Category: Fiction (Page 1 of 4)

The return of OMNI and unexpected happy

I am, dear reader, not a happy person. Not to get too personal, but I have of late been dealing with rather major life-altering situations, in addition to having people I love and care deeply about also dealing with major issues. To make it plain, I am a deeply unhappy, depressed person.

But today, I found a glimmer of happy that is touching me in very deep, profound, if likely brief, ways. I picked up the first copy of the return of OMNI Magazine to print.

OMNI was the first non-kids magazine I ever got. Something about the cover appealed to me, something about science or aliens or something I’m sure, and so my mom bought the 12 year old me my first copy, around 1983. And I was hooked, hard. And for the next 6 or 8 years, I had a continuous subscription to the magazine. I kept every one in stacks, in boxes. I waited for each new issue with anticipation and greeted it with glee. I have the most fond memories of my teen years around OMNI….

It’s where I first learned of the author and grandfather of cyberpunk, William Gibson; it’s where I read stories by Stephen King (well, aside from every book of his I bought during the same ages); discovered the biohorror art of H.R. Gieger; and it’s also where I fell into mad crush with editor Ellen Datlow. (Yes, teenage me recognized editor’s contributions to magazines and actually crushed on one — I wear the nerd mantle with pride.) I was sad when the print OMNI shut down in the 90s, and tried to keep up with the changes it went through online, but nothing ever stuck.

Then only a couple of days ago I heard of its return after more than 20 years to print! I was overjoyed! And so today, on a long-needed “day off” from life, I stopped into my area Powell’s Bookstore, and there it was. Glorious and beautiful, the quasi-futuristic font of the title as I remembered it sitting atop some surreal art cover. It’s a bit pricey for even a quarterly magazine, I think, but I happily plunked my $11 down to contribute to the funding of something that had made my teen years far more rich and interesting, and is now trying to come back in this age of dying print.

Naturally, being a cynic, my excitement was tinged with expectation of being let down by it being a shadow of the former (remembered) glory. Would the new iteration measure up? Would it be a cheap ploy for the parent company to capitalize, for maybe a short-lived issue or two, on nostalgia?

As I sit here flipping through the contents and the masthead, my glee solidifies! There’s an interview with William Gibson of all people! One of the fiction contributors is Nancy Kress. There are thoughtful articles on A.I., time travel, and deep space exploration. And, what’s that?? Ellen Datlow is the fiction editor? The eff you say!

But, since “growing up” and becoming a hardcore skeptic, something I had to come to terms with the old OMNI of my youth was that it often put good science fact alongside sensational pseudoscience and absurdity. (Which really is the worst… with sites like Natural News you know pretty much everything they publish is complete BS, but when a source mixes good science with bad, the bad gains some amount of unearned credulity.) So my heart skipped a beat when I saw one of the new magazine’s contributing editors is a skepticism hero of mine, Michael Shermer!

And wait, what’s this I see? All the chief editors and directors are women! Half the staff and contributing editors are women! The feminist in me cries for joy!

Welcome back, OMNI magazine! You seem to be marrying the foundation and nostalgia of your heyday with a modern, aware, and rational new outlook and approach. With that, I am now happily looking for subscription information….

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Walking Away With Cory Doctorow

Cory on the right

Last week I saw Cory Doctorow, for my second time, at Powell’s City of Books. The first time was just about a month or two after moving to Oregon, not quite three years ago. (I write a bit about it in the blogpost Best Week Evar! On that tour, he was promoting his non-fiction work Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free.) This time, he’s touring his new adult fiction novel Walkaway. It’s a … well, he accepts that it’s a “utopian” novel. (And that sentence should prompt paragraphs of discussion because of everything “utopian novel” implied and leaves out. And I swear to god I wish I’d taken Professor Burling’s class on distopian/utopian fiction. In other classes I recall him discussing utopian fiction is usually ironic or is in opposition to the implied dis- or anti-utopian world that the work either is a reaction to or implies.)

