Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

August 2018 Microstory contest – CRITIQUES ONLY

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message 1: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments The following rules are from Jot Russell, moderator for this contest:

To help polish our skills and present a flavour of our art to other members in the group, I am continuing this friendly contest for those who would like to participate. There is no money involved, but there is also no telling what a little recognition and respect might generate. The rules are simple:

1) The story needs to be your own work and should be posted on the goodreads (GR) Discussion board, which is a public group. You maintain responsibility and ownership of your work to do with as you please. You may withdraw your story at any time.

2) The stories must be 750 words or less.

3) The stories have to be science fiction, follow a specific theme and potentially include reference to items as requested by the prior month's contest winner.

4) You have until midnight EST on the 22nd day of the month to post your story to the GR Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion. One story per author per month.

5) After, anyone from the LI Sci-Fi group or the GR Science Fiction Microstory Discussion group has until midnight EST of the 25th day of the month to send me a single private vote (via GR or to for a story other than their own. This vote will be made public once voting is closed. Voting is required. If you do not vote, your story will be disqualified from the contest. You don't need a qualifying story to cast a vote, but must offer the reason for your vote if you don’t have an entry.

6) To win, a story needs at least half of the votes, or be the only one left after excluding those with the fewest votes. Runoffs will be run each day until a winner is declared. Stories with vote totals that add up to at least half, discarding those with the fewest votes, will be carried forward to the next runoff election. Prior votes will be carried forward to support runoff stories. If you voted for a story that did not make it into the runoff, you need to vote again before midnight EST of that day. Only people who voted in the initial round may vote in the runoffs.

7) Please have all posts abide by the rules of GR and the LI Sci-Fi group.

8) For each month, there will be three discussion threads:
a) Stories - For the stories and the contest results only.
b) Comments - For discussions about the stories and contest. Constructive criticism is okay, but please avoid any spoilers about the stories or degrading comments directed towards any individuals. If you want to suggest a change to the contest, feel free to start a discussion about the idea before making a formal motion. If another member seconds a motion, a vote can be held. I will abstain from voting, but will require a strong two-thirds majority to override my veto.
c) Critiques - Each member can provide at most one critique per story, with a single rebuttal by the author to thank the critic and/or comment to offer the readers the mind set of the story to account for issues raised by the critique. Critiques should be of a professional and constructive manner. Feel free to describe elements that you do and don't like, as these help us gain a better perspective of our potential readers. Remarks deemed inflammatory or derogatory will be flagged and/or removed by the moderator.

9) The winner has THREE days after the start of the new month to make a copy of these rules and post a new contest thread using the theme/items of their choosing. Otherwise, I will post the new contest threads.


Theme: Illegal Aliens

Required elements:

1) Families shattered
2) Vices indulged

message 2: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of Aliens by Tom

A cynical tale, the worst of humanity is personified in Billy, a blood-thirsty American who thinks little more of the Mexicans sneaking across the border than the sport he can get out of raping or killing them. Judgement ultimately find him when the immigrants, so desperately crossing over, turn out to be, instead, the original inhabitants of Earth, time traveling into the future and looking to reclaim their planet for themselves at the cost of mankind.

What I liked: I liked the irony of the story. In the end, the “aliens” (or not) are really no better than the humans, themselves.

What I loved: Your narrative was fantastic, very descriptive. It reminded me a lot of The Gunslinger, by Stephen King.

What I didn’t connect with: The only thing I think was missing was any type of backstory for the “invaders.” I wish there’d been more to that portion of the story.

My favorite sentence(s): ‘The old Mexie’s eyes were wild with fear, moist with tears as the search light washed over his lined brown face.’

Overall Impression: A very well written tragedy with an ironic twist.

message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of Mexican Paradise by Karl

A global cataclysm has resulted in a shift in the Earth’s poles. The result is a dramatic climate change in the United States, a cooling to the point where the country is largely inhabitable. So, Americans are forced to flee south, though the Mexican government doesn’t want these new American refugees, beginning mass deportations for all but those few willing to fly under the radar.

