Tag Archives: space opera

Warships – Classes and Categories PART TWO

Welcome back, we left off with cruiser so it is time to move onto the big stuff!

Battlecruiser

The term battlecruiser (or battle cruiser) is one the turns up a lot and there is no doubt that it is one that still carries a certain glamour. Historically the battlecruiser is a type that first appeared at the start of the twentieth century having evolved from an earlier category ship called the armoured cruiser. The armoured cruiser was a vessel as large as a contemporary battleship, while having smaller guns, thinner armour but longer range and greater speed. As combatants they were considered second only to the battleships and would often serve as flagships on more distant postings. The battlecruiser was envisioned as a vessel carrying battleship sized guns with the then new steam turbine engines, giving them a marked advantage in both speed and firepower over their predecessors.

HMS Invincible, the first battlecruiser, although for the first few years of her existence she was referred to as a Large Armoured Cruiser.

HMS Invincible, the first battlecruiser, although for the first few years of her existence she was referred to as a Large Armoured Cruiser.

So marked that in fact that when during World War One battlecruisers came up against contemporary armoured cruisers, the result was utterly one sided. In the run up to the Great War, with the expectation of mass fleet actions, the battlecruiser was envisioned as a kind of heavy scout, one that would brush aside the enemy’s forward screen and identify the location of the main force. With their lighter armour they were not expected to engage comparably armed ships. Unfortunately in practice commanders couldn’t resist the opportunity to add extra heavy guns to the main battle line. The battle cruisers’ reputation never entirely recovered from the loss of four battlecruisers at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 (while only one elderly battleship was sunk) and in certain academic quarters it is questioned whether as an idea the battlecruiser was bad one from the outset. Between the two World Wars the largest warship afloat was in fact a battlecruiser – HMS Hood. The type ultimately was superseded by the last generation of battleships which could match their speed with compromising protection, I’ll cover that later.

In science fiction portrayals of the type vary mostly in terms of where it stands in the overall hierarchy. Star Trek – with the odd exception – has mostly chosen to use the term battlecruiser for the peak combatants of the Federation and other major races. Given that within the Star Trek setting speed expressed as a high warp figure is usually the measure of a vessels’ power, combined with long range these ships seem to have, the term is fairly appropriate.

A Romulan D'deridex class Warbird or battlecruiser

A Romulan D’deridex class Warbird or battlecruiser, fast, powerful and apparently the most powerful Romulan warship until the film Nemesis.

In other setting the battlecruiser is very much more of an intermediate step between cruiser and battleship.

From the board game Battlefleet Gothic

The Mar Class from the board game Battlefleet Gothic is a good example of this type.

Which in a lot of setting seems to leave the type without a clear role; is it a big cruiser or a small fast battleship? A question that mirrors the problems that bedeviled the real battlecruiser. Personally I’ve made only limited use of the term but it is one that is useful for science fiction writers giving as it does a sense of a vessel with both enhanced fighting ability but sufficient mobility for all sorts of other roles, including that of a flagship for postings further from home.

Battleship

Of all the naval terms used by SF battleship is probably the best known. Historically the battleship began in the age of sail as ‘The Line of Battle Ship’; equipped with cannons firing out of the sides of the hull. Also known as ships of the line this arrangement meant that logically squadrons and fleets of these ships fought in long lines, where each ship could bring its guns to bear unhampered by friendly ships. Ships of the Line are generally classes according to the number of guns they carried, HMS Victory in Portsmouth, with her hundred plus guns is an example of a First Rate, the most powerful ships of the age. During the 19th century The Line of Battle Ship changed from wooden walls and black powder cannons to steel hulls and steam power. The fleet with the most battleships (The United Kingdom for really all of the century) was the one that ruled the waves.

Nelson's former flagship, by curious coincidence Victory was laid down the same year Nelson was born.

Nelson’s former flagship, by curious coincidence Victory was laid down the same year Nelson was born.

