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Gene Wolfe (1931– 2019)

Updates Posted on Thu, April 18, 2019 21:28:32

Around a year ago I lamented
the loss of one of my favourite authors, Ursula Le Guin. However, the loss of
Gene Wolfe is a greater blow as I have listed him as my favourite writer on several
occasions. That he died on Palm Sunday and the advent of Holy Week is fitting
for somebody whose faith was important to him on both a personal level, as well as a strong but subtle influence on
his writing and perhaps most prominently seen in his most famous work: The Book
of the New Sun. Though Wolfe himself described less as an allegorical reference
to Christ but more “a person achieving Sainthood”. I first discovered Wolfe (as
I have said elsewhere) through his short fiction, and “The Eye Flash Miracles”
was the first story of his I read—to be found in one of Damon Knight’s Orbit
anthologies. Ursula Le Guin pointed to
In the Shadow of the Torturer (the first volume in the book of the New Sun),
and the rest is history. Many fine obituaries are being written, but as I did
with Le Guin, mine will be a personal reflection.

Exactly 32 years to this day I met Gene for the first and last time. It
was my very first Science Fiction convention, the annual British event held that
year in Birmingham again at Easter. Wolfe wasn’t a guest of honour he was
simply just there. A year or so earlier I had written a perspective on both the
last book of the New Sun Quartet and the books leading up to it, for which I had won 2nd prize in a
BSFA competition (an enthusiastic but somewhat naïve account of somebody in
his early 20s). When I realized Gene Wolfe was at the con, I brought my recent
copy of his latest book, Soldier of the Mist for him to sign (see below). I
joined the long signing queue, but when I got to the front I froze and
spluttered when he asked me how he should dedicate the book. I muttered
something about having reviewed his book. Hence that’s what he put underneath
his signature.

His books were never bestsellers in the
traditional sense: he was very much a writer’s writer, but as was said on the
cover of one of his books he brought “that literary rarity, wisdom” and I
believe, truth. I may write more later, but given the week we are now entering
maybe look up his short story “Easter Sunday” which is available on the net and
published back in 1951

Creative Writers’ Toolbelt Extras

Updates Posted on Tue, November 06, 2018 21:45:06

If you’re new to this blog and have come as a result of my
interview with Andy Chamberlain on Creative Writers Podcast, welcome. As the
result of both my nervousness and the ensuing slips of memory, several helpful
things I wanted to say remained unsaid, particularly some practical tips—the
hallmark of the podcast. Therefore, I decided that I should use my blog to try
and rectify this and add value to the broadcast.

First, it’s important
to point out you cannot leave messages here. The blog is a side offering of my
web hotel and not set up for this. So if you wish to comment to me directly or
get in touch for other reasons please use
the following email: Thanks.

A few extra tips and tricks…

Book circle:
Another element that has helped me on my writing journey is a Science Fiction
book circle. We meet once a month and discuss a chosen SF or, less commonly, a
fantasy novel. This has been useful in
two ways. In general, the process of reading and writing go together. I’m not a
quick reader and once I started writing,
a book a month is all I could manage. More particularly, since most of the time
it’s not necessarily my choice, we’ve read a diverse selection of different writers.
Left to my own devices, I would probably just
follow my favourite authors. This venue has given me an appreciation of the
current SF scene. Especially when you are writing genre fiction, it’s important to know what’s current as always what you
write is a conversation with an existing
body of work. During recent years writers of literary fiction have produced
genre tinged works that seem to ignore this kind of dialogue.

The consultation of
I realised early on that I
would need to talk to some professionals in the areas the book touches. First
and foremost, of course, a policeman. Before I started to write the book seriously, I met a couple of times with a
Stockholm police inspector, firstly over lunch—always a good ploy when
somebody’s doing you a big favour. I outlined the basic plot of the first
section and heard from him more about how the Swedish police work in practice. This is different from the UK, though the
overall legal structure has some similarities with the Scottish system and that
from the US. Especially new to me was the relationship between the prosecutor
and the police. I can also draw on a Swedish prosecutor who is an established
member of SF fandom. However, as she has said, even Swedish police procedurals
struggle to portray the relationship between the prosecutors and police
correctly. Fortunately, my police inspector thought there was some flexibility
as the story was set sometime in the
future! As a result of my first meeting with him,
I got invited for a tour of the central police station where both he and my
fictional inspector are based. Regarding
the issue of prostitution, I’ve had my
friend who works helping people trapped in sex-trafficking look through the
drafts and make comments.

