Here’s your newest opportunity to download my “Murder in the Canyon” for free as part of the new “Out of this World Science-Fiction Giveaway.” It’s a short story that should appeal to mystery and suspense fans as well as sci-fi buffs.
Texit: Why and How Texas Will Leave the Union
Release date: April 21, 2018
I lived over twenty years in Texas where I earned both my masters and doctorate degrees. My father grew up in West Texas and then lived over thirty years in Dallas. While my Mom grew up in Arkansas, she too lived in Dallas with Dad until her death in 2015. Most of my extended family, both maternal and paternal, have lived in Texas for decades.
I say all this because author Daniel Miller implies talk of Texas independence has been part of Texas culture for a very long time. First I heard of it. True, from my childhood on, I’ve known many Texans who have a very strong pride in their state to colorful extremes. One of my Dad’s books he got sometime in the ‘30s or ‘40s was called Texas Brags, a collection of things distinctively Texan.
But Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement, goes beyond all that. In his view, I shouldn’t be surprised I haven’t heard much about Texas independence as he believes the majority of Texans who would like to secede just don’t talk about it. He preaches secession and his case isn’t based on an exaggerated sense of state pride but an astonishing range of documentation and research.
Part of his thesis is that the Federal Government is over-reaching, bloated, wasteful, and Texas could do very well without it. He believes the Federal government has strayed very far away from its fundamental principles. He preaches a dogma most conservatives, in any state, would agree wholeheartedly with. In fact, you don’t have to be Texan to get into Miller’s world view. He thinks secession is a universal concept for anyone craving independence, freedom, Self-determination and self-government. After all, he writes, State governments are essentially sub-divisions of the Federal government which would be more responsive to citizens if they untangled themselves from Washington bureaucracy.
Perhaps the most convincing part of the book is his plan for a gradual move to state independence, not some radical instantaneous break from the union. First, a statewide referendum needs to take place to demonstrate the will of the people. Then, a period of adjustment would move the state from inter-dependence on the U.S. into becoming a new nation. He says Texas already has everything it needs to be self-sufficient. The new government would have to figure out multi-lateral treaties and determine ownership of Federal properties like military bases and arsenals.
I have to admit, while much of his book is chock full of facts and figures, Miller Makes a number of assumptions and generalizations as to why those Texans who would prefer independence can’t get politically organized. I wonder about all the citizens who weren’t Texas born and consider themselves patriotic Americans.
Texit expands on the themes of Miller's first book, Line in the Sand (2011), which addressed the roots of Texas Nationalism and the practical implications of national self-identity for Texans. Miller’s controversial books and media appearances certainly deserve serious attention as he presents a well-thought-out case despite some global generalizations about what Texans think and want. Still, he isn’t just some spokesman for a minor fringe element in Texas who just blogs his ideas for anyone interested.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on June 4:
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From Grief to Creativity
By Dr. Wesley Britton
For decades, I presume, counselors, therapists, and teachers have told mourners that writing journals can be very therapeutic when dealing with grief. On the other hand, I recall a writing teacher who commented that he read a lot of student submissions that were probably very therapeutic for the writer but of little or no interest to any readers.
Naturally, many of us write things intended or should be intended to be private or for a small family circle. But when the blogosphere and social media exploded, many of these formerly private journal entries went online for anyone to read. In some cases, these blog items ended up becoming books.
Yesterday, I attended a Hospis Support Group for those of us who have lost a spouse and the topic of writing journals came up. Then, listening to other people describe episodes, events, or moments before or after their spouse’s death, something occurred to me.
What we were discussing could be a useful writing prompt for writers who very much want to appeal to a reading audience. True, if we are describing something attached to an actual emotional moment, the emotional impact, certainly for the writer, could have a special wallop unlike anything else we scribe. And there’s no reason not to consider crafting similar scenes describing moments for fictional characters.
I doubt I’ve just said anything new. But it might be an opening for authors looking for ways to introduce a new character or situation they haven’t considered before. So, I offer this example from my second week of grief. One thing I noticed was by choosing one rather tight setting, I was able to illustrate some characteristics of my late wife in a rather succinct way:
There she sits, the spectral image of the short-haired Betty Britton leaning forward on her relatively new couch. She wanted that couch from Bob’s Furniture last year after she decided that would give her her own space to relax on when at home. Better than her old recliner, apparently.