I’ve not yet read far into Walkaway, but from what I gather at the talk, the book features a culture of people who have, in the near-future, walked away from the postmodern capitalist world. Have, instead of fought against the hegemony and the cultural logic, done the most efficient and effective thing and disengaged from it entirely to create a society that uses gift economy.

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Fading Suns fanfic – Another Day in the Life

Here’s a little story I wrote as Fading Suns fanfiction. Thought I’d put it up for a bit, check out any comments, before I ebook it and put it up (for free) on Smashwords and the Writing page of this site.

Side note: Fading Suns just just moved publishing from FASA to a favorite game publisher of mine, Ulisses Spiele! I am very excited by this news! It will be the best thing to happen to Fading Suns since… not the move to FASA, uhm… certainly not the addition of d20 rules! Well, since the 2nd edition came out, I would guess.

Anyway, fanfic — what do you think? (Here’s a PDF, or click more/scroll down for the story…)

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More stories made available

front-image-1cover-imagesword-remembers-cover

Just wanted to mention, I just added a few of the older stories on Smashwords (and, soon, all other ebook merchants like Kobo and Barnes and Noble). I’ve added new images and links over on the Fiction Page.

The ones I added were:

  • A Price in Every Box” — This story looks at what happens when Pandora finally finds what she released centuries ago, and locks him away in a suitcase. Can the world handle life without evil?
  • The End of the Beginning” — Where we’re taken along with the first human time traveler to the very end of the universe. Getting stuck there isn’t the only surprise he encounters. (This story was originally published in M-BRANE SF magazine.)
  • The Sword Remembers” — When a stranger from a modern land surprises Sarah and her adventuring companions mid-fight with a wizard, everyone gets more than they bargained for. Can he find his way back home? Can she find a way to deal with him?

These were stories that had been only available in the collection, First Hand of the Night. I’m working on an updated version of that, and formatting it as my first print book. It should end up around 40,000 words, which will make a nice, short novel-length book of stories. If that goes well, then Singularity Deferred goes to the print process!

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Thoughts on CthulhuCon PDX, and getting going!

cthulhucon_poster_600Last weekend I attended the Portland CthulhuCon. It was a gathering of a few hundred fans of Lovecraft and related media for two days, featuring amazing and fascinating panels, art displays and competitions, readings, games, vendors…. It was amazing!

I myself am a moderate Lovecraft fan. I probably know more about the man and his work than I do of the stories themselves. I mean, sure, I’ve read his most popular stories and I’m familiar with his mythos, but I’m by no means hardcore. Even so, I held my own in a Lovecraftian Pictionary game!

The panels were simply fantastic! They really were quality, intellectual panels with some very prominent Lovecraft scholars and artists and writers, the quality of discussions I’d have seen a the ICFA. Cthulhu vs Dracula, compare and contrasting Lovecraft’s writing and style, and place in literary history, with that of Bram Stoker. One on Lovecraft’s life and internal demons and how that may have affected his writing. An analysis of the Lovecraft mythos and writing in mythos (his and in general). And more! I took so many notes.

One of the best parts was a performance by Leeman Kessler of “Ask Lovecraft.” He does a very funny, and honoring, not satirical, impersonation of a reanimated Lovecraft answering any and all questions from the audience, from the serious to the goofy — and every improvised response of his was great and humorous.

One of the highlights was definitely “Scotch with Scott.”

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What a crazy happenstance at a SF book club

Attended the SF Book Club that meets monthly at Powell’s book store in Beaverton, OR, for the first time. The book for discussion was Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I liked it well enough when I read it the first time years ago, if a little disappointed in it. Liked it a lot better this time around. Anyway, it was an interesting experience. a lot of people, but the moderator did a great job being fair and pulling out discussion. Didn’t feel like we really got into any deep discussion, however. Seemed very brief and superficial.

