Tag Archives: Barbara Kingsolver

How Trump is Changing America and What Writers have to Say

This is how one Italian blogger sees the President-Elect – once Trump moves into the White House, since his wife Melanie apparently has no desire to live there, expect this to happen:

Yes, the American Presidency, with Trump in the driving seat, has lost much of its dignity. Satirists around the world are waking up to the golden opportunity to make fun of him.

But is there really much to laugh about?

The first shocking thing are the numbers. Perhaps Americans, familiar with their bizarre Electoral Voting System are used to it and don’t see the inequity in it. But people who are not American cannot understand that a man who has garnered fully 2 million votes less than his opponent still wins the Presidency.

What kind of democracy is that? Where is social justice?

We are bombarded with frightening news coming out of America, and people who normally write novels and short stories have suddenly turned political. That is very unusual for American writers: in my experience, and at least this was the case through the Obama years, most of them refused to “take sides”. I couldn’t quite figure out why but I imagined they were afraid of losing fans and book sales. Being a European writer myself, I find that astonishing. Over here, on this side of the pond, we are used to writers and artists taking sides – indeed, through most of the 20th century, most of them were Communists. Take the example of France, starting with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre   – very few were on the right, Céline being the historic exception, of course (he was pro-Nazi, anti-Jew and a collaborationist).

So what are American writers saying now about Trumpian America?

So far, not many have come out. I was able to only identify only two so far and, oddly enough, both of them with articles published in the UK Guardian: Barbara Kingsolver, the author of 14 books including climate fiction masterpiece “Flight Behavior” and Dave Eggers, a prolific author  spanning from non fiction, a best-selling memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” to fiction, including “The What is What“an extraordinary novel about a Sudanese child immigrant in the US.

How about the New York Times and Impakter magazine coming forward with similar pieces? As a Senior Editor of Impakter, I would welcome such articles…

Kingsolver strikingly summed up post-election America like this:

Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; limits on corporate influence over our laws. That’s the opening volley.

Quite a strong volley!

What’s left standing? Not much, it would seem – and hits to international trade and the fight against climate change can affect the whole world, cause a word-wide recession, perhaps a repeat of the Big Depression and even threaten the planet’s very survival as global warming proceeds unabated. We all need America on the front line of the climate change struggle, but with Trump in charge, can this happen?

Kingsolver minces no words, she calls on everyone to stand up and fight:

Many millions of horrified Americans are starting to grasp that we can’t politely stand by watching families, lands and liberties get slashed beyond repair. But it’s a stretch to identify ourselves as an angry opposition. We’re the types to write letters to Congress maybe, but can’t see how marching in the streets really changes anything. […]

But politeness is no substitute for morality, and won’t save us in the end.[…] So many of us have stood up for the marginalized, but never expected to be here ourselves. It happened to us overnight, not for anything we did wrong but for what we know is right. Our first task is to stop shaming ourselves and claim our agenda. […]

We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble. Every soul willing to do that is part of our team, starting with the massive crowd that shows up in DC in January to show the new president what we stand for, and what we won’t.

There’s safety in numbers, but only if we count ourselves out loud.

Dave Eggers piece is in many ways the opposite of Barbara Kingsolver’s: he manifests surprise, he is almost awed by the divided country he sees as he travels through it. It’s a long, thoughtful piece, beautifully written, but his concluding comment is no less moving than Kingsolver’s, he is deeply worried, he tells us, because:

We are entering an era where uniquely vindictive men will have uniquely awesome power. Dark forces have already been unleashed and terrible plans are being made. On 3 December, the Ku Klux Klan are holding their largest public rally in years, to celebrate Trump’s victory, which they claim as their own. […]
You should be worried, too. George W Bush, a man of comparative calm and measured intellect, started two foreign wars and cratered the world economy. Trump is far more reckless.
We are speeding toward a dark corridor, my friends. Keep your eyes open, your hearts stout and be ready for the fight.

Are you ready?

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Speculative Writing: the Next Big Trend in Publishing?

