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At the beginning of 2017, I worried I would struggle with reading given that it was primed to be a trash fire year. Well, the last 12 months exceeded my expectations, but it turns out reading became a place I went to escape. In some ways this was good! In others, it was not so good, but I'll come back to that. First: let's talk about all the books I liked!

Favorite Pre-2016 Fiction

Warchild by Karin LowacheeWarchild is a military space opera featuring a war between humans and aliens, told primarily from the side of the aliens, their human sympathizers, and the little boy the leader of the alien army saves from a ruthless pirate. I loved everything about Jos's story: the world building was excellent, the characters and their relationships with each other were deliciously complicated, and I loved that the book's focus on war focuses not on the fighting, but on the personal costs of waging war to begin with. I wrote about it here. Everyone read this book!!!

Burndive by Karin Lowachee — Set after Warchild, Burndive is a companion novel rather that a direct sequel. It looks at the same war the previous book covered from a different angle for a new critique on the costs of war even in privileged populations who are largely protected from it as it wages around them, due to money or influence. But war can go on so long that it spills out into the cracks in any life, and Burndive digs into the experience of the son of one of the leaders in the human army and how he copes—or doesn't—with death, mortality, and his post-traumatic stress. Characters from the first book show up here, and the depth they add is incredibly satisfying.

Everfair by Nisi ShawlEverfair is a novel about an imaginary country founded by socialists, missionaries, former slaves, and other marginalized groups that didn't quite fit into the societies they were born into. They buy the land from King Leopold II, taking a chunk of the Congo, and set out to create their own utopia. But it becomes much more complicated, because that land, before Belgian's colonists came, held other lives and they want to return. A sprawling alternative history with strong steampunk vibes told in vignettes, the book follows the lives of its citizens over the years. It's brilliantly done and features especially vivid characters. I discussed this one on Fangirl Happy Hour, too.

The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles — Lord Lucien Crane has returned from two decades of exile to England, only to find himself beset by an assassin wielding magic. He hires Stephen Day to help him solve the mystery of why he's being targeted, but Day knows Crane's family and doesn't like them much, and only helps begrudgingly until it becomes clear they want to bang. The mystery is great, the UST is fun, and I loved how magic works in this world—of course there's a ton of bureaucracy. Also, there is a excellent height difference, which is my jam.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo — A team of scoundrels and misfits get hired to perform an impossible heist for an incredible amount of money. Their leader, Kaz, has to put together a top-notch crew to penetrate an impossible to penetrate military complex. But of course, the crew Kaz pulls together has some slight...interpersonal issues. This was a very fun heist novel with great character dynamics. I ended up way more interested in the characters than the outcome of the heist, but love that each character got a moment to shine.

Favorite Comics & Graphic Novels

Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess — Peony is a baker in a cafe who gets recruited to play in a galactic cooking show. There are new friends, new ingredients, tough challenges, but also suspicious happenings afoot. This middle grade comic was super cute. The art is a delight, and Peony is tenacious competitor and friend. INTERNAL SCREAMING at that vicious cliffhanger. I also discussed this on Fangirl Happy Hour.

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop, Volume 1: Anchor Points by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Jordie Bellaire, & Michael Walsh — Kate Bishop's first solo outing since she headed to L.A. in the Fraction and Aja run of Hawkeye was one of my favorite comics this year. I reviewed it and discussed it on Fangirl Happy Hour. I love Kate so much. If you like snarky lady heroes and enjoyed Kate's adventures in L.A. Woman, I highly recommend checking this one out.

Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda — After the first volume of this comic, I didn't know what to expect from the second. What I got: a journey to a mysterious island, more explanation of the brutality of this world, and Maika bonding not only with her companions, but the monster inside of herself. This comic continues to be lush and dense, a true epic fantasy, full of ambiguous, ambitious, powerful women.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, & Rico Renzi — This volume is all about some time travel, hilarious callbacks to old Squirrel Girl comics, and friendship. Doreen and Nancy get split up with Doreen and Tippy-Toe are mysteriously sent to the past, while in the future, Doctor Doom has taken over. As per usual, Henderson's art is wonderful, North's writing is hilarious, and paired together they manage a comedic timing that I'm not sure I've ever seen done so well in another other comic. They must work so hard and it really shows how much effort they put into their work. Still one of the best comedy, feel-good, empowering comics out there. This was one I discussed on Fangirl Happy Hour, too.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, & Gurihiru — After loving the cartoon, I was excited for the comic continuation and took me years to read them. But I'm glad I finally got to this one, which follows Zuko, Aang, and companions on a journey to discover what happened to Zuko's mother. It not only looked like the show, it also really felt like the show. The plot tied into the show's world building in a perfect way. If you're missing the shows, this one or Korra, the comics are a great place to turn for more adventures, and this one in particular is quality.

Favorite Non-Fiction

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz — Obviously this book is keyed toward dealing with businesses, either as someone on the inside working with colleagues and supervisors, or as a consumer. But what I love this book for is the tips and tricks it provides that eventually means that I, as a person with social anxiety, can get through entire conversations by a) looking super interested in someone and b) barely speaking or having to be the center of attention. The book walks you through several psychological tricks that I have found work extremely well to prevent me talking myself into an anxiety attack by nattering nervously at strangers. Also, there's an anecdote in this book where one of the authors has a trainee use these techniques on him and they work great, leading me to think this is basically a handbook on how to cope with overbearing, know-it-all white men who hate having their authority challenged.

Pandemic by Sonia Shah — This is a book about diseases, cholera in particular, but it's also a historical survey about how disease has been handled, or not handled, and how outbreaks have occurred. If you're iffy about reading about germs or disease, you'll want to avoid this book, but if you're fine with it there's a fascinating discussion of how governments routinely fail to take public health seriously. There's not an explicit judgment of capitalism here, but it's pretty implicit, I thought...or maybe I just hate capitalism.

Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman — HA HA HA. Putting this on a favorites list seems a little wrong, because this book infuriated me, but I also believe it's an incredibly important topic. I knew a lot of the details in this book, but it contextualized some items for me and helped me sort the dates of events in my head. Spoiler alert: I am a history person who was always terrible at dates and specific order of events that happened close to each other. So every time names that we're now seeing mentioned on the news once a week related to our current fucking nightmare administration got dropped into the narrative of this book by Ari Berman, I wanted to scream. These fuckers have been waiting for this cultural moment for decades. If you don't understand why or how voting rights are under attack, how the Civil Rights movement did the work for the Voting Rights Act and how progressives got complacent and let the work of those black activists be undermined, you should read this book. Then, if you're American, ask every person running for office, from city council to Congress, whether they support voter ID. If they say yes or hedge, support someone else because that person is toxic to democracy and probably also racist.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore — Groups of women, hired to paint clock faces and other items that needed to glow to be seen in the dark, engaged in a practice called lip-pointing, in order to be productive at their jobs. The proper procedure was to dip brushes in little bowls and then the dust with radium, but as that "wasted" too much radium, women started licking their brushes to get the fine point necessary. Guess where the extra radium ended up? If you're like, "oh no, Renay's about to yell about capitalism and the evils of corporations again," YOU'RE RIGHT, I AM. This book is heartbreaking and enraging and also shows just how fucking useless our court system can be until there's no way for corporations to hide any longer, because as long as they can hide, deflect, or undermine, they'll get away with whatever they want. This book was not great for me to read in 2017, the year the white supremacists and capitalists took over the government, stole a Supreme Court seat, and started stacking the lower courts, but oh well. It's a good book to read if you want to a) school yourself about women's work in the past, b) learn a good lesson about how corporations are not your friends. If this had happened in the 21st century, this company would have had a quirky Twitter account, and would probably be getting away with this garbage.

