee they were willing to pay for the rights) then no one would know who Conan was but everyone would want the latest Thongar book.

Lin Carter hated Lovecraft (and helped to butcher the Conan stories) though he wrote several forgetable and forgotten Cthulhu Mythos tales of his own.

I know Disco here didn't get into Lovecraft, which is a damn shame because he is missing out on many hours of enjoyment if the stories clicked for him, and Formcritic likes to make fun of Lovecraft, but we all know he wears that Cthulhu for president underwear at convetions (and nothing else) while going around asking women if they want to see his three-lobed eye (I don't want to know what that means).

One of the greatest things that Lovecraft did was to encourage other writers like Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Bloch. He not only let other writers use the Cthulhu Mythos, he encouraged it, and used their contributions in his stories. If Lovecraft used some named book, monster or elder god from outer space then that was the seal of approval for its general use by all the other writers writing in the Mythos.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 12:36 pm 
 

I enjoy Lovecraft, yet, also recognize he is a genre writer with a now problematic cultural stance.   He was sickly, sad, lonely, racist and an utter failure academically, financially and personally; his work derives from and is fed by these challenges.  Nonetheless, I am neither a target of his melancholy, nor his racism, so I am able to find the work atmospheric and enjoy it.  However, I discovered that I enjoyed it a bit more after living in CT/MA for a while.  (ie. Pips + Ipswich = Pipswich).  

Granted, Lovecraft occasionally suffered from madness and that madness suffuses his writing.  I expect that for some people the more of the madness, cultural, geographic, academic and other attributes one shares with Lovecraft, the easier it is to look past his failures (as a person and a writer) to his success as a storyteller.  His work is atmospheric, although he is somewhat overly fond of his vocabulary.  No Poe; rather blunter.  It is definitely worth delving into the work of Machen, Derleth, et. al. if you enjoy the genre.  And, what's not to enjoy?  I rather doubt Lovecraft is an acquired taste for adults.  One either enjoys Lovecraft, or not.  Perhaps, younger folk find the genre through him (or as a Stephen King referent) and learn to read the genre through Lovecraft and co.  

Meanwhile, I have been delving into steampunk literature and find corollaries.  The pace and dissemination of publication is faster now, so it is unclear to me that there is a dominant writer, or one I am "supposed" to read.  Please remedy my ignorance where you can!  Yet, the genre is generally atmospheric and awash with writers in love with their own wordsmithery.  One English academic philosopher chap (name escapes me)  who is proclaimed a genius on the book flaps is particularly guilty of such.  Occasionally, a writer might let the reader decide he is a genius by the quality of his writing and thought... rather than leaving him wondering if the writer suffers self esteem issues and writes with a thesaurus at side.

Conveniently, one sets aside Lovecraft's writing with the abiding sense that he is sharing what he knows and feels to be true.  His gift to us is the immediacy of the places he sets us down; the application of this gift to the horror genre is his greatest legacy.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 1:12 pm 
 

Pipswich wrote:Granted, Lovecraft occasionally suffered from madness and that madness suffuses his writing.  I expect that for some people the more of the madness, cultural, geographic, academic and other attributes one shares with Lovecraft, the easier it is to look past his failures (as a person and a writer) to his success as a storyteller.


It sounds as if someone has been taking de Camp's biography too seriously... To my knowledge, there is no evidence for "madness" of any kind. I suppose it's arguable that people who share some of a writer's demographic and personality traits might find him more appealing, but I suspect HPL's popularity in some circles and the disdain heaped on him by others has more to do with the underlying worldview and philosophy expressed in his work (cosmic indifferentism is a hard pill to swallow). For every WASP New Englander who failed out of high school and works at McDonald's that adores Lovecraft, there're probably ten Asian-American PhD engineers... Might as well say that the typical Robert E. Howard (whom I don't particularly like) fan is a gun-toting, beer swilling, socially retarded latent homosexual with delusions of Nietzschean superheroism. Some undoubtedly are, but most just aren't.

JasonZavoda wrote:I know Disco here didn't get into Lovecraft, which is a damn shame because he is missing out on many hours of enjoyment if the stories clicked for him, and Formcritic likes to make fun of Lovecraft, but we all know he wears that Cthulhu for president underwear at convetions (and nothing else) while going around asking women if they want to see his three-lobed eye (I don't want to know what that means).


