bobquasit: (Omac)
Green Lantern: Circle of FireGreen Lantern: Circle of Fire by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The new Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) must fight a seemingly unbeatable entity: a malevolent being that seems to be identical to one that he himself created for a comic book as a youngster. The League has been trapped and are helpless. Helpers mysteriously appear, but are they what they seem?

All in all, not bad. A bit earnest and simplistic, but I'll give the writers credit for a good, sincere try. Except that the ending is VERY abrupt and incomplete - so much so that I strongly suspect that the copy I read (from the library) is missing one or more of the final pages. The pages aren't numbered, so I can't be sure.


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bobquasit: (Omac Destroys!)
Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest (Marvel Premiere Classic)Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest by David Michelinie

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Unbelievably putrid. Over and over I sat in stunned amazement, asking myself "Did they really publish stuff this bad back in 1981?"

There are two kinds of stories in comics. One tries to say something meaningful, or at least to present some sort of concept that the reader can be entertained by. The other is the visual equivalent of two three-year-olds trying to one-up each other. "My hero is a million times stronger than yours!" "Oh yeah? Well MY hero is a JILLION times stronger!" Over and over and over. There's no sense to it, and no point.

Which pretty much describes this "book".

Oh, and the authors completely abuse the Arthurian legend. In an incredibly lame "future Arthur" sequence, Merlin is "cool", saying things like - and I am NOT making this up - "Okee doke: One 'Return to Sender' spell, comin' right up!"

Merlin as Jar-Jar Binks. It made me want to beat the author with a club.

So to sum up, the only reason to read this thing is if you want to take a look back to see just how incredibly awful some comic books were, even as recently as 1981 (the art is pretty bad, too). And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do something - anything - to drive the memory of that unbelievably idiotic writing out of my brain.


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bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
[As far as I can tell, there are NO other reviews of this book on the web. That's a real pity, particularly since it's very likely that it will never be published again. So I did my best to recapture the charming and memorable qualities of the book in this review.]

The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon ToastThe Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast by Ann Spencer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What a lovely book! And how sad it is that I'm almost the only person in the world who seems to remember it. But I've shared it with my son - just read it to him again tonight, to his delight - so I've done my part to share the memories.

The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast was both written and illustrated by the talented Ann Spencer. It's the story of an elderly millionaire, Miss Margrove, whose cat Augie suddenly goes through a strange transformation: he absolutely refuses to eat cat food. One taste of cinnamon toast, and all is undone; he now insists on only the finest gourmet fare. His psychologist is unable to explain this mysterious change.

But Augie is fickle in his tastes, venturing into the haute cuisine of one culture after another. Miss Margrove's stable of chefs eventually lose their tempers and leave. Fortunately an unexpected television appearance by the French Chef, Julia Child, inspires Miss Margrove and saves the day.

The balance between text and art is particularly well done. Each page features large, finely-detailed black and white illustrations. Unusually, there is absolutely no "talking down" to the young reader; words and phrases like "Escoffier", "truite amandine", and "la vie en rose" are sprinkled liberally throughout the text. Nonetheless, the story is quite easy for children to comprehend, and the humor of the words and illustrations is ideal for a child.

I first began reading The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast to my son when he was about four years old, at a guess. He loved it, and still does five years later; it helps that he's a cat-lover (and any child who is a cat-lover is sure to like this book). There are no serious crises, no moments of terror or stress. Augie is naughty at times, but in a very lovable way. It's a perfect bedtime book.

Reading the book aloud takes about one-half hour, including the very necessary time spent allowing the child to look at each picture. As I noted above, some of the cooking-related language is a bit esoteric; if you're not familiar with the words, you may want to look up pronunciations before reading it aloud. It's definitely worth the effort.

There is one illustration which might trouble some parents. When Augie sneaks out to the Omar Khayyam restaurant to be inducted into the wonders of Persian cuisine, the illustration includes a representation of a fairly large painting on the background wall that depicts a naked woman seated (with legs turned sideways) next to a man. So far, my son has never commented on it, and I see no reason to call it to his attention or be concerned. When I was a child myself, I never noticed it through many readings.

For very strict parents, I suppose the page where Augie gets drunk on baba au rhum could also be a concern. My son found it hysterical. So do I.

If you're reading aloud, a passable Julia Child impersonation adds quite a lot to the experience (she has a short but memorable television appearance in the book). It's also useful to be able to sing the old "Let Your Fingers Do The Walking" jingle from the Yellow Pages commercials in the 1960s and 70s. But neither is a requirement, of course!