When she was home and not confined to a hospital or rehab bed, Betty sat or laid on that couch with a little table-tray in front of her with her various small possessions surrounding the space where she placed her breakfast and dinners. That’s where she ate her Meals on Wheels which she usually liked better than I ever did. There, she enjoyed her cans of ginger ale, chocolate Glucerna, and cups of ice. Once upon a time, she loved crystal lite but, for some reason, lost her desire for that. She loved her morning coffee in that huge cup of hers into which she poured her sweet vanilla creamer. She usually filled that cup to the brim but rarely drank enough to make it worthwhile.
She had a little shallow glass cup in which she kept the change for the Share Ride drivers. They insisted on the $3.50 in exact change for each trip, coming and going to the dialysis center. By the cup was a stack of one dollar bills for the same reason. She had her strips of blister-packs of her daily pills organized by the Medicine Shop for her complex prescription regimen. She had her glasses which she often lost and the cell phone which she lost just as often, usually in her bed or couch cushions.
She had her blood sugar Glucometer which she needed to use more regularly than she did. Oh, she got so mad with me for asking several times a day what her sugar level was. That was until her visiting nurses let her know I was doing a good thing by keeping up with her numbers. “I’m a grown-ass woman! I can do whatever I want! I don’t need you watching over my every move!” Oh yes, she did.
The last time she went into the hospital, Ron Collins came by to make a few changes Betty wanted. She often had a difficult time rising from her couch without help. She often complained the TV was too low for her to see over her walker. So Ron put the TV on a riser it still sits on. He put little risers under each of the couch legs to make it easier for Betty to get up and down. She never made it home to try these things out.
So the image I’m seeing and hearing on the couch is the image of a Betty eating her dinner with all her necessities spread around in front of her. Oh yes, the mail too. The little table is gone now as it rather crowded that side of this little living room. But that was the place Betty spent most of her waking hours last year when she was home. Me, I can’t go near that couch. It hurts just to know it’s there.
“Here,” the spectre says, holding out a plastic Solo Cup, “get me a glass of ice. No water.”
Damaged Beyond All Recognition (Infinity's Trinity Book 1)
Print Length: 361 pages
Publisher: Alan Felyk; 1 edition (January 1, 2018)
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Reviewed by Dr Wesley Britton
I admit it. Alan Felyk has an imagination I simply envy. The tag line for his new Damaged Beyond All Recognition is “Extending the literary traditions of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams ...” Vonnegut, certainly. Adams, well, from time to time. It’s certainly true that this novel is going to appeal to readers who like high-minded humor laced into a complex, layered yarn.
Three unusual protagonists anchor the proceedings. First, there’s Paul Tomenko who is a famous writer chronicling events in the counter-culture in Colorado in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Suddenly, he finds himself traveling to and from God's library somewhere outside the Universe. That’s the current God, the less than omnipotent being in a long chain of less than omnipotent beings.
For example, there’s no longer an afterlife for humanity to ascend to. Humans can no longer access memories from their past lives in previous versions of the Universe or acquire new memories. So who can replace God when he dies as he is coming very close to that point?
It’s Paul who has to find the solution to this dilemma with the help of his two lovers, the genius genetic Maggie Mae Monahan and the Sci-Fi novelist Allie Briarsworth who intuitively senses events from the past and future.
Paul’s brain creates some unusual supporting players like the gatekeeper to God’s archives who is a doppelganger for Cher and the very helpful librarian who is a doppelganger for actress Katharine Ross. Clearly, these women came from Paul’s unfulfilled carnal wishes. Toss in Gronk and Grita, two six-year-old neo-Neanderthals who are the most intelligent humans on Earth due to reconstructed DNA. Did I mention the story includes traveling across multiple planes of existence or a species of aliens who want to obliterate humanity so they can become the supreme creations of the cosmos?
