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Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Followed up by Stanislaw Lem
Mood:  sad
Now Playing: The Funeral Dirge
It's not a good year for edgy science fiction writers. Repost from the main Singulairty blog:

Stanislaw Lem is dead





The author of SOLARIS, PIRX THE PILOT,and THE CYBERIAD has passed away. Stanislaw Lem, a Polish writer whose brand of science fiction was what I would describe as "humanist", has died. Apparently of natural causses.


WARSAW, Poland Mar 27, 2006 (AP)— Stanislaw Lem, a popular science fiction writer whose novel "Solaris" was filmed twice, died Monday in his native Poland, his secretary said. He was 84.

Lem died in Krakow, Wojciech Zemek told The Associated Press. Zemek did not give other details or the cause of death, citing only Lem's advanced age.

Lem was one of the most popular science fiction authors of recent decades to write in a language other than English, and his works were translated from Polish into more than 40 other languages. His books have sold 27 million copies.

His best-known work, "Solaris," was adapted into films by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and by Steven Soderbergh in 2002. The latter starred George Clooney and Natascha McElhone.

His first important novel, "Hospital of the Transfiguration," was censored by communist authorities for eight years before its release in 1956 amid a thaw following the death of Josef Stalin.

Lem's other works include "The Invincible," "The Cyberiad," "His Master's Voice," "The Star Diaries," "The Futurological Congress" and "Tales of Prix the Pilot."


Copyright, 2006 ABC News

Even though Lem's fiction had died down to a trickle in the 90s and nothing in the early years of the millenium, I will still miss him. His contribution to fiction (and not just science fiction) added a unique and quirky voice to the tumult.

I'm getting to be of the age when a lot of the early influences in my life, literary and otherwise, are joining the choir celestial. It's a sad phase, but I don't want this blog to be a neverending series of obits with me making sad faces. Lem lived a life worthy of celebration.

Salut, Stanislaus

Posted by mrnizz at 1:33 PM EST
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Monday, 6 March 2006
OCTAVIA BUTLER is gone
Mood:  sad
Now Playing: A funeral dirge
Topic: Focus on Author

With great sadness, we should mourn the passing of Octavia Butler at the untimely age of 58 last week. She was a great talent, a writer of great SF stories that focused on the human side, rather than oh-gee-whiz stuff. She shall be missed.

A lot was made about the color of Ms. Butler's skin when she was first published. I'll say this about that; she was just a great writer of stories. Her characters and stories were color-blind.

My favorite books by Octavia are CLAYS' ARK and WILD SEED. I admit, I had lost touch with her stuff in recent years, but plan to go back and reread some of it some day soon.

Here's the obituary, copyright the SEATTLE TIMES:

Octavia Butler, prominent science fiction author, dies at 58

By GENE JOHNSON

The Associated Press

SEATTLE – Octavia E. Butler, the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, died after falling and striking her head on the cobbled walkway outside her home, a close friend said Sunday. She was 58.

Butler was found outside her home in the north Seattle suburb of Lake Forest Park on Friday. She had suffered from high blood pressure and heart trouble and could only take a few steps without stopping for breath, said Leslie Howle, who knew Butler for two decades and works at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle.

Butler's work wasn't preoccupied with robots and ray guns, Howle said, but used the genre's artistic freedom to explore race, poverty, politics, religion and human nature.

"She stands alone for what she did," Howle said. "She was such a beacon and a light in that way."

Fellow Seattle-based science fiction authors Greg Bear and Vonda McIntyre said they were stunned by the news and called it a tremendous loss.

"People came the world around to talk to her," Bear said. "She was sweet. She was smart. She knew science fiction and how to work with it."

Butler began writing at age 10, and told Howle she embraced science fiction after seeing a schlocky B-movie called "Devil Girl from Mars" and thinking, "I can write a better story than that." In 1970, she took a bus from her hometown of Pasadena, Calif., to East Lansing, Mich., to attend a fantasy writers workshop.

