“Throwing Stones” by Mishell Baker

November 21, 2010 at 12:37 am | Posted in Short Stories | 1 Comment

The final short story club story is “Throwing Stones” by Mishell Baker, published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. As usual, I found a lot of things to dislike about this week’s story. This is a story about a society with inverted gender roles, but the story feels like it was written about a woman in a male dominated society, then had all gender references inverted in revision. Certainly it doesn’t read any differently than its opposite, except perhaps to readers so new to the genre that they haven’t encountered a story challenging gender roles before. The story finally approaches interesting territory as the narrator is given a transient female body via magic, but the author seems like she’s in a hurry to reach the ending by this point and nothing much is done with it. As for the story’s plot, very little actually happens, and the story ends with the narrator doing exactly what he intended at the beginning, just a little faster than expected. I guess there’s nothing wrong with mood pieces and character sketches (this story could be called either or both) but I prefer stories with more things happening.

But…but…all that said, I found myself won over to large degree upon finishing the story. Nothing about the writing jumped out at me as really superlative, but as a whole I was impressed with the execution: the slimy, amphibian true form of the goblin, the narrator’s hatred for his own body, the way the goblin’s chaos infects and destroys the narrator’s life in a way that he observes but doesn’t see as important, and then the implication that the goblin is here acting as an agent of Ru, the very goddess in whose name the matriarchs suppress the men in their society. These elements weren’t enough to turn this story into one more to my particular tastes, but they did make it unexpectedly enjoyable to read.

“Stereogram of the Grey Fort, in the Days of Her Glory” by Paul Berger

November 14, 2010 at 12:01 am | Posted in Short Stories | 6 Comments

This week’s short story club story is “Stereogram of the Grey Fort, in the Days of Her Glory” by Paul Berger, published by Fantasy Magazine. Of the twelve stories so far, this is my favorite by a fair margin. Now, I’ll admit that I am a complete sucker for stories that show the same events from widely different points of view, but even aside from that, finally this is a story whose ambition matches its length.

Although the stereogram conceit was enough by itself to make me like the story, as used there are a few weaknesses. According to Loran, taken separately each image of the stereogram means nothing, but the story didn’t quite meet this standard. By backloading a lot of context into Jessica’s point of view, the story mimics the feeling of something clicking into place, but in fact if we were just given Jessica’s point of view we would have almost the entire story. As a result the story feels at least as much like the Onion’s point-counterpoint articles as it does a stereogram. Another feature it shares with the Onion’s point-counterpoint is that after you see the way the second part begins, the rest is relatively predictable. I did like the way Jessica took advantage of Loran’s war injury to incapacitate him, though. Finally, Berger cheats slightly by having Jessica’s narrative extend a little farther than Loran’s, but the story’s more than good enough to forgive these small issues.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the setting, and probably the concept the author meant to actually show in the story’s “stereogram”, is the nature of the colonial government. Loran’s narrative makes it very clear that the Elves only respect strength and were in fact disappointed when they finally defeated humans. Unlike the colonial powers of our world, they don’t seem to be extracting labor or natural resources. There’s likewise no equivalent of the White Man’s Burden, or at least, not since the war ended, since they see humans as only being worthy of respect when they are capable of fighting the Elves. Yet Loran says that in his role as a sort of regional governor he is responsible for “teaching” the humans under his control. What could he want to teach them, then, if not to fight back again? It seems like we are meant to conclude that he has essentially planned his own murder. Although this level of manipulation seems well beyond his ability to comprehend human psychology, even Jessica’s despite the link between them, at least we can say he shaped the outline if not the detail of what happened. Thus what might have seemed like a rousing stick-it-to-the-man ending becomes fairly ambiguous. As readers we’re predisposed to be sympathetic to Jessica’s stand, but when we realize that in doing so she’s adopting the values of the colonial power, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Loran has made her into a William Wallace when humanity would be better served by a Mahatma Ghandi.

“The Heart of a Mouse” by KJ Bishop

November 7, 2010 at 1:20 am | Posted in Short Stories | 2 Comments

This week’s short story club story is The Heart of a Mouse by KJ Bishop, published by Subterranean Magazine. It’s about a guy, who’s been turned into a mouse, trying to keep himself and his son, who’s been turned into some sort of gopher-like rodent, alive while journeying across a post-apocalyptic landscape. It seems that this variety of apocalypse involved all of humanity being instantly converted into one of about six or so animal templates, most with only rudimentary intelligence. The landscape has been converted too, so that almost all vestiges of our world have been replaced by the support system to keep this strange pseudo-society moving.