Grammarly: As I noted in the podcast, my meticulous English
teacher was replaced by a hippy with a much more relaxed attitude to grammar.
Grammarly is an online application that helps keep me right in this area. There’s
a free version (which is worth trying out) and
a paid for version that gives a lot more features and can be incorporated into MS Word. It’s
not foolproof grammar checking, and
occasionally I disagree with it and go to grammar books, but as a first-line
resource, I find it valuable.

Scrivener and
I referred to the writing program Scrivener several times during
the podcast often commenting that I would get back to it—but I never did. At
the recommendation of British writer Ian McDonald, I use this cheap writing
program ($45) for all my work, both short and long. It’s available for both Mac
and PC here:
In my short fiction what I liked about it is that you write your text and then
the program exports it in standard manuscript format, ready for submission. It
comes into its own though when planning and executing a longer work like a
novel. You can easily break things down into Chapters and scenes; there’s a cork board display which enables
you to organise Chapters/scenes at a
glance. There’s also a separate section where you can put research material
including pictures. All this information is kept together in one file.

There is one other way I use Scrivener in the process of
writing a novel which I think could be a generally
useful tip. Scrivener exports to standard ebook format, epub, and also Kindle Mobi format (but Kindle export requires an
additional program KindleGen which you can download for free from Amazon—see
more information in Appendix below). This export function I use in two ways.

1. When I have written a few chapters,
I export to an ebook format (usually Kindle, i.e.
Mobi format). You’ll be amazed how much
you can spot regarding errors when
reading your manuscript like a traditional book. Several Ebook readers are free
as is the Kindle app. The best reading device is some kind of pad or an actual Kindle, but with the screen size of modern
mobile phones, these are also now widely
available reading devices, and readers
exist for both iPhone, Android and of course Windows.

2. The ebook exports I can send to my beta readers, and it’s possible for them to introduce
comments and markup. This is how my both
my wife and daughter have read my book and given feedback. I use an Android pad, my wife uses her iPad, and my daughter uses her iPhone 6.

Miscellaneous resources

I used writing resources
available in book form or online, to stop me making fundamental mistakes with POV,
show vs tell etc. as well as to hone my craft.

Creative writers toolbelt Podcast (
and book

Writing Excuses Podcast:


Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King –it has been said that if you can only buy one book on writing, this is it.

Readers Digest books by Nancy Kress, Orson Scott Card, Jeff Gerke-
the Card book is SF and fantasy orientated the other two writers have produced
works suitable for all genres but have SF
and Fantasy in their backgrounds.

Appendix: Exporting to Kindle Mobi
format using Scrivener.

The first thing you need to do is go to the Amazon website
(I used, I don’t know if it’s
also there on Search for KindleGen, download the file, unzip it
into a subdirectory where you can easily find it when selecting it from within
Scrivener. If you are in Scrivener, you can go to the compile selection found at the bottom of the File tab. Since I seem to have
KindleGen installed on all the computers that I use Scrivener on, I can’t quite remember how I set it up, but I
seem to recall that if you select Mobi (Kindle) to compile to, it prompts you
to find KindleGen. For this reason, I Googled it and found this helpful webpage
with illustrations.

There are also several tutorials on YouTube if you search
KindleGen and Scrivner there.

NOTE I always get
an error message when exporting to Kindle format due to the fact I don’t have a
cover! And in terms of my experience level,
I have never tried to make a ‘proper ebook’ for public release. Looking at what
comes out in either epub or Mobi (Kindle
format) suggest that I need to do further optimisation
for a completely clean layout…;-)

P.S. And finally…

On the podcast, I forgot to
mention some important influences, most notably the father of Cyberspace,
William Gibson and also, because my focus was on SF and not Fantasy, C.S. Lewis.
Compiled in several different anthologies is a transcript of a recording made
by SF author Brian Aldiss featuring himself, Lewis and Kingsley Amis. This discussion
took place in C.S. Lewis’s study towards the end of his life. It’s worth reading
if you have interest in SF and/or any of the three authors mentioned.

