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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 12:11 by Ferg

This is not an action movie; it's a sci-fi.

That's the first and foremost statement that I feel compelled to drop the moment this article starts simply because the trailer, whilst showing lumps of sci-fi seems to be spoiling its audience for a rip-roaring Black Widow fest.  And in my humble opinion, that's a good thing: we need a rockin' female bad-ass on the screens that isn't just some hyped up bint - Scarlet's been bashing away at action scenes for a while now and until Avengers Assemble wasn't really getting taske with anything overtly complex in the whup-ass department, until that fiesty Joss Whedon introduction.

But that's not what Luc Besson had planned for this movie.  And, it's fair to say, that Besson is one of my favourite French directors, easily within the top 3.  And now I suspect I should qualify why I need the sub cateogory of 'French directors'...  You see, as far as I'm concerned, the French bring a very specific flavour to their films and if you don't know what I'm talking about watch Brotherhood of the Wolf, Alien Resurrection, and City of Lost Children (with the English Dub) and focus on the story and the way it is told.  Focus on the dialogue and the fashion of the characters.  Look at the way Juenet handles the likes of Ron Perlman as a hard-case by comparrison of the way Del Toro handles Perlman.  There's a distinct flaw in each of their characters which WILL be exploited but with an entirely French perspective on it - Juenet's giant, angered Russian sailor strangling the little French girl in City of Lost Children or Besson's Christopher Lambert's dilatante's inability to take anything seriously to the point where it pretty much gets him killed (Subway).

And, what really bothers me is that there are so many excellent examples of French cinema and the masters therein - Besson, Juenet, Godard and, to a lesser extent, Gans (seriously Brotherhood of the Wolf was THAT good, but then Gans knew what he was doing when he pulled Mark Dacascos back in to his fold).  For those of you that haven't the time for subtitled movies or can't get away with an English dub, then you may find yourself a little lost with those names above - and Luc Besson's debut heavy hitters, Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle) and Subway rocketed him to the top of his class in the space of 2 - 3 years with virtually nothing prior to them printed.

And lately, Besson has erred more toward writing than directing, with a nice side line in production, which, in my mind, is a bit of a cruelty.  Seriously, he is to dialogue based suspense and non-chalant sociopathy on the screen what Ridley Scott is to landscape / vista composition and attempts to keep Russel Crowe in work. (Yeah, he shouldn't be doing that but he does...)  So when I discover that he's directing again, and directing a film he wrote, I immediately get a little excited.  Jet Li has used his action scripts (Kiss of the Dragon), Leon: La Professional, La Femme Nikita, Taxi, The Transporter trilogy, District B13 (let's not really mention Ultimatum, okay?) and the list goes on - if you want an action movie - Besson's got that 'butt-kickin' on film' thing down.  And that's how you got your trailer, sadly.  They KNEW it'd put bums in seats, not to mention seeing Scarlet Johansen getting funky... that had to help (it did for me, I'll be honest...)

So, here we are.

What went right and what went wrong?  I mean, I might be being a little generous with the 8, but I don't think so...
You see, the problem I had with the film was that it was very ambitious with its audience learning curve - forcing the audience to accept that they're being a bit thick despite all of our species' achievements and then explaining what we would theoretically be capable of if we could access the true computational power of our minds / brains. Personally, I had no problem with the concepts Besson was throwing at us, but then he would have to labour the point in order to explain some of the more basic concepts, via Morgan Freeman's 'This... is a Penguin' voice for those members of the audience that actually turned up to see some hottie kicking arse and had never considered for one moment that they could achieve something more.  The explanation of cellular evolution and its behaviour was adequate, but even those moments in the film had the occasional person behind me surrendering sounds of 'what the f**k is that guy talking about', which is a crying shame because it's not like it wasn't clearly spoken or said in a concise manner, but I can imagine that it's going to impact on the consensus opinion of the movie across other critics. (6.6 according to IMDB.com so far).

And it goes on, introducing new concepts as Lucy becomes more and more intelligent opening up more access to her mind and gaining new 'powers' while effectively losing her 'humanity' along the way and explaining that in order for us to appreciably evolve further as a species we need to do away with many of our core concepts (no names mentioned, but you know who you are *cough, cough dogmatic religous principle cough, cough*).  Freeman's role is a simple one - he's the leading scientist on the human brains' potential and she has concluded that he is the best person to ask with regards to what she should do given her limited life span.  His suggestion - get back to point zero: share what you've learned with all that come after you, time being a relevant factor, especially so in the film, both figuratively and literally (1hr 30 mins).

SO there's a hell of a pace to the film as she's exponentially getting smarter and getting more and more 'godlike'.  To the point, which I suspect is the real kicker for the action junkies, where there is no 'dernier combat' for her (see what I did there?).  What there is, is a scenario in to which a selection of triad killers go face to face with a goddess and she chooses the non-lethal path of least resistance, which for a sci-fi crowd is perfect and makes utter sense, but to the action junky in the cinema it's a horrid waste of their time.

But Besson knows what his audience wants, and for the action junkies he provides a cracking and entirely blood-soaked final shoot out, complete with a big bang and a merciless execution in the last moments, which brings me to the real star of this film; Min-sik Choi.

Old Boy, Lady Vengeance and I saw the Devil are but three of the most likely films you may have seen with him playing a prominent role, and may also give you and idea of the kind of role he tends to get: but damn, he plays the sociopathic, Triad boss Mr. Jang so well.  He carries the mantle of a murderer and apex predator beautifully, from his gory first meeting at the beginning of the film to the character's sudden and thoroughly expected conclusion in the final reel.  Besson does not waste this talent and is a superb foil for Lucy in so much that as her character starts off as an emotional and terrified woman who begins to lose her humanity, Mr Jang will start off as the inhuman monster and due to everything falling apart from the word go will show more and more angst and emotion as the film progresses.  And Choi achieves this with incredible intensity, with very few movements or words, he provides the audience a cornacopia of expression and cements his character's presence with subtle charm and grace, a quality I think is becoming a touch rarer in film and television given the trends for sex, violence and character drama.