Boiled down like this, this seems like a parody of the post-apocalypse genre. This apocalypse makes no sense whatsoever, but really, do they ever? Meanwhile it literalizes what is usually implicit in the subgenre: the loss of humanity, the emergence of animal instincts, and the destruction of the artifacts of civilization. It’s a situation, and in fact a whole world, that the reader can’t possibly take seriously. Even the characters–the hard-edged father, the naive son, the mother whose death haunts both of them–are right out of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

But the story is completely deadpan. The cartoon world around the characters isn’t even remotely as frightening as McCarthy’s, but the relationship between the narrator and his son is far more dysfunctional. Where McCarthy’s narrator invested his son with his hopes for the future, almost to the point of religion, Bishop’s narrator veers between different shades of despair while his son is the one with the religion, in this case a ludicrous belief system oriented around his dead mother. The story ends on a note of relative optimism, but there doesn’t seem to be much justification for it. The cognitive improvement in the narrator and his son seems to be associated with their proximity to the hut, a last unclaimed bit of our world, and with it gone it seems likely they’ll revert to what they were.

An interesting story, and well written I thought, but while it’s clearly a story in dialogue with the rest of the post-apocalyptic subgenre, I don’t understand what it’s saying. It feels a little like steampunk, having fun indulging in unusual scenery, but ultimately telling an overly familiar story.

“My Father’s Singularity” by Brenda Cooper

October 31, 2010 at 12:43 am | Posted in Short Stories | 1 Comment

This week’s short story club story is “My Father’s Singularity” by Brenda Cooper published in Clarkesworld. This is a very short story (about 2700 words) and to return to something I think I mentioned in an earlier review, at that length a story is best served by picking one thing to communicate, getting that across, and then getting out. “My Father’s Singularity” actually manages to meander, which, while not inappropriate for a story that covers about 45 years or so, means it never really gets around to making a strong point. It gestures towards being a story about the way life moves faster and faster, dallies in a very incomplete consideration of medical ethics, and finally gives its narrator about sixty words to cope with the loss of his father.

Two major elements of the story, namely its narrator Paul and the future he’s moving into, are left mostly to the reader’s imagination. Paul comes off as a fairly cold fish with apparently no emotional attachments except a weak sense of filial duty. We are encouraged to think that Paul, after initial difficulties, has completely left his rural past behind and become wholly modern, but the world around him is given such scanty detail that the reader is left to guess what, if anything, that might imply. His father, theoretically the subject of the story, is given even less time. We learn he likes science fiction books, dogs, farming, and that’s about it. You’d think a man who read science fiction would have some sort of opinion about gene therapy or whatever the magic medicine of Paul’s future is, but the reader isn’t told anything that would clue us in to what he thought. Paul and Mona probably knew, but it doesn’t occur to either of them to mention his preferences when discussing his treatment.

Given how unimpressed I was with Paul, it’s not surprising that I didn’t find the conclusion of the story very moving. Paul, who only a moment ago was saying nothing bad ever happened to him, spends about three sentences coping with the fact his father (a man he was so close to he couldn’t bear to spend more than a day with him) can’t recognize him now. Then the story ends on a vaguely distasteful note by suggesting that getting Alzheimer’s is a singularity in the opposite direction from the SF kind. Perhaps it’s one last bit of characterization: Paul is so self-centered that he feels someone who no longer recognizes him has become something less than human.

One final note: in my (very limited) experience if there are comments on a story on the site where it was published, they tend to be universally effusive. There’s a selection effect there so that’s fine. So it’s interesting to note that there were a surprising number of negative comments on Clarkesworld. Most surprising, given I had plenty of problems with the story, the main criticisms were that it wasn’t SF (even going so far as to calling it mundane) and that the narrator was inadequately male. To me, it’s clearly SF, and when the narrator is such a cipher anyway complaining about the voice is odd. I’m guessing if this was attributed by “B. Cooper” no one would have complained.

