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If you’re not watching the Canadian science fiction TV series Orphan Black (airs on BBCA on Saturday nights at 9) you’re missing out on some killer writing and telelvision. The plot involves clones—all of whom are very, very different and all of whom are played masterfully by Tatiana Maslany, who really should be tendered all the awards like right now.

But the show, which explores concepts of identity, property, and ethics amongst many other things, has a progenitor in literature, and that is CJ Cherryh’s Cyteen.

Cyteen is set in Cherryh’s expansive Alliance-Union universe which, at last count, covered some 27 novels.  You can read them in any order. Some are only loosely connected. Alliance and Union (or rather Earth and Union) are at war. Very few of the Alliance-Union novels are actually set in Union, and if you dive into this universe first with say, Downbelow Station, you’ll end up not liking Union at all. They are very much the enemy, and a very creepy, almost alien enemy at that.

Wouldn’t you want to find out what life is like for the enemy?

Union is a creepy place. Its homeworld is the habitable (but not by humans) world of Cyteen. Cyteen’s lifeforms are silicate. Even breathing in the pollen of one of Cyteen’s trees will give you cancer and you will die. As a result, Union began to terraform the planet—but then stopped when one of the lifeforms became the basis of a rejuvenation drug.

That’s not all that makes Cyteen creepy. Union practices, on a gigantic scale, cloning.
The armed services are all clones. Much of the service classes are clones. Wealthy Union citizens can clone themselves and can have their own personal clones that work for them. Clone nannies. Clone butlers. Clone farmers. Clone airline pilots. Most clones have few rights although their children do have rights. They call these clones “azi”, short for “artificial zygote insemination.” The azi are a major plot point in the book 40,000 in Gehenna, the events of which are referenced in Cyteen. They are grown and hatched, in a sense, and then trained via “tape.” Keep in mind, Cyteen was first published in 1988, and tape-storage was supposed to be big then. You'll read about tape storage and its uses in a lot of scifi from that period. “Tape” is subliminal, and it can be used for bad, as we’ll soon see. Suffice to say, a great deal of the distrust toward Union is due to cloning and brainwashing.

Union has brilliant scientists---many of the original colonists were scientists. It was from the planet Cyteen where humanity gained faster-than-light travel.  And on the planet Cyteen, in the research city of Reseune founded by her parents, lives Ariane Emory. She is a brilliant, accomplished woman.  So brilliant, she is part of a political class known as the Specials--kind of government sanctioned geniuses. And she’s politically powerful too, heading the faction in Union government known as the Expansionists.

Her work enabled the birth of millions of azi. Her “tapes” are used to program those azi and when they become part of the general population of Union, they’ll shape the culture in a way that’s very different from Earth and the Alliance. A way that she wants it to be. No wonder Alliance is freaked the frak out.

She is also Machiavellian and scheming. She is also a sexual predator.

There’s no mistaking what she does to the son-clone (Justin Warrick) of her rival Jordan Warrick. She, and her personal azi, rape him. Early on in the book, she drugs him and rapes him. The book says Justin was not the first victim. Ari has a taste and her taste is totally gross.

He was the last of her victims. Although Ariane was dying (and she knew it) shortly afterwards she’s murdered. Her murderer is not caught, but Jordan is suspected of doing it. He professes his innocence but pleads guilty to keep his son (who is now deeply traumatized) and his son's azi safe. He goes into exile at a research outpost on one of Cyteen's unterraformed continents.

A decision is then made, largely based on Ariane’s wishes, but creepy and disturbing nonetheless. The powers-that-be decide that Ariane’s mind was too important to the nation of Union to just say goodbye to. They decide to not only clone Ari, but to bring up that clone exactly as Ari-the-first was, believing that they could get that brilliant mind back, and perhaps, they could fix her problem. They'd tried this previously, cloning the person who had given Union, and humanity, the faster-than-light drive. It failed, because Emory believed they didn't bring that clone up the same way the original was.