Conclusion?  This is a smart film that is hampered by its need to provide the action junkies in its audience with an explanation for EVERYTHING!  No matter how well told, the film (as opposed to the story) spends a fair bit of time attempting to get technical points across when it's sold itself as an action romp as opposed to a sci-fi story, while sadly not getting technical enough for fear it will entirely ostracize the less scientifically inclined. Also, if you're offended by the idea that it took more than 7 days to create the world and that science will provide the answers to unlocking our future potentials, then this film is NOT for you!  And if by the decidedly ballsy paraphrasing of Guy Pierce's 'We are the Gods now' in the Prometheus TED trailer or the decidedly Akira orientated 'Tetsuo's biological acceleration' doesn't convince you that Besson is getting right in to the sci-fi art parallels, then the 'My God... It's full of stars...' USB device should really drive the point home.  Personally, I liked the notion - it was as I was pointing out earlier, a wonderfully French example of their reconceptulisation of modern cinema, something the rest of the West could probably learn from.

Rating:
8
Topics:
Sunday, September 7, 2014 - 19:28 by Bren

Merry Men, a Golden Arrow, and robots aplenty as the Doctor meets a hero of British folklore. There’s whimsy and swashbuckling galore in this interpretation of the classic tale, but sadly Mark Gatiss’ script doesn’t quite hit the bullseye.  

The story starts as the Doctor offers Clara the chance to go anywhere in time and space.  She says she wants to meet Robin Hood and, after a touch of derision, the Doctor takes them to Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, 1190(ish); if only to prove that such a man does not exist.  An arrow to the door of the TARDIS from the rogue in green himself does little to change the Doctors assumptions, and rather than accept that he was wrong and that heroes do exist, the Doctor instead sets out to find evidence to support the conclusion he, wrongly, leapt too.  

Those answers become apparent at the tournament to crown the greatest archer, where an altercation leads to the reveal that the Sheriff of Nottingham's Knights are all robots.  From here we learn that the robots ship has crashed while on a journey to the “Promised Land” (season plot arc alert) and that they are fulfilling the role of the baddies in order to blend in to their environment, taking their influence from the fables and tales of folklore in their databanks.  They terrorise the locals to gather the gold they need to rebuild the ships circuitry so they can take off.  Throw in a couple of sword fights, the doctor doing hard time in a prison cell, and a Nobby Nobbs-esque million to one arrow shot; and that is the plot in a nutshell.

Jon Pertwee’s Doctor gets a couple of call backs.  The first is the mention of the miniscope, which appeared in number 3’s episode “Carnival of Monsters”; and the second is the, possibly, Venusian Aikido chop with which Capaldi disarms Robin Hood.  I do love spotting easter eggs to old Who stories, I probably miss more than I catch.

With “I am the Doctor, and this is my spoon” I thought that Gatiss had managed to find a way to portray the fun side of Capaldi’s Doctor. Unfortunately that all disappeared when he got unceremoniously dumped in the river. From that point on the Doctor seemed to get relegated to the third most important character in this story, behind Clara and Robin Hood; and that just seemed very weird, and the point at which it started to go wrong for me.

The gravitas and mystery that Capaldi has so far brought to the role seemed to vanish in to fits of squabbling with Robin Hood.  He was an altogether more cantankerous man in this episode, and one has to question why Clara would choose to go anywhere with him.

While the episode does have some good dialog in places, and the tournament scenes are a lot of fun; it all just seemed like it was written for the wrong Doctor.  This has the feel of a script that was left over from the Matt Smith days.  He had a much more physical style than Capaldi, and I could see him taking the plunge into the river.  Even the bickering would have been more consistent with Matt Smith’s youthful Doctor. 

Not a million miles off the mark, but still a way off the bullseye for me.

Quote of the Week:

Robin Hood: Robin Hood laughs in the face of all. Ahahaha!
The Doctor:  And do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?
Robin Hood: Not as yet
The Doctor: Lucky I’m here then, isn’t it

Rating:
6
Topics:
Saturday, September 6, 2014 - 15:22 by Ferg

Is it fair to still give the same rating to the sequel, which, in part, could be considered to be better than the first BUT since I'm reticent to hand out more than one 10 Rating a year for fear of being marked 'too easy to please'?  Could I see how this work could have been improved?  Not really.  Could there be anything about the work that seemed 'off' or incomplete, as though it had been rushed or offer the opportunity for a childish slighting of some description just to justify my pathological fear of being judged dimly by my peers?  Perhaps, but I didn't spot it...

In fact, I feel it's fair to say that I'd already ordered the seuqel to Leviathan's Wake before I'd even completed the first book because I wanted to know where this was going and hoped, almost prayed to the Gods of Decent Fiction and Storytelling, that the sequel wouldn't just be that book that got turfed out of the publishers office because the first one did well and it'd sell alright just because the first one got rave reviews and George R. R. Martin's name got thrown on the cover.  To say that I am relieved and pleasureably saisfied would be a thorough understatement.

The book, sitting slightly shy of a proud 600 pages, starts approximately 9 months after the conclusion of Leviathan Wakes and follows the Crew of the Rocinante, under the dysfunctional command of James Holden, but while the first book hopped us between Detective Miller and Holden, Caliban's War flips us between Holden, a desperate father and botanist / biologist / ecosystems engineer Praxidike Meng, Gunnery Sargaent Roberta Draper and the UN Assistant Undersecretary and potty mouth Chisjen Avasarala.

If you read the back of the book, you're going to see comments that essentially compare The Expanse series to Star Wars -'If Leviathan Wakes was Star Wars... then this is The Empire Strikes Back...' and, to some extent, there's some truth in that, as long as you keep in mind that The Expanse story line is aboslutely nothing like Star Wars, the latter being based entirely on super science with power sources and technological miniturisation that never gets explained to any level of canon, while The Expanse revels in its plausability and distinct lack of 'hyperspace'.

What really brings Caliban's War to life as a book determined to provide a more epic flavour to the series is the inclusion of the politician Avasarala, a subject in much literature that can drive me utterly out of my mind with boredom.  Seriously, how does anyone get round to reading political dramas for fun?  How can you possibly be interested in it?  He said this and then drank some wine and then argued over that because he said, she said 'your mom...'.  Bores me rigid!  Until I met this grandmother, dressed in her brightly coloured saris, adhoration for her husband and her family and the filthiest, meanest vernacular I've ever met in a book.  It comes to her naturally like venom comes from snakes and violence comes from protomolecule infested rage-beings.  And it worked!  I thoroughly expected, judging by her prolific use of the foulest language used by an elderly lady, that it was to assist the writers conjure up this characer that would fit perfectly in to place with a book that doesn't leave a page spare.  It is also through her and Bobbie, the Gunny, that the reader is introduced to Earth and the future that awaits us in their universe, touching on topics like education, political mediation, military science, economics and interplanertary wheeling and dealing.  Not to mentioned that the two characters are a wonderful foil for one another.