Anyway, doing Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora next. That one I’d not read before, but I sure have wanted to. Especially after the Sword and Laser featured it.

Oh, the wild happenstance? Lauded fantasy author Terry Brooks just happened to stop by and say hi to the group! How wild is that? Portland, I love you! And thankfully, he cleared up and confirmed it’s pronounced SHA-nar-uh, not shuh-NAR-ruh. 🙂

(Honestly, I’ve not read much Brooks. I thought Sword of Shannara was embarrassingly horrible, but Elfstones and Wishsong were much better. I’d stopped reading him after that. But, there’s no denying his popularity and acclaim.)

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Print is dead; long live Apex

Okay, speaking of magazines, let’s be honest about something here: Sure, despite the rise of e-books, print novels will stick around for a very long time. But when it comes to short fiction, print is dead. It’s drawing its last gasps. People just aren’t buying magazines and digests and journals. Yeah, ASIMOV and SF & FANTASY are still around, but they’re published super-cheap and have an old, die-hard readership. REALMS of FANTASY, a slick and popular genre magazine, was saved two or three times before it finally gave up the ghost, and there just isn’t anything waiting in the sidelines.

Conversely, short fiction, especially genre fiction, is as popular as ever! This is where e-publishing has really found a niche. People are reading much more short fiction on devices and the Web, where it’s easy, and even more comfortable, to digest a single serving of fiction on an electronic device than in a cumbersome magazine. The weekly online SF e-magazine, STRANGE HORIZONS, has become quite popular over the last few years. They’re great! But even they have a limit of convenience and enjoyment — they’re still published as a go-and-visit Web page without any of the special features one gets from an e-book device.

Which bring me to APEX MAGAZINE. Sure, you can read them on the Web if you like. But what I love is the fact you can subscribe to them and get them on your e-reader, where you can make notes, add bookmarks, change settings, close and come back . . . all the great things that make reading e-books so convenient! (It’s available as a monthly download in EPUB (Nook and other readers), MOBI (Kindle), and PDF (the dreaded computer screen). But you can also get it as a pushed subscription through Amazon direct to your Kindle… and even if you don’t have an actual Kindle, I bet you have the Kindle reader on your phone and tablet!)

Anyway, each issue of APEX has short fiction — often from award-winning authors — poetry, non-fiction, and fascinating cover art.

So, they’re doing a subscription drive right now because they are a pro ‘zine (meaning: they actually pay their contributors! What an idea, artists getting pay for their work. You can support that, right?) and want to make sure they can continue to provide award-winning material from award-winning authors and writers. It’s like $18 for a year until November 15 (then the price goes back up to normal if you subscribe after that) or $2 an issue through Amazon. That is a great deal! But save $4 and get it by the year.

Here, again, is the link to their subscription drive; at least check it out and consider supporting great genre fiction!

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NaNoWriMo 2012

Time to play NaNoWriMo once again! I give it a go every other year or so. In the past I’ve not participated because, oh, I was busy writing my thesis or editing the novel I’d finished… things like that. I have a friend who recently lamented that he couldn’t play NaNoWriMo this year because he was busy with a freelance writing project. I found it tres amusing that he should feel bad about not participating in an arbitrary get-people-to-write gimmick because he was already writing productively–for pay.

Well, I have writing I’m working on, but it’s always good (great, actually) to have set goals, to write every day, to give yourself rewards and social punishment for being productive or being lazy about writing. So, I like NaNoWriMo and what it does for me (at least for the first couple of weeks before I realize that trying to write for two hours lat at night, after a day of work, doing cooking and cleaning and laundry, makes being productive writer on a forced writing march, very emotionally draining and leads to poor output). But in the meantime, here I go….