The Book of Strange New ThingsOver the week-end something big happened to our culture. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber was reviewed by Marcel Theroux for the New York Times (see here).

So what, you may ask?

First, the reviewer, Marcel Theroux is someone worth listening to. He is a successful broadcaster and author in his own right. The son of American traveler and writer Paul Theroux, he works in television (for example, in 2004, he presented on Channel 4 The End of the World as We Know It, part of the War on Terra television series about climate change). His fifth novel, Strange Bodies, won the the 2014 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Not unsurprisingly, this is a speculative novel that explores identity and what it means to be truly human.

Two, this is not Michel Faber’s first book, but his eighth – he has written in many genres, and  his brilliant debut novel, Under the Skin, that also happens to be sci-fi like this latest one, was shortlisted for the Whitbread when it came out (in 2000). Under the Skin inspired a fascinating movie that came out in 2014, directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson.  Here’s a video clip that highlights how profoundly different this movie is from the usual sci-fi run:

It is basically, a search for identity, and yes, you “don’t want to wake up dead!”

Reading Marcel Theroux’ s review of The Book of Strange New Things, you can tell he was knocked off his feet. For those who don’t like sci-fi, Theroux says, “give it 10 pages, it doesn’t start with aliens, it’s about a man going on a long journey to a planet light years away and saying good-bye to his beloved wife.”

Indeed. Here are the first lines from Chapter 1, Forty Minutes later he was up in the sky:

‘I was going to say something,’ he said.
‘So say it,’ she said.
He was quiet, keeping his eyes on the road. In the darkness of the city’s outskirts, there was nothing to see except the tail-lights of other cars in the distance, the endless unfurling roll of tarmac, the giant utilitarian fixtures of the motorway.
‘God may be disappointed in me for even thinking it,’ he said.
‘Well,’ she sighed, ‘He knows already, so you may as well tell me.’

It is so real, so human! Isn’t that just the sort of thing you say to your loved one as you go off on a trip?  This sort of fiction is linked to the here and now, as we live it, with our anxieties and doubts, our loves and regrets.

The key descriptors here are “possible” and “plausible”. That very plausibility is what turns this kind of sci-fi thriller into emotion-laden explorations into the human condition. Our Earth is recognizable but it’s much worse, battered by climate change and geo-political instability. And in that sense, this book links up with the basic tenets of climate fiction,  a rapidly rising genre, ever since Dan Bloom coined the term in 2008 (and he’s a vocal part of the debate in that New York Times piece, Room for Debate, published in July 2014).

Theroux in concluding his review of The Book of Strange New Things  reveals how he really feels about it and let me quote him:

Since the critical and commercial triumph of Hilary Mantel, the historical novel is newly respectable. One hopes that Michel Faber can do something similar for speculative writing. Defiantly unclassifiable, “The Book of Strange New Things” is, among other things, a rebuke to the credo of literary seriousness for which there is no higher art than a Norwegian man taking pains to describe his breakfast cereal. As well as the literature of authenticity, Faber reminds us, there is a literature of enchantment, which invites the reader to participate in the not-real in order to wake from a dream of reality to the ineffability, strangeness and brevity of life on Earth.

This amounts to a major recognition of the speculative dimension of science fiction that has been often ignored, as millions of readers have become entranced with Star Wars and Ender’s Game. However, the escapist, irrealistic aspect of this kind of sci-fi has also turned off just as many people. Result?  Sci-fi has become classified as a commercial “genre”: pure entertainment and nothing else.

Will Faber, with his book, help to make sci-fi  “respectable”, repeating what Hilary Mantel did for the historical novel?

I believe he could, because, in fact, Faber is not alone in doing this. Other major writers are doing it too, in particular  Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam Trilogy, inter alia) and Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior). Of course,both writers are also considered climate fiction authors, but Margaret Atwood for one has always argued that her fiction is “speculative”.

In my view, regardless of terminology, this is speculative writing of the highest order – it ties back to the founding masters of the speculative sci-fi genre, George Orwell (1984) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) who always started from highly plausible premises. And that’s why their books fascinated and scared a whole generation that was feeling under the threat of totalitarian communism.

