How the brand new range is remodeling science fiction’s future

What does the long run maintain? In our new sequence “Imagining the Subsequent Future,” Polygon explores the brand new period of science fiction — in films, books, TV, video games, and past — to see how storytellers and innovators are imagining the subsequent 10, 20, 50, or 100 years throughout a second of maximum uncertainty. Observe alongside as we deep dive into the good unknown.

When Polygon talked to a sequence of execs concerning the greatest methods science fiction has modified over the previous decade, they famous shifts in the whole lot from publishing tendencies to well-liked themes to using social media to construct communities. However each certainly one of them touched on one main thought: For the final 10 years, science fiction literature has been radically diversifying, with extra tales and books being imported from different nations, and extra LGBTQ authors and writers of shade being acknowledged and celebrated within the style than ever earlier than.

However what does that truly imply to the sector? It’s simple to say “Science fiction is extra inclusive than it was,” or “authors are extra various.” However how is that truly effecting change, and what does it imply for the subsequent decade of science fiction? We reached out to a gaggle of BIPOC editors and curators working in science fiction what to ask what sorts of modifications they’re seeing within the area to this point, and what they suppose and hope the subsequent decade will maintain because of the best way authorship is altering.

[Ed. note: All quotes have been edited for concision and clarity.]

How are you seeing science fiction change proper now?

Nivia Evans, Editor, Orbit/Redhook: What I’ve seen as we get a wider array of individuals within the area is the best way conventional tropes or tales out of the blue really feel contemporary and new as quickly as they’re taken out of the anticipated locations. Like, The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull is a first-contact story, however it takes place within the Virgin Islands. A number of the beats are acquainted — the encounter with the alien, and making an attempt to grasp what the world is — however you’re being taken to an island nation that’s lengthy been pressured to really feel insignificant on the worldwide scale, and now they’re the primary place of alien contact, and so they’re within the public eye. That to me feels thrilling. It’s what you need to do within the style general. In science fiction or fantasy, we’re used to working with tropes. That’s what individuals actually love. They love seeing the issues they grew up with remixed and rehashed. And as quickly as you add new voices and cultures, new views, the issues individuals might have been uninterested in really feel authentic.

The cover of Tade Thompson’s Rosewater

Picture: Stressed Books

Ruoxi Chen, Affiliate editor, TorDotCom Publishing: The query being requested in dystopic tales is not so simple as, “What if this factor that’s all the time occurred to marginalized individuals occurred to the individuals in energy?” Science fiction is digging into different histories. We speak about science fiction as this style that all the time appears to be like to the long run, however it’s very a lot a style about historical past. So a extra sophisticated and intense exploration of that historical past, which can be a narrative of our future, is what I see occurring now, and what I need to see extra of sooner or later. If the outdated canon was written by the empire, then the way forward for the style is being crafted and formed by the kids and grandchildren of that empire, the individuals who had been affected by these horrible histories. You possibly can’t write science fiction in 2020 with out wanting that within the eye. Each the current and the long run are as a lot about Edward Stated as Philip Ok. Dick.

Christina Orlando, Books editor, Tor.com: I like bizarre shit! I like issues that break conventional codecs. I believe speculative fiction is primed and able to be actually, actually bizarre. I like post-textual stuff like epistolary novels, like This Is How You Lose the Time Battle, the place you may have extra-narrative data. I’m additionally actually excited for podcasting. There’s tons and plenty of cool stuff by marginalized voices occurring in podcasting. Once we’re speaking about sci-fi, we will’t simply speak about literature, as a result of podcasting is narrative fiction that usually will get neglected of the dialog. And there’s plenty of cool stuff like, Jordan Cobb’s Janus Descending, a extremely stunning podcast that’s sci-fi horror by a Black feminine creator. They’re doing so many cool issues. I’m actually excited to see the place podcasting goes.

Ruoxi Chen: With the rise of audiobooks got here the rise of indie podcast manufacturing firms, which have actually contributed to our understanding of sci-fi media. Expertise helps individuals who would have been thought of hobbyists attain a degree of manufacturing high quality indistinguishable from skilled homes. The interplay between creators and fandom was already fairly shut in sci-fi. That’s all the time been certainly one of its standout options. And we’re going to see the 2 sides merging increasingly, leading to much more fascinating methods of interactive storytelling.