What I liked: It was definitely an ironic story, the tables turned on Mexico and the U.S.

What I loved: I loved your little quip at the end about Canadians. Too funny.

What I didn’t connect with: I really wasn’t able to connect with your main protagonist. It was a short piece, but the narrative fell a little flat for me.

My favorite sentence(s): 'Ghettos called "Gringovilles," where people only spoke English, quickly sprung up in every big city.'

Overall Impression: Short and sweet, this is an easy, enjoyable read with an amusing conclusion.

message 4: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of The Wright Stuff by Greg

Milton is a simple farmer, recently lost of his fiancé and drowning his sorrow in his bottle. Nearly finished, he discovers a glowing orb which gifts him with visions of space and time. The visions also tell him of the man responsible for his sorrow, who is actually an alien in disguise, and if he is able to beat that man in a game of cards, his fortune, and the future of humanity, would be restored. Milton handedly defeats his opponent, who departs in a carriage, in actuality a spaceship, and as promised, is granted the future he so desires, including being the forebearer to the eventual fathers of flight, the Wright brothers.

What I liked: I really liked the title. Very clever.

What I loved: You were really able to effectively convey a sense of sympathy for Milton. And I enjoyed the subtle twist at the end.

What I didn’t connect with: I didn’t connect with the aliens and the orb. Who were they and what was their motivation in helping Milton? Was the whole story just a bit of drunken delusion? For me, it was a little confusing.

My favorite sentence(s): ‘It was, at times, soft or hard, warm or cold, sometimes all at the same time.’

Overall Impression: An enjoyable story of a man given a second chance to restore his destiny and the future of mankind.

message 5: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of Illegal Aliens by C.

Paul and Bud are partners on the beat in Chicago, when they receive a call they can’t believe. An all-points-bulletin describes an armed of armed dinosaurs invading the city. On patrol, they run across one of the invaders wading in the Buckingham Fountain. Towering over them, it resembles a tyrannosaurus with an energy pistol strapped to its waist. They’re surprised to find the creature can talk and the pair learns of the alien’s devious intentions – to process humanity. While conversation remains civil, the alien suggests the two officers help in rounding up the humans and be rewarded. Instead, Paul and Bob futilely try to disarm the creature, only to be incapacitated themselves and dragged off as a snack for the hulking beast.

What I liked: I really liked Paul and Bud. Too bad about them, though.

What I loved: I loved your villain. I think your description of armed dinosaurs invading Chicago was a great allusion to classic 50s sci-fi, though kept thinking of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies and his ‘sharks with friggen laser beams.’ Great fun!

What I didn’t connect with: Honestly, and this may sound strange, but the only thing I didn’t connect with was the use of a Tyrannosaurus as the invading alien ‘dinosaur’. The imagery of those tiny little arms clutching a ray-gun…I just kept wondering how it would even draw a pistol from a holster. Anyways, it was a trivial stumbling block for me.

My favorite sentence(s): ‘With siren wailing and tires squealing, they came around the downtown corner of South Columbus Drive just in time to see what looked like a 15-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex standing in the shallow water of Buckingham fountain.’

Overall Impression: A fun, though tragic, story which reminded me of a cheesy 50s, black and white sci-fi film (in a good way!).

message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of Strategic Retreat by G.C.

Jonathan Butler is Emperor of the Sol Coalition and a politician to a fault. So convinced of his own negotiation abilities, he is unable to face the truth, even when hostile aliens take full control of his body during the dialogues. Using Jonathan as a device with which to communicate their demands, his desire for approval overshadows the truth – that humanity is no match against the Zorn. While they demonstrate their undeniable power, he continues to transmit a false victory, dooming humanity. Likewise, his prowess at negotiation is, in fact, a dismal failure, evident when he is defeated and demolecularized to the sound of thunderous applause from his own supporters.

What I liked: I really enjoyed the Zorn. A great adversary.

What I loved: I loved your concept and the thought you put into the premise in this story. It was both poignant and ironic. I also loved Jonathan Butler as a character, a man you hate to like.