The other character that the reader is going to spend a lot of time observing is the father figure and the books science consultant, Prax.  He starts in a bad place, hunting for his daughter on an ice station that is falling apart in a way that he can describe to the reader all too well, and thusly the reader realises exactly how entirely bad the situation is getting as Ganymede falls further and further in to disarray.  While being a somewhat impractical character and seemingly socially unpracticed, he lends to the crew of the Rocinante and the overall feeling of the book a sense of Humanity which some of the characters are slowly losing as they are tested by the resurgence of a new protomolecular crisis.

The whole while the adventure unfolds and the mysterious cabals get their nefarious shenanigans moving, there is a growing sense of dread and threat from the surface of Venus. For those that have not gotten round to reading the first book, I shall say no more, as, to be honest, it wouldn't make a bit of sense to you.  For those of you that have, it's safe for me to say that Caliban's War is a chance to really build on the strangeness of the Protomolecule and the critical threat it poses: no good news ever comes from Venus throghout the book, and in fact it spirals toward further horror and confusion.

While Leviathan Wakes contains a distinct horror flavour to it as the story progresses further to the terror that is 'The Eros Incident', Caliban's War doesn't.  It swaps out the horror for the political intrigue and the rounded focus on the major bodies operating in our solar system, namely the UN, Earth's Governement, the Martian Governement and the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), with whom there is a brief visit to Tycho once more.  These crescendos find themselves exploding in to sudden a terrible acts of blood soaked violence and the threat of horror (if you really care to distinguish one from the other, that is).

In short, I loved this book and I was thoroughly over-joyed to discover that they hadn't just battered out a sequel but thought about their characters and allowed each of them to grow, especially Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex whose portrayals in the TV show have yet to be determined, though the inclusion of Thomas Jane as Detective Miller leaves a few interesting questions about how much money is actually getting sunk in to the project by the likes of Syfy whose track record with their own shows has been less than inspiring, but have promised a more loyal science fiction mandate for the future and The Expanse show could be proof of that.
 http://expanse.wikia.com/wiki/The_Expanse_(TV)

Caliban's War is the second book in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, published by Orbit, and is also available as an e-book.

ISBN-10: 1841499919

ISBN-13: 978-1841499918

Rating:
9
Topics:
Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - 12:30 by Ferg

Here comes a post-review mini-rant, but I swear I'll try to make this interesting for those of you that have absolutely no interest in the gaming industry... Wink

The gaming industry is a pig.  Heck, that's an insult to pigs...
The gaming industry is a... nevermind... there's a lot of insulting to be done at this rate, so I'm going to cut through there like a diamond D4 cuts through glass and feet - but as I have said on several occassions, the industry itself has suffered through periods of all the best reasons for not being popular as a hobby or as a literary piece:

1> They're referred to as Rulebooks.  When most folks seem to think of rulebooks, they think somewhere between a mathematics textbook with irrifutable, logical boredom and the slip of paper that explains how Snakes and Ladders works.

2> Once upon a year, the game Dungeons and Dragons caught on in an ealry interpretation of Viral Marketing - a sensation that even folks today are trying to duplicate with the occasional success.  And those that tried D&D were the NERDS!  Those folks that weren't in to football and going for a drink and a drive with their buddies...

3> If being Uncool was not enough, enter the corporate big-wigs who suddenly got this idea that the only way to make the gaming industry big was to create a universal rule system and then sell the license for its use to any company, thusly belittling the system mechanics of other games and their companies.  What could be worse than telling a Geek whose system is being underwritten by some foul corporate type and effectively replaced by some stale and clunky 'rollplay'?

4> And then, in the Age of the Geek, when computer games, sci-fi and all things fantasy drama couldn't be any cooler, the fore-mentioned big-wigs have gone quiet, or WORSE, they released Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition that failed so badly they actually reversed up, cancelled 4th and published an edition referred to as v3.5!

And people wonder why there's so little faith in the gaming industry and why few people actually get their own ideas to print...

[/endrant]

Enter POSTHUMAN STUDIOS!!! (can I get a 'Hell YEAH!?)

Posthuman Studios, whose tag line on their Google entry was 'We make amazing games', is a creator-owned company whose founding members include four veterans of the industry who go on to say, 'the future of hobby gaming is the hybridization of analog and electronic play–whether that be at the augmented tabletop or online play; that gaming has been and always will be a culture of sharing, and that we must build the creative future we want to live in. You’re invited!'

If you're a seasoned gamer with an eye for the bigger picture and want to get published some day, this is the kind of company spiel that may be enough to give you a roaring hardcover.  Finally, a company that actually feels like they've stepped back to the theme 'by the players, for the players' and actually mean it!  But then I hear those skeptics out there, the seasoned ones that have seen all this hype before and shook their heads and watched as the Old Gods have fallen and watched the suns burn out... and with good reason: there's many of a body littering the floor of the Archive of Dead Games, murdered each in their own personal way - from (the other) Star Trek's corporate executuon to MERP's slow and painful demise.  But Posthuman did something entirely new, something that dropped the jaws of executives through the gaming corps. - they effectively made their debut title FREE!?!

What dark sorcery is this, you exclaim?  What fiendish act of love-inducing, wallet-sparing altruism is this that you speak!?!  That's right, the creative commons license, ladies and germs, has been used in such a way that any didgital copies of the game is free to share.  Entirely!  Having a copy of the .pdf file without having paid for it is... not a problem.  Go on, grab a copy, it's not tough to get a hold of one... (I'd drop a copy on here, but I don't know how and I'd really like to have permission to do it and, frankly, go find your own for pity's sake!).  If you want a copy of the hardback books, though, you're going to be pulling out your wallets / purses / subdermal flaps, but having said that to no greater tune than you would be for any other title.

Which brings me to the actual review... and, if you hadn't already noticed, I've given this game a 10.  I don't tend to do that... but Satan commanded me to do it and I shall always obey my Lord and Master in all his divine power...