Today, we are under the threat of global warming with big corporations that won’t do anything about it (because they profit from fossil fuels); we witness increasing geopolitical chaos, especially in the Middle East but other places too as Islamic Jihad spreads; we watch helplessly as income inequality takes hold everywhere, including in places like the United States, where chances for the young to “make it” are growing slimmer by the day unless they were born into “big money”.

Speculative authors (like myself) take this world of ours as the starting point for our fiction. And we try to look into the future to figure out what awaits us and our children.

Given current trends, where are we going?

Such questions need to be asked. And as our world continues to unravel, they will become evermore urgent.

That is why speculative fiction is going to be the Next Big Trend in Publishing.

Just one sad last note: Michel Faber has told the press (see here) that he won’t write another novel, he’s been shaken by the loss of his wife Eva who died of cancer as he was putting the last touches to The Book of Strange New Things. I sincerely hope he will change his mind, it would be a terrible loss to literature.

Post Scriptum: If you’re curious about this kind of fiction, my own speculative novel (just published) is free for 5 days, starting today November 4, don’t miss the chance, I’m not going to do it again! Click here to grab your copy before it’s over.
We mortals dream of immortality. What if there was another option? The power of money could make the difference. A few win, the great majority loses, but humanity is saved, or is it?

Gateway to ForeverExcerpt from reviews:

– A prophetic view of our future. Compelling from start to finish (Lit Amri)

A cast of characters that range from fascinating to despicable (Marsha Roberts)

– A very plausible future, scarily plausible (Bob Rector)

Published May 31, 2014. 326 pages.

UPDATE ON FREE CAMPAIGN:

On Day One (November 4): 264 units were downloaded and that shot the book up to:

Major author and playwright Bob Rector (who reviewed the book, see here) just posted the following on his Facebook page:

Great opportunity to grab one of my favorite books for free. If you like storytelling at its very best, I urge you not to pass this up.

Thanks, Bob, I hope many will follow you and read the book. And I know you love Alice, the protagonist of whom I made a portrait, so I am including it here:

Alice in the desert

 

 

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CLI-FI – A DISCUSSION WITH AUTHOR CLAUDE NOUGAT

If this is a good interview, you should thank best-selling author Bob Rector, he had really good questions!

CLI-FI – A DISCUSSION WITH AUTHOR CLAUDE NOUGAT.

Bob Rector

Some of the books discussed:

– New York under water:

Monarch butterflies invade a small corner of the Appalachian mountains causing a scary “flight behavior”:

Climate fiction also includes climate change deniers: in this book climate activists are described as “eco-terrorists”:

If you think cli fi is recent and strictly linked to climate change, think again! This is the first cli fi book published and it came out in 1962!

But what is really going to change life on earth over the next few centuries can be traced back to (1) globalization and (2) industrialization and both are the result of a new, growing divide between the rich and poor, the One Percent vs. the 99 Percent, and now the data is in – the divide is not the result of someone’s sick imagination:

And of course(!) my own cli fi novel:

Available on all e-platforms, for Amazon click here: http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Young-Part-One-Gateway-ebook/dp/B00JU99LS4/

Available on all e-platforms, for Amazon click here: http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Young-Part-One-Gateway-ebook/dp/B00JU99LS4/

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Book Cover for a Cli Fi Novel: Which is Best?

Cli Fi, or Climate Fiction, is rapidly becoming a widely accepted term to designate a new genre of books dealing with Climate Change but not only: many elements taken together – like the demographic explosion, growing income inequality, urbanization and the rapid industrialization of the Third World – contribute to threaten our survival on Earth.

Personally, I am convinced that things will get from bad to worse in about 200 years and go kaput in 600 years, if we don’t do anything about it.

And that’s the worst of it: because it is a relatively slow process, a lot of us don’t feel the urgency and even deny that the process is going on. Result: on a political level things are moving at a snail’s pace and the end of the world could really sneak upon us in 600 years!