A Lament for Tyre: The Novel

Updates Posted on Sun, November 04, 2018 19:20:52

In my writing journal here I’ve written about the short
story progress I’ve made and whilst I published my 3rd paid for
short story at the end of last year, the process from writing to print took
quite some time. Meanwhile, I’ve been beavering away at something at a much
bigger scale: a book.

The reason I’m flagging it now is that it almost exists (in
draft form) and I just recorded an interview with Andy Chamberlain (who runs
the excellent Creative Writer’s Toolbox Podcast) about both it and the process
of bringing it to life. So I can no longer hide its existence on this blog!

I had often thought of writing a novel, but in contrast to
my short fiction, I expected this would wait until retirement. The pensionable
age creeps ever upwards (now 67 in Sweden for a full pension and still many
years in my future). My dream was receding out of my grasp and I was starting
to get the ‘now or never’ feeling in my bones. My published fiction is very diverse in both
time, place and sub-genre, so what could I draw on for a work of novel length?
I wanted to set it in a future Stockholm and that directly related to two
stories that occupied my head even before I returned to writing fiction. The
outline of these stories is now crystallized in my novel’s Scrivener file and
they form the back story of my book. Whilst SF is my main literary interest, on
TV my main staple is detective shows and in both literature and TV I love a
good mystery. The second of these unwritten stories introduced a detective and
I latched on to him as my main viewpoint character.

Before ever putting
pen to paper (or, in fact, a finger to a keyboard—my preferred writing technique)
I wrote the back cover copy of the
projected novel for a writing exercise. Here it is:

As Stockholm
detective Inspector Dan Hallberg prepares for the increasingly outré
performance art produced by the city’s graduating art students, he is confronted with a harrowing truth by a woman
recently resuscitated from death. Until this encounter murder was the worst crime Hallberg had to contend with.

There is a human
drama being played out in a secret wing of a private hospital where people are
losing their identities–an attempt to cover an even greater conspiracy. To
solve this mystery, Hallberg needs to
find the victims and try to piece together their lives both in and out of the
virtual worlds they have lived and died in.
They, in turn, are relentlessly hunted by a very real assassin anxious to
complete his mission: a task entrusted to him by employers whose nature remains
hidden, even from him. He has never failed.

New SF writer C John Arthur—a dual
British/Swedish citizen–takes us to a future Stockholm where he blends the
underlying concerns of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium books with the virtual worlds
of William Gibson to confront us with some unpalatable truths of our modern
life and those that pay the highest price to maintain it.

you immediately think of Scandi Noir? I suspect the agent I mention below probably
did. Whilst the territory is necessarily dark, I felt I could bring a fresh take
by setting it about 30 years in the future and bringing some hope into the mix
and of course some other interesting elements.

I took this summary with me as I attended the writers’ workshop
held at the London World Science Fiction convention 4 years ago. We were
visited by an agent, and I pitched the novel. He seemed to like it and we had
some correspondence following the convention. Once I had a few chapters under
my belt he suggested sending them to him to look at. Since most agents these
days won’t look at something before a full draft is completed, it was an
enormous encouragement, and an incentive to start writing the book. This happy
beginning was thwarted by two major obstacles. 1. The next stage in the agent
process—if they like the first few chapters—is an outline of the whole book. I
didn’t have one and I felt I really needed one, I couldn’t pants it—writers’
slang for making it up as you go along.
So I felt there was no point getting the agent’s interest only to fall at the
next stage. 2. I have always prioritized my day job and that suddenly swallowed
both my time and more importantly my emotional wherewithal to write. If you
listen to the podcast you’ll much more about the whole process of bring the
novel to life.

is dangerous to boldly declare a title when title choices are one of the more
fluid aspects of publishing fiction—unless you are planning to self-publish. In
this case, however, the whole novel springs out of this title, and it also part of the mystery. It is a
metaphor, in the virtual worlds of the novel, for the future form of today’s
internet, cyberspace. So it’s a lament for what the future internet may become. Interestingly, Tim Berners-Lee, the originator of the current World
Wide Web has also lamented what has happened to his creation..