Eclipse Phase has a very unique tag:

'Your mind is software. Program it.    Your body is a shell.  Change it.    Death is a disease.  Cure it.     Extinction is approaching.  Fight it.'

This is an all new standard of science fiction storytelling in an absolutely brand-spanking new universe in a faily plausible future.  Humanity has evolved and, effectively, has cured 'death' by result of the first major technological singularity - the ability to upload a human consciousness in to a computer mainframe and then download it in to another body, essentially allowing the individual to make copies of themselves or, more importantly, a Back-Up.  It's true, it you were run out of bodies and somehow get your Back-Up erased you would die a Real Death, but generally speaking folks are just not up to it and psychosurgery can often help an individual to overcome such personal qualms... for a price, of course.

But this all came at a terrible price... Transhumanity was killing itself: the the final years of 'Earth that was' (see what I did there?) saw it ruined by warfare, political upheaval and environmental crisis as the planet heaved under our weight and stupidity.  And while we threw ourselves out to our solar sysem in new bodies made of metal or biologically enhanced and altered variations to colonise and survey the darkness, the technology didn't stop improving.  It got smarter and deadlier until one particular 'weapon', the TITAN, an advanced artifically intelligent surveillance entity designed to bring a winning card to table, suddenly instigated a holocaust that will forever been known as The Fall.

The game is set 10 years later.  Earth is off limits - we lost the homeworld and anyone left down there is either dead or wish they were.  Since the Fall, Transhumanity have found alien devices, creators unknown, that have been popularly referred to as Pandora Gates - the rest of the galaxy being only an Event Horizon away, and we have been colonising like crazy.  It's the Wild Frontier again, but this time the predators out there aren't the odd coyote or rattler. Oh no, the TITANs are out there, along with other alien entities, most of which are being kept to some level of secrecy or another.  And Transhumanity, in some instances, is becoming more and more diverse in it's social, cultural and physical appearances.  With the development of nanotechnology and fabricators, new bodies and fewer physical limitations, there are floating cities on Venus, miners on Mercury, flotillas of drifting communities, remote asteroid habitats with cutting edge biomorph development developing Dolphins and Whales that can 'swim' in space.  All of this, while everyone wondering the same things: will we ever get Earth back?  Will the TITANs return?  Why did everything go crazy like that?  What will the next technological singularity be?  Who will control it?  Who will protect us?

Enter Firewall.

The game is a science fiction conspiracy horror platform that comes in 400 pages of full colour, fantastically written, thoroughly engrossing hardback (or at least is was for me, after I'd taken a quick peek at the .pdf).  To look at the cover, predominantly black with white lettering, the art band tells you everything you kind of need to know - a remote habitat in a sparse belt has an airlock opened and a segmented, prehensile tentacle-like limb protrudes with snake-like agility to grab a free-floating biped in a space suit who, if initial impressions are anything to go by, appears to have thrown themselves out of the airlock already to avoid some dark fate within.  An inspired choice for cover-art - as it leaves the player / GM with the note that it could just as easily be YOUR character that's in that situation.  And the book carries that sense of encroaching peril as you make your way through the source material.

The book opens with a a short story, 'LACK', to set a sort of tone and to make brief introductions to some of the features that are commonplace within the game environments, to then go on to a full and relatively thorough breakdown of the last 70ish years, the groups in play, corporations, The Fall, what is generally 'known' about the TITANs and where, what, how, who and WTF!?!  Thankfully, the writing is engaging with the running theme of seeing the world(s) through the eyes of either alumni of the various cultural overviews or through, first hand accounts and interviews or from the perspective of Firewall themselves.

So that's the second time I've done that!   Why do I keep dropping 'Firewall' in there like it supposed to make a difference?  Character Creation, that's why!

The game suggests that your first character(s) may well want to consider being Firewall Sentinels so that you can get good and immersed in the conspiritorial nature of the game and who better to get introduced with than by the most enigmatic bunch o the lot.  Firewall recruits secretly, over a considerable amount of time, using observational techniques that are so intrusive they know whether or not you'd betray them, shoot your own team-mates, sabotage the mission, go off on your own or any of the other 'non-comliant' behaviours players can get up to, and then, more often than not, hires them anyway.  Because they've got a plan, yo...  or do they?  Perhaps... perhaps not... (GET ON WITH IT!!!)

Sorry...

Firewall hires from every walk of life, so your Barsoomian Miner to your Venusian Politician, from your Scum Barge security officer to your Hypercorp tradesman.  No matter your political faction or your particular background, when it comes to doing a job for Firewall you may well have to put your personal vendettas and agendas aside in order to survive the job at hand.  The Character Creation process thankfully gives you the sense of the sky no longer being the limit, and with my first character being an Uplifted Chimp who'd been created in a brinker asteroid belt lab, who now inhabits the body of a Bouncer Morph, goes on salvage ops and treasure hunting and hacks systems (a genius, treasure hunting ape that hacks... it was too good to be true!), I was left with the sensation that it would be a mind-blowing session to play with that character.

Choosing bodies, backgrounds, factions, gear and all the other variables that come with a diverse selection of potential character profiles can, for the beginning player, be a little daunting - this is not a game you can just throw yourself in: a GM could probably do with having a bit of experience under their belt to get new players on board and writing the stories for such a piece could prove quite challenging, especially when it comes to the magnitude of scope available. Having said that, though, the game prefers a more intimate style of play, and many factors in the game er toward story event as opposed to rolling dice to determine the outcome; space combat being the most notable - combat in space is a matter of attrition: there are no energy shields, no Star Trek teleporters, no take a few hits before the hulls get damaged - this is physics, baby, and if a chunk of metal hits your stuff in a zero-gravity vacuum with speeds and g's that are considerably in excess of your own, expect to lose your air.  And your ship.  And hope you got a Back-Up recently...

The system is a percentile system, predominantly, but D10s can come in handy for events like damage tests etc.  It's streamlined and it's very easy to get to grips with for a new player, and the modifications to dice rolls are a playfully fudgeable element to the mechanic.  While the game does spend a chapter on combat, it is not the chapter you'll need to spend a lot of time on: MESH hacking, Mind Hacking, Async powers, exsurgent virus strains and the extensive gear section require a LOT more attention due to the chapters really only giving the players a taster of what they could have and stressing that they could, if they can come up with a blueprint and access to the necessary facilities and resources, build ANYTHING!  Your imagination is all that's holding back your story, character or campaign.