The involvement of literature in the Climate Change debate is growing, and one UK academic, Dr. Adeline Johns-Putra recently noted that in the past eight years, at least 150 novels dealing in one way or another with the likely future collapse of humanity have been published, fifty of them pure “cli-fi” (I blogged about it here).

In this regard, I had an interesting email exchange with Dan Bloom, the man who coined the term back in 2008, and he quoted to me something  Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature at the University of Surrey in the UK told him:
”I think climate change fiction (or ‘cli-fi’) has, in just a few years, moved beyond simplistic apocalypse scenarios to engage intelligently with questions of science and policy (Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Science in the Capital trilogy) and environmental justice (for example, Barbara Kingsolver and Paolo Bacigalupi, in very different ways). By making us ‘live’ both the devastating impacts of climate change and ways of dealing with these, these novels can’t help but intervene in the ongoing debate on climate change policies.”

I love that: “these novels can’t help but intervene in the ongoing debate on climate change policies”…Makes me happy, I certainly hope my Forever Young will be viewed that way, I conceive of it as a contribution to the debate though my main objective always remains one of a story teller at heart!

Now I am working on the cover of my cli-fi/sci-fi book Forever Young that will soon be published and I need your help. 

Dear reader, this is a difficult challenge, there are no established norms for the covers of Cli-Fi novels…Consider the variety, from New York submerged in water (like on the cover of Nathaniel Rich’s novel Odds against Tomorrow) to the bucolic charm of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel (about a monarch butterfly invasion).

What do you think of my two book covers? I’ve set up a poll below where you can answer, voting for your favorite.

Version 1, through a porthole:



Version 2, the full woman:

Why a woman instead of space ships and distant planets as is the norm for science fiction? 
Because space travel is not the point of the book. One particular woman is – she’s a major character, her name is Alice. She’s young and beautiful, warm-hearted and very, very independent. One of my beta readers, Bob Rector, who also happens to be a hugely talented writer (he just published Unthinkable Consequences that is fast becoming a best seller), quite literally fell in love with her and asked me to put her on the cover.

So I did a portrait of her, here it is:

 

To help you decide which cover is best, here’s a quick word about the book:

Forever Young, a serialized novel in 4 episodes, is set 200 years from now, in a world divided between the ultra rich, the One Percent, who live in gated communities and the others who don’t and suffer the full onslaught of pollution and Climate Change. The One Percent  are the only ones who can afford all the advances of technology, in particular the exclusive Age Prevention Program (APP), whose members wear special Life Watches that enable them to expand their life span to the genetic maximum of some 140 years and look young till the day they die.

The novel interweaves several plot lines; the first is a love triangle between Alice, a young Swiss nurse, beautiful and independent, Lizzie, a talented golf player, the descendant of the mythical Tiger Woods, and Jamie, an ambitious reporter who works for the World and US Post, an amalgam of the Huffington Post and the New York Times.

The second covers the rising threat to life on earth, as humanity is headed for extinction; there are only two options, both reserved to One Percenters: one, escape to another world, a pristine exoplanet a thousand light years away; the other, retreat to Antarctica, the last virgin continent.


The third follows the murderous attempts of one determined 99 Percenter, a retired Blue Beret who has served all his life in the United Nations Peace-keeping Forces and is hell-bent on carving a place for himself in the Age Prevention Program.

And here’s the poll:

Please vote, let me know what you think in the comments below (not on the poll site, I may miss it there). To show my gratitude for your help, I’ll send an advance copy of the book (digital – pdf) to the three best and most useful comments (lottery drawn if there are too many!).

Again, many thanks for the help!

Post scriptum. Just as I closed this post, I came across an article in the New York Times Magazine, about the amazing “Uncivilization” festival organized in the UK by the Dark Mountain Project led by British author Paul Kingsnorth (see here). 

His vision of a future “global collapse” is exactly the one I envision in Forever Young – a future that will come slowly but inexorably and that you have to live with…like Alice and her friends. Yes, there is a good reason why the sky above Alice is blood red, or alternatively, why she is plunged in a frightening sick-greenish world…

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Climate Fiction: A Hot New Genre?