One thing that does tend to be overlooked in regards to the battleship is its symbolic status. During the nineteen and early twentieth century, a battleship – for those that could afford them – was symbol of a countries economic prowess. While for those nations that could actually build them, they were a very tangible demonstration of that nation’s technological abilities. When in the eighteen nineties the USA made the decision to rebuild its navy – which by that stage was little more than a collection of antiques left over from the civil war – a very deliberate decision was made to have them designed and built in America, thereby demonstrating the USA’s arrival as a major power. The battleship’s usefulness in combat came from the fact that it was bigger, better armed and better protected than anything else bar another battleship. In theory anyway. Between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and World War One, a period when ship design radically changed, there was only one serious battleship clash –  Battle of Tsushima in 1905. It was also until the coming of the aircraft carrier the most expensive thing afloat. This years we saw the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the largest battleship battle ever fought and one that ended inconclusively because battleships, with their vast price tag and build time of years, were too precious to be idly risked. Ultimately the battleship was replaced as the main combat unit by the aircraft carrier. A lot of sources will say that this was due to the destruction of the American battleships at Pearl Harbour but in fact it was the sinking of the British battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Repulse off Singapore a few days latter that confirmed that power had shifted. Still the battleship remained useful until beyond the end of World War Two, not least because once equipped with suitable anti aircraft guns they were capable of shielding other ships are part of a layered defence from enemy aircraft. The last generation of battleships are often referred to as fast battleships as these vessels were as fast as the earlier battlecruisers, but without the weaker protection.

In SF probably the best example of a space battleship (in the West anyway) comes from New Battlestar Galatica, a vessel a vessel that this really more of a battlecarrier than a pure battleship but during the course of the series it was shown that a battlestar was a very capable combatant even without its fighters being able to hand out a beating.

Galactica_fights_off_missile_salvos

As well as take one.

Taking fireThe battlecarrier idea with a vessel capable of directly engaging a target but also to launch fighters. In reality the battlecarrier idea never gained much traction mainly because the flight deck large turrets both needed to occupy the same space and if aircraft were to be able to operate, they needed to be kept well clear of the water, which would make the battlecarrier a large target in a gun battle.

Which didn't stop people from dreaming.

Which didn’t stop people from dreaming.

Dreadnought

This one really isn’t a true warship class and within SF something of a personal hate. In 1906 Great Britain launched the first of a new series of battleship – HMS Dreadnought. Up to that battleships had been powered by machinery called reciprocating engines,  while their armament was a small number of large guns and larger number of smaller pieces. Dreadnought was equipped with steam turbine engines, which allowed her to go faster for longer and dispensed with the smaller guns in favour of a larger number of heavy guns. Dreadnought set the pattern that would be followed up to the end of the battleship age but up to the end of World War One a substantial number of the older type remained in service. To distinguish between the new and the old, the term dreadnought and pre-dreadnought came into use. The terms dropped out of use once the pre-dreadnoughts were retired but the term dreadnought has remained to be used in SF as a gunship even larger than a battleship.

Aircraft Carriers

The aircraft carrier is probably the most self explanatory warship class and recognizable type of warship, with its long clear fight deck and offset bridge structure, a vessel that carries a substantial number of aircraft which represent its main offensive capacity. Armament of the carrier itself is limited to self defence. The early carriers were usually conversions of battleships or battlecruisers, with the full length deck and offset bridge structure (usually called the island) developed through trial and quite a lot of error. The main advantage of a carrier is the aircraft that represented its teeth could be changed or replaced comparatively easily. A battleship with three quarters of its guns shot away is going to have to head home for repairs, a carrier that’s lost three quarters of its planes could fly on replacements within hours.

Dauntless in her post war colour scheme.

Yes, one of my own

In SF the pure aircraft or fighter carrier seems to be something of a rarity with the battlecarrier a more popular choice, likely because from a storytelling point of view a vessel that has to keep well clear of enemy ships is less exciting than one that gets in close. To a certain extent this makes some sense as a lot of setting with space fighters don’t give these craft any faster than light capability, meaning the carrier has to get into harms way to deliver its fighters. There are also possible variants to the concept, carriers for landing troops or depending on the technology level of the setting, fighters for fighting in an planet’s atmosphere is ground bases haven’t been established ( for such ships I used the term drop fighter carrier )

Other Misc terms

Monitor  

A term originating from the American Civil War, this type was low freeboard vessel (not much hull above the waterline) with turret mounted armament. During World War One the term changed to refer to a shallow draft vessel ( not much hull below the waterline ) designed for shore bombardment.

