Monday, February 20, 2012

Un-dead Fiction

I like quirky things.  I like satire.  I like humour.  Lucky for me then that a new genre of fiction is picking up steam and appearing in books stores more often.  I’m talking about books that mix age-old stories that everyone knows with the un-dead (i.e. zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc.).  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you must have been living under a rock for the better part of the last 5 years.

This movement started for me with Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  With an opening line of “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains,” is it any wonder that I was hooked right away?  For those that know me, the answer is no.  Grahame-Smith’s work spawned both a pre- and sequel, both of which I snapped up and loved to read.  Within the trilogy, the reader comes to know how the Bennett girls became expert zombie killers, and how Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s early marriage progressed.

Grahame-Smith made quite a name for himself with the PPZ books, and recently followed them up with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  Narrated in the Presidential-History style, AL:VH is, for lack of a better description, a tongue-in-cheek history of the civil war, if zombie-nomics were the mitigating factors.  Quite frankly, I learnt more about that period in history from Grahame-Smith than the semester of American History I took in my first year.  But don’t tell my prof that.

Vampire hunting is quite a hot topic in this genre.  So, of course, when I saw Jane Slayer on the shelf at Chapters, I had to snap it up.  This book combines one of my favorite genres with one of my all-time favorite books, Jane Eyre.  How could I not love and enjoy the combination.  And in this version, John Reed gets a far more satisfying comeuppance that in Brontё’s version.  As with the Grahame-Smith PPZ series and Jane Austin, Jane Slayer’s author, Sherri Browning Erwin, give Charlotte Brontё co-author credits, as is only right.

Another of my all time favorite books is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, so I was tickled pink to see Alice in Zombieland sitting on a shelf in my local book store.  Needless to say, I purchased and read in within hours.  Nickolas Cook’s spin on the classic, with Brent Cardillo’s minor changes to Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations make this a book that I will probably read as often as its inspiration.

But this quirky, un-dead sub-genre of fiction is not limited to a re-scripting of literary classics.  It’s also been used in the explanation and re-scripting of history.  And, I mean, come on.  This is me – these types of books are now merging my favorite things: the odd-ball, History, and humour.  Of course I’m down for it.

I’ve recently finished Shakespeare Undead, by Lori Handeland, which tells the true story of Will Shakespeare’s lengthy and legendary career.  But the first exposure I had to this twist on History was A. E. Moorat’s Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter.  With the tag line “She loved her country.  She hated zombies.” the book is exactly what you think it will be – a rollicking tromp through Victorian London with a young queen with a penchant for beheading the undead.  It’s a sublime read.  I even recommended my thesis supervisor get his undergrads to read it rather that anything by the unbearably pompous British historian David Cannadine.  The history is solid, and far more enjoyable than anything I’ve ever read by Cannadine.  

Shortly after finishing QV:DH, I found another of Moorat’s works – Henry VIII: Wolfman, which explained so much about Bluff King Hal.  Those mood swings he was so famous for in later life?  Not syphilis; he was bit by a werewolf – he couldn’t help himself.  Moorate took a lot of liberty with history in this work, but even I forgave him for it.  I mean, come on.  Werewolves.  I wasn’t looking for accuracy in this one, folks.

I highly recommend each and everyone one of these books.  And I’m always looking for more.  (I’ve got Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters sitting on a bookshelf right now, but I want to finish the Austen version first, and I want to reread the actual Tolstoy before jumping into Android Karenina, also sitting on a self in my place.)  This is a genre that I don’t recommend for everyone – you have to be able to laugh at yourself as much as you’ll laugh at the characters to truly get an appreciation for these works.  My hat’s off to the authors who work with these tales, and my thanks to them for bringing it to the world.  

Shakespeare Undead, by Lori Handeland

Today was a stat-holiday in Ontario.  I wanted my paid day off to be fun and pressure free, so I turned to a book a recently picked up that I didn’t expect to be overly engaging, but would rather be a bit of literary junk food.  My choice this morning was Shakespeare Undead, but Lori Handeland.  It was everything I was expecting, and then some!