Nivia Evans: All of us grew up with Western narrative views, like, “That is how a narrative is informed. That is how a plot develops.” However narrative construction is cultural. Once you drill down into how tales are informed throughout the Black diaspora, and what’s inherited from completely different locations, you get contemporary methods of taking a look at science fiction. Possibly it’s not all the time the normal hero’s journey. Possibly issues are damaged down and reversed, or barely out of order, with flashbacks or retrospectives, you’re piecing collectively narratives in several methods. MEM by Bethany C. Morrow does a extremely fascinating factor with that, and Rosewater by Tade Thompson, one other alien-contact story set in a city known as Rosewater in Nigeria. They play with narrative construction and expectations. That may really feel messy, however it additionally makes conventional tales really feel contemporary and authentic.

Diana M. Pho, Story Producer, Serial Field: Our understanding of science fiction has grown because it’s grow to be half of popular culture. Even 5 years in the past, I’d have been hard-pressed to elucidate the butterfly impact in a time-travel story to most individuals. However now, as a result of there’s a lot science fiction leisure on the whole, there’s a extra frequent understanding of what sci-fi means, and it has a broader attain than ever earlier than. The intersection of science fiction tradition and popular culture goes to vary the subsequent decade. There’s a collision course between what makes sensible fiction, style fiction, and literary fiction. It’s all merging increasingly. So we’re going to begin seeing extra books that may have been marketed as “style” being marketed as business mainstream fiction, as a result of individuals already get the ideas. You don’t have to elucidate something.

Angeline Rodriguez, Affiliate Editor, Orbit Books: Readers have invested in infinite particular subgenres due to the curation of expertise that’s been on the rise in all points of our lives. There’s this directed client expertise that’s advertising one thing very particularly — you’ll be able to go on Goodreads and take a look at the classes and say, “I need a science fiction novel, I would like it to have spaceships, I would like it to have hyperdrives, I would like it to have an ensemble solid.” You possibly can search by very slim parameters, all the way down to the tropes and the narrative expertise. The nicheness and specificity of these classes has helped authors discover readers who’re searching for a really particular factor.

However plenty of publishers are struggling to determine the best way to promote discovery, the best way to have a reader take an opportunity on a e book they won’t usually decide up. I believe it’s more and more necessary for sci-fi to reinvent itself, to attempt to introduce readers to one thing they won’t know they’ll love.

The cover of Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores

Picture: MCD x FSG Originals

Ruoxi Chen: A whole lot of probably the most thrilling work is being completed not with books, however with brief fiction. Fiyah journal, Uncanny, Lightspeed — there are a bunch of wonderful short-form publications. Typically probably the most fascinating stuff is occurring in a thousand phrases, or 5 thousand, relatively than at e book size. Longer initiatives have emerged from these tales, however the barrier to entry is clearly smaller than getting a e book contract, so there’s a lot thrilling work occurring there. In the event you’re searching for the primary breaths of one thing within the style shifting, it’s within the brief fiction.

Nivia Evans: There’s the enjoyable facet of science fiction. I believe all of us go into it for the journey. However the best way science fiction began, outdoors of the pew-pew, shoot-’em-up ray-guns side of it, is speaking about tradition and society. I perceive the escapism of science fiction, however a few of our greatest books, our traditional science fiction, nonetheless had political messages. Dune at each level, particularly within the later books, is working to tear down the concepts of oligarchy, of divine rulers, of firms. What we get from studying Ray Bradbury and plenty of nice authors like that’s social commentary that makes use of science fiction to have a look at society as an entire, and take it aside and analyze it.

I don’t know if it’s as a result of I’m an individual of shade, however having authors of shade deconstruct society and tie it to issues that really feel related to their lives offers these tales extra influence. You’re robotically being pushed to consider the actual world throughout the context of the narrative. To me, that’s the better part about science fiction — taking this enjoyable, pleasurable textual content and pondering, “How will we extrapolate this to our lives? Is it fascinated by what house journey appears to be like like? However then, if we’re all dwelling in house, is it additionally taking a look at how ladies are handled?” You possibly can extrapolate so many issues out of science fiction.

What do you need to see extra of over the subsequent 10 years?