Nature versus nurture? An interesting argument.

They replicate everything as best they can, from a mother figure who was neglectful to her friends to her cousins. They even replicate the original Ari's azi, since they were terminated after she was murdered.

Things go reasonably okay for Ari2 and her childhood until she becomes a teenager and becomes aware that she’s not the first. She’s not unique. She’s an experiment and a pawn in a very large and vast game—like the clones in Orphan Black.

The great thing about Cherryh, and she does this through a lot of her work, is the exposition is thin. The adage is “Show, don’t tell.” She most definitely shows. You’re dropped right in to the inner workings of Union from the very start. There’s a wider universe out there but instead of dropping in that wider universe in an info dump you learn about it just through living the lives of the characters with them. The discovery of the deliberately abandoned colony that is the entire story in 40,000 in Gehenna is a major event for Union, and figures heavily into parts of Cyteen. The threads from a half-dozen other books are threaded into the story as well. Unlike other science fiction, there’s a huge outside world that’s happening in the background beyond our characters.

And the outside world, in Union at least, is complex and a little bit horrifying. Bits of it are utopian, but then there's the slavery. It's a democracy, but then there's the slavery. There's the mind control via "tape." The azi are slaves; it's really tough to get over that. Grant, Justin's azi and later lover, is the property of Reseune, and he knows it. Ari1's programming of the azi has them set to favor her political faction, the expansionists.

There’s a court scene where another faction disputes that Ari2 should have any rights (although their larger intent is to expose the first Ari's involvement with Gehenna.) There’s scenes with the azi, where House and Yard azi are depicted (yes, the terms are right out of US slavery). There’s the programming (Ari1 tries to reprogram Justin to forget the rape---it doesn’t take and he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder for much of the rest of the book).  People vanish into exile from Ari2’s childhood because they’re not exactly the same as Ari1’s childhood, over a century before. Cherryh does not pull back. She dives right in and takes us with her, and you end up a little bit sympathetic for Ari1—the Machiavellian supergenius sexual predator and her society that masquerades as a democracy where a majority of the people living in it are clones and little more than slaves, at first.

The book doesn’t answer who murdered the original Ariane Emory though. For that, you’ll need to read the sequel, Regenesis.

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Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sun May 25, 2014 at 06:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I love CJ Cherryh! (19+ / 0-)

    It's been a while since I've read these though, I should go back and reread and pick up the ones I've missed.

    I was introduced to Cherryh by a resident and his family when I worked as a CNA in a nursing home. He was a wonderful man suffering from a horrible disease, and his wife would come in and read to him every day. Of course we got to talking about books, and they recommended the author to me. I think about him every time I read one of these novels.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Sun May 25, 2014 at 06:40:48 PM PDT

  •  I read some high praise for 'Orphan Black', but (18+ / 0-)

    I have no TV. I rely on Hulu and the occasional DVD. If I wanted more, I'd get Netflix - but if I had it, I'd watch too much TV. As it is, I'm trying to cut back on internet, and spend more time reading novels and writing about them.

    I bought Cyteen a few years ago, because I'd heard readers raving about it for decades. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be totally absorbed, and will just love it. I guess I've been putting it off just because it's big. I tend to disappear into rich and subtle SF/Fantasy worlds.

    Since I'm allergic to spoilers, I only read the first two paragraphs of your diary. But I'm very glad that you're sharing it with us. I'd like to see more R&BLers writing SF/Fantasy diaries. I like how our various series cover so many different angles of books and fiction, and there are some qualities of fiction which appear intensely in SF.

    Here are some thoughts on that from Neil Gaiman, in an article called Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming:

    I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

    It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Sun May 25, 2014 at 06:46:50 PM PDT

  •  Thank heavens for digital books. I know that my (14+ / 0-)

    TBR pile could absolutely not withstand the addition of 27 more volumes, but you have made this world sound so intriguing that I really want to explore it.