Handeland’s story is all about the legend that is William Shakespeare.  So many people ask how the Bard was so prolific during his life time, where his ideas came from, and what he was really like.  Handeland’s tale enlightens us: in reality, Shakespeare (or, rather the being that took the name Will Shakespeare from a mugging victim) is a centuries-old vampire.  Before he was turned, Will was a necromancer – one who communed with the dead.  The result is that, when we meet him in 1592, Will has a popular reputation for being a brilliant writer and actor, whose works seem divinely inspired, but in reality, are stories given to him by the ghosts who visit and want their tales told.  I like odd-ball history, and Handeland delivers.

The main story around which the book revolves is the growing relationship between Will (who likes to hunt zombies in his down-time), and Katherine (who was trained to hunt zombies by her voodoo-priestess nanny as a child).  The relationship between Will and Kate (and, if you check the copyright date on this sucker, I’ve got to believe the Royal Wedding inspired Kate’s name selection) is intense and passionate, but is shadowed by the secrets Will feels he must keep from Kate, and the zombie menace that is haunting Elizabethan London.  It’s almost like Twilight in some ways, but less nauseating and more refined.  Propos to Handeland for that.  And it’s a lot like the flick Shakespeare in Love.  But with zombies.  So it’s different enough.  

This book is a quick read.  Handeland’s pacing is marvelous.  While her chapters are short, there is a seamless transition between them that makes you want to keep reading.  There are some minor pacing issues closer to the end, however.  It seems that in an effort to flesh out the growing relationship between Will and Kate, Handeland sacrificed the plot development nearer the end; it’s almost as if she jumps from point A to point C, while blowing by point B.  However, as both points A and C are clever, well written and enjoyable, it’s not a real hardship.

What really makes this work shine is the ingrained sense of humour buried in the story.  Will, a master of words, is quick, clever and a bit of a smart-ass.  Kate is even quicker, more clever, and a full-blown smart ass.  They make a great pair.  Those with a passing knowledge of Shakespeare’s works will recognize the inspirations for his plays Othello and Romeo and Juliette in Handeland’s narrative; they’ll recognize characters from history like Kit Marlowe; and they’ll recognize characters from his plays like Juliette’s Nurse.  Even more comical is the passing inspirations that come to Shakespeare that only the modern reader would recognize – at one point, Will laments ‘seeing dead people,’ at another point, Kit assures him that “You’re our only hope, Will Shakespeare.”  Handeland weaves the past and present together is comedy, tragedy, and a brilliant mix of the two.

This book has everything you’d need – love, danger, and zombies.  I’m extremely glad I picked it up and spent my morning reading it.  I’ll be checking out Handeland’s other works shortly, and am sure I’ll be adding her to my rotation of regular authors.  Final verdict?  Read Shakespeare Undead!  It’s great! 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

(*Readers be warned: there are spoilers in this review.  You should all have read Animal Farm by this point in your lives, so I’m not holding back.*)

Is there any author better at writing a scathing indictment of human society than George Orwell?  A lot of the time, I think not.  Orwell is best known for two works: 1984 and Animal Farm.  Both are dystopian fiction, and both are haunting in nature.  While I would dearly love to spend time writing about 1984, the topic of this review is Orwell’s other tour de force – Animal Farm.

I first read Animal Farm when I was 13 or 14.  I remember at the time being conscious of the Community under-tones, but I had yet to read 1984, so I was just being introduced to Orwell’s mastery of the dystopian technique.  Animal Farm is the story of the Manor Farm, the stereotypical English estate; however, the Manor farm is run by Mr. Jones, a drunk, and his band of lazy and uncaring farm-hands.  One day, after having not been fed, the animals revolt against the humans and drive them from the farm.  What follows is a period of contentment and cooperation, followed by regime change, followed by a return to the way things were.

I don’t know Russian history very well, so I’m not going to get the names right, but I do recognize the pattern of the 1917 Revolution in this book.  Orwell was a complex person, but I do know that he was a humanist who was deeply affected by the changes in pre-war Europe; Animal Farm reflects his personal experiences and beliefs on those events. 

