Yes, this thing still works.

Blog-On-Off

I figure (read: “desperately hope”) there’s at least a couple of you out there wondering where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing the last week or so.

The answer is that I’ve been bussssssssssssssssssssy. There are several things in the hopper at the moment, several of which fall into the category of “Things I Can’t Really Talk About…At Least Not Yet.”

I was motoring along at a somewhat leisurely pace for a bit there, enjoying the first few weeks of my kids’ summer vacation, but then several things kicked into gear in rapid succession. On the home front, both kids are attending “summer learning” programs at school. Unlike “summer school” from back in my day, which you attended because your dumb ass flunked a class during the regular school year, this is a completely different kind of thing. For one, the kids volunteer to go, and the classes they attend are fun. Oldest daughter is taking a computer animation class, while youngest is doing one about animal sciences. How cool are those? So, it’s like summer/day camp, but I don’t have to pay for it because it’s offered by the school system (which I kinda sorta already pay for, anyway). Of course, the classes are at two different schools with different start/release times, so I’m running around town in the morning and afternoon doing my best Uber driver impression.

The kids are also on the neighborhood swim team again, this year. This requires them to be at practice a few times a week, and then there’s the weekly swim meets against other neighborhood teams every Wednesday evening throughout June and part of July. The Wednesdays are a 4-5 hour commitment, plus we parents volunteer to help with various things that need doing during the evening. I usually serve as one of the lane timers, for example, with my little stopwatch and clipboard, while Michi helps up front with registration, entering stats, or serving as a runner. When we started this last year I didn’t think I’d enjoy any of it, but it’s been a lot of fun, due in no small part to the friends who also have daughters in the program, and with whom we hang during all of this.

(Note: It’s possible that an adult beverage or two may be present at these events. YMMV.)

Work wise, things are maintaining pace in the “busy” lane but threatening to swerve into “insane.” As I write this, I have three…count them, three… projects all with deadlines in the next 45-60 days. One was something I was already scheduled to start working on after finishing the previous novel manuscript, and the other two came largely out of nowhere. Both are things I really, really want to do, and each has the potential to lead to more work in their respective realms, so hell yeah I signed on. By themselves, none of them is something that would be in danger of being missed, and in truth all are of a size that I can manage with proper time management and discipline.

(Insert joke about my being doomed here.)

What are these new things? Well, as you may have already guessed, all of them fall under the aforementioned “Things I Can’t Really Talk About…At Least Not Yet” category. Stay tuned for details as I’m given the green light to start blabbing.

Oh, and that novel manuscript I mentioned in passing a few paragraphs ago? The one I turned in on May 22nd? Yeah, I’ve heard back from my editor and the licensor and there will be some rework involved. Nothing too demanding (at least, the way I see it), but requiring more time than I’m able to give it at this precise moment. Thankfully, all parties are sympathetic to my plight, and I’m doing whatever I can to shuffle things around on my calendar so that I can return my updated manuscript sooner rather than later. Luckily, we have a bit of maneuvering room, here, but that doesn’t mean I want this thing to linger any longer than absolutely necessary. Oh, what’s it about? Again, “Things I Can’t Really Talk About…At Least Not Yet.” Sorry. 🙂

As for things I can talk about? Let’s see….today, I’m wrapping up a piece for Modiphius, to be used as part of the communications stream between game developers and players for their upcoming Star Trek Adventures role playing game. Once that’s done, I’m putting the final polish on a guest blog piece that will run in conjunction with the soon-to-be released Hidden Universe Travel Guides – Star Trek: The Klingon Empire from Insight Editions. Like the book itself, I’m writing this piece to be “in character” as though submitted by the same people who write the guides. We’ll see if anyone else thinks I’m as clever or funny as I apparently think I am. Once these are out of the way, I’ll be getting started in earnest on the Three Big Things.

It’s nice to be busy.

evil-dayton

So, enough about me. What’s up with you?

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Hey! It’s Captain Picard Day!

Today, June 16th, is “Captain Picard Day.” What, you didn’t know this? Shame on you.