The Tetris Effect by Dan Ackerman — Given that I grew up playing the NES version of Tetris, I knew very little about its origins and creators. Like several of my favorite games, I thought it was made by someone in Japan, and therefore was very confused by the Russian themes. In fact, this game was the first time I "saw" the Kremlin, displayed in glorious pixel relief—when the news talks about the Kremlin, that pixel representation is what my brain throws up for me. Reading this book put all my weird memories in context, and also, guess what, made me yell about white male capitalists. The creator of this brilliant game, from which pretty much all modern matching games have taken a slice of inspiration from, never owned it—the Russian government did. So that was strike one. Strike two was the specific capitalist that schemed and cheated and lied his way to porting the game out of Russia. Also, maybe the Russian government at this time was ignorant of how business worked in the west and also taking the intellectual property of its citizens, but that doesn't make it okay for western capitalists to be equally shady and gross. 2017: the year Renay became an Enemy of Capitalism by reading too many books about the failures of capitalism.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell — Hello, do you listen to Politically Reactive with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu? Because that is how I was introduced to this book. If you listen to that podcast and like Bell's thoughts, but you haven't read this book yet, you should definitely get on that. If you are an SFF reader, there is a fun easter egg. If you are a white person, there are great things to pay attention to. If you are a Southerner, you will scream in horror when Bell tells the story how how he met with a KKK member, IN THE DARK. (I finally found the nerve to go watch the segment on United Shades of America, and this man is braver than me because I've lived in Arkansas my whole life, have personally known neo-Nazis, and I would have run screaming at the first sight of the white robe.) Bell and I definitely have different politics, so it was fascinating to see his thought processes. Also, he's very funny and I highly recommend this book. I hope he writes another one day with more stories from behind the scenes of his TV show. But with fewer terrifying stories about white supremacists and Nazis.

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym — This is a slim volume about a violin prodigy who loves her violin, but because of an asshole dude (FIGURES), it gets stolen. The book talks about her life as an immigrant, the relationship with her family members, and how she feels about playing violin. The fallout from the theft of her violin, and the result of that theft, is told in brutal, honest detail. But it's also a story of growth and acceptance and not placing your worth and skill in a particular object, however much that object means to you.

Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight — The follow up to The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck was great. I always get something valuable out of these books, even if it's just a reminder to chill the fuck out. It's easy to know all the theory about self-care and CBT (the first meaning, not the second), but day by day it's easy to get lazy about it and slide back into bad behaviors. Reading these books are like an irreverent reminder to take care of myself, my emotional energy, and my time. They're predictable, but in a good, solid way, and the way Knight frames them makes them easy to pick and choose the advice to linger over and think about, and discard what doesn't work.

The Monopolists by Mary Pilon — Monopoly is the worst board game in the universe. Relationships have been ruined over this game. It wasn't until I was a young adult that I started to wonder why this game was so miserable, and it turns out it's miserable because I'm not a capitalist. The original game was legit stripped of its meaning and turned into a game to encourage people to become asshole capitalists. It's in the name of the game! This is not a game you should want to "win" because if you win you are just complicit in the abuses of capitalism! Anyway, of course the first version of this game, specifically a critique of capitalism, was made by a woman and of course a dude stole it and reaped all the profits. This book goes into the history of why capitalism is awful, corporations a bunch of white dude bullies, and the courts a lackluster check on capitalistic power and influence.

Asteroid Hunters by Carrie Nugent — This was a slim volume that's a good introduction to how scientists search for asteroids, some stories about our interactions with asteroids, and the future of preventing an asteroid from making the film Deep Impact no longer fictional. It's a great place to dip your toe in to read about things you can then go do some deeper research about, depending on what interests you. I love intro volumes like this because the brief survey gives good overviews and the source section is a trove of further reading.

Favorite 2017 Fiction

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin — The final book in the Broken Earth series absolutely nails the dismount and landing. I was a hot mess at the end of this novel. I talked about this book on Fangirl Happy Hour and couldn't even string the words I wanted together. I was a flailing mess. Even though it's painful, harsh, and sometimes even terrifying, the hope winds its way through the story until the very end. What a perfect trilogy. Genius. Amazing.