Like all satire, there are multiple layers of metaphor and illusions in this work.  The most telling is role of the pigs on the farm.  Being cast as the smartest of the animals on the estate, the pigs are the only ones who can read and write well and who are able to strategize.  Very quickly into the Revolution, the pigs become the political power.  There are two factions led by Snowball and Napoleon.  Snowball is idealistic and, while he does take advantage of his power, he is working to better the lives of the animals.  Napoleon, however, is only interested in power.  (See?  Very Russia 1917.)  The names are clever: Snowball is trying to improve the lot of the animals for idealistic reasons – snow is white, and colour often associated with purity, even though snowballs can hurt.  Napoleon is the perfect name for the villain of an English tale – stepping beyond the obvious fact that England trounced Napoleon completely in 1815, Napoleon was also a johnny-come-lately to the power structure of Revolutionary France and had no real authority to set up an Empire on the backs of the French people.

While the pigs are in charge, aided by the dogs as a kind of brown-shirt force (and yes, I know I’m mixing my fascist metaphors now), the rest of the animals are cajoled, fooled and otherwise duped into believing that they are happy and that the Revolution was a successes and what they wanted.  When the pigs begin placing themselves above the other animals, the porcine spokes-pig, Squealer, offers excuses, explanations and rational which Dick Cheney would be proud of.  One of the tenants of the Revolution, that all animals are equal, was re-crafted to read that “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”  (You have undoubtedly heard that saying in the real world: much like the use of ‘Big Brother’ and ‘2+2=5’ from 1984 have become part of our zeitgeist, Orwell’s Animal Farm made contributions as well.)

Throughout the book, the reader becomes more and more uncomfortable with the changes enacted by Napoleon (who, btw, drives of Snowball and makes him the scapegoat for all ills experienced on the farm) as it becomes clearer and clearer that the pigs are abusing their power and forgetting the driving force behind the Revolution. 

In the final and worse act of breaking the faith with their fellow animals, the pigs redraft the Revolution’s slogan of “Four legs good, two legs bad” (chanted mindlessly at the drop of a hat by, who else, the sheep) to “Four legs good, two legs better.”  Under the guise of needing supplies the farm cannot produce, the pigs then break more tenants of the Revolution and commerce with man and accept paper money.  One evening, the non-pigs of the farm, hearing a ruckus in the farm house, peer through the windows to see the pigs drinking and playing cards with the men from the neighbouring farms.  The closing line of the book speaks eloquently to the situation and, in its role as a metaphor, to the Communist reality:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

The message of dystopian reality is clear: all Revolutions will eventually return to the point where they began.  Orwell plays the dystopian author’s best card – he leaves his reader without hope. 

So, final verdict?  Read this book.  Quite frankly, if you haven’t already, I don’t know what’s been stopping you.  Clever, complex and haunting, Animal Farm is a piece of our Western literary heritage that can’t be ignored and should be read by one and all.  Once you’ve finished with this one, read 1984 (or read it again, as the case may be).  Both works are amazing, and illustrate why Orwell is one of the best at his craft.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

Let me preface this entry by saying I don’t want kids.  I would be a horrible mother – I’m selfish, over-educated, and stubborn; this would result in me not having the patience to accommodate my life around children, an inability to connect with anyone lacking in even the most basic of education, and an unwillingness to unbend.  All in all, a horrible combination.  These are things I’ve recognized and acknowledged in myself for the last 3 or 4 years and I’ve accepted them, and I will staunchly defend my position to any and all who care to listen to them with an open heart.  (Which are very few.  Check out this Maclean’s article for an assessment of why that is…)

Regardless of all that, I have some very firm beliefs on how I would raise children if I were forced into that situation (and I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that if it were the deal-breaker in an important relationship, I might unbend.  But it’s unlikely.)  As clichéd as it is to say, kids today suck.  Parenting has taken some mighty big blows in Western society over the last decades.  Seemingly gone are the parenting techniques of when I was a child which included: “You have two choices – you can do it was a smile, or you can do with a frown, I don’t care which,” “Because I said so, that’s why,” and the most common “NOW, OR ELSE!”  I never had a video game (I read instead), I lost TV privileges when my spelling tests came back poor (and they often did), and I learnt how to cook and do laundry before the age of 10.  And for a lot of my childhood, I was miserable.  But now, I’m a highly educated and self-sufficient woman.  (I still can’t spell though.  There was nothing that was going to fix that.)