Metaphysics have rarely been treated with such originality or irreverence. This is entertaining science fiction with a cerebral framework, lively tone, well-drawn characters (with overly restrained sex lives, sad to say), and the unexpected on nearly every page. You should probably make a point of not missing this one as you too might be a figment of Paul Tomenko’s imagination. Wait till you find out where you’ve been. Talk about a Big Bang . . .
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on April 24 at:
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THE GRAY WOLF OF CHICAGO.
"Hitching his way out of Northern Michigan, Gareth Manion, a gutter punk with wolf-like abilities, heads to Chicago to start a new life for himself. Unbeknownst to him, the Windy City is plagued by a super powered gang, whose leader is always seeking ways to increase his own prowess--and Gareth has become their main target.
Unfortunately for them, they don't realize how powerful Gareth really is.
Friendship, romance, vengeance--this is the explosive origin of the hard boiled superhero, GODAN, back when he was known as THE GRAY WOLF OF CHICAGO."
Available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1987712870
“Rob Williams’ Sins of Variance poses one of science fiction’s crossroads in a difficult future of dark choices for the human race.”
Sins of Variance takes place 500 years into the future in Gloucestershire County, United Kingdom (near Wales). Mankind has changed through genetic engineering, almost to the point of being unrecognizable from what we know today. Advanced genetics has brought about a complete “optimal” set of genomes preferred by the society. Though variation has been bred out of most humans, there are rare individuals with unique inner characteristics who have been deemed unacceptable by the society. They struggle because of these personal differences, and some find their world is not really what they have been led to believe.
The author would rate the book on the high side of PG-13 due to violence.
The Ardent Writer Press
Author Page on Ardent Writer Press
Fairies, Robots and Unicorns?--Oh My!
A Collection of Funny Short Stories Sarina Dorie
Print Length: 158 pages
Publication Date: April 29, 2016
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC ASIN: B01F06DFDW
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
While I’ve read more than my fair share of sci-fi, I haven’t read all that many short stories in the genre and even fewer intentionally humorous SF yarns. Some have stuck in my mind, such as one tale in which a female author had a group of “Wendys” rebelling from the adolescent chauvinism of Peter Pan and his Lost Boys expecting the Wendies to forever take care of all their domestic needs.
Excluding one anthology of Harry Harrison stories, Fairies, Robots and Unicorns was the first collection of light-hearted offerings I ever sat down to read. I’m glad I did. I don’t plan on it being the last collection of such fare I spend time with. In particular, Sarina Dorie is often wickedly clever, laugh out loud funny, and extremely original, one of my favorite characteristics from an author in any genre.
For example, “Five Tips for Slaying a Unicorn” is a bit of humorous advice told in a list, a literary device the author wanted to experiment with. “Speed Dating Books” is about a trip to a bookstore where books try their seductive best to get buyers to take them home. “Debbie Does Delta Draconis III” plays with thinly-disguised characters from Star Trek, or at least alien surrogates for them, who invade a lawyer’s dreams.
Some stories aren’t so much comical as offbeat or simply quirky.” Eels for Heels” is a weird modern fairy tale where a woman is cursed by a sea witch who gives her eels magically attached to her heels until she finds her true love. Not every tale tries to be comic. In one of my favorites, “The Quantum Mechanic,” a more straight-forward sci-fi story features some hiccups in the space-time continuum with happy results, at least for one soon to be involved romantic couple. Likewise, “Cinderella’s Holo-Wand” is a cautionary tale about wanting to use technology to transform from an undesirable body into hopeful physical perfection.
In such a collection, few readers are likely to like everything. I wasn’t too fond of “Red as a Pickle” which has aliens draining away all the colors on earth until they are outwitted by a housecat. “The Office Messiah” is a rather underdeveloped play on the philosophy of Jesus as juxtaposed against workplace realities. “Blackboard Galaxy” is a simply odd tale of a human teacher trying to deal with alien children who expect to be eaten when they are bad. Eaten but restored to health unlike digested human food.
Some yarns are obvious parodies as with “The Optimist Police” where negative thoughts are criminalized. I’m certain every reader who’s ever tried to work with tech support from any company you can think of will emphasize with a starship captain under attack from aliens unable to get help until he extends his warranty in “Interstellar Tech Support.” Speaking of parodies, “Lady Chatterly’s Computer” is a very clever take-off of the D.H. Lawrence novel.