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor — The second book in the series about Binti, a young woman who leaves home to go to a university far away from Earth. This novella explores Binti's relationship with her family, as she and a college friend return to Earth for a visit. But the trip ends up being very emotionally demanding, and Binti learns even more about herself and her people. This novella is all about the world building and deepening Binti's understanding of herself and her culture. It is excellent.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco — Tea discovers that she's a necromancer—a bone witch—when she accidentally raises her brother from the dead. Put under the wing of another powerful woman, Tea and her brother are taken to the city so Tea can get training for her skills. This is a coming of age epic fantasy, full of women and queer characters who Tea bonds with and trusts, as she struggles to master her powers and overcome the unfair judgments against her. The story is framed—an older, more cynical Tea is telling the story of her past to a bard who has come seeking her—and the glimpses of Tea in the future versus Tea in the past are fascinating.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden — In a future South Africa, a young girl discovers her true power and ignites an AI revolution; a goddess longs for the days of pain and fear; a queer boy struggles with feelings for his best friend and being able to control people's minds; a pop star tries to come to terms with her disease and her past; a councilman discovers a secret about himself that has been hidden from him; and a lone robot, harnessing its newly found sentience, begins the process of awakening others to uncertain results. This novel was a speculative fiction romp, from science fiction to fantasy and back again. There's magic, gods, robots, power struggles, and the afterlife—it's jammed full of refreshing elements that all somehow manage to work together. Honestly, I can't wait to see what Drayden does next. I discussed this on Fangirl Happy Hour, too.

White Tears by Hari Kunzru — Hello, this book is B A N A N A S. A white dude somehow records some audio of a black singer while out and about, and his white friend takes it, dirties it up, gives the singer a name, and releases it online. This launches a series of events that turns into a full scale haunting and takes Seth on a journey into the past of the country and the way that white people have profited off the culture of black folks for centuries. It's a ghost story and a critique of cultural appropriation, a story where time is fluid and the villain is not who you expect. I discussed this on Fangirl Happy Hour, with special guest Jenny!

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian — Lord Courtenay is a known rake, but after the publication of a fictional novel that seems to use him as inspiration, his reputation takes an even deeper tumble. It damages him so much that he's banned from seeing his nephew. Julian, the brother of one of Courtenay's friends, is nothing but respectable, and is pressed into service to rehabilitate Courtenay's reputation. Sparks fly, but they both have secrets that could change everything. This story was a joy to read and it made me so happy on multiple levels—there's a side romance that I was super happy about, too. Discussion of this book happened on Fangirl Happy Hour, too!

All Systems Red by Martha Wells — Murderbot may have a scary name, but all it wants to do is do its job, come back to its habitat and watch the hours and hours of TV downloaded off the network. It doesn't want to make waves—if it does, the company might realize Murderbot has slipped free of company control. But instead of a nice, calm, scientific mission exploring a planet, where Murderbot can take care of the humans and enjoy time off watching drama unfold in its favorite shows, there's unexpected danger. Murderbot has to step up to ensure the safety of his human crew, which means interacting with them and that's the most uncomfortable thing of all. I reviewed this novella and loved it SO MUCH that I have been forcing it on everyone I know. I talked about it with even more feelings here. The sequel is out in May.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz — A patent pirate releases a faulty drug to the population that causes death and then has to go on the run from an agent and his robot. There is so much going on in this story with regards to corporations, freedom, artificial intelligence, and gender. It's a far-future story that goes all in on the shades of gray elements in both world building and characterization. Paladin was a wonderful character. As per usual I am weak to robots.

An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles — The son of an archbishop wants to crack the mystery of a fortune teller, but in doing so ends up bringing him into a larger conspiracy. They have to go on the run from murderers, and of course they bang and it's great. This is a follow-up to An Unseen Attraction, and while generally I'm like "read connected romance novels in whatever order!" with this series I think it's better to start with the first, because there's an over-arching murder and conspiracy plot that makes more sense if you read them one after another. This one ended up being my favorite because I am a sucker for rogues outside the law and atheist lawyers kissing.