The book is out of print forever, I suppose. It represents what might now be considered an impossibly "high culture" moment in America, an aesthetic which I cannot imagine will ever return to public awareness, much less popularity. And that's sad. Still, if you're lucky enough to find a copy, it's a wonderful, memorable book.


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The Questor TapesThe Questor Tapes by D.C. Fontana

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


How can I review this book impartially? It's the novelization of a Gene Roddenberry TV movie/pilot that I've been a fan of for a long time.

The pilot wasn't picked up, unfortunately. But The Questor Tapes remains an intriguing and deeply enjoyable movie. Veteran Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana did a fine job of novelizing the story of an android with incomplete programming, searching for the riddle of his existence with the help of a human friend - and with the usual Javert figure in pursuit.

As I said, I'm not sure what I would have thought of this book if I'd never seen the movie. But as a novelization, and compared to other novelizations that I've read, it works very well. Fontana must have worked from a late script, or even written the manuscript after the movie was filmed; there are none of those annoying omissions that so often mar novelizations which are based on early scripts.

There's humor, and moments of thoughtfulness. There's a quasi-religious element to the plot and some religious philosophizing that I find slightly irritating (and I'm not usually that sensitive to that sort of thing, believe it or not), but those were present in the original movie. All in all, a very enjoyable book.


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bobquasit: (The Question)
The Sword and the EyeThe Sword and the Eye by Justin Leiber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I wavered between giving this three and four stars. Once again, GoodReads' five-star system proves much too limiting. In a fractional scale, this would be a 3.5 at least.

It's really quite a likable book, in no small part because it takes some of the standard tropes of fantasy and fiction in general - going all the way back to The Count of Monte Cristo and, of course, Shakespeare - yet managed to surprise and move me at some points. I value that; when you've read as many books as I have, genuine surprises are rare, and to be cherished.

The language is a bit archaic and Vancian (i.e. reminiscent of Jack Vance, which is to say rather formal and old-fashioned). There are moments when the humor reminds me of Vance too - but nowhere near as chaotic and confusing as Vance can sometimes be.

It's an old story; the hero, cast down from his noble station, finds himself fated to set things right. The characters are the usual fantasy types, albeit with more depth than is usual. In fact, that's where Leiber surprised me; I was more than half-expecting the usual "this ends here" final encounter between the hero and villain, and instead was surprised by...well, I won't spoil it for you.

I'll note that Justin Leiber is the son of the famous Golden Age science fiction writer Fritz Leiber. He's a rare example of literary talent running true in a family (unlike the supremely untalented Brian Herbert, who, I must note, should have had his hands chopped off before he was ever allowed near a keyboard). Leiber (fils has also demonstrated an impressive range of ability, having also written some very good science fiction in a very different "voice". The Sword and the Eye is the next-to-last fiction book he published (so far); there's apparently a sequel (the cover calls it "Book One of the Saga of Eigin"), but that sequel was published in 1986, and there's been nothing more from Leiber since. That's a pity, because writers of his caliber are far too rare in the science fiction and fantasy genres these days!


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bobquasit: (Omac)
Astro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big CityAstro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A nice change from the usual ponderous crap that's so often issued by the Big Two. Of course, this isn't from the Big Two, which is probably why it's not crap.

There are a number of thinly-disguised re-takes on classic superhero characters; this has practically become a genre in itself. I almost wonder if DC and Marvel might eventually start publishing their own thinly-disguised re-takes of their big properties, just to get in on the action!*

Anyway, the book consists of a series of mostly-unrelated superhero stories, offering a different and more "realistic" take on the genre. It reminds me very strongly indeed of Common Grounds, but to tell you the truth, I think Common Grounds did it better. In fairness I should note that Common Grounds also came out years after Astro City.

The stories are thought-provoking, but some of them fall a little flat. There's a slight feeling of...I'm not quite sure how to put this. The stories are good, but they're just not as masterfully written as the works of...well, I hate to always be bringing him up, but Alan Moore. They just feel as if they're aimed slightly lower, somehow; they don't dazzle through sheer virtuosity.

But they're fun, and thought-provoking, and the art is good. In a fractional system I'd give Astro City a solid 3.49, and I'm definitely going to look up other books in the series. If I was still subscribing to comic books, I'd doubtless subscribe.

I wish GoodReads would change over to a ten-star or fractional system! Five stars is MUCH too restrictive.