It isn't easy to get past HPL's turgid prose at first, and I think he loses a lot of modern readers that way. I suppose he isn't for everybody, but my advice to Disco is that a little concerted effort to "get into" the stories will be repaid.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 1:23 pm 
 

JasonZavoda wrote:One of the greatest things that Lovecraft did was to encourage other writers like Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Bloch. He not only let other writers use the Cthulhu Mythos, he encouraged it, and used their contributions in his stories. If Lovecraft used some named book, monster or elder god from outer space then that was the seal of approval for its general use by all the other writers writing in the Mythos.


Absolutely. Even if Lovecraft's work was completely worthless, there are about six other authors (CAS, Leiber, Bloch, etc.) I couldn't do without who simply wouldn't have written what they did the way they did if it hadn't been for HPL's encouragement.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 1:34 pm 
 

Don't mistake my lack of reverence for Lovecraft the writer for a dismissal of Lovecraft the literary figure.

It is important to separate Lovecraft's writing from Lovecraft's literary achievement.

Lovecraft was such a turgid and eye-rollingly melodramatic writer that it has been fun for generations of writers since the 1930's to parody his style.  From a writer's perspective, he can be a maddening author who often uses hyperbole and meaningless adjectives when what he really needs to do is just describe.  His characters are either wooden versions of himself or sneaky, lowlife, halfbreed racial scum.  It isn't hard for biographers to jump to the conclusion that Lovecraft himself had mental problems because of both his strange private life and his frequent use of madness as a theme or plot device.  (If I had a dime for every time a Lovecraft narrator cannot explain what he saw because it might drive him mad.....)

BUT (and it's a very big but)

Lovecraft also succeeded in creating almost an entire genre of sci fi/horror that is still rolling today.   The Cthulhu Mythos, and the idea of utterly inhuman alien presences looming out there, has become a theme running through fiction, movies and games.  Lovecraft's influence is found everywhere.  Every author
in the fantasy/horror field takes a try at a Lovecraftian story or two....some with great success.  People who don't know Lovecraft's name know his themes from movies and television (Robert Bloch's Star Trek episodes, for instance).  Lovecraft looms far above the lesbian/wicca/eco-freak writers of today.  His stories will still be in print and widely read when all of the talking animals, female warriors, impossibly noble eco-elves and girl mages are out of style and consigned to used bookstores.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 1:51 pm 
 

JasonZavoda wrote:I was reading somewhere the other day that the guys at Marvel Comics feel that they are the ones that made Conan popular and that if they had gotten to do Thongar like they wanted (Carter turned down the $125 an issue fee they were willing to pay for the rights) then no one would know who Conan was but everyone would want the latest Thongar book.


I had not heard this story.  It was a bad decision by Carter.

I think the guys at Marvel Comics are a bit too impressed with themselves.  Both Carter and Howard made it into print in the 60's and 70's with inexpensive paperback compilations.  It was those re-prints that made Conan popular....not a comic series.  Carter's work does not stand up to Howard's.  The attitude of the Marvel guys shows that they may know comics but they don't really know the heroic fantasy genre....which may partly explain why their movies are usually so bad.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 2:46 pm 
 

FormCritic wrote:Lovecraft was such a turgid and eye-rollingly melodramatic writer that it has been fun for generations of writers since the 1930's to parody his style.  From a writer's perspective, he can be a maddening author who often uses hyperbole and meaningless adjectives when what he really needs to do is just describe.


Your point is well taken, but it has to be remembered that a good part of HPL's project was to convey a sense of the unplumbed depths and incomprehensible infinitude of an indifferent universe and man's infinitesimal significance on the cosmic scale (as he viewed it), so to some extent his "antidescription" was a conscious device--he was forced to suggest rather than describe. Considering he was basically the first to attempt to write this way, I tend to cut him some slack. Granted there are some laughable instances where this technique falls completely flat, but there are also some stories and passages where it's quite effective. And, he was getting better at it as he gained experience; the style of "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow out of Time", while still in the same vein as his earlier work, shows a lot more refinement in his philosophy and aesthetic and the use of "meaningless" adjectives to create the desired effects. YMMV.

His characters are either wooden versions of himself or sneaky, lowlife, halfbreed racial scum.  It isn't hard for biographers to jump to the conclusion that Lovecraft himself had mental problems because of both his strange private life and his frequent use of madness as a theme or plot device.


I can't argue with you there. Lovecraft's empathy and capacity to understand those different from himself was rudimentary at best. He was without a doubt the Great Granddaddy of all social misfits (or at least the Granddaddy, as Poe was probably a bigger freak), despite the fact that the extent of his seclusion is grossly exaggerated (he actually had a quite a few friends, and traveled extensively).

 (If I had a dime for every time a Lovecraft narrator cannot explain what he saw because it might drive him mad.....)