Priyanka Krishnan, Senior Editor, Orbit Books: I want to see extra creativeness in experimenting with narrative construction and the strategies of worldbuilding. Worldbuilding in SF/F is expansive, as a result of the settings are sometimes touring spaceships or warring kingdoms or post-apocalyptic landscapes. However the texture of that worldbuilding lies within the small particulars, and people particulars are sometimes very a lot knowledgeable, deliberately or unconsciously, by a author’s personal expertise. So if a part of what inclusivity means is for readers to have the ability to acknowledge themselves within the small particulars, then one of the best ways to attain that’s to be publishing tales from a spectrum of voices, and all they will convey to the method of making distinctive worlds, even when the fundamental touchpoints are acquainted. I believe we nonetheless have work to do on that entrance over the subsequent 10 years. And it’s not one thing that’s particular to sci-fi, actually!

Angeline Rodriguez: That is my bias coming by, however I’d particularly like to see a return to kind for Latinx speculative fiction. A number of the style’s earliest origins, in magical realism and surrealism, had their most formative literary actions in Latin America already, with traditional authors like Jorge Luis Borges, or Gabriel García Marquez, or Machado de Assis. I don’t essentially need the Latin group to attempt to re-create these genres of bygone eras, a lot as seize the spirit of that by as soon as once more changing into the standard-bearers of latest methods of writing. I believe we’re seeing the beginnings of this beginning to occur with authors like Carmen Marie Machado, or Silvia Moreno-Garcia, or Mariana Enriquez, who’re reinventing horror in plenty of alternative ways. I’d like to see that occur in depth with science fiction.

Fernando Flores is doing actually fascinating issues with sci-fi concerning the Texas-Mexico border. He has a e book known as Tears of the Trufflepig that’s satirical sci-fi. There’s a Cuban writer who goes by Yoss who’s recasting style conventions, utilizing house opera, to deal with colonialism within the Caribbean. So typically with new writing from underrepresented authors, you see it pitched as, “, it’s Lord of the Rings, however various!” Or “It’s Dune, however it’s brown!” There are good causes for doing it that method, primarily based on how the business operates. You’re typically making an attempt to re-create success. However I want to see not, “This is identical outdated style you like, however with additional melanin,” however new genres totally, which are born from a non-white expertise. Like they presuppose not-whiteness of their origins. I simply really need style to be centered from the margins, in the end.

Christina Orlando: I’d actually wish to see extra science fiction that reimagines programs that not serve us. That features post-capitalist futures and post-carceral-state futures. I’d actually wish to see extra fiction that toggles jail abolition and issues like that, futures shifting past capitalism, shifting oppression. The development towards hopepunk that we’re seeing proper now’s particularly key for marginalized voices. I’ve seen plenty of queer writers tackling hopepunk futures, particularly imagining queer-normative futures, just like the one in Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee. These are issues I’m actually enthusiastic about seeing.

I’m additionally actually enthusiastic about publishers like Fiyah and smaller short-fiction publishers pushing the envelope and being actually leaders in our area, and the Kickstarters which have popped up recently for speculative-fiction magazines coming from marginalized voices. I’m actually excited to see the place that takes us.

Priyanka Krishnan: Personally, I like tales that dare to be optimistic, and I want to see much more of that throughout the board. Uplifting tales can really be actually useful and therapeutic for readers. It makes sci-fi just a little completely different from fantasy, as a result of fantasy normally takes place in a secondary world. There are parallels to our lives, however on the finish of the day, you’re speaking about secondary worlds and magic, whereas with science fiction, you’re speaking about our doable futures. So recently, I’ve been shifting away from darker, colder, dystopian reads, and wanting tales that dare to think about how we get previous these darkish moments into a greater future.

Angeline Rodriguez: I want to see authors feeling much less constrained by style checkpoints. What a science fiction author is may be up for interpretation and redefinition. Within the earliest origins of the style, greats like Ursula Ok. Le Guin and Octavia Butler oscillated between writing science fiction and fantasy with nice facility. They blurred the strains between these two genres. And their science fiction accommodates many different disparate genres, like horror. They had been in a position to experiment with style in a method that as markets solidified and consistency of writer model grew to become extra necessary, we noticed much less of.