Some titles, like “Confessions of the Orgasm Fairy” and “Robo-rotica,” might suggest the collection isn’t intended for YA readers. But the content really isn’t anything too heavy for most teenagers. “Robo-rotica” is the most explicit of the fantasies, describing hot sex between two machines. If that titillates you, then be concerned. Be very concerned.
Among the many characteristics we learn about Sarina Dorie is that she has a background of classroom teaching, that she has an Italian mother, she likes food, and, of course, enjoys sex. At least invoking it in her writing. This collection is but a thin slice of her 100 or so short stories which you can learn more about at—
Fairies, Robots and Unicorns is entertaining, light reading with its occasional social commentary delivered with more than a spoonful of sugar, sometimes just silly, often simply twisted, sometimes wickedly funny. It’s the sort of collection you can read in short sessions as some of the tales are extremely short indeed.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on April 7, 2018
BEYOND THE BEATS: Rock & Roll’s Greatest Drummers Speak!
Publisher:Music Square Media; 1 edition (March 13, 2018)
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
Being a longtime drummer myself, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review this book when I saw its title. Once I scanned the table of contents, I realized author Jake Brown is a tad younger than me. I was part of the generation where young drummers venerated the likes of rockers Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, and jazzers like Elvin Jones, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich. The only stick-man from those times Brown interviewed was Doug “Cosmo” Clifford from Creedence Clearwater Revival. Many of the drummers Brown interviewed, it soon turned out, also admired the same drummers I did.
Brown interviewed an profiled the likes of Lars Ulrich(Metallica), Joey Kramer (Aerosmith), Tommy Lee (Mottley Crew), Taylor Hawkins (The Foo Fighters), Chad Smith (The Red Hot Chili Peppers), Tico Torres (Bon Jovi), Matt Sorum (Guns N Roses), Jimmy Chamberlin (The Smashing Pumpkins), Kenny Aronoff (John Meellencamp/ John Fogerty), Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), and Steve Smith (Journey).
Drummers are certainly going to be the most appreciative audience for these interviews as we are given a detailed analysis of many of the beats for some of rock’s biggest hits. We get other insights as well such as Tommy Lee’s revelations about how he incorporated showmanship into his on-stage presentations. These performers share their perspectives on how to stay on top, decade after decade. They offer advice for future drummers, compare live with studio drumming, discuss the usefulness of click-tracks, and praise their mentors. They talk about the interaction between their roles with other musicians, engineers, and producers. Drummers will appreciate their notes on the types of instruments and equipment they like.
But fellow drummers shouldn’t be the only readers to enjoy the stories of drumming creativity and how these musicians became the stars they are. If you’re a fan of one or more of the bands covered, the price of admission will fit just fine. If you’re a devotee of hard rock and metal, this is a must-have volume, whether or not you’re a stick-man. Or stick-woman.
(Beyond the Beats will have an audiobook release on May 15, 2018 featuring bonus content like audio excerpts from each of the drummers interviewed in the book.)
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on April 2, 2018:
Publisher:Zowie Press (March 20, 2018)
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
Matt Ginsberg’s Factor Man is a cerebral read that seems targeted for a selective audience, namely techno-geeks and nerds, especially those knowledgeable in advanced math and science. This is especially true for the first third of the book where Ginsberg lays out the background of what Factor Man can do, how he hides from the entire planet, and just how important his factoring is. Ginsberg’s book couldn’t be timelier with its use of e-mails and blog entries to partially tell the story of online issues with security and privacy and the powers of companies like Google and Apple.
The plot centers on the world-famous “Factor Man” who claims he can break the 256-bit encryption codes making online privacy and secrets completely impossible. There’s lots to worry about if “FM” has really discovered what computer scientists call “God’s algorithm.” The evidence for his claims builds up as the unknown genius who solves increasingly complex factor problems in a public countdown to the day he plans to reveal his identity. Day after day, all sorts of individuals including Will Wheaton, Sylvester Stallone, and Jimmy Fallon submit long strings of numbers for Factor Man to factor—you’d think every celebrity in the world was interested in complexity theory.