    I take it that Cyteen is the place to start?

  •  I remember reading some of Cherryh's books (12+ / 0-)

    back in the dark ages (late 1970's early 80's).  She's developed an interesting futuristic world of sorts.  I believe her real name is Carolyn Janice Cherry.  She used initials to disguise the fact that she was a female writer, back in the days most scifi books were written by men.

    I've been stuck in fantasy worlds of the past rather than the future lately.  Recently I finished Robert Jordan's 14-book "Wheel of Time" series and I'm suffering withdrawal -  need a new fantasy world to get into.  I've tentatively started Kristen Britain's "Green Rider" series, but....I'm not sure yet.   Any good recommendations for a nice long fantasy-escape series?

    •  Fantasy series.. (9+ / 0-)

      I'm not sure what you've already read. Jim Butcher's series are good. Also, if you want another really long one, look up Robin Hobb. You want to start with the Farseer Trilogy (the 'Assassin books') then the Liveship Trader series, then the Tawny Man series then the Rain Wild Chronicles. They are all the same world and interconnected with characters. Right now there are 10 books in the series, with another one coming in August.

      Also you could look at Jennifer Roberson's Cheysuli Chronicles.  There's 8 of those, but you may be able to find them in Omnibus editions.

      "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

      by FloridaSNMOM on Sun May 25, 2014 at 08:17:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I very strongly recommend two series (9+ / 0-)

      by Michelle Sagara.  The easier one to get into is the Chronicles of Elantra, currently at nine volumes with the tenth due in July.  The other, published under the name Michelle West, consists of the Sacred Hunt duology, the Sun Sword hexalogy, and the House War series; the last is currently at five volumes with a sixth in progress.  I’ve listed them in the order in which they were published, but the internal order is a bit more complicated; see the link for details.

      I also highly recommend Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series, currently at seven books with three more under contract.  It’s urban fantasy, but much of it takes place in Faerie.  The first two books were plenty good enough to keep me reading, the third was very much better, and the series has maintained a high level ever since.  There aren’t many books that I buy automatically, but these and anything by Sagara are amongst those few.

      If you don’t mind a fair bit of grimth, there is of course Steven Erikson’s ten-volume Malazan Book of the Fallen, a truly remarkable job of worldbuilding, albeit not to everyone’s taste.

      •  Yes, read Michelle's books! (6+ / 0-)

        OK, she's a buddy of mine, and an amazing writer. A real writer's writer, but that doesn't mean her books are inaccessible.  Some are a bit long, but there's more to love, IMHO.

        I haven't read Seanan's latest few books, but she's also very, very talented.

        I couldn't get through the first bunch of pages of Erickson's series. I used to work in the biz, and that series was submitted to me twice, and while I knew it was a big deal in the UK, I just couldn't get into it.

        •  I'm envious: she's one of the handful of sff write (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ahianne, Brecht

          whom I've often thought that I'd like to meet.  I can't think of another writer in whose work I so consistently find so much emotional depth.  And I was much moved by the dedication in the first book in her new YA series; it's so nice to read about something positive once in a while.

    •  Two fantasy series come to mind..... (7+ / 0-)

      both written years ago so I don't know if they still hold up well.  One is the Cluster series by Piers Anthony.  The other series is the Dragonriders of Pern.

      I know I read some Cherryh books years ago but Cyteen wasn't one of them.

      The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace – Mahatma Gandhi

      by Texnance on Sun May 25, 2014 at 09:51:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've got a couple (6+ / 0-)

      The Outlander tales by Diana Gabledon
      The PERN stories & The Rowan tales by Anne McCaffrey
      The Hallows tales by Kim Harrison

      In each of these multi-book story arcs, you'll find lots of strong women characters. Which I like.

      Plus, they are are terrifically told stories, full of great depth of backstory and a world of characters to populate that backstory.