That’s right, today we pause to recognize the life and accomplishments of Jean-Luc Picard: captain extraordinaire, explorer, diplomat, tea connoisseur, and 24th century renaissance man.

So, you know…make it so, and all that.


Of course, all he wants is to sit in the sun and read his book. Alone. Afterward? He really hasn’t thought that far ahead.

Posted in nerdity, trek | 4 Comments

Happy 50th Anniversary, The Dirty Dozen!

You will select twelve general prisoners convicted and sentenced to death or long terms of imprisonment for murder, rape, robbery, and/or other crimes of violence and so forth, and train and qualify these prisoners in as much of the business of behind-the-lines operations as they can absorb for a brief but unspecified time. You will then deliver them secretly into the European mainland and, just prior to the invasion, attack and destroy the target specified.

Major John Reisman just got dealt a shit sandwich, eh?

C’mon. Everybody knows this movie, right? It’s 1944: Lee Marvin is Reisman, tasked by his C.O. (Ernest Borgnine) to recruit a dozen ne’er do wells and train them up for a top secret insertion behind enemy lines on the eve of the D-Day invasion. What’s the target? A French chateau known to be a hot gathering spot for high-ranking German officers and their “companions.” The mission? Blow the fuck out of that place, kill every German big-wig they can find, and get out of Dodge.

Simple, right?

Endlessly imitated or just flat-out ripped off, The Dirty Dozen remains one of the most popular war films of all time. It’s based on the 1965 novel of the same name written by E.M. Nathanson (who would write a sequel, A Dirty Distant War, two decades later), and retains most of the book’s plot. The storyline is pretty simple, moving along from the selection of the prisoners to their training and the eventual parachute drop into France in mostly straightforward fashion. The training period provides the backdrop for much of the film’s humor, from the construction of their camp to the learning of the various skills they must master before being sent into action. There’s a diversion to a parachute training base commanded by an adversary of Reisman’s that’s mined for laughs, and which also sets into motion the sequence of events whereby Reisman is able to convince a skeptical leadership that his “dirty dozen” can hold their own even against spit-and-polish troops.

Most of the characters from the novel are there, as well, though a few are changed or tweaked in order to give the cast of convicts “flavor.” Filling out the ranks of the criminals Reisman selects for his team are such notable faces as Charles Bronson, Robert Ryan, Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, Clint Walker and, of course, John Cassavetes as Franko (or, Number 11, if you prefer). Along with Borgnine, George Kennedy and Richard Jaekel also provide memorable supporting performances, but even with all this star power, it’s Lee Marvin as the non-conformist Reisman who helps bring the whole thing together.

But, does the mission succeed? Well, watch the flick, dagnabbit. Even after 50 years, this baby still holds up. For me, I love to double-feature it with one of my other favorites, The Great Escape.

When it was first released, the movie took a lot of heat from reviewers for its on-screen violence. Tame by today’s standards, it was pretty brutal for 1967. There also was some criticism as to the unrealistic nature of taking prisoners and training them for such an important mission. Hey, it’s a movie, right?

In addition to the sequel to the original novel Nathanson wrote in 1987, there also was a made-for-TV movie sequel to the film, The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission, released in 1985 and with Marvin, Borgnine, and Jaekel reprising their roles. As the events of the telefilm–centering on preventing a Nazi plot to kill Hitler–supposedly take place mere months after D-Day, actors who are nearly 20 years older than when we last saw them playing these characters is pretty weird. It’s weak…very weak, when compared to the original, but it’s still better than what would follow.

Borgnine would portray his character in two subsequent TV movies, The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission in 1987 and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission in 1988. As if that wasn’t enough, there also was a short-lived TV series inspired by the original film, with Ben Murphy playing a different Army officer given the shaft the assignment to lead “unconventional” soldiers on special missions. The less said about any of the sequels, the better. For all of us.

Meanwhile, there’s still the original flick, always watchable. Give it a spin, whydontcha?

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Happy 30th Anniversary, Predator!