Her first novel, "Kindred," came out in 1979. It concerned a black woman who travels back in time to the South to save a white man. She went on to write about a dozen books, plus numerous essays and short stories. Her most recent work, "Fledgling," an examination of the "Dracula" legend, was published last fall.

She won numerous awards, and most notably in 1995 became the first science fiction writer granted a "genius" award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which paid $295,000 over five years. She served on the board of the Science Fiction Museum.

Peter Heck, a science fiction and mystery writer in Chestertown, Md., said Butler was recognized for tackling difficult and controversial issues, such as slavery.

"She was considered a cut above both in the quality of her writing and her imaginative audacity," Heck said. "She was willing to take uncomfortable ideas and pursue them further than a lot of other people would have been willing to."

Heck's wife, Jane Jewell, executive director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, called Butler one of the first and definitely the most prominent black woman science fiction writer, but said she would have been a major writer of science fiction no matter her race or her gender.

"She is a world-class science fiction writer in her own right," Jewell said. "She was one of the first and one of the best to discuss gender and race in science fiction."

Butler described herself as a happy hermit, and never married. Though she could be very private, Bear said, she had taken classes to improve her public speaking and in recent years seemed more outgoing.

"Mostly she just loved sitting down and writing," he said. "For being a black female growing up in Los Angeles in the '60s, she was attracted to science fiction for the same reasons I was: It liberated her. She had a far-ranging imagination, and she was a treasure in our community."



Copyright ? 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Posted by mrnizz at 10:29 AM EST
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Monday, 13 February 2006
THE DRIVE IN, a graphic novel by Joe Lansdale
Mood:  chillin'
Now Playing: with myself
Topic: Book Review

As you might have figured out from reading this book blog, I'm an unabashed fan of Joe Lansdale, the best damn shitkicking author to emerge from East Texas. I didn't post a review of THE DRIVE IN (the book) here because, frankly, I've been flooding the blog with Lansdale stuff. I did read it, and frankly thought it was one of his best (certainly his creepiest) story ever.

Unfortunately, the graphic novel based upon the story (and fairly faithfully; the story is retold in almost exact detail, just more visually and less verbose) published by Avatar comics, failed to inspire me. The drawings (aside from the cover and a couple of inserts, almost entirely black and white line drawings) are too damned intricate and the lack of color washes most of the story away.

It's a pity; I wanted to like this one because I liked its parent novel quite a bit. I can't fault the guys at Avatar for the idea, which is stellar; DRIVE IN was a spectacularly visual mindfuck of a book. However, I do fault them for execution. The art was poor to mediocre at best. The story was topnotch, but Lansdale gave them a big hand with that one.

Good effort, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Posted by mrnizz at 3:37 PM EST
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Thursday, 9 February 2006
WHO MURDERED CHAUCER? by Terry Jones
Mood:  celebratory
Now Playing: Django Reinhardt's Greatest Hits
Topic: Book Review
Most of us remember Terry Jones as "the Nude Man" from Monty Python's Flying Circus, or "King Pellinore" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or Brian's obnoxious mum in "The Life of Brian". So it's hard to grasp that that same Terry Jones who used to dress in drag and make silly faces on TV is really quite a gifted and clever author, and a learned fellow to boot. I had some prior experience with Jones' kid's fiction: ERIK THE VIKING, NICOBOBINUS, and one of his history books: CHAUCER'S KNIGHT: A MEDIEVAL MERCENARY, so I knew what he was about.

Jones' book works on the central premise: Geoffrey Chaucer, court poet of the unfortunate Richard II of English History, was a famous man, perhaps the liteary voice of his age (though I personally think Jean Froissart could have given him a run for his money). His work was famous in his lifetime, a literary feat almost unheard of in an age where books were copied by hand. When he disappears from history, he was neither young nor terribly old by the standards of the day; and no mention is made of this celebrated individual's passing by fair means or foul.