I'd say I would be careful about spoilers, but it's necessary to point out that there is a GM section at the back of the book that the casual player should consider NOT reading, but then that would be like saying 'here's an amazing book, but don't read between pages x and y because you'll screw up the stroy for yourself'.  In the case of Eclipse Phase, the story is NOT CANON after a certain point.  The session's GM decides why the TITANs went crazy, what the Exsurgent Virus is, who the Factors and the ETI are, what happened to the Iktomi, what Project Ozma is and all the rest of that.  Each GM may have a different slant from where the game would like to offer, but if you are simply a player and wish to read through that section of the book, go in to it knowing that if you're looking for the vaunted Secrets of the Games Master, you're going to find yourself looking for a tin opener and the GM's cranium because it's simply not as clear cut as that.

Conclusively, this is one of those games in the culture that really should be part of any GM / Players collection.  It is to Sci-Fi Conspiracy Horror what D&D was to high fantasy adventure, what Cyberpunk 2020 was to antidisestablishmentarianism, Call of Cthulhu was to steampunk horror and what Bobo the Dog Faced Boy was to Circus Freaks (thanks Robin Williams...).  It's a necessary addition and if you don't have it, in one form or another, then I feel it is fair to say that you're either no longer THAT interested in RPGs or you've gotten too comfortable with having your mediocre, corporate-spun RPGs fed to you.

Get it... you WON'T regret it...

 ISBN 10 - 9-780984-583508

ISBN 13 - 978-0-9845835-0-8

Rating:
10
Topics:
Sunday, August 31, 2014 - 11:43 by Bren

Doctor Who meets Innerspace in this weeks episode, as the Doctor and Clara go on a mercy mission inside an old foe. An interesting concept and, for the most part, quite an entertaining episode.  Yeah, I enjoyed this one.

Aboard the Combined Galactic Resistance ship Aristotle, the Doctor runs into his oldest adversary and his newest patient.  An injured Dalek, one that has seen the beauty in creation and has somehow found morality.  Is it a ruse? A result of it’s injuries? Or is this a genuinely good Dalek?  The Doctor can’t resist finding out. 

Back on Earth there is a new teacher at Cole Hill, a former soldier named Danny Pink, who catches the eye of Clara... and thus begins another love story arc.  Just when we thought we were done with soap opera in Doctor Who it comes right back.  It dragged out the episode and took up time that could have been better used on the philosophical issues in the story line that only ever got briefly touched upon.  A bit of a negative in my mind for this episode, though I suppose it’s better to get that out of the way now than have it drag throughout the series.  The Doctor eventurally dashes and back and picks Clara up, saving the audience from having to endure anymore awkward flirting.

Returning to the future, with Clara now in tow, the Doctor, his companion and a handful of soldiers, are shrunk down so that they can get inside the Dalek and find out for themselves.

Inside the Dalek we are treated to a few new pieces of information.  We discover that the Dalek casing has “antibodies”, as well as a secondary digital brain that acts as a back up, and which seems to hold collective memories.  We also see a new side to this Doctor.. “He was already dead, I was saving ourselves” is a line I didn’t expect to hear from him, especially as the actions that preceded it indicate premeditation on the Doctor’s part.  This pricklier Doctor is more the pragmatist then ever before it would seem.  

Moving deeper into the Dalek, the Doctor finds a radiation leak that is poisoning their host.  He fixes it and, sure as apples is apples, the Dalek reverts to Operation: Kill ‘Em All, going on a rampage throughout the ship, as well as calling in reinforcements.  Clara then races against time to try and reboot the secondary brain in an attempt to trigger the memories that first set the Dalek down the path of good, whilst the Doctor attempts a mind merge with unexpected, and potentially huge, consequences.  

A minor niggle is that all this would have been better if some of the support acting had been up to par.  Despite an onslaught from the Daleks towards the end there was never any of the sense of terror and fear that these creatures should be invoking.  Say what you will about Christopher Eccleston, I know he wasn’t a lot of peoples favourite Doctor, but his reaction in “Dalek” was far and away the best of any of the new Who’s in my opinion.  

The problem is that at this point in their life cycle, the Daleks have effectively become the equivalent of WWE “enhancement talent”. Which is a polite way of saying they’re a jobber who is sent in to lose in order to put over a new talent.  That talent in this case is Capaldi as the Doctor who, sadly for the Daleks, doesn’t need a cheap victory to get over with the audience; he has an icy exterior and calculating approach which is doing just fine.

What the Daleks need now, more than anything else, is a check mark in the win column.  “Into The Dalek” doesn’t quite deliver that,  but there is perhaps a promise that there will be fallout from the Doctor's actions. 

What it does deliver is a pretty good episode once you get past the soap opera stuff in the first few acts.   There’s some cracking interaction between Clara and the Doc, including a well earned slap.  As with Eccleston’s episode “Dalek” there is a reminder that less is more with this particular enemy, a single Dalek can be more menacing than a host of them.  There’s more set up for the upcoming series as well as Missy makes another appearance, bringing another lost soul to heaven.  Though this time her name sounds more like Miss C when she pronounces it.  Is this a clue perhaps?  Is this maybe Lady Cassandra before she becomes nothing more than a stretched face? Who knows, only time will tell, but I like the way the mystery is being seeded from the outset.

So far, so good for this Doctor then.  Next week, Robin Hood...


Quote of the Week:

Doctor: “Yeah, my carer. She cares, so I don’t have to”

Rating:
8
Topics:
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 18:39 by Ferg

For those of you that like roleplaying games and have been following the evolution and success that is Posthuman Studio's Eclipse Phase books and universe, you may have spotted, if not already acquired with the relish and anticipation of their first and phenomenally well received Kickstarter funded  'players handbook' Transhuman.

Or, on the other hand, if you're anything like me, you not only eagerly awaited it, you scrabbled and fought to be amongst those that acquired not only the .pdf, but also the hardback edition so that you could mount it on you collection shelf like the prize that it was hopefully going to be.  And damn did I fight to get it.  I fought the A69, the roads of Newcastle and the hustle and bustle of the streets to get to the one place that I KNEW had it in stock (because I had phoned in, reserved a copy and swore that if anyone sold it by accident I would insist on eating the brains of the next person that [insert reason here]), namely Travelling Man, to whom my gratitude is effectively infinite for providing me with torrents of geekporn.  And lo, I descended upon the closest pretentious coffee serving establishment to devour what they were promising during the Kickstarter campaign.