“The Cage” by A.M. Dellamonica

October 24, 2010 at 4:57 am | Posted in Short Stories | 2 Comments

This week’s short story club story was “The Cage” by A.M. Dellamonica published on Tor.com. I guess you could call this an alternate history story, since it turns out that humanity discovered “monsterkind” in 2002 and has been struggling to deal with this right up to the present. Just what sort of monsters are out there isn’t specified beyond the werewolves around whom the story is centered, and while the story is told in a very down to earth, realistic tone the rules governing werewolf behavior are never spelled out. Does the werewolf remain a free moral agent while changed? Does their intelligence remain that of a human or does it regress toward that of a wolf?

The story doesn’t concern itself with such details, preferring to focus on werewolves and society. It seems that lycanthropes are on the receiving end of a great deal of hatred, prejudice, and violence. This is where my problems began with the story. Positioning werewolves as a stand-in for persecuted minorities is all well and good, but just like when the X-men movies did this, there’s kind of a weird dissonance. It’s taken decades to convince society that minority racial, religious, and sexual identities need not be threatening, yet when taken at face value, most of the mutants in X-men really are kind of threatening. If Scott Summers gets drunk and becomes careless with his glasses, he could kill thousands of people in a few minutes. In this story, werewolves are depicted as being extremely fast and deadly, but because the story never makes clear how functional the werewolf’s mind is while changed, it’s ambiguous just how valid the concerns of the anti-werewolf faction are. The story takes it for granted they are hateful bigots, of course, and makes them act the part, but the best evidence presented for the innocuousness of werewolves amounts to “no one’s been murdered when the moon is full lately.”

In fact, I spent the entire story struggling with the worldbuilding. Not the picture it paints of Vancouver, which seemed readily believable (and probably based to a large degree on the author’s experience there), but of everything having to do with the werewolves. It seems that werewolves successfully hid the fact they even existed right up to 2002, but now are helpless in the face of anti-werewolf vigilantes. Most of the action of the story revolves around the struggle to deal with a baby werewolf, and while that was an interesting spin on the werewolf concept, one I hadn’t seen before, it again doesn’t make sense given the story’s invented history. The werewolf’s surrogate mother comes from a long line of werewolves, and yet she seems to be inventing procedures for raising a werewolf baby from first principles. She knows a werewolf society that will take the child in but for reasons never articulated they will only do so at age five, even though it’s clearly in their best interest to keep poorly constrained baby werewolves from bringing disrepute and thus further persecution on werewolves as a whole. Also, I don’t know anything about Canadian law, but the villain apparently traveled to Canada, found a werewolf’s associate, tortured this person to get the werewolf’s location, went there and killed her, and now is in danger of escaping conviction because he said it was self defense. How is that even remotely believable? What about the whole torture thing? Was that self defense too?

Since I never got over my strong sense of disbelief in the story’s world, it’s not surprising I didn’t end up caring too much about the characters and their struggles. I did find it amusing that the author managed to find a way for her progressive characters to fight The Man, complete with a climactic stare down of police officers…while at the same time pinning all their hopes for the future in the Canadian court system. In general the story seemed a little confused as to the proper role of the government and rule of law in all this. On one hand, the government was the only thing restraining the vigilantes, but on the other, half the police department were themselves vigilantes and substantial swaths of the populace (the people who will be voting for the people writing the laws in the future) seemed sympathetic to the whole killing werewolves thing. Meanwhile, one of the characters mentions that having werewolves around can be considered a benefit because they “keep the rest of monsterkind away”, implying perhaps that werewolves are themselves anti-other-monster vigilantes, or else that, well, werewolves are basically like us, but these other monsters, they don’t deserve to be integrated into society and the rule of law. And how, one wonders, do werewolves keep the bad monsters away on those days (most of them, I believe) when the moon isn’t full?

I will note in passing that, in contrast to some of the other stories in this series, this one had a beginning, a middle, and an end. You wouldn’t think this would be unusual enough to be worthy of note, but, well, apparently it is.