What I didn’t connect with: There were a couple areas where I was just a bit confused on the first read through, particularly a spot where I thought the Zorn were communicating over the datastream. The descriptions like ‘Jonathan once again transmitted their message’, while at the same time Jonathan was communicating his own message over the datastream, was a little tough to keep straight, though change in CAPS definitely helped.

My favorite sentence(s): ‘Only complete mastery of the powers of the universe could account for their impossible deceleration and descent, and Jonathan’s hands trembled as he covered his ears in a futile attempt to muffle the screaming of the Zorn ships fighting gravity and inertia.’

Overall Impression: A darkly humorous look at the politics of approval. Nicely done.

message 7: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique of -- "The Price of Freedom" by Chris

A moving, bitter-sweet tale of a family risking their lives to escape a slum life and start anew in a wealthy, elitist city state that does not accept their kind.

The narrator/POV character is the patriarch of the family on the run. He tells the story of prior generations of his people fleeing their dying planet and landing on Earth. Barely tolerated as refugees at first, their situation worsens as the humans build a wall to keep them out.

The imagery is rather vague through the opening portion of the story, but the verbally-conveyed image of poverty and ghetto life outside the walls of a closed, utopian city is striking, nonetheless. In the course of his continuing narrative, the protagonist evolves emotionally from humble ghetto-dweller to rebel. At first, he seems to blame his own people for their downtrodden state. But, a glimpse of forbidden images from inside the walls of the obscenely rich, closed city awakens an anger and hungry resentment within him that motivates him to risk a midnight border crossing with his wife and kids. Buying into an illegal gene-splicing technique that enables his kind to assume human form, he takes his family and sets out with a “coyote” to make the attempt.

The suspense builds at this point, intensifying slowly as the midnight border crossing takes our hero and his family through a perilous, Casbah-like vice pit in the lawless sector of the ghetto. The suspense reaches a crescendo as the border crossers are apprehended by border guards who come across as bigoted and ready to kill. The coyote pulls a clever trick, immobilizes the guards and gets his charges to the border.

Just as it appears freedom is at last within reach, a cruel twist is revealed. Turns out, our protagonist has agreed to sell his organs to a narcotics manufacturer inside the city, in exchange for safe passage for his wife and children. The teary-eyed farewell and the almost Christ-like sacrifice at the end is truly moving.

I found it a very potent tale. I was a bit put off by the apparent moral ambivalence of the POV character at first. It made it difficult to see the story in moral perspective. But the escalating suspense and the feeling of desperation on the part of the crossers made the story effective.

message 8: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Tom, thanks so much for your review. It was very detailed and I really appreciate it. :)

message 9: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments Chris wrote: "Review of Strategic Retreat by G.C.

Thanks Chris for the critique, which itself is so well written that I may vote for it this month. Is that allowed? :-)

message 10: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments Chris wrote: "Review of Illegal Aliens by C.

Paul and Bud are partners on the beat in Chicago, when they receive a call they can’t believe. An all-points-bulletin describes an armed of armed dinosaurs invading ..."

Thank you, Chris, for your detailed and up-beat critique of "Illegal Aliens." I appreciated your observations and compliments.

Based on your comment about the awkward notion of a short-armed dinosaur drawing a pistol from a waist holster, I can tell you that my concept incorporated a harness-mounted holster rather than a cowboy-style waist gun. I envisioned this somewhat like a shoulder holster, but over the chest.

However, you astutely indicated there was some ambiguity, so I just changed the line: "It wore a harness with a sheathed pistol of some sort. " by adding the word "chest" so it now reads: "It wore a chest harness with a sheathed pistol of some sort." to allay any fears about it not being able to reach it's Mark VII energy pistol.