Though, I must say, preparing for NaNoWriMo this year (what? You don’t prepare?) gave me a massive epiphany! I have a handful of story ideas percolating in my noodle at a time, sometimes for days before I start writing them down, sometimes years. My first novel, the seeds of that one I’d been playing around with for four or more years before I finally started it. Well, among others, I’ve had the bits-n-pieces of three different novels working around for a very long time. Except one of them, the young adult novel I started thinking about a couple years ago and started writing a couple of months ago — that one’s the newest. Well, I decided I’d take one of the other ones and work on that fro NaNoWriMo, and as I started to outline the events and thumbnail the setting, something amazing came to me! These three particular, separate novels, are part of one giant epic that spans centuries! And the ways and reasons why the three settings are different, but similar, give me some really fun effects of time and social evolution to play with. But, there’s a distinct connecting line through them. Each novel can be read separately (and in the case of the young adult one, which sits as the middle book, it really must be distinctly separate because I want to keep that young adult while the other two are certainly for more mature readers), but the experience is much richer for having read the one(s) preceding it. Anyway, it’s been real fun working on the nuts and bolts of this more expanded universe that just opened up for me.

 

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Glasshouse

(A no-spoilery review.)

I recently finished Charles Stross’ novel of the posthuman future, Glasshouse. It was closer to his novel Halting State in style, and certainly more readable than its unofficial prequel, Accelerando. While not a perfect novel by any means, and containing a few misses and rough parts, I’m placing it in my top 10 favorite SF novels and top 5 posthumanity-themed works.

I stopped reading Accelerando, but not permanently. (Not like Dies the Fire, the probable inspiration for the upcoming TV show, “Revolution.” That book is the only one that I’ve put down mid-way and said, “Nope! I’m done, thank you. No more.”) It really is a fascinating book that depicts the coming singularity, the advent of the posthuman age, in a believable and detailed manner. Unfortunately, I’m finding it a bit too dense, too inscrutable when it comes to the detailed, and far too often, explanations of intellectual property rights and venture investing and whatnot.

In contrast, Glasshouse, like Halting State, is more action and adventure. Where Accelerando explains the posthuman rise, Glasshouse exists in it. We don’t need to be told what’s happening, it just happens. In the opening pages, the first scene, the reader is thrust right in the middle of a strange, new existence where bodies are interchangeable and minds can be backed up and restored. At first, you have no idea if the characters are players in an advanced online RPG, a virtual reality, or what. But soon we come to accept that this setting is post-Earth, post-human, post-normal expectations of what it means to have a body or even an identity. The protagonist, Robin, goes through a crisis of identity involving his past life (lives — in the metaphorical sense, not any metaphysical “reincarnation” sense), while at the same time dealing with his current situation as a test subject in a closed environment meant to simulate late 20th, early 21st century Earth.

One of the most clever conceits of this novel is making most of it take place in a setting that’s vaguely familiar to the reader, if a bit askew (like a collision between the village from “The Prisoner” and the town from “Leave it to Beaver,” with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and an Ikea display showroom), and allowing that to counterpoint the characters and their floundering in this environment. We can understand the posthuman world better because of the way the characters who live in that foreign world react to the things and ways of our world–and at the same time provides the cognitive estrangement needed to examine our own ways and mores with their arbitrary restrictions and customs.

Meanwhile, Robin must solve a couple of mysteries, one involving who these people are running the experiment, and the other involving his missing memories.

Glasshouse is well-written and moves reasonably quick, but there are annoying moments where characters occasionally do or say something odd that pulled me out of the book. Whether it was something that was unmotivated, or awkwardly phrased, I found moments that my reading ground to a halt, I would have to go back and re-read the passage to see if I missed something, and just ended up shrugging and moving on. Fortunately, that was a rare occurrence. The only other complaint, is that some of Robin’s background and history would be presented in flashback with teasingly little in the way of context and explanation. This is fine, when explanation does eventually come and the tangles and loose ends get wrapped up; however, too much of his flashback went unexplained for too long, making it difficult to understand how it motivated some of his fears and goals. By the end, when the whole story starts to come together, I felt it was too late to make me really grasp who he was and what was going on in the past.