“No Time Like the Present” by Carol Emshwiller

October 17, 2010 at 2:28 am | Posted in Short Stories | 1 Comment

This week’s short story club story is “No Time Like the Present” by Carol Emshwiller, published in Lightspeed Magazine. I don’t think I’ve ever read a time travel story that left me so uncertain as to when it was happening. The narrator refers to a depression in the second sentence. There’s much about the story that feels appropriate for the Great Depression, from the narrator’s voice to the pace of her life to Tarzan and John Carter references. On the other hand, the narrator talks of televisions, uses the word computer, and while I had to look it up, tasers weren’t invented until the seventies (named after Tom Swift, strangely enough). So when does this story take place?

My first inclination, reading the story, was that the author was going for a 1930s setting and just made a few mistakes. After finishing it, though, I looked her up and, whoops, she grew up in the Great Depression. I think she knows what it was like. So then I decided she must have been shooting for a modern voice and just not done it very well. Then I wondered if it might be on purpose. Gene Wolfe, although amazingly he is ten years younger than Emshwiller, has recently written several stories and novels set explicitly in the future while using a deliberately old-fashioned voice. There was no similar explicit marking here, though. So at length I’ve decided the ambiguity must have been intentional. The references to tasers on the one hand and Tarzan on the other are too overt. Given the Marietta’s causality concerns, the implication must be that the timeline is already altered from ours (or vice versa, I guess).

Unfortunately there wasn’t a whole lot else interesting about the story. Structurally it’s similar to Rendezvous with Rama (and a whole lot of other older SF stories, but I find Rama a useful template) in that the story introduces an idea, explores it somewhat, then eschews strong resolution in favor of an ambiguous ending. Clarke used this structure to invoke a feeling of awe from the reader. God moves in mysterious ways, and whoever built the Rama spacecraft was sufficiently advanced that, well, you know. Unfortunately this story doesn’t get nearly as much mileage from its vague ending, and the familiar idea of future people struggling to cope with living in the past wasn’t interesting enough to me to carry the weight the story placed on it. There is briefly a mystery as to the true nature of the new people, but it is resolved very early in the story. The time dislocation effect is pretty unusual but the story never goes anywhere with it, so all told this was another story that was just too insubstantial for my taste.

“Miguel and the Viatura” by Eric Gregory

October 10, 2010 at 4:07 am | Posted in Short Stories | 2 Comments

This week’s short story club story is “Miguel and the Viatura” by Eric Gregory from Futurismic. The preceding note describes it as a near-future version of “urban vampire” stories (I didn’t realize vampire fiction has subgenres now), but to me it felt like Gregory was taking the ideas of Stephenson’s Diamond Age but writing it in the mode of William Gibson (that is to say, without Stephenson’s satire).

My reaction to the story is similar to how I felt about “A Serpent in the Gears”. That story was steampunk and this one is cyberpunk (or post-cyberpunk, or whatever it’s called this week) but both stories spend almost their entire length on introductions. We are introduced to the titular Miguel and his brother, but, like “Serpent”, the emphasis is on introducing the world. Also like “Serpent”, this story assembles a set of tropes common to its subgenre almost as if it is ticking off boxes: poverty-stricken non-first world setting, telepresence, nanites, environmental problems, evil corporations, and a technofetishist cult, just to name some of the big ones. Like “Serpent” it does a good job with these things, and is in fact tied together with what I thought was somewhat stronger writing, but alas it has a final similarity with “Serpent” in that I found the plot to be incomplete and unsatisfying.

“Serpent” ran into issues with me when it introduced two problems for its characters, a small one I didn’t care about (the mission) and a large one that was more interesting (the reshaped society), then only resolved the former. “Miguel and the Viatura” really is telling a single story about Miguel’s fall from grace, but it just stops. Miguel doesn’t work to redeem himself or hit rock bottom, the two ways most of these stories usually end. He doesn’t even reach any kind of equilibrium in his new circumstances, which probably would have also worked. The story could have ended anywhere in the second half of the story and had the same (small) amount of resolution. The only things we learn at the end–that Miguel’s brother had an ulterior motive in disposing of his parent’s corpse in a soft echo of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and that the police and/or the evil corporation are tracking Miguel–were obvious from the start.

As it is, it feels like a good first chapter to a book, but not a satisfying short story.