And if you're curious about the features of the Mark VII energy pistol, I didn't include the model reference so as to avoid the requirement to publish detailed specifications. Suffice it to say it's a very cool weapon that could carve the initials "TIA" two inches deep into a steel bank-vault door and still show 98% charged. : )


message 11: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Review of Migration by Jot

A simple story of aliens looking to inhabit a pre-industrialized Earth, they discover a primitive race of mammals and decide to land in order to better evaluate the native population. During the descent, their ship is damaged, forcing them into a hard landing for repairs, but in order to do so, they must secure a landing zone. After vaporizing some of the natives the ship sets down and the crew disembarks. It’s then revealed the ship to have landed at Ellis Island. But the natives aren’t without their own defenses, killing the unprepared crew.

What I liked: I enjoyed the ease of this piece, a fairly straightforward read. Kind of a reverse Star Trek type vibe to it.

What I loved: I loved the shape-shifting chameleon characteristics of the aliens.

What I didn’t connect with: A fairly straightforward piece, I really only stumbled over some grammatical errors and word repetition. Nothing a simple review can’t easily polish.

My favorite sentence(s): ‘As the ship broke through the outside wall of the storm, the lights of the city reappeared.’

Overall Impression: An easily readable, enjoyable story about the perils of first contact.

message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments C. wrote: "Chris wrote: "Review of Illegal Aliens by C.

Paul and Bud are partners on the beat in Chicago, when they receive a call they can’t believe. An all-points-bulletin describes an armed of armed dinos..."

Gotcha. A fun story either way! :)

message 13: by Karl (new)

Karl Freitag | 69 comments Hi Chris,

Thank you so much for the review. Good observations!

message 14: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Mexican Paradise" by Karl

Kudos to Karl for conveying such a darkly funny story in so few words.

A pre-apocalyptic black comedy of reversal of fortune between the U.S. and Mexico. A new ice age caused by a shifting north polar ice cap drives the gringos southward into Mexico, crowding into English-speaking slums until the resources of the host country wear thin and the immigrants are driven out. Many stay, illegally, performing menial jobs beneath them. We've seen it all before. The shoe's just on the other foot.

The story is straight narrative. Nothing actually happens; the narrator simply explains the past and heralds the future, as the ice keeps creeping southward and we're told the Salvadorans are building a wall to keep out the yanks and Mexicans. Only the Canadians are happy.

Yet, it works. I was never bored. The personable, witty, wisecracking manner of the narrator keeps the audience connected to him and the story on a human level as he tells his personal story, a meteorologist turned fortune teller.

A good opening line and a sharp closing punch line deliver it nicely. A dark joke on hard times. I would have liked to have seen a bit of local color, just to give the story a bit more texture and flavor. But, it was enjoyable, nonetheless.

message 15: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Chris wrote: "Review of Aliens by Tom

A cynical tale, the worst of humanity is personified in Billy, a blood-thirsty American who thinks little more of the Mexicans sneaking across the border than the sport he ..."

Thank you, Chris, for all your reviews. Your impressions are much appreciated.

message 16: by Karl (new)

Karl Freitag | 69 comments Hi Tom, thanks for the input. “Nothing happens” lol. That's why I enjoy reading the plots everyone comes up with in this talented group. I just write vignettes.

message 17: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of --"The Wright Stuff" by Greg

An extremely unusual and interesting tale of twisted time and alien contact against a background of American history.

It is the story of Milton Wright, a simple farmer drinking himself into an early grave as his lonely, broken life drags on in the wake of his father's death and his wife leaving him for another man. His second chance comes in the curious form of an extra-terrestrial object crashing into his field. The alien messenger tells him that the man who killed his father and stole his wife are the same man. A time-traveling alien who has taken human form and traveled back in time to change history, dooming the human race to extinction. (Calling Dr. Who.)

Milton gets a chance to set things right when the time line is re-set and he is apparently sent into his own past. A western-like show-down leads to a card game which leaves Milton rich and his time-traveling nemesis broken, drunk and ultimately self-destructive. Milton is returned to his own time, predicated on the re-set of the time line. He finds his father still alive and his farm prosperous. His wife never left him, but instead bore him two sons: Wilbur and Orville.