The cover, again in the fashion of all the other books, it greets the eyes with some fantastic artwork offering a glimpse in to the chaos and sinister machinations of the Eclipse Phase worlds, dark and foreboding with a hint of imminent peril... and all before I've turned the front to be visited by the standard EP full colour 240 pages of sheer joy.

The back of the book offers a Package-based charatcer creation system and a random life path character creatikn system, expanded rules on the previously arguable and quite fudge-able rules regarding Flex-bots, Swarmanoids, Asyncs and Infomorphs. Add to that a selection of half-article, half-commentary on how to build a better Firewall operative, advice on investigation in-game, combat tactics, espionage and infiltration, for those of us that have seen a disgusting number of potential 'ninja' characters. And then, just to really sweeten the pot, they dumped in new morphs, gear, traits and backgrounds.

And boy, did they deliver.

Not since the days of Cyberpunk 2020 have I seen a lifepath character creation system so smooth and workable. You think you have the bearing of a character and then WHAM! it throws you a curve.  What started out looking like some schmuck born on Earth and found themselves mining ice in some slave pit in the belt becomes a Combat Async with the powers to tear a psychosurgeon's mind to shreds. A soldier cum assassin stuck working for an orbital military conglomerate suddenly finds themselves on the run and hiding themselves in a gatecrashing team to get as far away from the Planetary Consortium as possible. One kinute you're broke, the next you're holding on to an alien artifact worth a LOT of dosh but it might be a little suspicious... but do you care? Oversight has you pegged for a crime that you didn't commit... and then it turns out YOU DID!

The list goes on... thankfully.

But then there are the expanded rules, which, in my opinion, are not so much of a clarification as such as a selection of malleable suggestions (as it should be). The writers, who once again, approach each subject with a keen and in-depth confidence on those subjects to give the player and the gamesmaster a sense of being with the writer as it is discovered or reading a hidden report for their eyes only. They revel in the expansion of Tacnet enhanced sci-fi skirmishes, delivering a visceral and physics orientated BLT sandwich (Ballistics Laden Trauma) of implied modes of death dealing if the charatcers feel even remotely confident (or daft enough, or both) to tackle whatever abominations the players are facing... assuming bynthis point, the players have not become the abominations themselves.

Speaking of potential hiccups, the expansion on the Asyncs, specifically the overview for what it means to become and the ultimate realisation of the charatcer being an Async is both horrifying in its potnetial for character development as it is enlightening. For the experienced gamer, playing a character whose defining characteristics include mental disorders, can find it quite challenging, even for those who have played games such as Kult or Call of Cthulhu, to name but two, but Eclipse Phase doesn't change gear from its original approach in the core rule book and leaves the negative traits as being really down to the players to really find their own personal expression of what those disadvantages are, but at the same time offering plenty of sympathetic, yet in many ways clinical, advice on how these elements should be portrayed. And as an Async, that is pretty much a large part of the character...

Returning to the charatcer creation as a whole (and the bordering on phenomenal amount of personal playtesting I've put it under, to the current total of random pc and npc charatcers generated numbering close to 100)  it good to know that there is an inspiring amount of room for the player and gm to mold an interesting and thoroughly compelling character using all three systems should it be required. The more you use these systems, the quicker you realise that a few choice photocopies of certain pages will help save you book from impending damage, or your screen from 'smudge-finger'(tm).

They've thrown in more pre-generated charatcers, the new morphs, backgrounds and traits to really plump out the book with a critical explanation of each throughout the chapters and exemplify those modelswhich ddoesn't hurt the mystique of the gaming environment one bit. The articles on making investigative stories more complex, yet simple to run, is based entirely on the game-writer's grasp of developing the crime / scenario / mystery and how the game mechanics can be best used to makemthe players really get the sense they are discovering the dark secrets of the Eclipse Phase universe.

And again, the artwork throughout the book is atmospheric and absorbing, from card players in a seedy club chilling out to the gore strewn anguish of some poor sod tearing himself apart due tomsome unseen tormentor. 

Once more, Eclipse Phase, and therfore Posthuman Studios, have delivered an outstanding product with incredible narrative and gaming potential to whatever type of group you're running for or with. This book is an expansion and will mean absolutely nothing to those that have not got access to the core rule book, but the other publications, while obviously useful to the gaming experience, are not required. Having said that, Transhuman does accumulate all of the information for all of the other books and offers in page referencing to the book required should you wish to really discover the vibrant and terrible expansions that the game has to offer.

ISBN 10: 9780984583560

ISBN 13: 978-0-9845835-6-0

Rating:
9
Topics:
Sunday, August 24, 2014 - 00:57 by Bren

“Well, here we go again” 

Madame Vastra echoes the immortal words of the Brigadier from the end of Planet of the Spiders, as Pertwee gave way to Baker.  It just happens that she also echoed my words as I prepared for the adventures of a new Doctor, one that I had some trepidation about embarking on.  Turns out I needn’t have worried unduly, Capaldi’s full debut was pretty damn good. Eventually.

I say “eventually”, because there was something of a shaky start.  The role of the companion has traditionally been to play the audience surrogate, to ask the questions that the viewers want answered.  Too often during the opening 15 minutes, it felt that Vastra’s insistence that this Doctor was still the one Clara knew was infact an effort by the writers to reassure Matt Smith fans that, actually, an older man can play the Doctor too.  Yes, there should be some getting used to a new Doctor from an established companion, but this felt a little patronising.  Luckily, it didn’t last long, and is pretty much the only complaint I have.

The untimely demise of a time traveling dinosaur, and a mysterious dinner invitation for the Impossible Girl, finally bring Clara and the Doctor together; and from that point on the episode is excellent.  Genuinely tense, in much the same way that “Blink” was (and for similar reasons, the title should be a clue).  There’s a huge call back to an episode from Season 2, one that I struggled to spot immediately but when the penny dropped it was delightful!  