How, then, did Chaucer die? Jones' opinion is that he was murdered, that much is clear from the title. The reasons why are a mystery and Jones can only produce enlighted guesses as to motive. If you are reading this novel merely for another period-piece mystery, you will be disappointed. There is no costumed villain. However, it is a great history book for all of that; Jones has a wondeful literary style that describes the period in everyday langauge that makes for a fun read.

Not so much a murder mystery as a survey of the middle of fourteenth century English society, WHO MURDERED CHAUCER? is a bright, fun engaging book. I loved it.

Posted by mrnizz at 12:56 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006 12:58 PM EST
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ALTERNATIVE GENERALS III: By Harry Turtledove
Mood:  accident prone
Now Playing: Django Reinhardt's Greatest Hits
There's a guy in my office that is one of the most rabid Harry Turtledove fans I know; he reads virtually anything HT writes in the novel line (except the blatant fantasy stuff). I am not like that guy. I enjoyed Turtledove's early work (especially AGENT OF BYZANTIUM) but I don't feel like his talents lay in the area of the larger novel. Turtledove can write a wickedly good alt-history short story with a twist ending at the drop of a hat, and he can edit compendiums of similar material. His novels tend to be overly long, hugely repeitive and so complex each one requires a glossary appendix.

So I was pleased to find a SHORT STORY COLLECTION at the local library recently. Alternative Generals III is supposed to be another one of those "what if we switched out some key individuals and reran key events in history?" collections. Very few of the stories in practice focus on different or alternative generals.. they just depict "what if" alternatives.

Stories:

A.M. Dellamonica A Key to the Illuminated Heretic
James Fiscus The Road to Endless Sleep
William Sanders Not Fade Away
John Mina I Shall Return
Harry Turtledove Shock and Awe
Brad Linaweaver A Good Bag
Mike Resnick The Burning Spear at Twilight
Roland Green "It Isn't Every Day of the Week"
Judith Tarr Measureless to Man
Lillian Stewart Carl Over the Sea from Skye
Esther Friesner First, Catch Your Elephant
Lee Allred East of Appomattox
Chris Bunch Murdering Uncle Ho

Of these, I liked Resnick's Burning Spear at Twilight (depicting a passive resistance Jomo Kenyatta) Esther Friesner's send up of the Invasion of Italy by Hannibal, and Lee Allred's powerful East of Appomatox, where a victorious Confederacy is all of a sudden considered declasse...

In sum, a good collection of mediocre to excellent short stories with some bright spots.


Posted by mrnizz at 12:16 PM EST
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Tuesday, 11 October 2005
Never too late for the SANDMAN
Mood:  accident prone
Now Playing: the dozens
Topic: Focus on Author


(crossposted from Another Point of Singularity, because it fits here)

I missed out on the "Sandman Craze" when the popular comic book series was being published from 1989 to 1990-whatever. I never took to "Goth stuph" when I was younger; I suspect I was too old for serious Goth lifestyle changes, and had been through that phase before it was even called "Goth". Since so many Goth-wannabees were aping "Dream" (the titular character of the series) in style and dress, I kind of turned my nose up at it. Big mistake, as it turns out. I deprived myself of a very good read for a long time.



The other night, I was in the library over at Pohick, and noticed that A) they are carrying graphic novels; and B) they have almost every one of the Sandman books.

Now, that's a cool thing. Because I find spending 14.95 plus on a graphic novel trade cover just little bit much, considering 9 out of 10 of them get recycled to a used book store or library book drive. I think my only "keepers" have been KINGDOM COME, THE WATCHMEN, BATMAN: YEAR ONE, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, MAUS, DAREDEVIL: GANG WAR, and BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE). So I don't "do comics" like I used to. Being able to check them out of a library is a big bonus. Among Pohick's graphic novel collection (which is, alas, mostly Manga), is almost all of the Sandman milieu that saw print.

I currently have out on loan A Game of You (a sort of Alice through the Looking Glass meets Steven King's Dark Tower series), Fables and Reflections (all short stories with different graphic artists. My favorite so far), Dream Country and the Kindly Ones (both not read yet, but that is a fault soon remedied). I also picked up A Season of Mists at a garage sale some time back and posted good things about it in my book blog.