We’re seeing a renaissance of that percolating, with authors like N.Ok. Jemisin or Ann Leckie, who’ve revealed books in quite a lot of genres, and have reinvented science fiction so it extra resembles epic fantasy, or writing fantasy that borrows the perfect elements of science fiction. They haven’t been as restricted by style partitions. It might be very nice to see underrepresented authors — I simply know there are such a lot of individuals with only a wealth of untamed concepts — reinvent these style conventions.

Christina Orlando: So this can be my favourite factor that’s ever occurred in my complete life: Oscar Isaac did an interview about how he didn’t match within the seats within the Millennium Falcon, as a result of they weren’t constructed for ethnic hips. We now have quite a bit to speak about in science fiction about the way forward for physique positivity, the way forward for non-white lead characters and non-white our bodies being normalized. We’re speaking quite a bit proper now about character descriptions being racially charged, and the way we will transfer away from that by normalizing ethnic options, and having equipment and spaceships constructed for non-white our bodies, in ways in which have a good time them. In the identical method, we will discuss concerning the trans expertise being portrayed in futurism. I simply need extra individuals to appear to be me! It’ll be necessary sooner or later to have various kinds of characters, with out demonizing the best way we glance.

The cover of Yoon Ha Lee’s Phoenix Extravagant

Picture: Solaris

Ruoxi Chen: All the massive firms try to interrupt demand down into algorithms and particular person pathways, to determine what individuals need, and the way they entry them. Due to that, I believe writers are being bolder and braver. Marginalized writers again been held again traditionally by feeling that they had to determine the sport, like, what does it take to succeed in case you are an individual of shade, for those who’re queer, for those who’re poor? How do you break into these circles that appear inaccessible to you? Some marginalized writers had been pondering, “We’ve gotta construct our personal retailers, we’ve received to do it ourselves.” Others had been making an attempt to assimilate as a way to get revealed. Over the subsequent 10 years, I believe the thought of assimilation on the whole will likely be damaged down. Writers will have the ability to really feel extra open about writing primarily based on their experiences, primarily based on their communities, actually tackling points that they beforehand may need been afraid to speak about, in concern of sounding too area of interest.

Christina Orlando: We discuss quite a bit concerning the X-Males downside, the place there are sci-fi stand-ins for racism. We’re exploring racism or prejudice, however the victims are mutants or aliens or robots, or not human not directly. It’s implied that we’re speaking about racism, however we don’t really speak about race. These are issues I need to transfer away from. I believe it’s an intuition for sci-fi writers to speak concerning the different on this method. However we have to speak about extra refined ranges. What does it imply if somebody is Latinx in house, and Mexico doesn’t exist? What does it imply to think about our tradition in that form of future? I need to see us shifting previous the metaphors science fiction has been counting on for a extremely very long time.

Diana M. Pho: Folks have already talked about range, inclusion, and illustration as super-important. However linked to that concept is the idea of group and character-driven narratives, and the significance of specificity. Usually in mainstream publishing, individuals discuss concerning the idea of universality — your story must be common to succeed in the broadest viewers doable as a way to be a business success. Now, I believe that sense of universality is being damaged down in favor of specificity. Specificity will now be linked to what makes a common story, versus making an attempt to encapsulate a broad, basic thought of humanity.

Angeline Rodriguez: I’d like to see sci-fi contend extra with realism, which sounds paradoxical, however it’s actually not. Lots of people consider sci-fi inherently as escapism or surrealism. However I believe it’s a style that may very a lot replicate our actuality in a method that makes realist novels appear to be fantasy. In the event you’re escaping to a supposedly realist world, like, “I’m an Irish schoolgirl in love with my far more well-liked classmate,” these items even have their artifices and conventions. We have to come to phrases with the truth that sci-fi shouldn’t be inherently a non-realist class. In plenty of methods, it’s extra geared up to reckon with our injustice in a method different genres aren’t. I want to see extra reckoning with colonialism, with colorism, with wealth inequality, with the facility of the chauvinist governments. Folks outdoors the style typically need to assume it’s all similar to spaceships and laser beams, however there’s normally one thing a lot nearer to residence powering that engine.