-----------------

* - They probably have - and if they have, I'm sure Steve will tell me.


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bobquasit: (Laszlo Late)
Thor: Ages of ThunderThor: Ages of Thunder by Matt Fraction

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Want my one-word review? Here it is:

"Meh."

This really doesn't deserve two stars. But it's just not quite dreadful enough to rate only one. It almost was, but there was a slightly interesting section towards the end where they did some mildly amusing playing around with different art styles.

But in a fractional system, this one would get 1.51 stars at best. Ponderous, annoying, stupid characters and plots...it really felt like a throwback to the old days, when most comic books were being written for an audience of slightly dim-witted young teens. With a bit of extra confusion thrown in for pseudo "depth".

Meh.

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bobquasit: (Default)
I wrote recently about a problem I'd had on GoodReads, when I wrote a long review only to lose it all before I could post it. I suggested on the GoodReads feedback group that a save draft feature would be nice to have. Someone recommended the Lazarus add-on for Firefox and Chrome. I installed it, and I just tested it tonight. It's amazing - it saved my work, all of it! I'm delighted.
bobquasit: (Zelda)
I've decided to write reviews for every book in my GoodReads "My Books" listing - there are currently 215, and many of them don't have a review!

The Goblin ReservationThe Goblin Reservation by Clifford D. Simak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Read more... )
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bobquasit: (Daffy)
Snow TreasureSnow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I loved this book when I was a boy. It really captured my imagination, and stayed there. Nor was I the only one; I know several others who also loved that book. That's not too surprising; it was very popular in schools when I was young, and there were a lot of copies floating around.
Read more... )
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GRRRRR!!!

Aug. 18th, 2010 10:27 pm
bobquasit: (Bad Sam!)
I just wrote a long review, only to have it destroyed when I clicked the "Add Book" link. It's not recoverable. Trying to re-create a piece of writing that felt as if it was really going right may be the single most frustrating experience I know of. From now on, I compose in NotePad.

But I really wish that GoodReads had an auto "save draft" feature.
bobquasit: (Lo Pan)
The treasure of Wonderwhat (A Farstar & son novel ; 2)The treasure of Wonderwhat by Bill Starr

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

An unusual and intriguing title, it sparked hope that I might have stumbled upon a writer reminiscent of a less-talented Peter S. Beagle with a science-fictional bent (even a less-talented Beagle would be a find). The cover was interesting, too; it was very much like the paperback cover of Robert A. Heinlein's The Rolling Stones:
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---------------
* - Is it just a coincidence that the author of The Treasure of Wonderwhat shares his last name with the protagonist of the Lucky Starr series, right down to the idiosyncratic spelling? I have to wonder!


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bobquasit: (Rorschach)
The Mystery of the Talking Skull (Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, #11)The Mystery of the Talking Skull by Robert Arthur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


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There was one small additional chuckle for me when I read the books to my son recently; I'm pretty sure I caught a shout-out from Robert Arthur to one of his contemporaries, one who happens to be another favorite author of mine. I didn't know if they knew each other (although their writing styles are actually rather similar), but a reporter who helps the boys out a bit is named Fred Brown. If that's not a reference to Fredric Brown...well, I'm pretty sure that it must be. For one thing, the real Brown was also a newspaper reporter, at least for a while.

It's an outstanding book, one that belongs in the collection of anyone who enjoys exciting, thought-provoking mysteries.

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bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
The Secret of Terror Castle (Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, #1)The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Secret of Terror Castle is just about a perfect book for boys aged 8-15. Robert Arthur is a woefully neglected author of great skill, and some of his finest writing is on display in the Three Investigators series.

This is the first book in the series, and as such it establishes many elements which were continued throughout. We're introduced to Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews, as well as a host of memorable supporting characters. And, of course, we are introduced to the host of the series: Alfred Hitchcock himself.

That is, the book features Alfred Hitchcock IF you're lucky enough to have a relatively early edition. Unfortunately Hitchcock's estate reportedly demanded more money from the publisher for the use of his name after his death; Random House instead replaced the character of Hitchcock with a fictional detective-turned-writer in new books. When earlier books were re-issued, they were rewritten - poorly - to replace Hitchcock as well.

In the case of The Secret of Terror Castle, the plot required that the "host" be a movie producer, so the book was rewritten with a fictional one.

Avoid the new editions, if you can; some of them also exclude the original (and wonderful) illustrations by Harry Kane, a sad omission indeed.