“The Red Bride” by Samantha Henderson

October 3, 2010 at 12:30 am | Posted in Short Stories | Leave a comment

This week’s short story club story is “The Red Bride” by Samantha Henderson, published in Strange Horizons. This is a very short story. Not quite flash fiction, I suppose, but it’s well under two thousand words. The shorter a story is, the harder it becomes to tell a satisfying story. Henderson makes this even harder, in my opinion, by essentially telling two linked stories instead of one. The story is ostensibly about the titular Red Bride, related in casual second person by an unnamed alien narrator to a human child. The second story, embedded in the first, is about how this alien servant has become fond of its master’s child and wants to save him from a sort of slave uprising. The first is less a story than a concept and the latter is so simple it would be about four sentences long if presented unadorned.

The narrator spends a lot of time (relative to the story’s overall length, at least) talking about the differences between Var and human ways of thinking, but never seems at all different in its own thinking and, indeed, eventually endorses the idea that humans and Var have identical psychologies. If the two species are “one under the skin”, why does the story open with several paragraphs complaining about the listener’s (and readers’) human preconceptions? As far as I can tell the Red Bride is an allegory for revolutionary rage, which is interesting, but allegory is hardly an alien mode.

I spent most of the story preoccupied by what the story implies about humans in the story. The position of the servants seems mostly analogous to manor house slavery, and the narrator (who is apparently an optimist among Var when it comes to humans) takes it for granted that if humans discover they can get shiny rocks from Var corpses they will harvest them as if the Var were animals. While there’s plenty of historical examples of this sort of thing, I have a hard time believing future humans would act this way. It’s not that it couldn’t happen again…humans are gifted at rationalization…but I feel like such a regression in ethics needs to be explained. I can imagine all sorts of reasons, but none are provided.

It occurs to me that while I read this story as science fiction, it might actually be fantasy. Glancing back over the story, the only thing I can point to is the “seeded race” concept, which is a trope from the science fiction tradition. But even if these are alternate humans instead of future humans, the story comes off to me as preachy, but the message (underestimating and oppressing people who look different is bad) is so widely held by the story’s likely audience I feel like this couldn’t have been the author’s intention. One of the comments on Strange Horizons calls the story “an interesting echo…of such real-life events as the Haitian uprising and the Sepoy mutiny”. At the risk of sounding like a mainstream reviewer writing off a genre story, I don’t see what purpose the genre element serves if that’s the goal. If this same story was translated into historical fiction in one of those settings, even leaving it the same length, I feel like it would be much more effective.

It’s interesting to compare this week’s story to the first one, Peter Watts’ “The Things”. Both feature alien narrators meditating on the differences between themselves and humans and both revolve around conflict and misunderstandings between humans and aliens. I preferred the way “The Red Bride” positions its text in time and space versus the other narration’s lack of context, but otherwise I think “The Things” is a better story on all fronts. Part of this can be put down to length, but the hive narrator was both more interesting and far better realized.

“Second Journey of the Magus” by Ian R MacLeod

September 25, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Posted in Short Stories | Leave a comment

Most speculative fiction dismisses, vilifies, or satirizes established religion, but a few stories explore its implications using the genre’s formidable set of tools. I’m not sure what this subgenre is called. Religious speculative fiction? Although as subgenres go it’s not very popular, there are some very famous stories in it, like Arthur C Clarke’s “The Star”, Mary Doria Russell’s novel The Sparrow (which I reviewed here in January), and Ted Chiang’s stories “Tower of Babylon”, “Hell is the Absence of God”, and “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”. Ted Chiang’s stories (like almost all of his stories whether religion is involved or not) are about free will, but most are about the problem of evil.

I’m sure I could be forgetting something, but I think that this week’s short story club story, “Second Journey of the Magus” from Subterranean Magazine, is the first story of this kind I’ve read that is principally about the role of faith. The magus of the title is one of the three magi (sometimes translated as kings or wise men, words the story awkwardly drops in to make sure the reader has caught the reference), returned to the Roman province of Judea thirty-four years after Jesus’ birth. This is a sort of religious alternate history, and it seems that Jesus has used his power to make himself king of the Jews and is now leading a rebellion against Rome. The point of divergence is when the Devil tempts Jesus on the roof of the temple. While the other temptations asked Jesus to use his power to escape suffering and to reign on earth, this one was about dispelling doubt. If Jesus flings himself off the temple and is caught up by angels, everyone who sees this will know beyond a shadow of a doubt he is sent by God.