There are consequences to how I was raised, however.  I never had a great relationship with my mother, and it’s broken down to being almost non-existent recently.  I recognize that my desire not to have children is a rationalization of my own childhood experiences.  In some ways that makes me sad, in other ways it makes me proud that I’m breaking an unhealthy cycle.  All of this is to say that Amy Chua, the self-professed “Tiger Mother”’s memoire struck a strong note with me, and gave me hope that some of the upcoming generations of kids might not make horribly shitty adults.  SOME – not all.

Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is the daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants to America.  Her own childhood was based (from my impressions) on living up to their expectations.  She describes an award ceremony at school that her parents attended where she placed second; on their way home, her father told her “Never shame me like that in public again.”  This exchange may be shocking for a Western reader, but think back to all the “participation” awards you got as a kid that are worth nothing.  Mr. Chua expected and demanded the best from and for his kids, not a token acknowledgement that they didn’t come in first – and maybe he was right.  Life doesn’t hand you awards for showing up – you have to try hard to get anything.  My landlord isn’t going to accept a “thank you for your interest, but you didn’t get the job” letter rather than rent money.  I read an article a few years ago about British school children; rather than getting Fs on report cards, teachers were marking them with “Deferred Success.”  Come on.  That’s not doing anyone any favours in the long run.  Those kids are going to grow up thinking that there are no consequences for being failures, and that’s simply not the truth.  Amy Chua learnt that lesson from her own childhood, and set out to impart it on her own children.

I can see why many people would view Chua’s parenting technique as extreme and ill-advised.  There were aspects that made me cringe, and I’m the person who advocates for fear-based parenting techniques when talking with friends who have kids.  Forcing small children to practice musical instruments for hours on end, calling them names when they disappoint you (which sounds worse than it is – you should really read the book for context, and no, I’m not saying the kid deserved it, just read the book), and rejecting home-made birthday cards because they were clearly slapped together at the last minute all seemed a little extreme and unnecessary to me.  But then I think, “Hey – Amy Chua has raised two children.  She raised them to be smart, determined, charismatic, and extremely talented.  What do I know?”

Her daughters, as depicted in the memoire, are going to be forces of nature when they’re grown women.  Sophia, the oldest, is the piano virtuoso.  But she’s much more than that.  Her mother included several passages of essays and speeches that Sophia wrote and I was blown away.  I had a fleeting thought that Chua must have edited them to make them so fantastic, but then realized that she respects her daughter too much to have done that.  Rather, Sophia has a natural talent and wit for self-expression, and I think I’ll be checking out her blog shortly!

Lulu (Louisa) proved to be her mother’s biggest challenge in life (well, that’s the impression I got).  But nothing worth having in your life isn’t worth fighting for.  Lulu comes across as obstinate, but in the best possible way; even as a young girl, she knew her own mind and never backed down from a position.  I’ve gotten flack for a similar (if not quite so fierce) mentality over the years, but in this dog-eat-dog world, it serves a woman well.  Lulu may not have taken the road her mother put her on and wanted her to take, but there’s no doubt in my mind that wherever Lulu wants her road to go, she’ll get there.  And she’ll get there in style.

Amy and her husband Jed should be (and I’m sure are) extremely proud of their girls.  What Chua’s book does is not lay out a how-to manual on raising your children in the Eastern fashion in the Western world.  Rather, the conclusion of the book finds that this is almost impossible – you can adopt the model, but the variables (i.e. the children) dictate the outcome.  

Chua was incredibly brave in writing this book – she took a lot of flack for it.  Parents who ‘raise’ their children apologetically by asking what they want to learn at school, or how they feel about breaking something, or when they want to go to bed seem to outnumber the Tiger Moms of this world.  And the apologetic parents are loud about anything that runs counter to their world view.  Chua stepped out from behind closed doors and illustrated how to do it differently (and, dare I say, better?).