Capaldi gets the chance to stamp his mark on the role, and he did in his own way.  Matt Smith had “Fish Finger & Custard” as the moment when the zany, Troughton-esque, nature of his Doctor was established; with the rest of his tenure having that same playful energy.  Capldi’s moment might well turn out be the offer of a scotch to the enemy of the piece, and the realisation he has that accompanied it. For now he is a darker, more mysterious Doctor that perhaps hasn’t fully defined who he is yet.  I’m ok with that, watching him develop the character over the series will be fun.

Whilst trying to discover who he is he makes reference to a certain, ridiculously long, scarf.  There is also a vague nod of the head towards a certain Roman sculptor, as the Doctor struggles to remember where he recognises his face from.  Is this for a plot reason, or just to silence the snarks who will hark back to “Fires of Pompeii”.  I hope it’s for a plot reason.  Romana showed that timelords can chose their form at regeneration, maybe the Doctor’s subconscious is trying to tell him something.

Overall, this was a promising start to the new Doctor’s tenure.  Perhaps not up to the frenetic pace we’ve been used to over the last three seasons, but definitely capable of taking the series in new directions.  The mystery that ends the episode is great, it jumps straight into setting up what one must assume is the major plot of this season.  It will also have fans busy coming up with their own theories as to the identity of the woman at the centre of it.  I have my own ideas and I will be watching every week to see if I’m right. 


Plus, those eyebrows!!

(P.S. There is a lovely surprise in the episode as well, enjoy it)

Quote of the Week: “Nothing is more important than my egomania!”

Rating:
8
Topics:
Sunday, August 10, 2014 - 22:31 by Spindles

This past weekend saw the Raddisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow Conference Centre taken over by this year's NineWorlds Geekfest. Unlike most other UK conventions, NineWorlds is a multitrack residential convention that covers a ridiculous number of fandoms over the course of a weekend. There truly is something for everyone whether you're into Cosplay or Comics, Game of Thrones or Doctor Who, LARP or Board Games, Food or Knitting, Future Tech or Podcasting there are panels and activities for you.

One of the first things that strikes you about NineWorlds from the moment you arrive is exactly how hard they've worked to make people feel included and comfortable in their surroundings. The Communication Preference Clips are a fantastic idea that I'd love to see implemented at other conventions to give you a great indication of whether or not to approach people for a chat. As well as the comprehensive Code of Conduct and Anti-Harrassment policies there are Newbie Greeters and meet-ups available to help get you settled in. All of this setting out of expectation up front lends the event a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and allows people to focus on what of the many things on offer they want to consume.

Having only attended the event for one day, I can only guess at how difficult it must be for those attending the full weekend to figure out which things they can manage to attend without having to resort to some form of time travel. It seems however, by accident or by design, that almost every panel or event we stuck our heads into had just about the right amount of people that could fit into the available space. I do have to give a bit of a shout out to the Kickstarter launch for the London Bubble Football League who managed to entice us away from our discussions about the forthcoming WorldCon with the promise of cake.

Several highlights of our day included the Game Of Thrones Season 4 review panel from TitanCon with Miltos Yerolemou, better known as Arya's Water Dancing instructor Syrio Forel, stealing the show with some wonderful insights into both the logistics of recording the show and his thoughts on the events of the most recent series. Also, The headline act of the Steampunk track, The Steampunk Cabaret was a fantastic show from some of the biggest names in the UK Steampunk scene treating us to an array of sketches, stories and music from the likes of Lady Elsie and Major Tinker, The Cogkneys, Herr Döktor and more. But there was so much more that we would have loved to have looked in on had time permitted, such as the Whedonverse singalong, the edible knitting workshop or the late night Rock Band Karaoke.

The sheer amount of actvities on offer means that the experience of this convention is very personal one, as it's incredibly unlikely that you will find another person who has followed exactly the same path you have travelled over the course of the weekend. This had the potential to leave you coming out of the event feeling slightly isolated, however the supportive and inclusive nature of the event means that everyone was made to feel incredibly welcome and comfortable in their surroundings.

If I had to identify any down sides to the event I would have to say that I felt like the trader's area was a little on the small side, there was so much crammed in there that I felt it needed to be at least twice the size to allow for easy navigation around it. Other areas of improvement lay more in the choice of venue to be fair, whilst an excellent venue for conferences that require you to be in one place for the whole day, I felt it was a bit too difficult to find your way to the one little room that was hosting the particular event they you were trying to get too. The entire complex felt exactly that, with labyrinthine corridors needing to be negotiated in order to pick your way to, for example, the eventual goal of the mythical rooms 11 and 12 in the bowels of the building. Whilst every endeavour had been made to provide water to guests around the venue, it was an awfully long way from some of the rooms to one of the two or three bars on site in order to get refreshments. Once at the bars, the service levels of the staff did tend to leave an awful lot to be desired with, on several occasions, four members of staff milling around behind the bar, but only one person actually serving customers. Finally, I think that the fact that the events took place in all these different, hidden away places, meant that there were no real central socialising areas and it was all to easy to go through the whole day without bumping into all the people you know as tends to happen at the more open plan events.

In conclusion, I would say that NineWorlds is a very well thought out, friendly and welcoming event that manages to cram truly something for everyone over the course of the weekend. If you're after big names, big brands and big world exclusives, then this is not the convention for you. NineWorlds caters for the geek who knows exactly what they like and what they want from a residential convention, offering a wider range of topics and fandoms than any other convention on offer currently in the UK. We caught up with one of the event organisers, Erich Schultz over the course of the weekend and you can hear more from him about what they have in store for NineWorlds for next year in this week's WonkyCast at https://www.wonkyspanner.com/podcasts/erich-schultz-nine-worlds-geekfest

Rating:
8
Topics:
Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 13:16 by Ferg

I really don't get to read anywhere near as much as I would like and that gets coupled with ever diminishing reading speeds as you get 'out of practice'.  Suddenly there just isn't enough time in the day or night to get in to the book you just paid for and got kind of excited about in the book store... and yet, something brought me back in to the bookstore anyway (predominantly graphic novels, to be honest) but I just can't help myself just to look a few shelves up and take a gander at what else is floating on through the collective readersphere.

On this occasion my eyes fell upon the spine of Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse 1) by James S. A. Corey.  Never heard of you...