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner — In a shocking twist, I loved the latest entry in the Queen's Thief series. Loved enough to noodle on some fanfiction about it—serious business. Kamet is a slave, but when his master is murdered he has to go on the run with an Attolian soldier. It's a perfect on-the-run roadtrip book, full of eventual friendship and struggles along the way. Plus, it ties other characters we know from previous books perfectly. I guess now I'm the sucker waiting five years for the next book to come out along with everyone else.

The Power by Naomi Alderman — When young women wake a power in themselves that they're able to share with older women, waking them power within them, too, the power balance of the world changes completely, with predictable results. This book feels like it's in conversation with a lot of different claims about women and what the world would be like if women had a physical and therefore social/economic power over men. But I mostly read this as a critique of absolute power, and how placing certain types of power into the hands of specific people can be damaging and dehumanizing. There are studies out there about how immense power can alter how people perceive the world and other human beings—this book is definitely of a piece with that conversation.

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray — A girl from an isolationist planet is fighting a war with outsiders who want the planet and its resources, when she stumbles across a derelict ship from a previous battle and finds an advanced robot. They ally together, and go on a galaxy hoping trip to find a way to stop a suicide run by the people of her planet. I loved this story tons; it's very cinematic and...spiritual might not be the right word, but that's how it felt when the characters struggled with the humanity of the robots throughout the story. Even though I realized very quickly the shenanigans that were going down, I was still on board for the resolution. I can't wait to see what the next book holds.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia — I was recced this book by Claire and took it immediately because I love stories about fandom. I love finding elements of my fannish life in them and seeing the differences, too. Eliza is the secret creator of a popular webcomic, and then at school she meets a new kid who is a huge fan. They grow closer as Eliza struggles with school and trying to balance her "real" life online with an offline life she finds lacking, and with the secrets she's keeping. This is a book about fandom, but also about depression, anxiety, coping with sadness, and feeling isolated from your support structures like family. I found the family relationships here truly bittersweet and heartwarming. Ugh, what a good book.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty — It's a locked-room murder mystery in space with clones! The kicker: the story begins with the clones waking to one of those own comatose and with no memories of the past 20+ years on their generation ship. As the characters try to piece together what happened, we learn about where they came from and how they ended up taking a bunch of people to a new planet, far from Earth. This was intensely readable and fun and I want someone to pick it up and adapt it for film ASAP. Here's where I talked about it on Fangirl Happy Hour.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi — Hello, is this book's presence a surprise: no, no it isn't. Scalzi's newest book and first in a new series is a super fun adventure set in the Interdependency. The empire is connected by a Flow of spacetime, ensuring that all the different worlds work together, trade fairly, and don't start unnecessary wars. But the Flow is changing in dramatic ways, and three people are going to be thrown into the thick of a cultural shift that will end the Interdependency forever. I admit that I always go into Scalzi's books with a kind eye because I love his voice and the way he writes characters. In this book, though, he's leveled up quite a bit with his characters, in that they sound different, even if they're still sarcastic and snarky to the people around them, and I fell in love with the main three immediately and found them all distinct, fascinating observers to learn about this world from. If you need a fun space adventure with a foul-mouthed space bisexual, reluctant monarch, and nerdy scientist, this is your stop.

2017 Reading Goals

I set myself some pretty epic goals for 2017. I didn't meet them all, but also: 2017. Let's review!

Read 110 items

Did it! In fact, I did it pretty early in the year, because I mainlined One Piece. I finished out the year at 160 items, not counting short stories and novelettes. Unfortunately what I learned from that: don't mainline One Piece. I burnt myself out. I was crispy by July, kept going against all advice from pals, and then turned into such a stubborn dummy about this issue in particular that I would burst into tears at the thought of having to keep reading One Piece but still kept doing it!!! Even though reading it helped me meeting my overall goal for the year I will never read that much One Piece all at once ever again. I will never read that much anything all at once ever again, in fact. Reading is fun, but there comes a point where you have to stop putting stuff into your brain and rest.

I did some quality reading of novels, too. There's a good mix of manga, prose, and comic books in my 2017 reading.