So, what happens when you’re a special operations unit called in to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter that’s been taken hostage by guerillas in a Central American country you’re not supposed to be in, anyway? Even on a good day, that kind of mission likely would have its share of pitfalls, right?

Toss in an irritable alien hunter from a distant planet who carries an assload of advanced weaponry and other sweet gadgets, including a tactical nuke strapped to its wrist?

Well, now it’s a party.

predator-poster

One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s numerous contributions to the movie screens of the 1980s, the original Predator arguably is his best macho-flick aside from the first two Terminator films. Released on this date in 1987, Predator made no bones about what it was supposed to be: a stripped-down testosterone-fueled action fest stuffed to the brim with hard-core dudes shooting the hell out of everyone and everything, including that aforementioned irritable alien hunter from a distant planet. Said alien is here for a little safari of sorts, attracted to the heat of the Central American jungle and the promise of an exhilarating pursuit of worthy prey. It’s Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” amp’d up to the max, with maybe even a touch of homage to Kirk and the Gorn for flavor.

The film is directed by John McTiernan, soon to be the man who would provide the action movie genre with what remains its benchmark (that would be the original Die Hard, for those who don’t know…and why don’t you?). McTiernan takes the script from writers Jim and John Thomas and goes delightfully nuts with it. It begins as a standard adventure story with Schwarzenegger as “Dutch Schaefer” and his team of crack soldiers sneaking around behind enemy lines. Why? They’ve been sent into the bush by CIA agent/lying douchebag “Dillon” (played by always-cool Carl Weathers) to find the hostages and get the hell out of town before more guerillas get wise to their shenanigans.

The team takes out the guerilla camp where the last of the helicopter crew has just been executed, and douchebag Dillon plunders all the wonderful intel to be found…too bad/so sad about the hostages, and so on. They also take prisoner a female companion/sympathizer/etc., Anna, who ends up being along pretty much just so she can tell the guys with guns that they’re all about to have their day ruined. That’s when things take an abrupt left turn toward science fiction and horror as Dutch and his men–played by the likes of Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke (who previously worked with Arnie in Commando), Richard Chaves (the War of the Worlds TV series) and Sonny Landham (48 Hrs.)–suddenly find themselves turned from hunters to hunted. One by one, they’re picked off by their enigmatic, invisible enemy until it’s just Dutch and the alien facing off mano-a-whateverthefucko for all the marbles.

Simple, yet satisfying. This movie rocks balls, people.

There’s very little fat on this thing, that’s for sure. It starts getting into gear almost before the damned credits are done rolling, and kicks it up a notch when Arnie and the boys start taking down bad guys left and right. A couple of the stunts during the hammering of the guerillas smack a bit of “We just did this last week on The A-Team,” but they’re forgiven when Jesse Ventura utters what will become one of the all-time great manly-man action flick lines: “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

The Predator itself, designed by make-up and FX genius Stan Winston and portrayed by Kevin Peter Hall, is the first alien-looking alien to come to the silver screen in a while. It looks like the sort of dude who’d skull-fuck E.T. before ripping off his head and shitting down its neck, then tossing a quarter into the open wound for the phone call home. Composer Alan Silvestri, yet to establish himself as a go-to guy for action film scores yet still riding high after his stint on Back to the Future, knocks it out of the park with his music for the film. McTiernan’s direction coupled with lean, mean editing is so effective you almost want to start sweating along with Dutch and the gang as they traverse the thick, humid jungle. Everything about this movie is fine-tuned to the umpteenth degree, barely giving you a chance to catch your breath even during the supposed “quiet” scenes between action segments.

Predator, despite initial mixed reviews–most of those taking it to task for its admittedly thin-as-tissue-paper plot–has managed to acquire a place of stature among the classic action films. It was followed by a serviceable sequel, Predator 2, in 1990, a “better in theory than execution” crossover, Alien vs. Predator in 2004 (which in turn received its own ill-advised horrific followup in 2007), and a second all-but pointless sequel, Predators in 2010. Predators of all shapes and sizes have also factored prominently in comics, novels, and games over the years, including more than a few crossovers with the Alien franchise as well as numerous other properties. As I write this, a new film, The Predator, is in development for a 2018 release. It’s either a sequel or a remake/reboot/re-imagining/whatever, depending on which source you want to go with.