Slapped on the front of the book, right at the top, almost to compare with the title of the book itself (which is, in my opinion, a grave insult to any book) the commendation of George R. R. Martin himself: 'kickass space opera'.  I nearly put the book right back there and then based solely on my loathing for Martin's only notable work.  But the cover is a pretty blue and, on the back, as part of my book-teasing ritual goes, I still read the blurbs and the basic gumpf about the story, already expecting thorough disappointment and a quick trip to the shower when I get home.  Charles Stross likens it to the epic works of Peter F. Hamilton...  Oh really?  The back of the book offers a nice, vague splash of what's going on - we've only managed to colonise the solar system, everything after that is simply too far away and we're not THAT advanced yet...  Two primary characters, one an XO on a water mining and transport hauler, the other a cop employed by a corporate security company tasked with keeping the peace on the Asteroid colony of Ceres, both destined to meet as intersystem shenanigans kick off: the promise of planetary disarray, vile and horrid machinations, dead things and more.

Okay... Test one is passed!  You have me looking inside the book, teach me something!
Turns out that James S. A. Corey is two guys, one of which has worked with Martin previously and, likely currently as an 'assistant'.  Well, I shan't hold it against them, but the sliver of fear drips back in to me like a saline I.V. feed as the idea of being exposed to more GoT-like drama doesn't endear me one bit.

Okay, so I hit the teaser page - it's all or nothing.  Books have often had the little teaser-hook page at the beginning for this very reason: the cover, the quotes, the writer and the synopsis have left you unsure of whether or not you should commit your money and time to this book, both of which are of paramount value so this shit had better be worth it.  Well, it checked out... I took the chance.

The writing style is free-flowing, uninhibited by the scale of it's surroundings (namely the vastness of space) with a constant reminder that space is BIG and not awfully friendly.  Dialogue is fun and punchy, with character interactions that actually made me laugh out loud - not something that often happens with a book and myself; I'm ordinarily able to float through a book and utterly absorb it but without a shift of vocal expression.  In this case, not so: I found myself laughing with some of the dialogue, answering back to the characters as they divulged their intnetions and agendas, even being so much as actively non-plussed when certain characters died.  What made things even more engaging was that I became aware that this book was one I was thinking about during and after reading it (hence this review).  I found it inspiring and little crazy, not to mention that there's a rumour that someone's looking at turning it in to a TV series with Thomas Jayne playing Joe Miller (the cop).

Ultimately, the book had been so fast paced, so plausible in its understanding of flinging things through space, consistant in its characterisation and, where it needed to be, horrid and funny without regret or hesitation, that I found it increasingly hard to put down.  In fact, I got to the point where I was having late nights sitting up in bed with a naughty little night-light presenting page after page of relentless science fiction.  Coupled with the fact that I am seemingly going off medieval / fantasy literature to the point where I have all but wrapped up Saga on it 26th chapter and wondered whether or not I would write stories again given my personal constraints, Leviathan Wakes has really powered up the old main fusion drive and placed my imagination in to a gravity couch for some high-g maneuvering.  If nothing else, it's offered me a real host of different tangents to consider, especially from the'living in space' line of thinking.

I don't care for comparing entertainment to other entertainment, but in the instance that I can find a compelling arguement not to do it, Leviathan Wakes reminds me of a cross between Clarke's 2001, Haldeman's The Forever War and Posthuman Studios' Eclipse Phase.  All of which I thoroughly adore.  So much so, I've already acquired the following book Caliban's War with teh promise of Abadon's Gate and Cibola Burn to follow, with rumours of more to come.

If you like science fiction with a touch of horror, a simplified political hot-pot and an entirely gut-wrenching, physics-abiding jaunt through our own solar system, then this could well be the book for you.  I'd give it a 10, but until books, games, movies and such make me do something that would otherwise never happen, 9 will have to do...

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Published by Orbit Books

ISBN: 978-1-84149-989-5

Also available as an e-book.

Rating:
9
Topics:
Friday, August 1, 2014 - 15:11 by Bren

My movie reviews usually take me a while to write as I like to get my thoughts together and work through structure.  My efforts this time are being hampered by the fact that I’m listening to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack and I’m either bent double with laughter or, more frequently as it turns out, dancing round the room doing my own version of the Star Lord strut.  I’m still buzzing, and I’m ready to go see it again.  This film is incredible.

At its heart Guardians of the Galaxy is a caper movie, albeit a gloriously extravagant one, that takes you on a journey through stellar vistas and panoramas that will take your breath away.  It has a simple plot that revolves around the theft of a silver orb by Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, an orb that is of great interest to a number of different parties, most notably the Kree Supremacist, Ronan the Accuser, and the Mad Titan Thanos (last seen in the end credits for Avengers Assemble).  Their pursuit of Quill, and his growing band of misfits, across the galaxy in search of the orb, lead from set piece to set piece without a moment to pause for breath.

The simplicity of the plot means that character exposition and development for each of our five heroes is done in a way that doesn’t detract from the overall narrative.  There are no pauses for explanation, and the way the characters are brought together and developed is Whedon-esque in its execution.  There is more below the surface of each character than you would expect from seeing the trailers, and by the end of the movie you will have shared exactly the same journey as Drax, who finds friendship in this group of strangers in much the same way that you will have just discovered your new favourite Marvel characters.

In amongst the breathtaking visuals, stunning action set pieces and sterling performances from the cast, Guardians also manages to pack in a number of laugh out loud moments.  Groot and Rocket do steal the show on occasion, but Drax’s literal approach to conversation and Quill’s roguish swagger (30% Solo, 10% Stark, 60% Reynolds...by my reckoning) do ensure they don’t runaway with the comedy beats entirely.

It’s not all laughs though and James Gunn once again masterfully balances triumph and tragedy with immense skill.  Particularly during the finale as the Nova Corps (F**k Yeah! Nova Corps!) form up to try and stop Ronan. 

Gunn’s direction and pacing are fantastic, and my first reaction was that Disney should get him on board for one of the Star Wars sequels now that they have him on their books.  In hindsight though, I’d rather he just make more Guardians of the Galaxy movies.  He has created a film that reminded me exactly how freaking good science fiction could be when done right, and that you can have epic space adventures without having Star Wars or Star Trek in the title.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a moment defining film.  It is an 80’s movie with a modern budget. It is a throwback to the halcyon days of science fiction and space opera.  It is “The Last Starfighter” for the Millennials.  It is simply not to be missed.

Rating:
10
Topics:

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