Landing craft

Ranging from small boats to medium sized ships, these vessels are designed to deliver troops and materials without needing a proper dock.

Q-Ship

Now this is an odd but fun one. By World War One sonar had not been invented, making the detection and hunting of submarines difficult. One of less crazy idea (and by god there were some crazy ones) was the Q-Ship, a converted civilian ship – usually a small tramp steamer – with its cargo holds often filled with barrels for added buoyancy and a few guns carefully concealed. This allowed it to continue to masquerade as a transport, one large enough to be worth destroying but small enough not to be worth a torpedo. When encountered, the sub would hopefully surface to attack with its deck gun at which point the Q-ship would drop its disguise and open fire. The actual history of the Q-ships includes some anecdotes which even fiction writers would struggle to make up.

 

Conclusion

So there we have it, a basic guide  to ship classifications but as I said on this topic where there is no such thing as one single right answer. As ever thoughts and comments welcome.

 

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Is Military Science Fiction looked down upon and why?

As mentioned in an earlier post I recently attended Octocon 2015 and during the course of the Military Science Fiction the question was asked ‘do you think military sf is a genre that is look down upon?’

My answer was weak and forgettable, which has been bugging me.

So what is Military SF? According to Wikipedia it is:

a subgenre of science fiction in literature, comics, film and video games that features the use of science fiction technology, mainly weapons, for military purposes and usually principal characters that are members of a military organization involved in military activity; occurring sometimes in outer space or on a different planet or planets.

Which is a pretty loose definition, within which some very well known works can be grouped. One of the best known of examples of the genre is The War of the Worlds, a book which can be described as a classic by simple virtue of the fact that more than a century after its original publication, it remains well known and read. With such a wide definition we can find such varying works as the Forever War (Haldeman) to Hammer’s Slammers (Drake) to the Honorverse series (Weber), beyond literature we have cinema’s Aliens, Star Wars and Star Trek – which despite Roddenberry’s vision does have some very military features – through to tabletop gaming like Warhammer 40K. All which can be grouped under the Big Tent of Military Science Fiction.

War is probably humanities most destructive urge, one that out in the real world we have refined to the point that we could probably sterilise this planet. One of the strongest arguments I’ve heard is that Military SF glorifies war – a criticism that is also leveled at military stories set in the real world. There is no doubt that some works that fall into the genre do glorify violence but equally there are works, the Forever War being a good example, that highlight both the personal and social cost of conflict. Much of Military SF that I’ve come across even when extremely gun-ho, has at least brushed across the fact that the passage of war tends to leave devastation in its wake. Not to mention with few exceptions, stories regardless of genre are about human drama, for example Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was a memoir of the writer’s impoverished upbringing. Would you argue that it shouldn’t read because to do so means the reader is using grinding poverty as a form of entertainment? If we’re going to say that certain parts of the human experience are off limits for fiction because they aren’t nice, well pretty soon we aren’t going to have much to write about.

It was mentioned at Octocon that the recent Hugos/Sad Puppies fuss did see a number of Military SF writers comes down on the Puppies side. I didn’t pay much attention to the Hugos fuss as what little I did hear convinced me early on that the whole thing wasn’t worthy of my time/interest/respect but did seem at the most basic level to be a bit of a political left/right thing. Military SF has a bit of a rep for the writers coming down on the right of the politician spectrum and certainly I know my own politics lean in that direction but Hugos/Sad Puppies is a recent affair while the dismissive attitude to Military SF is much older.

I’ve certainly had it said to my face that Science Fiction in general must my easy because I can make stuff up, I could go into a rant at this point but I think it would probably easier to ask you to imagine a scenario. Imagine saying to someone who’s writing setting is in the contemporary world ‘It must be easy, no imagination or creativity is needed because you can just look stuff up.’ Added to that is the popular conception that action equals dumb. Sure some action can be deeply dumb but is say Saving Private Ryan a big dumb action movie?