Unless or until said sequel/remake/reboot/sequel/whatever comes around, you’re better off sticking with this–the first and still the best–Predator.

Happy 30th, yo. You’re still one ugly mother fucker, but we love you.

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Talking Hearts and Minds with Literary Treks!

hearts-and-minds-coverFor reasons that defy understanding, people like talking to me. On occasion, they even record my yammerings so that other people can then listen to them. It’s a weird thing, I tell you.

This time, I slide up to a microphone long enough to talk with Dan Gunther and Bruce Gibson, hosts of Trek.fm‘s Literary Treks podcast, where they talk all about all the latest happenings in the world of Star Trek novels and comics. As luck would have it, we were able to talk a bit about my recently released Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, Hearts and Minds.

We talk about the story’s origins, both as a NextGen tale as well as a sequel to my previous novels From History’s Shadow and Elusive Salvation. Among the discussions highlights are some of the parallels I draw to other event from “Star Trek history” as well as how the “Majestic 12” organization that features in all three books may or may not be an ancestor to what eventually becomes Section 31 from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise.

NOTE: For those who might be thinking of listening to this podcast before finishing the novel, please be aware that spoiler discussion is all over the place here.

We also cover a bit of ground about the upcoming Klingon Travel Guide as well as other projects I’ve got going on. Here’s hoping you enjoy the conversation, as the Literary Treks gang is always fun to hang with.

lt-193

Literary Treks #193: “Dayton’s Treks”

Thanks as always to Dan and Bruce for having me back on the show. I’m guessing it won’t be took long before I’m darkening their studio doorway again. 🙂

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Star Trek Adventures: Pre-Orders are live!

I’m a little behind the curve posting about this, but hey! This is the kind of news that only gets better the longer it’s around, amirite?

Modiphius, purveyors of cool games far and wide, kicked things up a few notches this past week in the realm of Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game. In addition to the ginormous core rule book that will drive the action and fun for all involved, Modiphius is also offering several sets of miniature figures and dice as well as other accessories to enhance gameplay.

“Wait!” I can hear someone shouting from the cheap seats. “How do I get in on this?”

Hey! I’m glad you asked. Check it out:

Star Trek Adventures: Pre-Order Now Live!

There are a whole bunch of deals and bundles to be had, depending on how much disposable income you happen to have.

As for now, I’m just jazzed to be a part of something so cool. Those of you keeping score know that I worked last year with fellow Star Trek scribe Scott Pearson to develop the storyline that drove the game’s “living campaign” playtest. That storyline, along with some other material I provided, will be included in the core book, which is jammed to overflowing with the rules, tables, and other descriptive and narrative material as created by a talented bunch of writers and game developers. Many thanks to fellow word-pusher Jim Johnson for introducing me to the Modiphius crew, who in turn saw fit to bring be aboard to play for a while.

So far, early response to the playtest campaign and the game itself has largely been positive, and I know fans are champing at the bit to get their hands on the finished game materials. I know I can’t wait to see it. As stated in the Modiphius bulletin, the pre-order period is underway and goes through August, so you need to get over there if you want to be among the first to own Star Trek Adventures!

sta-bridge-1_orig

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Headlong Flight and Hearts and Minds audiobooks. Okay, NOW they’re real.

Thanks to a very helpful lady at Simon & Schuster Audio, I now have in my possession some nice, old-fashioned CD versions for the audiobook editions of my two most recent novels.

Trek-TNG-Audiobooks

Aren’t they pretty?

For those of you who’ve tuned in late, Simon & Schuster began offering audiobook editions of Star Trek novels last summer, with the release of the Legacies trilogy written to celebrate Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary. This was followed by audio editions of John Jackson Miller‘s Prey trilogy and The Face of the Unknown by Christopher L. Bennett.