Chau’s book doesn’t make me want to go out and procreate to I can try the Tiger Mom method.  If I ever do have children, I think I would try to strike a balance between my own up-bringing (which was more badger- than tiger-like) and Chua’s.  Demanding the best from kids, while also being kind and gentle seems the way to go.  But, this is Monday morning quarterbacking, and I’m sure Chau would be the first one to admit that hind-sight is 20/20, and no one, not even a Tiger Mom, can write a how-to manual on child-rearing.  

Final verdict?  Read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  It’s touching, witty, and clever in its humanity.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Harper Connelly Series, by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris is a busy little literary bee!  Probably best known for her True Blood series, Harris is also the author of several smaller runs of books, such as the Harper Connelly stories: Grave Sight, Grave Surprise, An Ice Cold Grave, and Grave Secret.  I spent my weekend with Harper, and found that lightning didn’t just strike once for Harris (and those who know the books will get that joke), but rather, the ability to write solid series of books is a skill she holds firmly in her wheelhouse.

The Harper Connelly series follows Harper and her brother across the country while they make a living off of Harper’s unique skill.  Ever since she was a teenage, Harper has been able to ‘hear’ dead people.  Well, it’s not so much hear, as sense.  Harper is able to locate bodies (from ancient to modern origins), tell you who they were, and what they died from.  Harper makes her living giving families closer at gravesides by confirming COD, or by searching for missing people/bodies.  While Harper is the skills of the operation, she’s assisted by her step-brother Tolliver, who acts as her manager and caregiver.  (Hey, communing with the dead is draining on a girl!)

I’m finding there are two enjoyable characteristics that run through all of Harris’ works.  The first is an ingrained sense of humour.  It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s a satirical and tongue-in-cheek kind of funny.  It’s dry and witty, and incredibly enjoyable to someone of a similar sensibility.  The second recurring pattern to Harris’ works is the supernatural and macabre which are the basis of her works.  True, there were no vampires or shifters in the Harper books, but there were plenty of dead people, souls, psychics, and one ghost.  Harris’ ability to make these seemingly impossible creatures (to us skeptics, at least) seem possible and, better, plausible, is fabulous, and it shows her strength as an author.

On this series in particular: There was one aspect that left me a little rocky after the first book, and unsure if I would like the rest.  That aspect is the relationship between Harper and Tolliver.  In the first book, it seemed forced and awkward.  It makes the reading of the book uncomfortable, and it seemed like Harris had made a major misstep in the creation of her characters.  There is a resolution to that dynamic, so I encourage you to stick with it and push through.

I think the true brilliance of the Harper run of books, however, is the arching of the over-all story.  These books are a self-contained quartet that could easily be expanded into a larger run of books should Harris ever decide to re-visit her characters.  But, unlike a shorter series of books such as the Twilight novel, where Stephanie Myers clearly had no idea where she was heading when she started writing, Harris’ Harper books are well thought out and have a narrative continuity that is incredibly satisfying.  While there are four separate stories, all four books read as a single entity.  This is a well executed exercises in forward planning for which Harris should be commended, and authors like Myers should take note.

The final verdict?  Read these books!  They’re pretty short, and you can get through the entire run pretty quickly.  Once you’re done with these, read True Blood, because Harris is just that good of an author.  I have no doubt that I’ll be going out to read the other, smaller series of books that Harris has written.  Her characters, style, and narratives are all strong enough for me to want to live in Harris’ literary world when possible.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone

Where to begin with The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone?  I think the best place is to call it like it is, and label Stone’s work an epic.  I’ve been living with this book for almost two weeks now, and reading it almost every day; I’ve only just finished.  The Agony and the Ecstasy tells the story of the great Florentine artist Michelangelo Buonarroti from age 13, when he first enters an art studio as an apprentice, to his death at aged 89 in Rome, when he was shepherding the creation of St. Paul’s for the Pope.

What makes this work so epic is not the length, but rather the scope.  The reader is taken from the infallible convictions of a young teenager, desperate to fulfill the burning desire to create beauty, to the closing moments in the lift of an old man who has loved, challenged great men, and been part of the fabric of artistic society for several life-spans.  No aspect of growth or development is overlooked by Stone – he propose and paints (pardon the pun) the picture of a human soul throughout the transition of 70+ years.  The reader is swept up in the tale, personalizing the experiences, and relating to events in a way that could have been lost had the theme been treated by a lesser writer.