This goes back to my point, above.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 2:55 pm 
 

MS,

I haven't read de Camps bio.  Not a fanboi, just familiar with the work.  By "madness" I did not imply he was insane.  My understanding is he was very unhealthy and prone to nightmares.  The nightmares and personal perspective of illness, loneliness and fear seem to permeate the work I have read.  That's just an opinion, not a fact or a paraphrase of a bio that I have no interest in reading.  

Nor would I focus on a single attribute... "WASP NE high school dropout" and use it as a defining one predicting interest in Lovecraft's writing, especially a century removed.  A modern day equivalent may easily have finished college and be sharing a squalid apartment with friends, video games and nary a full time job amongst them.  Times change.

Nonetheless, it seems clear we both find something to appreciate in Lovecraft.  You perhaps a bit more than me.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 3:21 pm 
 

Well a lot of points here and too many to comment on individually.

1. De Camp and Carter were both hacks.  They glommed onto the Howard legacy because that's where the money train was heading, proceeded to chop up Howard's works and insert their own benign bullshit and make it of the same level as Howard's writing, and finished it off by denigrating Howard (and Lovecraft) and their writings at every instance (they wrote bios of both that called them insane and worse).   Thankfully, I've lived to see the slide into total irrelevance of both De Camp and Carter and the stars of Howard and Lovecraft rise to prominence.  In another generation when the names of Lin Carter and Sprague De Camp are mentioned I'm hopeful the next sentence out of someone's mouth will be "Who?"

2. Both Lovecraft and Howard were not sociable people by any definition. They were not, however, mentally unhealthy any more than your average skatepunk, computer nerd, folk rock artist, or video game fanatic is nowadays.  That both were loners that found satisfaction in spinning pulp yarns is not remarkable nor should it be seen as a sign of aberration.  If you consider them "mad" then surely Lindsay Lohan or any of her ilk would be considered crazier without the benefit of creating a genre that has lasted almost 100 years.

3. There was one point in the 60s/70s when Conan paperbacks were hard to find....the comics did fill a void, and all Roy Thomas was doing was rewriting Howard tales for the comic (Roy Thomas is a nice storyteller but no comic writer ever went farther with less original ideas than Thomas during his career).  But however you feel about the comics, the Barry Smith art did bring a lot of new faces into the genre with their incredible color covers (myself one of them, I had never heard of Conan before the comic book, so that was my introduction) and then the great Buscema art that followed.  I'm sure I would have eventually discovered Howard's Conan but my seeking him out was a direct result of the Thomas/Smith/Buscema Conan series.  

4. Since Thongor is but a poorly written Conan it is laughable to think that he would have ever been as popular as Conan even if Marvel Comics had made him an Avenger alongside Iron Man, Cap and Thor  :D   Carter's entire career is one of pastiche and obvious jealousy at his inability to rise to the heights of others in the genres he wrote for (his fantasy is passable; his Cthulhu Mythos is dreadful).  For fun, when you pick up an old collection of fantasy that was edited by Lin Carter, check to see if one of his OWN stories is in the collection....chances are the answer is yes.  And think about the kind of guy with the chutzpah to put his OWN substandard fantasy in a "Year's Best" collection when he is the one EDITING THE COLLECTION HIMSELF!  

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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 4:03 pm 
 

That's why I think The Unspeakable Oath is such a funny title for a magazine.  It implies an oath that no one can pronounce (and thus harmless) and it is the sort of meaningless adjective Lovecraft resorted to.  What makes it "unspeakable?"  Why was it "awful" or "terrible" or whatever?  One might as well use words like "mmmmmaaa" or "zz zzzt" in place of those adjectives.  Lovecraft prefered to use big words to convey enormous scope.  He would have been better served by using metaphors.

I do agree about the affect on the reader's mind.  Lovecraft certainly had that effect on me as a younger reader.  I thought The Dunwich Horror was the best story.  I thought The Colour Out of Space was the weakest.

I have a massive poster map of Lovecraft's Dreamlands framed on my office wall.  Ironically, that is the portion of his writing with which I am least familiar.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 5:14 pm 
 

LOL. Yeah, the title Unspeakable Oath is unspeakably stupid :), but let's not confuse Grandpa Theobald with his misbegotten offspring--he himself was far too conscious of the meanings of words to coin that phrase. I understand that some of the "circle" wanted to translate Unaussprechlichen Kulten as "Unspeakable Cults", but they ended up with "Nameless" (by Derleth's suggestion, IIRC). But the original "German" title for the forbidden tome was your boy Howard's creation.