I believe sci-fi is uniquely certified to do this work, particularly, as a result of it’s a counterfactual style. It’s compelling you to think about issues not as they’re. Clearly you should utilize that to think about a greater future, a utopic future, however you may as well use it to think about a world the place the dystopic qualities of the actual world are highlighted in a selected method that makes them simpler to reckon with.

Priyanka Krishnan: There are plenty of authors popping out of China, and plenty of works in translation from there. I don’t know that India has matched up by way of being a market to that degree, however I don’t suppose that’s resulting from a scarcity of voices on this house. It’s positively a spot I want to be tapping into extra by way of looking for out new voices, whether or not it’s works in translation, or not. There are plenty of actually fascinating issues to probe for a author popping out of India for those who’re speaking concerning the future. A whole lot of sci-fi is clearly primarily based on present situations, and whether or not you’re speaking about local weather change or inhabitants points or class disparity, there’s plenty of material to discover in India. I’m positively seeing far fewer Indian sci-fi authors than I would really like. I hope that’s one thing that may proceed to vary over the subsequent 10 years.

Christina Orlando: Science fiction helps us think about potentialities, however I wrestle with that quite a bit. I don’t need to put that work on to writers. It’s probably not their job to think about higher futures for humanity. I believe speculative fiction, sci-fi writers particularly, like doing that, however we shouldn’t be counting on writers to do this. That must be the job of individuals in cost, like politicians and world leaders.

I need to keep away from saying, “Fiction conjures up individuals, and we wish everybody to take up arms like Katniss Everdeen!” I believe that’s actually reductive. However I additionally suppose studying fiction that imagines higher futures, the place individuals see themselves represented and see potentialities mirrored that they perhaps by no means thought had been doable, that does crack individuals open to query how they’re represented in the actual world. It’s not about giving solutions, however permitting for extra questions.

The cover of Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard

Picture: Subterranean Press

Ruoxi Chen: Studying creates empathy, and linked to empathy is curiosity. There’s a lot sci-fi content material as a result of there are such a lot of various kinds of tales, and individuals are all the time searching for one thing new. That’s a driving drive for them to take an opportunity on tales by marginalized creators, tales outdoors their consolation zone, tales that happen in a setting they might not dwell in, or a society which will haven’t encountered earlier than in actual life, however will certainly examine in a e book. I believe individuals are searching for that sense of originality and newness.

Angeline Rodriguez: Irrespective of the place style goes, there are tons of and tons of of sci-fi books revealed yearly. The books individuals have liked, and proceed to like, that is likely to be a sure method, or is likely to be a sure kind of particular person writing them that individuals don’t need to see change — these are nonetheless going to be revealed. The style increasing to new audiences doesn’t imply there’s much less of the pie for the present viewers. That is about making the pie larger on the whole. Some individuals are all the time going to understand range as “If you have one thing, I can’t have one thing,” which couldn’t be farther from the reality. We’re making an attempt to make the viewers even larger and extra inclusive, and extra adventurous.


To conclude every interview, we requested contributors to suggest a couple of books that symbolize what they need to see in the way forward for science fiction.

Angeline Rodriguez: Fernando Flores’ Tears of the Trufflepig is Thomas Pynchon with a punk-rock sensibility, and an ideal instance of what SF located within the entice door between the actual and unreal can do — it performs with the borders of style continuously, happening fairly actually on an alternate-universe Texas-Mexico border the place a 3rd wall is being erected and a black market of extinct animals and indigenous ache prospers. It’s a funhouse mirror of our headlines that will get to the crux of why they exist a lot extra successfully and cleverly than the newest “sensible” white-penned narco-thriller.

And I like Marissa Levien’s novel The World Offers Method as a result of it takes the technology ship, which is such a traditional SF setting, and grounds it so totally in a day-to-day that appears and feels a lot like our personal, and is topic to its similar hazards and heartbreaks, that it feels even stranger in a method than the far-future visions of Gene Wolfe or Arthur C. Clarke.

Nivia Evans: I discussed Rosewater by Tade Thompson. It’s super-smart and bold, but in addition very grounded and accessible. One in every of my favourite books is Well-known Males Who By no means Lived, by Ok. Chess. It’s actually enjoyable. It has multi-dimensional journey, however it’s so character-focused and grounded. It’s the story of an individual from a parallel dimension coming to ours as a refugee, and occurring the hunt for his or her favourite science-fiction novelist, who was super-famous of their world, and by no means actually took off in ours. I believe that’s only a intelligent method of speaking about misplaced tradition and what it means to have to begin new. One other of my favourite books just lately is A Large Ship on the Fringe of the Universe by Alex White. It’s all the thrill of science fiction — a giant ensemble solid on a quest.