The strength of the book lies in the intellectual exercises that are Michelangelo’s conceptualization of his sculptures and paintings.  Stone doesn’t simply say “He got a block of Carrera and starting chipping into it.”  Instead, the rational, thought process, and context for each work of art is fully developed for each piece.  Obviously, much of this must be conjecture, but Stone uses the eye of an art connoisseur to deconstruct the works that exist and back-tracks to their moments of conception.  It’s an interesting process for the reader, and I found these exercises to be the strongest passages in the entire work.  Unfortunately, Stone lets the completeness of these passages laps for the works created in the later portion of Michelangelo’s life – having known what Stone could have done with each piece, the absence of these assessments are keenly felt.  I did come to the conclusion after the first instance that this was a book written to be read during the age of the smart-phone.  While reading about the works of art, it is incredibly useful to be able to Google images for a comparison and better understanding.  Those poor bastards who read the book in the 60’s, when it came out, really lost out on getting the full and immediate impact of many of these passages.

That is not to say that The Agony and the Ecstasy is without flaws.  Two main problems come to mind.  First, Stone often time switches trains of thought without much warning.  The reader can be engrossed in one of the artistic deconstructions described above, and in the next paragraph, be treated to a brief historical overview of Papal politics, only to be thrust back into an artistic consideration of some sort.  These moments are jarring, but are only really present in the second half of the work, when Michelangelo was being patronized by great men (like Popes and nobility) for whom international politics were of the utmost importance.  In this way, I can see Stone’s reasoning for the inclusion of these asides, but as a reader, it really does take you out of the moment.

My second problem is with the very last two chapters of the book.  Maybe it was an unfortunate coincidence of my own timing, but I read consistently (ie. a little each day) from the time Michelangelo was 13 until he was 60, then I stepped away for three or four days.  When I came back to the last 100 pages, and 30 years of Michelangelo’s life, they seemed rushed.  As the end of the third-last chapter (when he was 60), Stone notes that the remainder of Michelangelo’s life would be given over to two of his great loves and some of his best works.  If that’s so, why was one third of the man’s life (the busiest time, apparently) compressed into the last seventh of the book?  Worse, the last seventh was more about the international and Roman politics that impinged on Michelangelo’s creative abilities than on the man himself.  Be it my own poor choice of timing in walking away from the work, or Stone’s seemingly rushed finish to his epic, the last portion of the book falls short in terms of narrative and story telling.

What is strong in the work from beginning to end is the historical research.  Part of my own historical research for my thesis relied on contemporary writing and household accounts, so I can easily recognize when Stone has a document in hand to provide him inspiration for a particular event.  For example, it’s noted that Michelangelo is so pleased with his grandson’s marriage that he sends the new bride two rings, and she in return sends him nine shirts.  I would wager that Stone either had the letters between Michelangelo and his grand-daughter-in-law referencing the items or, more likely, the shop receipts for the purchase of the rings and a house-hold inventory of Michelangelo’s goods at the time of his death which make special note of the presence of Florentine shits.  Stone could have then inferred from whom they came.  Some of these instances are a little ham-fisted, but that may just be because I’m attuned to them; someone without personal experience in using similar sources might breeze past them without second though.

So then, where does that leave me on a recommendation?  If you like fictionalized biographies, this is one for you.  If you like books that tell the story of one person’s life from beginning to end (and Stone is telling of the life of an artist, not the man, which is why he starts at 13), then again, this is one for you.  I enjoyed it, and found the pros outweighed the cons.  I will be judicious in who I recommend this book to in the future – it’s not for everyone, and I could easily understand someone getting turned off of it where I so enjoyed it.  I think my next step is to seek out the film of the same name, and see how the story is translated from 700 pages to a 70-page screenplay; I don’t hold out much hope for a faithful adaptation, but it should be interesting none the less.  Final verdict?  Read it – it’s good!