Indeed, difficult not just in understanding Robin, but the history of the book as well. The greater wars and conflicts that happened before the novel begins, which helped shape the condition of transhumanity in this story. Some of it in intentional, as, and this is difficult to explain without spoilers, much of history is actually lost to the characters and must, therefore, be lost to us readers. But I feel as though there are too many holes that Stross let go in the backstory that I really needed to have filled before the climax.

Stross and his works appeal to me because of my own keen interest in the topic of post- and transhumanity. It’s been a focus on my own graduate work (and, hopefully, will be the focus of my doctorate work when I finally get to attend Trent University. Oh, yes–one day I shall!), my writing, and my hobbies. I’ve written recently on my love for the pencil-and-dice RPG, Eclipse Phase. The creators of that game, set in a quasi-posthuman universe, have listed Charles Stross as a “writer to watch,” and it’s no wonder why: I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Eclipse Phase was heavily influenced by Glasshouse (and Accelerando), as much as it was inspired by Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and maybe a bit by Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. (I really want to see reputation (i.e. Doctorow’s “wuffie”) used more as currency and capital n the game!)

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“Blade Runner’s” 30th anniversary and cartoonists with projection issues

Well, yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the release of “Blade Runner” — the film I have, since I saw it when I was 11, invariably listed as my favorite film of all. Like most people (who weren’t up on the latest literary scifi trends) at that time, circa 1982, I had no experience or knowledge of “cyberpunk.” But the style and themes of “Blade Runner,” despite having had only 11 years of safe, middle-class life experiences to draw upon, etched themselves into my mind and from that moment, converted me from a die-hard Ray Bradbury fan to (although I didn’t yet know it) a die-hard William Gibson fan. After “Blade Runner,” my scifi aesthetic became dark as an alley and bright as neon. I didn’t yet know it, but the seeds of appreciation for the posthuman were planted, the seeds for understanding postmodern capitalism were planted — albeit deeper.

Though, on the surface, what that 11-to-13-year-old me most loved, was most amazed by, was the very, very, un-Star Wars, un-Star Trek view of the polluted and dying megalopolis depicted in the film. A film with the symbol of human progress and science: the flying car, set, unexpectedly, among the decay and nihilism of the cyberpunk world.

Thanks to having my awareness primed by “Blade Runner,” when I did finally come across William Gibson in the fiction pages of OMNI magazine just a couple years later, the short circuit was made and I became. I began to truly understand what it meant to question being human, what it meant to fear the future and question the myth of the bright and glorious future of humanity.

And, over the 30 years, every time I revisit “Blade Runner,” by accumulated life experiences informs my appreciation for the film and those questions and fears even more — and more deeply.

Gareth Branwyn wrote a short essay on BoingBoing.net a few weeks ago, remembering the truly sublime, life-altering experience seeing “Blade Runner” for the first time was for him. He had the life experiences to allow him to have that sublime epiphany in the moment. I had to draw that moment our over three decades into growing awareness punctuated by moments of, “Ooohhh, yyeeaahh….” (Be sure to read that BoingBoing article! Emotional.)

The latest stage of my developing awareness came, funny enough, toward the later years, when I discovered the works of the man whose novel, Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep, inspired the film. Philip K. Dick. There is no “Everything happens for a reason,” but it’s difficult to ignore the feeling that my history with “Blade Runner,” Gibson, cyberpunk, didn’t lead me to where I could encounter PKD prepared to appreciate and understand his work, his themes, his intent, from the first word of his I read.

Naturally, the plot of “Blade Runner” diverges from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep somewhat significantly. But when you examine it, and realize Ridley Scott had to pare a novel down to a two-hour audio-visual version, it really is an excellent, and indeed, faithful translation. And from the script he read and the dailies he saw, PKD thought so as well until he passed away so close to the premiere.