Next up? Headlong Flight and…as it happens…Hearts and Minds.

Now, it’s important to note that these new audiobooks are being offered commercially as digital downloads from places like Audible, iTunes, etc. The CD editions are being manufactured for special sales situations such as libraries and the like. So, you won’t be able to find “physical media” versions of these for sale anywhere.

All of these most recent additions to the Star Trek audiobook library are narrated by actor Robert Petkoff, a self-professed Trekkie who really seems to be enjoying himself with these projects. At least, I think so, just as I think his love of Trek comes through in his readings.

It’s been quite the treat having our books adapted in this manner, and fans seem to be responding well to them. I don’t know how the sales are, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’re just at the beginning of what will be a long string of new Star Trek we can all stick in our ears.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got about 20 hours worth of stuff to listen to…assuming my wife doesn’t beat me to these, of course.

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Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Trek II!

“Aren’t you dead?”

June 4, 1982: After the commercial and critical oddity that was 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, those of us who were all into the Trek were worried what this sequel might bring. Would it be like the first movie (which was boring as all hell compared to Kirk drop-kicking and karate-chopping a big green lizard), or the TV series we still loved? The TV commercials certainly seemed to imply the latter, with lots of phasers firing and starships blowing the shit out of each other, William Shatner snarling into the camera and Ricardo Montalban flexing his pecs at us. This movie definitely looked like it was going to kick things up a notch. Or three.

Though it doesn’t seem to happen a lot these days, on this occasion? The trailers got it right.

KhanPoster

35 years after its release, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains the choice of many fans as being among the best–if not the best–of the Star Trek theatrical films. Pretty much every movie that’s come since is compared to Khan, usually with respect to each successive sequel’s choice of villain. Kruge, Sybok, Chang, Soran, Ru’Afo, Shinzon, Nero, “John Harrison,” or Krall? None of those pansies – even the 2013 redo attempt – hold a candle to Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh, the genetically-engineered mighty man who came to the Final Frontier by way of a 20th century sleeper ship back in the classic first season Star Trek episode “Space Seed.”

Khan and his crew, marooned by Kirk on the remote plant Ceti Alpha V at the end of that episode, are left to their own devices, but a planetary catastrophe soon after their arrival forced them into a constant struggle for simple survival. By the time another starship arrives, the U.S.S. Reliant commanded by Captain Clark Terrell and with former Enterprise crewman Pavel Chekov serving as its first officer, Khan’s pretty much gone ’round the bend. Seizing control of the Reliant by means of one of those cool movie critters that turn people into obedient zombies, Khan sets off to unleash BLOODY VENGEANCE on the man responsible for his downfall: James T. Kirk.

Oh, it’s on now.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer from a story by veteran TV producer Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards (who also wrote the original screenplay, which Meyer then rewrote….in 12 days), Star Trek II hits almost every right note and avoids the pitfalls which tripped up its theatrical predecessor. The humor as well as the friendships and camaraderie shared by Kirk and his crew–all but absent from the first film–are here to lend perfect balance to the drama and tension driving most of the story. Even the color palette is warmer this time around, from the red paint on the Enterprise doors to the crew uniforms, which now look more like something of a natural progression from those of the original series.

Montalban, reprising his role from “Space Seed,” pulls out all the stops as the maniacal Khan, obsessed with avenging himself upon Kirk. Strong efforts from supporting actors Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield and Kirstie Alley in her first film role round out a solid performance by the main cast (wild-eyed “KHAAAAAN!” bit from William Shatner notwithstanding). Though some footage of the Enterprise is lifted from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there are plenty of new space scenes to satisfy the Trekkie tech heads among us. James Horner’s musical score, shifting with ease between quiet contemplation and rousing action, is a bow tying up the whole sweet package.

If this film had failed, it arguably could’ve been the death knell for Kirk and the Enterprise gang. Instead, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a critical and commercial success, bringing with it a fresh new energy to what we now call “the Star Trek franchise.” It paved the way for future sequels and the eventual television spin-offs, along with merchandising and other licensing ventures that continue to this day.