So given that every for every weak example of the genre there is a stronger counterpart why does Military SF have such a poor rep? Well lets look at another long disparaged genre – romance. It is huge area with all kinds of sub sections none of which are regarded with much respect. While I don’t write or read in the field, I did hear another writer say at a convention that while Mills and Boon novels are extremely formulaic, if you could write to that formula there was quite a good living to be made*. Like romance, Military SF is very mainstream, so mainstream that it could be described as one of the entry ways into science fiction in general and perhaps it is here we find the answer.

Military SF with its rayguns, space battleships and alien invasions represents the public face of science fiction, the popular perception of what science fiction is. Those of us in the genre are aware that it is much broader with ideas a good deal more subtle than does applying laser cannon A to alien forehead B solve the problem. Those who produce SF without military elements attempts to distance themselves but that I think is counter productive. As public face of science fiction Military SF is a potential entry way, a way to discover the wider world of Science Fiction. For other other branches of SF to try to distance themselves is futile, while rubbishing it becomes a case of stone throwing in glasses houses.

So I think to sum up we shouldn’t be trying to sweep Military SF under carpet, we should be saying yes there is Military SF and so much more as well…

 

 

 

 

 

* I remember being in Chapters a new and second hand bookshop here in Dublin and watching a lady trade in an entire suitcase of romance novel and what was even more amazing was the shop worker, she didn’t even blink, it was not a noteworthy event!

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Back to basics

Another short one*, I’m currently working on a second Ships of the Fleet book as a kind of wind down from the Battle Fleet universe before I start on a new project. This book is going to be the first generation of human cruisers covering from the Contact War to the early post war classes. Some of the ships that are going to be covered I’ve previously done here on the blog but those 3D models and their write ups are now a couple of years old and particularly with the former I can do better. I’m probably going to be replacing those within the next few weeks but I’d like to give you a quick taster.

River Class Mk 2This one is the new and improved model for the River Class Cruisers, of which Mississippi is a member.

 

Early cruiser

While this one is a Contact War era design that for the moment I will decline to name.

 

So as the saying goes, watch this space! (no pun intended)

 

 

*the number of short blog entries I’ve had of late makes me wonder how The Last Charge overshot my planned word count as much as it did.

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Pay attention to the man behind the curtain

Okay, so at the start of the month the final book of the Nameless War Trilogy hit the digital shelves and since then I’ve been pretty quiet here. I’m sure publicity types would say this is exactly when I should be trying the drum up every ounce of publicity but after ten years of effort and six months of frantic effort my brain was fried and I needed to step after from the keyboard. Since then I’ve been engaging in a bit of DIY, gardening, miniature painting and general re-engagement with planet Earth.

While I’ve been doing that though I’ve been thinking about what my next writing project should be, or to be more precise, what my next three should be.

First off there is going to be a second Ships of the Fleet book. I’m not sure on a time frame but provisionally Spring of next year. Subject is going to be the early cruisers of the fleet, so the likes of Hood and the rest of Geriatrics.  This is mostly because it will be easier to establish a consistent look if I start from the beginning.

Number two a stand a lone science fiction story, not related to the Battle Fleet setting. It was something I started as part of a writing group but had to set to one side when time started to press. Whether it will be a novel or novella, time will tell.

The third item which definitely in the slot marked ‘longer term planing’ is a return to the Battle Fleet setting and that is the one which I’m still pondering on. The question is forward or back?

To go forwards meaning going into the post Nameless War period. Beyond a few idle notions on ship design and probably about a postcard’s worth of rough ideas I haven’t got a lot to work with. Not necessarily a bad thing at this stage, but from experience I know that I need a starting point and where I’m finishing; the the stuff in the middle, that I can work out as I go a long.

The other alternative is backwards and that means the Contact War.  Quite a while back I talked about my lost book, the one that fell foul of a hard drive failure, the one I was sure I was never going to go back to. Like the forward option next to nothing is currently written down. However there is a lot of the history of the Contact War rattling around in my brain, not just background and world building but younger versions of some of the main characters from the Nameless War and the moments that shaped them. Also when I started writing the text for the first of the Ships of the Fleet books I found myself starting to fill in some of the gaps.

There is however one glaring problem – The Contact War would fall firmly into the category of prequel and – to put it mildly – prequels don’t have a great track record.