What can I say (further) that hasn't already been said, in gushing detail?

I'm impressed that writers that I respect and admire, such as Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison and Samuel Delaney find this series so awe-inspiring that they all have written, intricate, thoughtful introductions (my favorite so far is Wolfe's, but I love his writing). The story line appears to have a connecting thread througout (concerning "Dream's" unusual family), but it really doesn't matter that much. Each book stands and falls on its own. I particularly like the way Gaiman adroitly weaves characters and pieces of myth into his storyline; each story is like a subdued trivia test as I read and recognize this or that clever literary reference.

So I like them. I like them quite a bit.

What's the lesson for today, kids? Just because an item is the darling of the culture vultures, DOESN'T neccesarily mean that it sucks.

Posted by mrnizz at 2:27 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005 3:21 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 5 October 2005
TWO ROMANS
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: Nothing
Topic: Literary Survey

Hail, Caesar



My two favorite historical mystery writers, John Maddox Roberts and Steven Saylor, have released new series novels almost simultaneously, and that's great news indeed!

Roberts' "Roman Detective" is Decius Metellius, a Roman senator that lives right about the time of the end of the Roman Republic and advent of Julius Caesar. He is patrician, from an old and noble family, and a struggling politiician. The series is called "SPQR" (For the Senate and People of Rome), and the latest volume is THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATES. I'm almost done with it, and have been enjoying it immensely. This is a nautical adventure where the thirtyish Decius is sent to Cyprus to unravel a mystery involving pirates, an exiled general, and the young princess Cleopatra.

The other "Roman Detective" is Gordianus the Finder, a creation of Steven Saylor. Gordianus is a plebian Roman citizen of good if undistinguished family who is a "finder" (analogous to private eye) to various important Roman citizens, including some of the lights of the era: Caesar, Pompey, Cicero, Catiline, Cato, and many other important historical figures routinely show up in his stories. His latest, A GLADIATOR ONLY DIES ONCE, is a collection of short stories, some of which I have seen compiled elsewhere (in Historical Whodunits, for example), but it is good to see them all in one volume like this. I'm about halfway through this, and all of the stories (including the ones I've read before) have been uniformly good, some better than others.



Needless to say, since I already said it, I like the authors quite a bit, and can't say which I prefer. My recommendation is to check them both out of the library as fast as possible, like I did, before some other selfish bastid gets in front of you.



Posted by mrnizz at 4:46 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005 2:21 PM EDT
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THE BOTTOMS, by Joe Lansdale
Mood:  bright
Now Playing: The Gorey End by the Tiger Lillies and Kronos Quartet
Topic: Book Review
THE BOTTOMS is a powerful novel, one of the many by Joe Lansdale (Who else, lately?) that I've read lately.

From the blurb:
Deep East Texas in the Great Depression. A place where poverty is as prevalent and devastating as tornadoes. When young Harry Crane discovers a mutilated body in the river bottoms, a cold fear grips the region and racial tension nears fever pitch. Harry believes the killer is the Goat Man, a monster of Texas legend, made all the more real to Harry because he has actually seen him on his nocturnal wanderings. In the dark and gloom of the Texas night, and with no suspect in sight, the body count rises, a man is lynched, and the local law—Harry's father—intensifies the search for a savage killer who may be closer than anyone dares imagine.


There are many elements that thread throughout Lansdale's novels, some of them being a childlike first person perspective (as in A FINE DARK LINE), taking a moral stance (as in SUNSET AND SAWDUST, A FINE DARK LINE), ferocity towards evil-doers (every Lansdale novel written), the power of memory and country-style justice.

THE BOTTOMS takes up these themes in Lansdalian style and delivers a fine, scary tale set in (where else) East Texas during the Depression. The underweaving threads of loneliness, poverty, and memory perfay pervade throughout. Many of Joe's books look back on a vanished America, usually set in a Depression that he isn't old enough to have witnessed firsthand. It's a perfect setting for dread and suspense... not just for the evil that occurs in the novel (and it's pretty nasty) but also the underlaying dread of poverty and hunger that is in the background of it all.