The imagery was marvelous. I could see him finding that glowing alien sphere in the center of the classic burned circle of grass. The cosmic visions swirling through Milton's head were effective. And, I could see the alien villain's time machine flying off and crashing into that hill. Even the waving stalks of corn at the happy ending.

There was a lot compacted into a short story; I had to re-read it a couple of times to get it all straight, but it was a great idea and an enjoyable ride. My one regret is not getting to actually meet the villain or see the card game, but of course there wasn't time for that.

I hope Greg decides to submit an expanded version of this story to a publisher, if he hasn't already. It would make an even better short story.

message 18: by Tom (last edited Aug 18, 2018 12:25PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Illegal Aliens" by C. Lloyd Preville

A darkly funny tale of alien invasion in the middle of an otherwise typical day.

Reminiscent of Harlan Ellison at times, the story opens with two ordinary cops getting a report of intelligent dinosaurs invading Chicago. Proceeding to the scene, they see a 15-foot T-Rex with a ray-gun in its shoulder holster taking a bath in a public fountain. The scene which ensues is hilarious and well-written, as the two cops approach the situation like two rookies handling their first traffic stop, asking the invading alien for his I.D. The alien is polite, eloquent and apparently cooperative, though with an ominous, hungry grin. He calmly informs our two heroes that he is part of an invading army sent to gather and process humans, apparently as food, and offers them a bribe in exchange for their cooperation. They conscientiously refuse and are promptly immobilized and put on the menu.

It was wacky fun, and I loved it. My one complaint (very minor) is we never really learned who or what the invaders were. Were they E.T.'s from another planet who coincidentally resembled terrestrial dinosaurs? Visitors from a parallel universe where dino's never went extinct? Time travelers from a lost dino civilization of the past? Not important, but it would have been a fun fact to chuck in. Maybe not worth sacrificing detail for lengthy expository, granted, but maybe a few words of explanation, if humorously worked in might have been a nice touch.

Overall, great.

message 19: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Strategic Retreat" By G.C. Groover

A hilarious, satirical tale of social media and political spin.

In the distant future, one Jonathan Butler, an apparently emotionally unstable individual wins the leadership of humanity's budding interstellar empire through his mastery of "com-link" social media, though not by popular vote. (Any resemblance to U.S. presidents, living or dead, definitely not coincidental.)

The new galactic emperor's first task in office is to negotiate successfully with a powerful alien race who claim humanity is poaching on their galactic territory. Jonathan tweets-- er, I meant "zaps"-- that he is in a powerful position and will get a good deal for Earth, and his billions of followers--I mean, "disciples" -- applaud him. Defeat follows defeat as the aliens crush Earth's space fleet, drive humanity from planet after planet and finally announce they will use human children as food. Jonathan outrageously spins each new humiliating set-back as a success, repeatedly re-setting the truth after he is proven wrong again and again. Even to the point of spinning cannibalism as population control. When the aliens declare they will erect a barrier around our Solar System to keep us out, he declares he'll make them pay for it (The parallels just keep coming.) His base shrinks and shrinks until his once-outnumbered detractors become the majority and call for his ouster. The aliens oblige and disintegrate him before cheering crowds.

Like a political cartoon come to life. I very much enjoyed it. (Doubt the GOP would.)

message 20: by Greg (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 178 comments A big thanks to Chris and Tom. It is often hard to see the holes in my own stories. they sometimes sneak in when I cut the story down to 750 words, other times it's a "oops didn't think of that". I've filed you critiques alongside the story as a guide for future re-writing.

message 21: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments Thanks Tom for your critique. I guess my parallels weren't as thinly veiled as I had my defense I am not a super political person but this story sort of wrote itself after I got started. However I do expect a party-line vote this month ;-)

message 22: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments Critique of ALIENS by Tom Olbert

Idea – 1
Mechanics – 2
Flow – 1
Required Elements – 2

It’s 2037 and the border war has evolved into actual war, with illegals being hunted down by a ruthless paramilitary force using impressively described automated defense weapons. Little do they know that they (and the rest of humanity) would soon become the hunted, a nice twist since you start out thinking the “Mexies” are the alien scum but then we find out it’s everyone.