And this is where my assessment appears to diverge greatly from that of cartoonist John Bonner. In his one-page comic, “Comic Crits Classics: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick,” Bonner speculates that PKD would have loved the style of the film (which he did), but would have ultimately been disappointed and even betrayed by the lack of certain thematic elements. Not only is Bonner likely wrong about what PKD would have thought (based on PKD’s own words), but he’s factually wrong about the film not including some of the themes he seems to think it missed.

He has his Philip lamenting the film’s lack of “kibble” (sic) and the “exploration of the android-human dilemma.” In fact, he projects that his idea of Philip would be “heartbroken” at the loss of supposedly nearly everything from the book that didn;t make it into the film. Well, allow me to address Bonner’s errors.

The so-called android-human dilemma is at the very core of the film. In fact, the primary theme of the film centers around the dilemma of androids who are more human than human and yet are considered less-than human by the cold and resentful humans that created them. The entire film asks, “What does it mean to be ‘human’?”

And the kipple? (As it’s properly spelled.) The film is wall-to-wall with it. A couple of years ago I wrote a paper for grad school titled, “The Ubiquitous and Panasonic Kipple: Tracing the Consumption of Death, from Philip K. Dick to Don DeLillo’s White Noise.” As the title suggests, I deal with the concept of kipple a wee bit. From Do Androids, here’s what it is:

“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up in the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.”

“I see.” The girl regarded him uncertainly, not knowing whether to believe him. Not sure if he meant it seriously.

“There’s the First Law of Kipple,” he said. “‘Kipple drives our nonkipple.’ Like Gresham’s law about bad money. And in these apartments there’s been nobody there to fight the kipple.”

“So it has taken over completely,” the girl finished. She nodded. “Now I understand.” (57)

In Androids, PKD has to, naturally, explain what kipple is and that the world is filled with it. It’s a novel. Ridley Scott, however, is (despite the heartbreakingly disappointing “Prometheus.”) an expert filmmaker. He doesn’t need to tell you about kipple, he shows you. Every set, every scene of the film is wall-to-wall kipple. The streets, Deckard’s apartment, Sebastian’s apartment, Zhora’s dressing room, everywhere except Tyrell’s conference room is littered with kipple in a claustrophobia-inducing crush. Scott doesn’t have to tell you that the decaying Earth is being weighted down by the cast-off corpses of consumerism — it’s evident in every shot. It seeps into the subliminal awareness of the film like the way kipple seeps into our lives. Scott “gets” it. And that’s probably one reason PKD did indeed love what he saw of the film:

I came to the conclusion that this indeed is not science fiction; it is not fantasy; it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism. The impact of BLADE RUNNER is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people — and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. Since I have been writing and selling science fiction works for thirty years, this is a matter of some importance to me. In all candor I must say that our field has gradually and steadily been deteriorating for the last few years. Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches BLADE RUNNER. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, BLADE RUNNER is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, canbe.

Let me sum it up this way. Science fiction has slowly and ineluctably settled into a monotonous death: it has become inbred, derivative, stale. Suddenly you people have come in, some of the greatest talents currently in existence, and now we have a new life, a new start. As for my own role in the BLADE RUNNER project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by BLADE RUNNER. Thank you.

And:

“I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull’s special effects for Blade Runner on the KNBC-TV news. I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly.”

Mercerism was an, admittedly, prominent and important aspect of PKD’s novel, but to attempt to include that would require a film twice as long. And from PKD’s appreciation of the script he read:

After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel. I was amazed that Peoples could get some of those scenes to work. It taught me things about writing that I didn’t know.”
[…]
“You read the screenplay and then you go to the novel, and it’s like they’re two halves to one meta-artwork, one meta-artifact. It’s just exciting.

…I think PKD was perfectly okay with their not including that half of the book in this film.

So, I have a feeling that Bonner was personally disappointed by what he felt the film missed from one of his favorite books, and decided to project that disappointment into the voice of the author — despite the author’s own well-documented opinions of the film.

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