Read 30 new women writers

I rocked this goal, too. I didn't reach parity with WOC like I wanted to because some of the books I wanted to read were hanging out on the new shelf at the library. When I know I've only got two weeks with a book, it makes everything feel rushed and then I panic and don't finish so one of my side goals for the end of 2017 and into 2018 is to stay away from that darn new shelf.

This goal is specifically so I will I try a lot of new authors and different kinds of books. I also did it because even now, I see the very tired refrain that women just aren't writing about [X]. Ha! Joke's on you, deniers! Women are writing EVERYTHING. Here is a sample of what I read about this year:
  • near-feature social apocalypse
  • fantasy heists with magic
  • history of Monopoly, copyright, and corporate greed
  • clone murder mystery in space
  • mystery online romance
  • how much governments never cared about preventing cholera deaths
  • women in the JET Propulsion lab
  • military space opera with spies
  • bringing extinct animals back to life
  • how tons of women had to die of radium poisoning before some corporate dudes were held accountable
  • alternate history heists with hippos
  • the story of a stolen violin
  • young girl discovers her necromancer powers by bringing her brother back to life
  • spoiled rich kid in love with his best friend goes on european tour and pisses off rich white dudes
  • girl and robot team up to throw a wrench in the gears of war
  • house gets magicked and becomes hella racist and murderous
  • disturbing robot sex AND disturbing human sex
  • how religious cults will fuck up your happiness
  • demigod tries to take over the world and is foiled by another goddess, who also accidentally starts an AI revolution

Perhaps we could dispense with this idea that "women aren't writing [X]". Women are writing everything, literally, everything. You just have to look for it because culture isn't going to dump it in your lap like they do books by cis white dudes with marketing budgets that contain at least four zeros at the end. Also, the reason why this challenge has to be intersectional: cis white women are still going to get more support than women of color and trans women, so if you don't pay attention you're going to engage in another type of erasure. A lesson about this challenge I learned last year: if you decide to do a challenge like this, be on the lookout for books by nonbinary folks, too. It's easy to never see their books if you're focused on finding books by women.

Read 10 nonfiction titles

I did this! Even though my regular nonfiction reading time was often borked by insomnia I managed to get through my goal. The biggest discovery I've made after expanding my nonfiction reading is that it enriches my fiction reading a lot, too. I read so many books and related articles this year about fucked up corporations being greedy, dishonest, and actively murderous towards its employees, that it inevitably changed how I read Autonomous by Annalee Newitz for the better and made my reading experience more thoughtful about power, money, and equality in many of the other books I read, too.

I'm also getting pretty rad at random trivia facts.

Space Opera Challenge: read 15 titles

I did not manage this goal. Halfway through the year I realized I was very unhappy with the books I was choosing and got stuck in a place where I wanted to keep reading but I was always afraid I would continue to dislike books and start projecting my disappointment onto future books. I guess I gave up in discouragement. I'm just so was worth a shot, though, and I still own a bunch of books that I'll be able to read eventually.

Read 10 books I own purchased before January 1, 2017

This goal also didn't work out because I couldn't stay away from the library. That's it. That's the entire reason I failed. I love the library TOO MUCH.

Read 5% of my anticipated 2017 titles

This went way better than I expected. By "anticipated" book I include books I put in round ups of upcoming books here and that I discuss as looking forward to on Fangirl Happy Hour, which makes it hard to tell how I'm doing until after September. This year that came to 60 books, so I read 23% of my anticipated titles. Pretty solid since I was expecting it to be much lower.

2018 Reading Goals

  • Read 110 items — Again!
  • Read 30 new women writers (with 15 WOC minimum) — totally doable!
  • Read 15 nonfiction titles — related goal: better sleep hygiene.
  • Read 10 books I owned purchased before January 1, 2018 — let's try this again.
  • Read 15% of my anticipated 2018 titles — aim slightly higher, celebrate when achieved!
  • Read 10 pieces of short fiction (short stories/novelettes) — it's fine, [personal profile] forestofglory is going to help with this.
  • Read 4 books about slavery/Civil War/Reconstruction — it's only four because these books are a) fraught, b) huge, c) both.

Goodbye, 2017!
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