      I'm sure you'll find someone to love in at least one of them.

      "I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization"

      by Angie in WA State on Sun May 25, 2014 at 10:42:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Since you're going off on a bit of a tangent ... (6+ / 0-)

      ... asking about fantasy series' ...

      I'll use this chance to ask if anyone here has read much -- or anything -- of Lord Dunsany (who seems to be considered one of the first fantasy writers)?  

      I've heard of him for years, and his influence on so many people, like Lovecraft, Howard, Gaiman, etc., so I just read The King Of Elfland's Daughter, from 1923.

      I had mixed feelings, tending toward positive ... but won't go into it much more unless some others are more experienced and up for discussing him.

      •  I read two collections of his short stories (5+ / 0-)

        and found a lot to enjoy there. From what I've read about his work, most of the best of it was in his stories, because he had a colorful imagination and a natural flow at storytelling, but never put in the hard work necessary to shape a satisfying novel.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Mon May 26, 2014 at 03:26:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks, that's the impression I got too. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Brecht, Anna M, RiveroftheWest, Ahianne

          According to Wikipedia he was incredibly prolific ... partly because he was the kind of lucky jerk we all envy, who could write first drafts of incredible quality, but then seldom rewrote them after than.

          He also wrote everything with quill pens he made himself, from duck feathers he found on his property, and he always had to write while sitting on a certain crumpled old hat.  I wish I could have met him!

  •  Quarkstomper wrote a diary nine months ago on (13+ / 0-)

    Sci-Fi/Fantasy Club: Women in Science Fiction.

    Since I can't say much on C J Cherryh, through my own ignorance, I thought I'd cull what kossacks said in that diary about her.

    I'm a big fan of . . C J Cherryh's series of spacegoing felines.         - Blacksheep1

    c j cherryh, oh yes! I also love a series she evidently got sucked into writing for Janet  Morris, the Heroes in Hell books. Cherryh herself doesn't like 'em, but I love them, everyone that I've managed to find. I also really like her Alliance-Universe stories.                           - pimutant

    I've Read Pride of Chanur... but it's been many years; otherwise I probably would have remembered to include Cherryh.                                   - quarkstomper

    I've spent a good chunk of the last year catching up on C J Cherryh's Foreigner series, and can hardly wait for the next installment.                           - Ahianne

    OMG, I remember when CJ Cherryh broke onto the scene. (Well, I had never heard of her before...this was, I think, back in the early seventies?)
    Her novels blew me away.                         - Youffraita

    Lately, I have become hooked on C. J. Cherryh's books.   They were there in that bookstore twenty years ago, but I wasn't ready for them.    Now that I am older, I am better able to understand the politics of her stories, which is the heart of her works.    The Pride of Chanur is a frequent re-read.  I just finished re-reading 40,000 in Gehenna, and am working on the Foreigner series.  I had read the early books, and am now discovering the rest of the series.   I have read some of her other Cyteen novels.  They are rather dystopic, but highly interesting.                                          - DFWmom

    C.J. Cherryh, for both sf&f - my pick of her sf is the Cyteen trilogy, of fantasy, probably The Paladin                    - serendipityisabitch

    cfk also praises C J Cherryh frequently.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Sun May 25, 2014 at 07:06:17 PM PDT

  •  CJ is a wonderful lady. What she puts her (13+ / 0-)

    characters through is sometimes brutal, but it her writing is always amazing.
    Thank you, Terry, for talking about Cyteen this evening. It has been a long time since I read it, but you've reminded me how much I enjoyed the Alliance-Union novels. I would also recommend her Merovingen Nights series.
    By the way, her brother David Cherry is a respected artist who has done cover work for SF titles. Very talented family!