Is climate fiction really a hot new genre (no pun intended)? Something remarkable has happened when American colleges start to use climate fiction to teach how to prepare for the coming climate crisis. Expect writers to sit up and listen – especially science fiction writers.
The New York Times recently reported on it (see here) saying classes focus on a “heavy dose of the mushrooming subgenre of speculative fiction known as climate fiction, or cli-fi, novels like Odds Against Tomorrow, by Nathaniel Rich, and Solar, by Ian McEwan.”

Further down in the article, more cli-fi books are mentioned, among them Barbara Kingsolver‘s Flight Behavior, Daniel Kramb’s From Here, Hamish MacDonald‘s Finitude, Paolo Bacigalupi‘s The Windup Girl, Saci Lloyd’s The Carbon Diaries 2015 and more recently The Carbon Diaries 2017 (a British YA book).

Wow! I sat up and listened since my soon to be released Forever Young looked like it might fit the genre. 

Checking around on the Net, I visited Wikipedia’s definition (see here) and discovered that the earliest climate fiction book was The Drowned World published back in 1962 by J.G. Ballard (though it wasn’t Climate Change in this case but solar warming). Here’s the first edition (nice cover!):


I gathered  a slew of interesting articles (see below) and checked Goodreads. I found a whole page there dedicated to so-called “popular climate fiction books” (39 titles so far):

Take note: climate fiction has attracted big best-selling writers like Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood (who famously tweeted about it), Clive Cussler and Barbara Kingsolver. They have all jumped into the subgenre and some as early as 2009 (in Atwood’s case).

The blogosphere is awash with posts (see below) and there’s one book selling website set up by a British Columbia  “micropress”, the Moon Willow Press, with a green conscience; take a look at their home page:

This site gives an interesting definition of climate fiction: 
“a genre of literature, film and other media that involves climate change fiction, which may be speculative, literary or science fiction”. 

So here we are moving away from the idea that it may be a “subgenre” of science fiction. It is also described as “bendable…not necessarily set in the future nor always apocalyptic”, and Barbara Kinsolver’s Flight Behavior is given as an example (the setting for this present-day story is the explosive invasion of Monarch butterflies into the Appalachian Mountains). 

There is at least one blog fully dedicated to climate fiction  set up by Dan Bloom, a journalist and writer who invented the term back in 2007 (on his blog and in an article in Vice Magazine) – the term was picked up again by reporter Scott Thill in 2010 in Wired.  

Here’s the homepage of Dan Bloom’s Cli Fi Central blog (to visit, click here):

The news reported on that page is of some 6,000 “cli fi” fans meeting in…2058 to discuss climate change! Yes, a little bit of irony doesn’t hurt (but only 6,000? That’s a depressingly small number…) 

Climate fiction is still very new and evolving. Dan Bloom acknowledges this and last summer summed it up neatly in this article about the origins of cli-fi and where it’s going, see here. He notes that cli-fi has recently drawn two stars who met and talked about it at the 2013 Kingston WritersFest: Margaret Atwood on her way to a likely Nobel Prize in Literature and Nathaniel Rich, “a freshman Manhattan newcomer” who’s fast spreading the word about “climapocalypse” to his (30’s) generation.

The news about climate fiction took off when the National Public Radio (NPR) and the Christian Science Monitor used the term – the story then rebounded on the UK Guardian in May 2013 (see Rodge Glass’ article here), and it was picked up by newspaper columnists in Turkey, Sweden, Lithuania, Spain and Italy. Yes, going global! 

The Guardian article got 139 comments, with most approving the birth of a new genre and some objecting that a new term was not needed. The best comment in my view comes from someone calling himself “Keyserling”:

“It’s apparent that “cli-fi” is nothing new, we just have a new buzz-word to describe it. I don’t like the term (my mind associates it with “clitoris fiction”, of the appalling Fifty Shades type). But we do need a new genre.

As the world knowingly embraces climate destruction, and we reap the whirlwind, islands will be lost, coastlines, then streets and cities flooded. Continents may perhaps become lethal or altogether uninhabitable, and eventually, a much reduced mankind may be reduced to living in polar colonies, or on space platforms orbiting our once abundant planet.