THE BOTTOMS reminded me strongly of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for some reason. The stories aren't all that similar but the perspective and settings are not all that different.

I strongly recommend THE BOTTOMS, it might be my favorite Lansdale book yet.


Posted by mrnizz at 4:32 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 14 September 2005
A FINE DARK LINE, by Joe R. Lansdale
Mood:  caffeinated
Now Playing: with myself
Topic: Book Review

Joe Lansdale is the writer that brought us "Bubba Ho Tep" and he actually narrates it in the expanded bits on the DVD (with his authentic East Texas shitkicker accent). I'm on a Lansdale reading binge at the moment, having gone through (rapidly): FREEZER BURN, SUNSET AND SAWDUST, MUCHO MOJO and now A FINE DARK LINE. Like most of his books, this one is set in Texas and in times gone by. In this case, the year is 1958 and the protaganist is a 13 year old boy who is pretty wet behind the ears. His inadvertant discovery of an old box of letters sets in motion an investigation to an old murder and coverup.

Lansdale is masterful as a dialogue writer; his choice little inserts and conversations are the real reason to read his fiction (I'm compiling a list of these on my "Staring at my feet" blog). Any writer who can come up with "I've got a growth on my pecker"-- Bubba Ho Tep is probably going to come up with choice material, consistently.

What I liked about AFDL, more than the murder story, which is good, but somewhat conventional, was the social consciousness of the book. AFDL speaks to racial divisiveness with a clear voice. Although there is only one POV character in the novel he is in contact with several black characters (good and evil) that present an alternative view to the 1950s white man's world. I could tell that there might be a little bit of this in Lansdales' own past, perhaps.

In any event, A FINE DARK LINE had me laughing and it kept me engrossed. Having lived in the South (and in Texas for small stretches) it really sounded authentic to me. I hope they makes some of Lansdale's more conventional stuff into a movie some time...


Posted by mrnizz at 5:16 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 6 September 2005
Mister Joe Landsdale of East Texas, he can surely turn a phrase
Mood:  energetic
Now Playing: Carmina Burana at loud volume
Topic: Focus on Author
One of my favorite new fixations is the fiction of Joe Landsdale. He is a writer from East Texas, and it's hard to really place him in any genre-- he's written SF, Horror, Westerns, modern crime, thrillers and mysteries. In recent months, I've read MUCHO MOJO (featuring two recurring characters, Hap and Leonard, who live in, you guessed it, East Texas). Much of what I've read so far has been framed as either a period thriller or a murder mystery. Landsdale's work is good in its own right, but new readers will treasure the way he can turn a phrase.

I'm keeping a list of memorarble Lansdale quotes from the books of his I've read so far. Here is a partial list:

Joe Lansdale quotes

From: FREEZER BURN

That guy had a wart for a dick. A thing like that can give you a pissed-off attitude,

It was as hot and sticky as the crack of a fat man's ass

As creepy as a masturbating fat girl on a nude beach.

As lonely as the last pig in a slaughterhouse line.

A woman like that, she could make you set fire to an old folks home and beat the survivors over the head as they ran out.

From SUNSET AND SAWDUST

(Sunset in a rape scene, page 2, Pete gets killed)

When he snapped his gun belt free, he tossed it nearby, and while he was on her, tugging at his zipper trying to put the mule in the barn, Sunset reached over and slipped his .38 revolver from its holster, and without him being aware, put it to his head, and gave him one to the temple.

When she pulled the trigger the shot was loud as Gabriel blowing her up to heaven, but it was Pete who went to heaven. Or departed, anyway. Sunset liked to think he got a nice chair in hell, right next to the oven.

Pete went limp, not in the organ he had intended to use, but all over. He said not a word, no “ouch” “oh shit”, or “can you believe that?” Things he liked to say under normal circumstances, moments of surprise and duress. He just took the hot load, cut fart near loud as the .38 shot, collapsed, and rode on out on Death's black horse.