In the story Jesus throws himself off the temple, and the result is a world without doubt. Angels train armies who fight with flaming swords, the righteous dead are visibly preserved for their later resurrection, and the streets of Jerusalem are paved with gold. Still, the magus is not satisfied. All his life he has struggled with doubt, and seeing all these signs plain before him does not end it. In fact, it seems to intensify it. The supernatural powers of this alternate Christ are not in doubt, but to follow him still requires faith: faith that he is good. There is, in fact, plenty of reason to doubt this. The magus makes the usual appeal to the problem of evil, citing Herod’s infanticide as an example, but there is the small matter of Jesus’ original mission. The devil is described as being present and Jesus himself references sacrificing his own life as what he “could have” done. The magus wonders why this new Jerusalem needs walls given the power of its leader, but the implication is pretty clear: having thrown in his lot with the devil, Jesus and his new earthly kingdom are eventually going to be fighting God, not Rome.

“Hell is the Absence of God” also posits a world without doubt, but where Chiang was exploring the implications of modern Christian doctrine, here MacLeod seems to be trying to present counterfactual justification (note “seems”…I don’t actually know the author’s beliefs). “Second Journey of the Magus” is one answer to those who would question why an all-powerful God would keep in the shadows. MacLeod’s answer is that if God’s presence is undoubtable then there’s no more room for us. The kingdom he depicts offers wealth and happiness but there is no more room for human agency. Jesus makes this explicit when he disparagingly describes what humans will do if left to their own devices and implies he has made a better world. Better for him, but in the face of such power humans can only be slaves.

This is obviously an idea story, but it’s a pretty good one if you are interested in religious questions. It doesn’t have the elegance of Chiang’s best work, but it’s subtle and thought-provoking. I might like it even more if I understood the ending, which I confess somewhat eluded me. At first I thought the magus was summoning the devil, but since he’s already spoken to Jesus, I don’t see what the devil would add. Given that it’s the site of at least part of Jesus’ temptation, I then thought perhaps he was somehow changing history to get Jesus to choose differently and thus produce our timeline, but that seems vastly beyond his capabilities. If he’s summoning an angel or some aspect of the true God then why did he need to come all this way to answer his questions?

“Elegy for a Young Elk” by Hannu Rajaniemi

September 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Posted in Short Stories | 5 Comments

This week’s story is “Elegy for a Young Elk” by Hannu Rajaniemi from Subterranean Magazine. Despite the rustic name and opening scene, it turns out this is a post-singularity story. Last week Evan complained about characters “straight out of steampunk central casting”, but using stock material doesn’t bother me too much. It’s a good thing, because this story’s plot feels like it’s the only story anyone ever tells about the singularity. Vaguely described transhumans fighting vaguely described self-replicating “plague”, all right out of Fire Upon the Deep. I’m not sure if the story is even comprehensible to someone unfamiliar with the tropes involved. The family connections between the three categories of post-singularity life were a bit of a new twist, but also a twist that felt fairly contrived.

The star of the story, for me, was the magic lamp genie nanomachine device commanded by poetry. Generally I have a tin ear for poetry, but I actually was pretty impressed by the narrator’s train poem. But the poetry business was also the biggest disappointment since it was only used once. Well, once, and then sort of at the end, which almost ruined the story for me. In a great story, Esa would have been trapped and died, but his father would have used an epic poem to recreate something like him out the magic bean nanoseed. In this story, Esa uses magic quantum something or other to hide from the city’s magic guardian firewall. This was an enormous cop out of an ending. If this firewall was so easily duped, why couldn’t he escape before? I suppose the story implies his mother is helping out from her end, but come on.

So in conclusion…hmm, give me a minute here…let’s go with number five…so, in conclusion, I enjoyed this story despite my complaints because it didn’t try to do too much (like last week’s story) or too little (like the first two stories). It probably was not as well written as some of the previous short story club stories, but I liked it more. I guess this could just be evidence I have a greater affinity for the setting and tropes involved, but unlike most of the previous stories, this one paired its chosen subgenre with a narrative that had a clear beginning, middle, and end. I think it’s useful to contrast this with last week’s steampunk story. That story was much more expansive in its worldbuilding and the ideas it was trying to work with, but for me, at least, there wasn’t adequate resolution. This story aims much lower, but I came away feeling much more positive.

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