“I feel young.”

Shit, I feel old.

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Trek II. Surely, the best of times.

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Happy 30th Anniversary, The Untouchables!

1930: Prohibition has transformed Chicago into a City at War. Rival gangs compete for control of the city’s billion dollar empire of illegal alcohol, enforcing their will with the hand grenade and tommy gun. It is the time of the Ganglords. It is the time of Al Capone.

1987 was a pretty kick-ass year, so far as movies go, don’t you think? I’ve already blabbed about the first Lethal Weapon film, which was released in March of that year, and there’s still more to come with such classics as Predator, Robocop, and Full Metal Jacket–just to name a few–all celebrating their 30th anniversaries this year.

We’ll get to those, sure. For now, though? It’s time to hang with Elliot Ness.

Untouchables

Directed by Brian De Palma from David Mamet’s excellent script, the film is less a remake of the classic Robert Stack series than it is an adaptation of Elliot Ness’ own memoir, The Untouchables from 1957, which also inspired the TV series. In the era of Prohibition, the Department of the Treasury dispatches Ness to Chicago on a mission to bring mob leader Al Capone to justice. Capone pretty much has the entire city under his thumb, including the police and the city government, as he goes about his business of bootlegging liquor, along with healthy doses of gambling and prostitution. What follows is a lengthy quest as Ness and his men, nicknamed “the Untouchables” due to their reputation for being “incorruptible,” set out to bring down Capone and his organization.

Kevin Costner, in one of my favorite of his roles, portrays Ness, facing off against Robert De Niro as the legendary Capone. Sean Connery is Ness’ trusted colleague Jimmy Malone (a role for which he would earn an Oscar) and Andy Garcia is George Stone, the “fresh-faced” rookie, right out of the academy and untainted by Capone’s long reach into the compromised police department.

Brian De Palma, in an uncharacteristic display of something resembling self-restraint, sticks pretty closely to the story Mamet brings forth, though he does manage a few of his signature stylings throughout the film. In particular, the sequence in the train station as Ness and Stone go after Capone’s accountant is classic De Palma. As for Mamet’s script? Bang on, from start to finish and with the perfect balance of action, drama, and character moments along with healthy dollops of humor and humanity. Much of those latter points come from Connery’s Malone, the seasoned mentor to the rest of the team (“What are you prepared to do now?”). Ennio Morricone provides another in a very long list of superb film scores to accentuate the movie’s numerous key scenes.

There are several liberties taken with the script, of course, for the purposes of storytelling expediency and to amp up some of the action, though none of these detract from the movie. The period of time during which Ness pursued Al Capone is somewhat compressed, for example, as is the number of men who make up “the Untouchables.” It’s four in the film, whereas the real team originally numbered ten agents, including Ness himself. The characters played by Connery, Garcia, and Charles Martin Smith were created for the movie. Smith’s character, Oscar Wallace, who pursues the investigation into Capone’s tax records, is based on Frank J. Smith, the treasury agent who helped to bring down the real Capone. Why use a fictional creation rather than a portrayal of the real Smith? Uh, watch the movie.

I just watched this again last night, and–for me, at least–it still holds up. Historically accurate? In the very broad strokes. A great thriller? Absolutely. If you haven’t yet seen this one, do yourself a favor and check it out.

“What are you prepared to do?”

Posted in movies, tributes | 1 Comment

May writing wrap-up.

all-the-wordsThat blur in my peripheral vision?

May.

Busy, busy, busy last month, with most of my time dominated by finishing up the most recent novel manuscript. With that out of the way, I was able to squeeze in a whirlwind family vacation down to Florida so we could hang with my sister and her family for a three-day engagement with the House of the Mouse. Now that we’re back, I’ve got a few days of messing about with smaller items on my To-Do List, as I eye next week to start writing on what (I hope) will be the next novel manuscript.

And there are a few other things seeking my attention, as well.

But before we can press forward, we pause a moment or two and review the month that was. So, here’s the May rundown:

Continue reading

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