    This comment is a natural product. The slight variations in spelling and grammar enhance its individual character and beauty and in no way are to be considered flaws or defects.

    by blue muon on Sun May 25, 2014 at 07:26:38 PM PDT

  •  Cherryh is a wonderful, subtle, brilliant writer (14+ / 0-)

    And Cyteen is definitely her "best" single work.  As near as you are ever going to get to a last word on the nature vs nature controversy/dialectic, plus an incredible murder mystery. I think her roommate in graduate school at Johns Hopkins was a biologist, though she wrote this maybe 25 years later.

    For me, reading this book is like drinking Benedictine, the complexity and subtleties of flavors, if that communicates to anyone. Its like very few books in this for me--Portrait of a Lady by Henry James might be another.

    Regenesis, written maybe 7 or 8 years ago (?) is another brilliant book, and an immediate sequel, though on a very different theme.  To oversimplify, it brings to life in a convincing way I have never seen elsewhere, the decay of civil institutions and slow slide into military autocracy during and following a near total war.  I suspect, but do not know for a certainty, that it is not accidental that Regenisis was written during the George W. Bush era.  As a writer above commented, Cherryh is a very tough, though sensitive, writer with a rather dystopian view of "human" "nature."

    For something completely different, and also a favorite of mine, immerse yourself in her "Foreigner" series in which the main protagonist is a translator and "interpreter" in both the narrow and broadest senses.  But my mother was a language teacher and my wife is from South America so maybe I'm predisposed to this pleasure.

  •  We haven't gotten the whole story *yet* (8+ / 0-)

    Regenesis, like Cyteen itself, ends on a kind of cliffhanger with loose threads flapping all over the place. And if the ending of Cyteen was vaguely unsatisfying (just what did tip [spoiler block] over the edge?), the ending of Regenesis is very unsatisfying.

    I wonder if she's planning a sequel to the sequel, and if she intends to tidy up the loose ends (she usually doesn't - it's not her style).

    If it's
    Not your body,
    Then it's
    Not your choice
    And it's
    None of your damn business!

    by TheOtherMaven on Sun May 25, 2014 at 09:21:20 PM PDT

  •  Can i see Orphan Black if I only have internet? (4+ / 0-)

    ....i don't have tv nor internet channels.   is it available through some site on the internet?  
    an avi sci-fi fan  


    by Medman on Sun May 25, 2014 at 09:30:56 PM PDT

  •  I've only read the Chanur side of the (10+ / 0-)

    Alliance-Union tales.

    I've got all the rest, on my TBR list.

    But the Chanur stories are some of my favorites sci-fi, right up there with:
    PERN by Anne McCaffrey
    Uplift War by fellow Kossack, David Brin
    Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
    Anything by Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke

    Getting inside the head of a non-terrestrial being? That takes a truly gifted writer.

    C. J. Cherry (her publisher got her to initialize her name and add the h to Cherry, such was the case for women science fiction writers only a couple of decades ago) is such a writer.

    Great diary :-)

    "I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization"

    by Angie in WA State on Sun May 25, 2014 at 10:35:42 PM PDT

  •  Cherryh writes about power (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, RiveroftheWest

    It's her own and only topic, and that works for me.

    (Except: really, kitties in space?  Give me a break.)

    I did get tired of the continual human-male bashing: apparently human males in the future just TOTES suck.  Really, not a good one in the bunch.

  •  I read everything up until (6+ / 0-)

    the first few Foreigner books, and I got annoyed at the clifffhangers.  And I didn't connect well with the Foreigner cosmology, compared to things like Serpent's Reach and 40,000 in Gehenna.

    Hmmm.  Maybe I should reread Cyteen; I read it when it first came out.

    "Republicans are poor losers and worse winners." - My grandmother, sometime in the early 1960s

    by escapee on Mon May 26, 2014 at 05:38:30 AM PDT

  •  One of my favorite novels (6+ / 0-)

    by one of my favorite writers.