As that happens – like a global, inevitable, unstoppable, slow motion car crash – authors will more fully focus on the actual decay and destruction around them, and their observational fiction may not neatly slot into the overcrowded dystopian / apocalyptic / post-apocalyptic genres, alongside Planet of the Apes, Level 7, or The Day of the Triffids, et al.

So yeah, a new genre, to reflect new times. O brave new world!”

And another writer, Joe Follansbee, has come up with “6 rules” for writing climate fiction on his blog; briefly put, climate change has to be the “driving narrative” and it’s not to be confused with a weather event (say a tornado) which is short-term. We are speaking here of long-term climate trends that affect humanity’s future.

But the latest United Nations report on climate change has put a new twist on it: it’s no longer an “exceptional event” that would demand it be stopped but something that humanity has to learn to live with. See this illuminating article in The Atlantic. The idea is that all is not lost, we can adapt to a warming world. 

That seems to put paid to Climate Change as a primary source of high suspense for climate fiction!

I would argue that the demographic explosion, the overwhelming trend towards urbanization and growing socioeconomic inequality are beginning to look like better candidates for suspense – or at least they look like very credible sources of social tension and recurring human-created disasters (e.g. displacement and extinction of species, recurring local wars, smog-caused health emergencies, refugee crises and population displacements, spikes in food prices leading to famines etc etc). 

Add to the mix natural disasters like floods, earthquakes or tsunamis, and an already fragilized socio-political situation could easily get out of hand. 

That is a much more likely future than the one posited by Climate Change alone. That is the future I see in my upcoming book, Forever Young – set 200 years from now. Why 200 years? Because I don’t believe things will come to a head all that soon. People always cry foul and use biblical language to warn humanity of impending doom – a doom that never comes on schedule. Which is why 200 years seemed like a reasonable lapse of time…

And Climate Fiction as a subgenre? I’m not sure it’s headed anywhere…What is very striking is that as a subgenre, it hasn’t developed a recognizable style of book covers. Take a look above at the Goodreads bookshelf. Or take a look at the book covers you find on the Cli-Fi Books site, here are a couple, chosen at random:


Clara Hume’s novel takes the reader “through apocalytpic American after climate change and other ecological disasters have greatly altered the planet”:

But you wouldn’t guess that from the cover, would you?

Do you see any pattern in the design of these covers? Personally, I don’t. They’re nice covers, often with a retro charm (like Clara Hume’s), but there is surprisingly little or no reference to a doomed or threatening future, which is the least you would expect.

What do you think? I tend to believe that climate fiction might possibly merge into the “hard science fiction” genre (see here) which is based on scientific accuracy, i.e. on the best informed guess about where we are headed…At least “hard” sci fi covers have a distinct sci-fi flavor, see here for an early book in the genre:

First edition (published in 1970)

But the latest best-seller in the genre, Hugh Howey’s WOOL, certainly sports a rather bizarre cover that is a radical departure of the “classic” science fiction genre:

 
So it looks like the reverse might be happening: “hard” science fiction is merging into climate fiction… 

Perhaps this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Some people are convinced that climate change is “the hottest thing in science fiction”, as Dave Burdick put it (see here, on Grist) and he reports the interesting observation made by Csicery-Ronay, an English professor at DePauw University in Indiana and co-editor of the journal Science Fiction Studies: “Cli-fi is getting some interest from folks who are not necessarily interested in science fiction.”

I’m very happy to hear that. Because climate fiction is not a silly fantasy. Because the whole point of it is to make us think seriously about the future of humanity and where we’re going…

One thing’s for sure: climate fiction sells as it attracts more and more people beyond strict science fiction fans. An example? Knopf’s recent acquisition of Paolo Bacigalupi’s new novel The Water Knife, to be released next year, see here (before that he was with a small press). Following on his success with the Windup Girl (200,000 copies sold), the editor at Knopf is convince his new novel is set to attract a “cross over audience” beyond Bacigalupi’s “core readers”.

Hey, are you ready for climate fiction? I know I am!

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