If I have any special problem with HPL's choice of words, it's the repetitive use of the word "cyclopean". When I was 14 reading this stuff, until I picked up a dictionary I kept picturing walls, masonry, etc. with single eyeballs staring back at the narrator... guffaw.


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Post Posted: Thu May 31, 2012 9:24 pm 
 

I had a business meeting today which took me near the oldest and largest comic book/monster mag/used book/vinyl/etc store in Pittsburgh, Eides.  So I had to stop in... in perusing the used book shelves, I did the Howard, Wagner, Goulart(Vampirella) search... Nothing... I glance to the floor in an overflow box... first thing I see is Cthulhu by Howard.  How Ironic is that? Snagged for 1$...  Read the introduction driving home(at stop lights!)... I am intrigued.

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Post Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 4:58 am 
 

Perhaps "An Unspeakable Oath" is an oath which is too horrific or blasphemous to utter out loud, except in extremis. Thus it might be referred to tangentially.  This is not entirely uncommon; here in the UK for example there is a swear-word which is often referred to as "the C word", that is a kind of unspeakable oath. I am sure there are words in the US that are in a way unspeakable by many in most circumstances. Or, to be a bit more Lovecraftian, perhaps this oath is too powerful to utter as its very mention brings about some kind of magical doom - perhaps some entity the very naming of which risks attracting its dreadful attention  8O 8O

Or... maybe we could be talking about a terrible oath of allegiance which is so profoundly regretted as to be beyond discussion, e.g. some calamitous Faustian pact. Or maybe some oath which might be read, but one dare not speak out loud. ... I like the phrase, thinking of it this way is possibly more true to Lovecraft's writings.


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Post Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 8:38 am 
 

There has been some misconceptions about Lovecraft that he was almost a hermit living in isolation.

Some of his non-fiction essays deals with his extensive travels throughout the east coast of the United States and as far north as Quebec city.

Most are aware that he was a prolific letter writer, maintaining constant contact with many fellow writers, fans and clients of his revision work.

On the Lovecraft facebook page there was a recent photo of him posted that depicts him sitting on the rocks along the Massachusetts coast smiling for the camera.

As far as the madness part goes, there is often some confusion because his father died young in an asylum (apparently from syphilis) after which his mother developed some mental health issues and also died at a fairly young age.


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Post Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:43 am 
 

Peeking in for a bit - I wanted to recommend a book I picked up last week, The Weird:  A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories (ISBN 978-07653-3362-9).  It's a phone-book-like compendium dedicated to tracing the thread of uncanny stories from the early 1900s to the present, regardless of language or rarity, and contains over 1,000 pages and over 100 authors, with a lot of original translations and reprints of hard to find stuff that's still in copyright.

The more recognizable authors included:  Foreword by Michael Moorcock, Afterword by China Mieville, H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Saki, Lord Dunsany, Franz Kafka, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch, Mervyn Peake, Gahan Wilson, George R. R. Martin, Ramsey Campbell, William Gibson, Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman, and a jillion people you might only know by name or never heard of.

It's good stuff.
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Post Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 11:56 am 
 

darkseraphim wrote:Peeking in for a bit - I wanted to recommend a book I picked up last week, The Weird:  A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories (ISBN 978-07653-3362-9).  It's a phone-book-like compendium dedicated to tracing the thread of uncanny stories from the early 1900s to the present, regardless of language or rarity, and contains over 1,000 pages and over 100 authors, with a lot of original translations and reprints of hard to find stuff that's still in copyright.

The more recognizable authors included:  Foreword by Michael Moorcock, Afterword by China Mieville, H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Saki, Lord Dunsany, Franz Kafka, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch, Mervyn Peake, Gahan Wilson, George R. R. Martin, Ramsey Campbell, William Gibson, Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman, and a jillion people you might only know by name or never heard of.

It's good stuff.
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That's exactly the kind of compilation I look for, I have most of the "regular" horror stuff. Still waiting for someone someday to come out with a print of "Medusa" by Visiak or any of R.R. Ryan's books (stupidly expensive but supposedly some of the best horror tales of the 20th century).

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Post Posted: Mon Jun 04, 2012 6:12 pm 
 

MetamorphosisSigma wrote:If I have any special problem with HPL's choice of words, it's the repetitive use of the word "cyclopean". When I was 14 reading this stuff, until I picked up a dictionary I kept picturing walls, masonry, etc. with single eyeballs staring back at the narrator... guffaw.


"Cyclopean" is a word from archeology.  It describes the very large stones used to construct some Mycenean era fortresses.  Tyrns would be an example.  So would Mycenae itself.  Lovecraft was (over?) using a technical term.

(I was only joking about The Unspeakable Oath.)


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