we remember defines so much of our personalities, robbed of this gift our
identities are distorted. The people robbed are on the margins of Swedish
society and the story follows a red thread from pornography and sexual abuse to
prostitution and sex trafficking. In the midst of this we meet a family broken
by tragedy and yearning for answers.

year marked the inaugural Stockholm Writers’ Festival. On the back of this they
established a new, annual International literary competition for the first five
pages of a long work of fiction or fact. To my surprise and encouragement, my
novel’s first 5 pages made longlist. That is, I was in the last 30 of more than
250 entries from around the world. The judge, who had a strong literary fiction
background, made the comment that he was pleasantly surprised at the quality of
the writing coming from authors of genre fiction…

Of course, it needs to be finished and redrafted—with
the help of my beta readers— but with the podcast soon to be released (links
will follow shortly) I have nailed my colours to the mast as a novelist and not
just short story writer. Watch this space.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Updates Posted on Mon, March 19, 2018 21:53:44

With the haunting vocals of The Cranberries’ Dolores
O’Riordan still echoing through my brain (due
to her tragic early death at 46) I learnt of the passing at 88 of a true matriarch of science fiction and fantasy,
Ursula K. LeGuin: one of my favourite authors. At least she had had a long and
distinguished life rather than just a distinguished one. The week ended with
the news of the departure another long-lived icon, Ingvar Kamprad (91), better
known as the founder of the company that starts with his initials IKEA.

There are already many authoritative obituaries reviewing
the life and work of Ursula Le Guin, and
I take the wise path started by Alastair Reynolds of linking to them rather
than attempting my own.

What I write now is purely a personal reflection. My path of
reading SF started with E.E. (Doc) Smith purely on
the basis of the Chris Foss covers. However, I soon discovered the grand
old Triumvirate of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. During this time I was starting
to appreciate the writing dimension of the work and recognising though I
enjoyed the stories I was reading the writing and characterisation wasn’t in the same league as some of the mundane
fiction I read. I was starting to appreciate the role of style in writing and
had latched on to Roger Zelazny. I cannot remember the first thing I read of Ursula’s. It was probably one of her shorter
works, perhaps The Word for World is
? It was also a process where my reading of SF was beginning to catch
up with what was currently being written,
(given the E.E. (Doc) Smith was first published in the I930’s) though most of
what I read of Ursula’s had been written many years before I got to it.

During my undergraduate studies,
I had little time to read science fiction. I was
very focused on science itself. However, my final year research project
happened after my final exams, and we were not allowed to work very late in the
labs. So for the first time in several years,
I had evenings free. I devoured The Left Hand of Darkness swiftly
followed by The Dispossessed. While I admired both,
I was more taken with The Dispossessed, perhaps because of the
central scientist character. Nowadays it
seems there is more focus on The Left
Hand of Darkness
because of its gender perspective. I read virtually all
her published books after that. As
another critic has commented, Earthsea is perhaps her most perfect work.
Reading Ursula propelled me towards a number of
other female authors, including Joan Vinge, Vonda McIntyre, Kate Willhelm, C.J.
Cherryh, Mary Gentle and several more.

Although I had caught and
admired several of Gene Wolfe’s short stories before this, it was Ursula’s
quotation on the back of the Shadow of
the Torturer
“Wolfe is so good he leaves me speechless” that launched me
fully into his work. The Book of the New
is probably my favourite piece of SF. Ursula had a unique position not only because
of her excellent body of work but also
because she was a pathfinder and promoter for many other great authors.


Updates Posted on Sun, December 17, 2017 15:11:51

This isn’t a reference to my demise,
but the appearance of my latest short story “The Mask Maker of Venezia” it’s
set in Venice, imagining that sea-going dinosaurs didn’t go extinct.

Several think this is my best story so farsmiley

Details of Extinct?

Edited by Dana Bell

The theme of the anthology is what would happen if something didn’t go
extinct. How would the world be different? They are a mixture of fantasy and
science fiction stories.

Paperback copy is Available from


These links lead to both Paperback and Kindle versions

If you want a cheaper electronic version

Here is the code to download an Ebook copy of Extinct? With 25% discount at Smashwords:

Go to and
use coupon code: FW94X

This offer ends 31st December 2017. You need to join
Smashwords to do this, but it’s a free join up.