For excitement, mystery, and humor, the book is hard to beat. Arthur had a gift for knowing what fascinates a boy. I don't think any boy who has read the book will ever give up wishing for his own "Headquarters", a damaged mobile home hidden under piles of junk with secret tunnel entrances, a telephone, a darkroom, and a lab!

Yes, the books are somewhat dated, technology-wise. Terror Castle was written in 1964, after all. But that didn't bother my eight-year-old son in the least; he was simply riveted throughout the book, always begging for "one more chapter". He's hooked, now, and we're reading through the series as quickly as we can.

Reading it to him brought back a long-ago memory for me: sitting in my elementary school library, reading "Terror Castle", and realizing that this was pure brain candy - not in that it was bad for me, but that each page was an unadulterated delight.

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bobquasit: (Lo Pan)
Time Echo Time Echo by Robert Lionel


My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It didn't take long for me to realize that this was a bad book. I'm not sure which bit of lame dialog first alerted me to that fact, although I do remember that it was a painful redundancy.

But when the author told us that his "nightmarish" future dictatorship (which was actually somewhat ridiculous) was "a thousand times worse than Orwell's 1984"...well at that point I realized that life really is too short to waste on some books, after all.

This book is a relic of a time when there was some out-and-out crap being published in the science fiction field, primarily (I think) because some editors believed that all science fiction was crap - probably because them themselves never read or couldn't understand some of the classics that were being created in the genre.

This is a perfect example of a writer who cannot write.

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bobquasit: (Default)
Space Space by James A. Michener


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I'd never read any Michener before. For some reason I thought he was supposed to be a brilliant writer, one of the giants of American literature.

My mistake! Space was surprisingly dull, and not at all well-written. Simply put, it plodded. It's a fictionalized story of the space program, with some references to some actual astronauts thrown in - plus a fictionalized US state, which was one of two things which stuck in my memory from the book.

The other thing was a rather nasty assessment of golden age science fiction writers, all of whom (I'm sorry to say) were more talented writers than Mr. Michener.

Space had the feel of one of those potboilers that sits on the New York Times best-seller list for many weeks...something written for the lowest common denominator. It wasn't awful, mind you, just dull and awkward. Shogun, which I'd put in the same general class of "giant best-sellers" is far better written than Space.

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bobquasit: (Lo Pan)
Hidden Empire Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card


My rating: 1 of 5 stars
The label on the spine says "SCIENCE FICTION", but "FANTASY" would have been more accurate. "RIGHT-WING FANTASY" would have been the most accurate of all.

Global warming is a lie, and even liberals know it in their heart of hearts. Guantanamo is relatively "nice". Progressives conspired against America, and were roundly defeated by patriotic red-state forces. Fox News is the only channel that even occasionally tells the truth. A Rush Limbaugh analog is a brave, noble, and lovable hero.

Three thoughts went through my head as I read this:

First, that George W. Bush could have written the whole thing. I knew that Card had been getting more and more right-wing over the years, but this surprised even me.

Second, that with each page I found myself disliking Card more and more. Your mileage may differ, but I found his opinions really offensive. He really seems quite proud of his bigoted opinions; that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has read any of his homophobic and religiously-biased articles.

Third, whatever storytelling talent Card had has long since been replaced with a dumbed-down writing style and an urge to grab the microphone and preach the True Faith. He's really gotten himself into a rut; he seems utterly dependent on overly-precious banter between precocious kids and their parent(s), alternating with warmed-over right-wing political philosophy and rather limp and confused action scenes.

There's a worldwide epidemic and African warfare thread which is slightly less tedious than the rest of the book, but it certainly doesn't make up for the rest of it. The whole thing rather reminded me of the Left Behind series, and that's a memory I would rather not have dredged up.

It's funny; he was able to write well, once upon a time. It's hard to believe that this book is by the same guy who wrote Songmaster.

Avoid!

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bobquasit: (Default)
The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets by Lloyd Biggle Jr.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lloyd Biggle Jr. is best known for bringing the arts to science fiction (just as Mack Reynolds brought sociology and economics to SF). He had a gentle, thoughtful style that made his books a pleasure to read; in that, his work resembles that of James White.

The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets is classic Biggle. The premise may perhaps seem a bit naive in these harsh days of realpolitik; a Galactic Federation which cannot expand unless a planet at its borders becomes a planetary democracy, without overt interference by Galactic agents. The natives of the planet, Gurnil, have a relatively low level of technology; they are not aware that aliens walk among them. If they discover that, the planet will be considered "blown", and the Galactic agents will have to withdraw in failure.