(Jones has just killed himself with a giant crosscut saw at the lumber mill. Zack, a black lumber mill worker, has found Jones' wedding ring during the cleanup)

Zack thought about giving it to Mrs. Jones, then thought it might be better to take it into town and sell it. But if someone found out he sold the ring, it could go bad for him. So he put the ring in one of Jones' boots after removing what was left of ankle and foot. Interestingly enough, both boots were in good shape. No cuts, or tears, just bloody inside.

Later that night, at home, Zack thought about the beating Pete had given him and the way that Jones had made him carry the body (of Pete) back. He thought about the ring again and wished he had kept it.

A week later, Zack found a chunk of Jones, possibly a testicle, under a log fragment in the mill house. He kicked it around for a while before using a stick to toss it out to the one-eyed stray cat that hung around the mill.

The cat took it in its mouth and ran away into the woods.

(later)

It was Clyde Fox. He had removed his cloth cap and his black hair hung down, almost covered one of his eyes. He was big enough to go alligator hunting with stern language.

(later-- Sunset is attracted to “hillbilly” her deputy)

Sunset knew Hillbilly’s pat on the leg and remark were unnecessary and an excuse to touch her thigh, but she couldn't bring herself to say anything against it. She wished she could say: “put your hand here, your mouth there, twist one of my legs behind my head an make me say calf rope”

(later, Clyde the other deputy thinks Sunset is cute)

Clyde took a chair, watched her write. He liked watching her do most anything. Her hair was so red and long and smooth, flame-like, but much prettier in color than the fire that that had licked his home to death. Her face was smooth and pink-cheeked and she had about the most beautiful nose and mouth he had ever seen. He really liked her mouth. Last night, in his dreams, her mouth had played a prominent part. He even liked the way her feet fit in her work boots; there was something, so damn cute about those little feet in those work boots. And that thick gun belt. He shouldn't think of that as cute, but he did. If she had suddenly bent over and farted out “Old Man River” to the beat of her tapping feet, he knew he would have found that cute as well.

(Deputy Rooster encounters a blonde prostitute at McBrides apt)

He had seen her before (though he was now seeing a part of her he hadn't seen before), but he didn't know her name. When the blonde turned away, leading, her naked ass moved from side to side like a couple of happy babies rolling about.

(deputy Clyde again)

When they finished eating, Clyde said, “I think I'm going to be the first ass in that outhouse. I feel it coming”

from: MUCHO MOJO

I drove into town and rented a VCR and checked out a couple movies. Jaws, which I'd never seen, and Gunga Din, which I saw when I was head high to a cocker spaniel's nuts.

The big black cop didn’t' look at the white cop. You got the idea they did that kind of dull banter all the time, just to keep away. The black cop got a turd-colored cigar out of the inside of his coat and put it in his mouth and chewed it.

It was so dark in the back of the place you could have pulled your dick out and put on a rubber and no one would have known it.

(Ilium is dead, but the speaker doesn't know it)

“yeah, he runs all manner errands for the church. He's a real do gooder, that Illium. That sonsabitch dies, he's gone sit on the right hand of Jesus and Jesus gone give him a juice harp, personal like, let him play a few spirituals...

I figure Illium was probably twanging out a rendition of “the Old Rugged Cross” even as we spoke. I thanked the old man, paid up and started back to the house.

Hanson took a deep breath. He tried to smile but he had a face like a man that had just found a dog turd in his mouth.

In quite a different way, next door to us, operating against the law, but not restrained or bothered b it, a whole houseful of ball sweats were doing a similar thing, and we weren't stopping them.

She pointed the pistol at my groin, and I reached down and scooped it aside with my palm and jumped in close and grabbed her head with both my hands, and gave her a knee in the face. I figure I'd hear from the Southern Club for Manhood for that, but I didn’t give a shit, you try to hurt me, and I'm gonna hurt you back




For a real treat, check out an Audio interview with Lansdale
at the "Agony Column" website.


Posted by mrnizz at 4:13 PM EDT
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