Assuming FM can survive to the day he is willing to lose his anonymity is no sure thing. FM sets up a schedule to sell his technology first to the highest bidder, one year later to the U.S. Government, and finally make it available to everyone. The Chinese, with the most to lose, are deeply unhappy and send out an assassin to track him down. The FBI and NSA follow the lead of Congress who pass laws attempting to block FM from selling his tech to any private entity. So law enforcement agents conduct annoying surveillance on innocent citizens in the Texas desert while the Chinese agent kills two innocent Americans. Throw in an investigative reporter who also chases FM all over Europe, especially in Austria and Switzerland. It’s this section of the book where readers don’t need a math or science background to get into what is essentially an espionage thriller.
Along the way, we hear Factor Man telling his own story, including his clever journey to evade discovery and capture. Layered into the tale are the accounts of the reporter, Chinese operative, and officers from various government agencies and other characters sharing their roles in the hunt they tell in the first person.
When I said the book is timely, that’s on several levels. The story opens in 2017 and concludes in 2021. You’d think the short trip into the future would qualify the story as science fiction. However you classify the novel, Factor Man is an original work of fiction with subject matter that is fresh with a mostly lively approach and tone. I admit I could live without the interruptive series of numbers e-mailed to FM which all readers, I presume, will quickly skim over. I also admit I have a hard time buying into a large media event I can’t fairly describe here. On the other hand, the thrill-ride that leads up to this event is as suspenseful a chase as you’ll ever read. Best of all, we get a warm, positive ending. I love it when I’m not experiencing a dystopian future. I like it when the good guys win.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on March 26, 2018:
My Life as a Book Reviewer
By Dr. Wesley Britton
I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure my first published book review came out in 1981 for Joseph P. Lash’s Helen and Teacher, the historian’s dual biography of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy. I forget the name of the periodical, but I recall it was a newspaper printed for the Dallas-based Association of Individuals with Disabilities.
In 1983, I became a graduate student in American Literature at the University of North Texas. Very quickly, I began hearing the oft-repeated mantra of “Publish or Perish.” That phrase sounds very simple, but not so fast.
Back in those days, unless you were part of a Creative Writing department, publishing “primary sources”—meaning any creative writing, poetry, short stories, or novels—didn’t count toward your career path. The research-oriented English departments wanted “secondary sources,” meaning scholarly studies of recognized classics or even short studies of other book-length scholarly studies. It was all about critical analysis. Your resume could also include book reviews, especially reviews of literary histories, biographies, or even more scholarly studies. With luck, you could present your non-paid-for articles at academic conventions where, of course, you paid your own way to attend.
Those conventions turned out to be goldmines in terms of networking, especially meeting editors of academic periodicals who gave out book review assignments. Especially for new scholarly editions written by and for academics in specific subject areas. These often-expensive tomes were nice items not to have to pay for.
Which lead to my earliest reviews for publications like Texas Books in Review, The Journal of American Studies of Texas, Southern Quarterly, and American Periodicals. In turn, this to me becoming the main reviewer for the then-new online list-serve, The Mark Twain Forum. For years, I wrote many reviews for them and I believe you can still see all of them today at the Forum’s archives. That was where I learned online periodicals didn’t have to worry about word counts, always an important consideration for print assignments.
After I earned my Ph.D., I had one quest in mind. Writing reviews for which I got paid. That didn’t always happen. For Choice Magazine, I was assigned titles for which I wrote very short reviews of around 300 words for librarians who had one question in mind—is this a book we should buy and shelve? That was another good example of knowing your audience—writing for a specific purpose with a very limited word count.
Then I did get paid work from Magill’s Book Reviews, Literary Annuals in between writing all manner of encyclopedia articles. During those years, my target audience was very broad and very non-academic. It was a very different approach from most everything I’d written before. It was very liberating.