You don't say

You don’t say

The prequel as a concept has some pretty glaring problems built in. With the end point effectively known then the writer’s options are considerably limited, particularly in terms of physical danger (something close to my writing heart). It is hard to get any dramatic tension going, it doesn’t matter how big the bus the writer has gleefully thrown the character under is, if the reader knows that character X was still around thirty years later. There is also the question of fine details and avoiding inconsistencies. Details that were handwaved before now have to be filled it and that might be problematic. The earlier work might have had a throw away line about two characters having know each since a given time or event, so now you are going have have to make sure that actually happens. All of which means a prequel has to jump a lot more hurdles to be considered ‘good’

So as I say pondering is being done.

Whatever direction I do go in the important thing is that it widen and enrich the setting. As said when announced the release date of the Last Charge I am proud of my work and anything that gets attached to it be it sequels, prequels or attachments must also be something I’m proud of because if I’m not proud of it, then why bother that all?

ahem...

ahem…

Well yes apart from that.

Until next time.

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Book Three – The Last Charge is now available for Pre-order

If the end was near in my last post it is getting nearer. Book three is now available for pre-order on Amazon.UK and Amazon.COM. Publication date is now set for the First of October. (Yippeee)

Last Charge cover

Those of you on my mailing list will be getting a sample chapter later this week just to whet your appetite.

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Ships of the Fleet – Coms Ship Grace Hopper

Background

Since the first satellites broke Earth orbit, one of the inherent complexities of space travel engineers, scientists and later ship crews have wrestled with, is transmission delay. The speed of light is 299 792 458 metres per second, if a transmission is sent from Earth to Mars then, depending on their positions relative to each other, the signal will arrive between four and twenty four minutes later. In the period prior to first contact, when human scientists explored the solar system via robotic probes, this presented a significant engineering challenge. Instructions when issued from the ground, had to be sent well in advance, to allow for them to arrive before the probe needed to take action. If an unforeseen event occurred then the probes were forced to operate on effectively autopilot. Given the limitations of these early machines, this often resulted in the failure of a mission.

In the aftermath of the Contact War, as the first jump capable ships began to venture beyond Earth’s solar system, this limitation suddenly presented a real danger to life. A radio transmission from even the next closest solar system would take years to reach Earth. One means of summoning help was quickly developed – the emergency message drone or EMD; basically a small jump drive with a basic engine, these could be used to dispatch a mayday should a a vessel get into trouble. As a means of providing emergency communication for a ship to summon help it was just about acceptable but of little use for a home base to contact a ship. For Battle Fleet in particular, this represented a significant challenge. When a ship jumped out, it effectively passed beyond the reach of ground side commanders and the only way to call a ship back, would be to send another ship after it. Given the fleet’s extremely limited resources, this presented a significant strategic risk, with the danger that the fleet might, in the event of attack, suffer defeat in detail. In many respects this was a situation not unlike that faced prior to the invention of the telegraph during the nineteenth century. Fortunately there was a potential solution. Among the technologies obtained at First Contact was a Faster-Than-Light (FTL) receiver. Ehile this device was returned to the Aéllr at the end of the Contact War, its very existence proved the possibility of FTL  transmitter.

In the run up to and during the course of the Contact War, humanity had successfully adopted a range of technologies, thus with misplaced confidence the leaders of the FTL transmitter project predicted that the first prototype would be ready for testing with four years – a prediction that would come to haunt them. Unlike jump drives, fusion reactors and the various other technologies Aéllr, no human had even seen an FTL transmitter, much less been able to study one. The FTL receiver that was examined had been about the size of a domestic refrigerator, the researchers mistakenly assumed that the transmitter was of a similar size or slightly larger. This assumption would cost the project ten years and result in the removal of several project leaders. It was only in 2045 when researchers in University of Washington, proved mathematically that the transmitter had to big to function, with a resonance chamber that would needed to be at least twenty meters across that progress began to be made.