    I found her first through the Chanur novels - which have to be among the most extreme examples of what you called "thin" writing. Totally action-packed but at the same time a fascinating thought experiment in what I think of as international relations on steroids. Not only different cultures and histories like we have to deal with, but different species that think in fundamentally different ways (the most powerful of which can't even be communicated with in any real fashion) all trying to keep their delicate balance from collapsing in the face of a looming alien threat, which just happens to be the humans of the Alliance/Union novels.

    Funny though, while I love Orphan Black I hadn't thought of the conceptual connections to Union.

    "Turns out I'm really good at killing people." - President Obama

    by jrooth on Mon May 26, 2014 at 05:55:34 AM PDT

  •  I've tried to read "Cyteen", (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Brecht, Ahianne

    got all the way through it, and still don't feel as if I know what the plot is about.

    Maybe it's time to try again.

    I do like the Morgaine books quite a bit; especially that we see all the high tech stuff through Vanye's intelligent but not-knowing eyes. (Even though it took Vanye and Morgaine three and a half books to, well ... ) .

    The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

    by raboof on Mon May 26, 2014 at 12:24:46 PM PDT

  •  I love CJ Cherryh (4+ / 0-)

    I worked at one of her publishers for many years, so I've known her for a while. She's amazing. Just got married to her longtime partner Jane Fancher, a week or so ago. I'm so happy for them.

    I haven't read all her books--I read the Rusalka books when they first came out, long before I worked in publishing. I've read all the Foreigner books; it's amazing to me that a series that long can still be so good, most series go downhill after a while as the author loses interest or runs out of ideas. Carolyn, though, always seems to have more ideas, one of which is that she introduces new characters: I love Cajieri, the young alien boy who is featured in the later Foreigner books.

    I have to admit I haven't read Cyteen, although I did read Regenesis--you should read Cyteen first so you have an idea what's going on.  

    I don't think anyone else has mentioned The Faded Sun books, you can get them in an omnibus. Wonderful, engrossing, and one of her best and most "alien" aliens in the mri. Carolyn's aliens aren't just people with funny skin colors and ears, they think in alien ways. (Albeit enough like humans so that we'll enjoy reading about them.)

    Carolyn writes SF books from the point of view of an anthropologist, of someone who studies cultures. The issues of miscommunication between alien races is the basis of Foreigner, where one person is chosen as the "paidhi", the interpreter between the alien atevi and the lost humans who have crash-landed on their planet as he is the one with the closest understanding of the atevi. Problem is, the paidhi begins to identify more with the atevi than the humans.

    •  That is SO true: (4+ / 0-)
      Carolyn writes SF books from the point of view of an anthropologist, of someone who studies cultures.
      Think I met her once, long enough to shake her hand; certainly never knew her as well as you do.

      But it's that anthropological take on society that makes her work so interesting.

      English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

      by Youffraita on Mon May 26, 2014 at 09:41:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Downbelow Station (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, Ahianne

    For those just dipping their toes into the deep waters of the Alliance-Union books, I'd suggest starting with Downbelow Station. It was one of her first works in that universe and she explains the background and current events a bit more in it than she does in many of her books, where you are just thrown into a complicated situation in a complex universe without much in the way of explication. It's also a pretty good yarn in its own right.

    One other caution. She tends to write the space battles, of which there are a fair number, in a scientifically accurate way but doesn't really explain at all what is going on. So, all the tactics and maneuvering can be bewildering. So, a couple pointers. Most battles start with the forces several light-hours or days apart and the tactics involve predicting where and how fast the other side will be going when they are close enough to engage. The other thing is that for a huge battleship, changing direction and/or velocity is not a trivial matter.

    It was very confusing for me at the time. Hopefully this will clear things up a bit.

  •   A great book by the author I think is (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Ahianne, Brecht

    the best SF writer working today.  She is tough and you have to pay attention but so good.

  •  Cherryh fans may appreciate (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ahianne, Brecht

    Diana Wynne Jones' short story Nad And Dan Adn Quaffy

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