Those agents are also hampered by a web of regulations, rules, and maxims.

When Forzon, an officer of the Cultural Survey, is mysteriously reassigned to Gurnil he must not only find out why he was reassigned, but how to apply his speciality, the arts, to turning a brutal monarchy into a peaceful democracy. The natives have a magnificent appreciation of beauty and art, but seem to have virtually no political awareness. Forzon is allowed to introduce one technological innovation to the planet, but how can a single change literally revolutionize an entire world?

Biggle's answer is memorable and believable.

It must be noted that the book was first published in 1968, and that Biggle was not one of the "New Wave" authors who were in ascendence at that time. To some, his style may seem a little old-fashioned, though it's eminently readable. The romantic relationship between Forzon and Ann Curry, one of his agents, may also seem rather a bit dated - although accusations of sexism are not credible, since Forzon never treats Ann with less than respect, and her mistakes are not the stereotypical "stupid helpless female" behavior that was a staple of the poorer sort of science fiction a generation earlier.

The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets is a short, elegant, and thoughtful example of a type of science fiction which is still all too rare. It's well worth reading, and re-reading. Although it's quite a short book, Biggle wrote other memorable books on the same general theme, and most of them are back in print.

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bobquasit: (Default)
There's been a conversation going on over on a GoodReads discussion group about The Lord of the Rings:

For the record, I loathe the movies. That was the whole point of post #3. It's my hope and belief that the LOTR books will still be read and loved long after those idiotic movies are forgotten. The movies stood many of Tolkien's themes on their heads, and replaced some of his most memorable and beautiful dialog with ersatz idiocy. They represent a profound disrespect of Tolkien, although I believe that Peter Jackson was too self-important (and possibly too stupid) to realize that he was crapping all over a work that he wasn't qualified to read, much less film.

The Eagle was Gwaihir the Windlord. He was sent to Orthanc by Radagast the Brown, one of the Five Wizards and a particular friend of animals, at Gandalf's request - to bring news. Radagast had been misled by Saruman, but was not a traitor. Gandalf had certainly had dealings with the Eagles before, most notably in The Hobbit. Gandalf did not control Gwaihir, ever - the eagle helped him out of friendship. As far as I know, the only living things that Gandalf ever controlled were Grima Wormtongue and Saruman - and in both cases, only for a few moments at most.
Read more... )
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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, Book 1) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's odd that this is the first time I've read an Oz book. I think I started one or two, long ago, and never finished them. But many people rave about Oz, and I love old books from that era (especially children's books), so recently I picked it up and read it through.

It didn't take long. In fact, I was quite surprised at how quickly I got through it. It's quite a short book. It's also very simply written. I don't think most young American children (say, ages 7 and up) would have any difficulty reading it at all. The grammar is slightly more formal than modern American English, but the vocabulary is startlingly ordinary; far less challenging than I'd expected.

Perhaps that's because most of the books I've read from that general era (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900) are English, and use a considerably deeper vocabulary. The majority of Americans would struggle with an unabridged Peter Pan or Winnie-the-Pooh, and be utterly defeated by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

That said, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a nice, light, and very quick read with some pleasantly funny moments. I'd heard that it was an extended political parable - the scarecrow representing Midwestern farmers, the Tin Woodsman representing the factory workers of the new Industrial Revolution, and the Lion representing...actually, I don't remember - but if that's the case (and it may well be) the result certainly doesn't seem to very complex. I probably won't read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for myself again very soon, but I'll probably soon read it to my son - or see if he's interested in reading it for himself.

I can't help but wonder if I'd have loved the book if I had first read it when I was seven. But I just don't know.

Oh, I almost forgot: Of course I've seen the movie many times, and am quite fond of it. I expected the book to be very different from the movie, and it was - but it turned out that the movie was more faithful to the text than I'd realized. That said, I have to say that the movie actually seemed to make a strong theme (there's no place like home, of course) which the book lacked. But then, Dorothy seemed much younger in the book.

It was also interesting that in the book, the voyage to Oz was clearly NOT a dream (Uncle Henry had had to build a new house to replace the one that had been taken away by the tornado), whereas the movie made it fairly clear that Oz HAD all been Dorothy's fever-dream (since, among other things, the house was unchanged and still there).

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