While this breakthrough ultimately resulted in the successful development of an FTL transmitter, the size and mass of the equipment – several hundred tonnes – was far from the ‘two refrigerators’ volume requirement that the fleet had originally been told to expect. Not only was it clear that the fleet’s existing ships could in no way incorporate such equipment, but that no conceivable warship could absorb such mass and bulk, without hopelessly compromising all other aspects of its functionality. With this in mind it became clear that the only reasonable course of action was the development of a new category of ship – the Communications or Coms Ship. At this point FTL transmitter technology was still very much in development and a coms ship built at this stage might well be rendered obsolete is a fairly short time frame. However the fleet was eager to gain experience and it was felt that a single ship would allow it to ‘test water’ without committing too deeply.

Grace Hopper Views

Design

Faced with the introduction of the very new and unproven transmitter technology, the decision was taken to use a proven design as the basis for the ship itself. The Antonov SK-10 mid range transport was chosen, The drive section was altered to accept a larger more powerful reactor, which resulted in the reduction of fuel stores and the heat sink being displaced forwards into to the command section. The bridge structure was enlarged to provide a control compartment for the transmitter.  Midships, in what had originally been the cargo bays was subject to massive alterations, with the entire space occupied by the transmitter equipment. The most obvious feature being the transmitter dish mounted on the dorsal hull. Even with such a large volume, the transmitter itself could not be omnidirectional, instead would be mono-directional, which would mean that the transmission would have to be at least roughly ‘aimed’ at intended message recipient.  Since the vessel was a prototype and frequent access into the hull was expected to be needed, several large access panels were added. The reduction in fuel and stores significantly reduced the ship’s effective range but since it was assumed the vessel would either spend much of its time close to base or in the company of other ships, this was seen as acceptable.

Grace Hopper 1

Service

Christened in 2052 Grace Hopper after the pioneering American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral, the ship was seen primarily as a prototype and testbed. As such much of her first five years of service was spent engaged in tests and time in dockyard hands being adjusted. Among the discoveries in this period was the fact that the mono-directional transmissions, while acceptable for communicating with planets  was difficult to aim with sufficient accuracy at a ship as the beam’s spread was even narrower than projected. The experience gained from these tests would be fed into the design process for the section generation of Coms Ships.

While not intended as a line vessel, the Grace Hopper would be involved in a number of fleet operations – most notably the search for the transport St Mary and as the coms relay during the second Three Planet’s Talks. Additionally the ship provided communications support during the early days of the settlement of Landfall.

Grace Hopper 2

Grace Hooper was superseded by the Emmy Noether Class and in 2062 was reduced to reserve. While it is understood that a number of commercial and private groups have expressed an interest in obtaining the ship, to date the fleet has not indicated any desire to dispose of her.

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Update on The Last Charge – Book Three of the Nameless War and other news

The Last Charge

Okay, so where are we up to?

Despite a dose of food poisoning this week saw the hand over of the manuscript for The Last Charge get handed over to my editor so unless he picks up something that has gone horribly, horribly sideways, the October release date is still looking good. In terms of tasks to be completed that leaves me with:

The Blurb (already wip)

The Cover Art (not started but I have some ideas)

Reading the manuscript again once I get it back. (I don’t remember writing this sex scene)

Preparing the file for the various electronic platforms. (Why won’t you work you stupid piece *************)

Preparing the file for the paperback.  (Why won’t you work you even stupider piece *************)

Preparing for the release.

But like I said – looking good.

 

Other News

As regular visitors are likely aware I have had an ongoing blog project call Ships of the Fleet. Up to now it has been done mostly for my own amusement but I am planning to formalize and expand the material into a short ship guide which I intend to release as an ebook along side Book Three. I don’t know whether there is a market for this kind of material so this project is me testing the water. The subject of the book will be the ‘Battleships of the Fleet’. So far I already have one new model done up with another about a quarter done and the write up has begun. I’ll need to do two more models and go back and look at the three which have already been displayed to freshen them up a bit*.

This does mean that bits of Ships of the Fleet might be disappearing in the future so enjoy them now. However, this is a side project, which means of secondary importance. If time starts getting short, then Book Three comes first.

Okay that’s the new round up complete.

 

 

 

* I recently and finally got round to obtaining a new PC. In the past I would decide a model was done when it got to a level of complexity that caused my old computer to basically stop and have a little cry every time I asked it to do anything.

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