Some week…

Updates Posted on Fri, April 14, 2017 17:23:09

This is mostly a blog about SF and Science, I live in a
sleepy suburb of Stockholm and nothing much happens around here. Last week,
however, was something else.

It started last Friday with work colleagues
getting strange texts from their loved ones and it ended this Friday (today) with
sub-machine guns in the garden. Between times it was fairly quiet, though…

Last Friday was the end of one of our more dramatic domestic
weeks. Things that can go wrong in a
house were going wrong. The boiler
cut out leading to cold showers and a blockage in the main drain caused a flood
of things that normally go down the toilet visiting our basement bathroom. No
danger of even a cold shower until it was fixed by 24 hour plumbing service
that our house insurance didn’t cover. So it was TGI Friday until the
aforementioned texts.

The texts started just after three o’clock with reassurances
from family members that all was okay when, of course, everything should be okay. Social media and the
internet were consulted and the enfolding drama of the lorry attack in central Stockholm
reached us.

My wife was returning from abroad, so I tried to locate my
daughters. No answer from their phones. I warned my wife and it transpired both
girls were out and about in central Stockholm, but thankfully unharmed. One
wisely heads out of town on a bus before all public transport is stopped. The
second gets trapped in the Central railway station and needs to be rescued. A
long walk for father and daughter ensues. Thinking we were at a safe distance
from similar events in London a few weeks before, it was quite a shock to have it happen so close to home. Though
if you track back a few years the same street was subject to a potential
suicide bomber, who only succeeded in blowing themselves up, rather than their
intended targets.

So today, Good Friday and a public holiday, we were hoping
for relaxation. And then a police car appears. The number of police cars
visiting our neighborhood in the last 20 years is less than the number of
fingers on my hand –and they never have their sirens blazing or their lights
flashing like this one did. It is soon
joined by another, and then an unmarked police car arrives and blocks off our

We stare out of our front windows and observe a large police
van loitering just round the corner. What is
going on? We hear the helicopter above and thus almost miss the initial appearance
of the police dog scampering unhindered through our garden/yard. It is
immediately followed by a posse of police officers in and out of uniform but
all armed with automatic rifles. They rendezvous outside our front gate, leaving
it wide open. (This leads to a wild theory that we have now discovered why we
often find the aforementioned gate open at the end of the day when it is closed
in the morning

We try to attract the policemen’s attention but
they are focused on the task in hand. Local media gossip reveals that a car
that was involved in a robbery a mile kilometre or so up the road has crashed close
by and the thieves have dispersed into our immediate neighbourhood. We are
saying goodbye to an American friend from Chicago, so she leaves with a
different impression of Sweden from the one she might have had. Though she is hardly
fazed by the drama, given her home city.

Making Waves

Updates Posted on Mon, February 15, 2016 22:16:22

This week,
on Thursday, I shattered Swedish social conventions and started a conversation
with a total stranger on a bus. Hence the title? Perhaps, but other waves were
the focus of my attention and the attempted bus conversation.

My area of science
is focused on the intricacies of small molecules in living cells, however, I sometimes
look up to the “Big Science” going on around. And with my renewed interest in
SF, I find myself drawn to important events especially in astronomy. Last week there
was an announcement that some commentators (scientists not journalists!) have
said is as big as the discovery of the Higgs Boson or DNA. The last statement
shows it was a physicist rather than a biochemist speaking. Watson and Crick
only discovered the structure of DNA, not its existence.

My newsfeed
had alerted me to the fact that something big about the possible detection of
gravitational waves was going to come on Thursday. But my story begins on the
commuter bus on Wednesday.

When I get
on the bus I usually have to stand. At the next stop most of the passengers
disgorge and I go and find a seat for the rest of the journey. On Wednesday I sat
behind somebody who is working hard on his laptop. Due to the positioning of
the seats I was perched above him and could clearly see the screen. In contrast
the usual Excel spread sheet or Word document that my fellow passengers wrestle
with on the way to work, this was a Powerpoint presentation relating to aspects
of astronomy. It looked really interesting—but of course, you would never break
out of your own little world and cross the gulf greater than intergalactic
space to another human being. So I didn’t.