Priyanka Krishnan: I like Becky Chambers, who wrote The Lengthy Method to a Small, Offended Planet, A Closed and Widespread Orbit, and Report of a Spaceborne Few. They’re tales about character relationships, and the way we maintain one another. There’s quite a bit about innovation, and aliens, and house adventures, however there’s only a heat and compassion to her storytelling. Her Wayfarers sequence is about misfit crews, people and aliens alike, having adventures on ships. It’s very acquainted territory for SF readers, however there may be such coronary heart to her storytelling, and thoughtfulness in the best way she creates her characters and explores their relationships. Her books are like a comfy sweater!

And C.A. Fletcher’s A Boy and His Canine on the Finish of the World is a superb post-apocalyptic story that manages to seize each the desolation and the great thing about touring by the ruins of the world, and it options some superb canine, none of whom are harmed, don’t fear. And I lastly just lately learn All Methods Crimson, the primary within the Murderbot Diaries sequence by Martha Wells, which I can solely describe as pleasant.

Christina Orlando: I’ve to shout out my man Tochi Onyebuchi. Riot Child is probably the most spectacular factor I’ve learn in a extremely very long time. Ken Liu’s The Hidden Lady and Different Tales simply blew my thoughts. I went bonkers for a stable three days studying that. It’s simply so wild and thrilling. It tackles plenty of large questions on the way forward for expertise, and the way we talk, and maintain relationships going over the web. That’s actually thrilling to me. I discussed Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee, which is a queer-normative future with mechs, which is all the time fuckin’ cool. There’s plenty of stuff popping out subsequent 12 months that I’m actually enthusiastic about. S. Qiouyi Lu has a cyberpunk e book popping out from Tor.com Publishing subsequent 12 months, which is known as Within the Watchful Metropolis. S is a spectacular, sensible human being. So I’m very enthusiastic about that.

Ruoxi Chen: Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Child was written within the wake of what’s been occurring in America. He’s responding to Eric Garner, to Tamir Rice, to that total historical past. Its essential characters have superpowers, and it’s received components of traditional anime, Gundam Wing, and Akira, however all of that’s rolled into how terrifying and wonderful it’s to be Black in America.

On the space-opera facet, Aliette de Bodard, who has each award on planet Earth, and doubtless another worlds, is doing unimaginable work together with her Xuya universe, which is far-future house opera. However the originating premise is that China found the Americas earlier than Europe did, and it form of springs from there. So once I talked about seeing Asian house opera and sci-fi created largely by white creators with virtually zero Asian individuals in it, Aliette is writing what seems like a solution to that. She’s Vietnamese, and simply to see her tackle Sherlock Holmes and Watson as sentient spaceships, within the context of a Vietnamese-inspired house Empire, that’s unimaginable. However as far-future as it’s, it’s rooted in historical past. So there’s plenty of fascinating work being completed in that house. Possibly 20 years in the past, it could have simply been known as Asian science-fiction/fantasy in a extremely broad method. Probably the most you can have hoped for is a progressive white author who bothered to do a little analysis. However now, you see the diaspora writing for themselves.

Diana M. Pho: Lettie Prell is a extremely fantastic short-fiction author. All her tales discover transhumanism, and are primarily based on the premise that the Singularity shouldn’t be a one-time occasion, it would occur in several communities all the world over. So that they’ll all have a special understanding of what it means to have a transhuman id, to include that into their communities in several methods. I actually love that.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad is one other short-fiction author exploring science fiction in modern methods, however with a extremely robust sense of enjoyable. A whole lot of their tales must do with robotics and the long run, but in addition households and the way they intersect, and the way do you construct new connections? And P. Djèlí Clark has principally written in fantasy. He has a background as an educational historian, which actually feeds into the kind of tales that he tells, and the give attention to not simply having a extremely nice, action-filled story with fascinating characters, but in addition placing expertise in context, which actually pushes authors ahead, and makes those that stand out, stand out.

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