By 1999 or so, I decided I was tired of writing short things. I wanted to write books and have reviewers review me. So began my four books on espionage in the media followed by my six book sci-fi series. But I kept my hand in book reviewing. For around a decade, I reviewed all manner of fiction and non-fiction for online sites devoted to spies in one guise or another. Once again, I had a very specific audience, readers already familiar with spy novels, TV shows, or films. If your audience is already knowledgeable in one subject area or another, then you pitch your approach to those who might know as much or more than you do about the topic.
Somewhere in all that, all manner of projects opened up for me. I don’t recall when or why, but editor Norm Goldman invited me to join his cadre of reviewers for BookPleasures.com. I still write for him. What really opened up was the range of books I could review—murder mysteries, histories, celebrity memoirs, espionage thrillers, sci-fi. And the assignments come in a variety of ways. Several times a week, Norm sends out blitzes of press releases from authors, publishers, and publicists seeking book reviews at BP. We reviewers than express our interest in whatever titles intrigue us, and Norm makes his assignments. These days, I also get press releases sent directly to me usually because a publisher or publicist likes something I wrote. They hope to interest me in other books by the same author or books of a similar nature.
Along the way, I also reviewed books, CDs, and DVDs for BlogCritics.org. What made them different was the meticulous nature of their editors. I have always treasured good editors, and BC had some excellent ones. I stopped writing for BC when they made changes in their submission format and really made reviewers work to post reviews with all sorts of hoops to leap through at their site. Well, since they weren’t paying anything, getting free books, CDs, and DVDs just wasn’t worth all the hassle.
So what have I learned over the decades and what can I pass along to you?
It seems pretty clear one key lesson is to know what audience you’re writing for as that frames so much of our reviews. It can determine length—especially for online sites—and the content—do you have a knowledgeable audience or are you addressing the general reader?
I’ve always felt the primary purpose of a reviewer is to give potential readers enough information so they can decide for themselves if they want to try a specific book or not. That’s one reason many reviewers mention the names of authors who are similar to the title being reviewed, giving readers a connection to familiar writers of the same genre.
Whether or not I like a specific title really isn’t the point. So in pretty much every review, I’ve ever written, I point out just what audiences would be most interested in a particular book. Just because I don’t like or am mildly responsive to a new book doesn’t mean there’s not a readership out there who would love it.
I admit, over the years, I’ve gotten my fair share of grumpy responses from authors. Mostly, they didn’t think a specific review was glowing enough. Or I didn’t praise enough one aspect or another of their effort. I don’t think I’ve written that many out-and-out bad reviews. I can think of two; one was simply a dishonest project, the other was supposedly a non-fiction study so personal that it was not worth the time of the subject’s fans.
I also admit I still have a hard time getting excited by Amazon reviews. Recently, I was part of a Facebook group’s debate over whether reviews posted at sites other than Amazon were equal to the usual short paragraphs posted on the Zon. Yes, most readers go to the Zon and perhaps nowhere else. On the other hand, many serious readers—and therefore potential buyers—go to other places to get more developed reviews than the often general and unedited paint-by-numbers Amazon reviews. Consider sites devoted to specific genres, for one example. Consider such reviews aren’t likely paid for or written by author friends or supporters. Consider the in-depth analysis places like BookPleasures.com or BlogCritics.org offer.
True, there are countless personal blogs that don’t have a lot of credibility. The lack of proper editing is one problem with such places. And credibility can be a valuable thing when publishers hunt for useful blurbs and quotes to promote books. After the reviewer’s name, the name of a reliable publication is not a bad thing at all. The Zon doesn’t count. So I’ very happy to see excerpts from my reviews included in other author’s media kits. Or reposted at places like The Midwest Book Review or The New Book Review Blog.
Writing book reviews can help build up your writing portfolio, especially if you can find ways to have your reviews posted at sites that have good reputations and a good-sized readership. These days, reposting our reviews is good for both the book authors and the reviewer. Getting published at a good site or periodical is the beginning, but then you can repost at Amazon, your personal blogs at Goodreads, Book Likes, or wherever, And at the book’s page at Goodreads. Normally, you should include where the review originally appeared so that publication can get credit. Like the authors we review, we too want to reach a wide readership.
Contact Wesley if you’re interested in a review exchange.
Dr. Wesley Britton,
Author, The Beta Earth Chronicles
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