Thursday was
a repeat of the previous day. And again I found myself behind the astronomer.
This time on the screen were slides relating to gravitational waves and I
remembered the announcement that should come on this day. Something in my gut
was telling me to use this announcement to open a conversation. Nonetheless,
the journey was half completed before I launched forth in Swedish, excusing
myself. He wasn’t comfortable in Swedish and we switched to English, which
suited me fine.

I found
myself in an enthusiastic conversation about the significance of the waves (the
final proof of one of the predictions of Einstein’s Theory of General
Relativity) and the likely possibility that the announcement would be
significant. My astronomer was working on gamma radiation from black holes and
black holes—or the collision thereof—were the likely source of the gravitational
waves. So a better person to talk to about this, I could not find. And he had
insider hints that this really was going to be the big one and not the damp
squib that happened last year with the gravitational waves and Big Bang (see

on Thursday two momentous events occurred. The final observation of
gravitational waves, sealing General Relativity and a conversation between two
strangers on a Swedish bus.

I have long been mulling on a story tentatively titled “The Beginning of
Everything” and now perhaps there is a validated method to take the steps back
to the Big Bang via gravitational waves. This was a promise that had been made
and broken in the previous year A story that metaphorically and literally had
turned to dust when the observations were discovered to be an artifact of
galactic dust and not gravitational waves from the Big Bang.

A view on Star Wars on the 14th of December 2015

Updates Posted on Tue, December 15, 2015 08:41:26

The date is very significant. It is a view written before
the general release of The Force
Awakens. And it begins with a prediction: a predication about the reviews that
will come following the release if the film. No spoilers here.

Whilst there will be some that say this is the best Star Wars
yet, that the mythology has been fully restored, and JJ is destined for
sainthood, there will be others wishing him to fall on his sword-and if he
cannot provide his own they’ll willing help out, at least metaphorically.

But I suspect the majority will say it’s not as good as the
originals, but at least a whole lot better than the prequels. I have some further
comments to make on those demonized films later–but this prediction may seem
blindingly obvious. Yes it is, but a more interesting question is why?

I think the mythos surrounding Star wars is about recovering
childhood dreams. Or not.

Were the originals made for children (as has been suggested
about the first of the prequels)? Well, I remember a quote taken from George
Lucas (and I paraphrase) “I never expected to end up making films for children”
So possibly. But the originals and the prequels too were a reflection back to
the experience of Saturday Matinee cinema established for kids where we find
Flash Gordon looming in shades of grey. An interesting aside relating to this comes
from the blog of SF author, Peter F. Hamilton. He took his young son to the 3D
version of the Phantom Menace. The son liked it, and when asked for a highlight
the boy mentioned the funny guy, you know Binks. So what I am suggesting is
that your view point will reflect the age you first experience the films. I was
just out of school and experiencing my first attempt at living away from home
when I saw the original film, so still a big kid at heart. It is clear nobody
and nothing is going to be able to recapture that moment. So the prequels were
destined to fail for the generation that grew up with the originals.

Now to a confession. I actually quite enjoyed them, and I
might say though the first trilogy’s Empire Strikes Back is something of a high
watermark (I saw it at the massive Leicester Square Odeon cinema in London –
and it blew me away). The Return of the Jedi, with Ewoks…. Hum.

So what was it that appealed to me about the prequels? Well
I actually thought that Ewan McGregor cut a dashing young Alec Guinness and
then there was the art. Now my favourite game when I was younger was Myst and
particularly its sequel, Riven. I thought those games should have been
reclassified as a work of art. I love the realism that 3D computer art brought
in to my dream worlds making them concrete. I remember Andy Serkis and Gollum
here, not Jar Jar.

Visually, the original Star Wars used 2001 special effects
to tell a story which my Dad (a westerns buff) reported back was “Cowboys in
Space”. The space fantasies I had
dreamed about as a child were there on the big screen and looked real. Though
to the discerning eye they were limited by the technology of the day. By the
time the prequels came along 3D computer art was reaching new heights and we
saw this on the screen. So my appreciation here comes perhaps more for the
artwork and less for the story telling. Nonetheless I really enjoyed “Attack of
the Clones”.

As a post-script to these comments I just watched a
rescreening of the original Star Wars on TV (part of the media hype to the
Force Awakens). Maybe it was because it was on the small screen, maybe it’s
because I have become old and jaded, but the magic wasn’t there any longer for
me. Let’s see what this new film awakens

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