Things I liked:
The very vivid descriptive language used throughout. “A sound like dried leather scraping across rocks.” Overall this was a great read.

Things I didn’t like:
A few grammatical issues that distract me from the story, e.g. “search light” is one word.

Required Elements:
They were there but maybe there could have been more to them, or maybe more direct.

message 23: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments Critique of Mexican Paradise by Karl Freitag

Idea – 1
Mechanics – 2
Flow – 1
Required Elements – 3

Short but sweet, Karl spins us a tale of a Southern migration thanks to another ice age.

Things I liked:
“Colder than a polar bear’s toenails”
The fact that the Canadians relish the cold.

Things I didn’t like:
Sub-microstory, only 220 words. I want more!
A little choppy but it works.
El Salvador doesn’t share a border with Mexico. What about the Guatemalans?

Required Elements:
Where are the vices?

message 24: by C. (last edited Aug 20, 2018 07:20AM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments Thanks, Tom, for taking the time to review "Illegal Aliens."

As always, hacking and slashing to get the story under 750 words leaves much on the cutting room floor. But your suggestion is a great one, and I just tweaked the story and it's better for your idea to add some dinosaur back-story.



message 25: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Migration" by Jot Russell

A brief, action-oriented tale of an ill-fated alien scouting raid on Ellis Island.

A small alien scout ship is disabled in a storm while surveying Earth and makes a crash landing on Ellis Island, apparently in the 19th century. Arrogant and contemptuous of the indigenous primitives, the shape-shifting reptilian aliens are promptly dispatched by American soldiers.

Heavy on dialogue at times, and light on description, the story depended mainly on the vividly pictured storm landing to move it along. The POV was rather fluid; all over the place at times, characters without form or distinction stepping in at the last minute as functionaries. The story was easy enough to follow, but rather difficult to connect with. I couldn't really see or feel what was happening. I couldn't even tell what time period it was in.

Not a bad idea, but it needed a clearer, more focused viewpoint and stronger character definition and development.

message 26: by Tom (last edited Aug 21, 2018 08:50PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1030 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Dust of Empire" by Justin

A tragic and wrenching tale of a world destroyed by immigrants. Or, by the indigenous society's inability to integrate them.

The story is told by an immigration official whose life spans the tragic decline of his civilization, from the day he first saw the alien refugee ship appear in the sky of his world as a young boy, to his decision as a man to brutally end the alien "infestation" once and for all.

The opening scene is a finely written, vivid depiction of a man saying his last goodbye at his dying father's hospital bed as the red dust apparently flooding the planet's atmosphere chokes the old man to death.

The rest of the story is mainly dry recitation as the narrative voice of the POV character tells us how prolific aliens who bring prostitution, vice and corruption to the planet ultimately destroy the environment, the planet drying up as the red desert expands, swallowing the cities. The immigration official implements a policy of segregation, herding the aliens into ghettos. Riots ensue, prompting him to enact a final solution, wiping the memories of the aliens and deporting them to the third planet from the sun. The implication is that the aliens are humanity, and the race we destroyed were the inhabitants of the planet Mars. The story ends as it began, with the son following his father into death, the red dust taking its deadly toll.

If you're looking for a moral to the story, it could be viewed as a warning that the compassionate acceptance of refugee populations is virtually suicidal, that a nation must isolate itself from outsiders in order to survive. Or, it could be seen ironically as we learn the true identities of the alien immigrants and realize what it is to be the unwanted, stereotyped immigrant blamed for all the host society's troubles.

The last gasp of life at beginning and end were the strongest points in the story, in my opinion. The vision of the canals on a dying planet reminded me of Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles."

Certainly thought-provoking and raising hard moral questions.

message 27: by Karl (new)

Karl Freitag | 69 comments Required Elements:
Where are the vices?

Thank you G.C. for the critique. I was thinking an illegal alien running a phony fortunetelling scam was the vice.

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