Friday, 29 December 2017

My Books of the Year (Fiction)

For my pick of non-fiction books I've read this year, see here.

Again, these are in no particular order...

John Scalzi (ed), Metatropolis 
I'm not sure how to describe this.  It's an anthology of stories by authors who've set themselves the task of writing in a shared future - a post-urban one.  There is a heavy leaning to a world where Green Is Good. 
Like all anthologies it's a bit hit-and-miss, but I enjoyed it a lot - in no small part because it introduced me to some interesting new writers.

Jason Goodwin, The Snake in the Stone
This is the second of Goodwin's novels about Yashim the Eunuch, a resident of 1830s Constantinople who (of course!) gets roped-in as a sort of semi-official investigator when crimes threaten the status quo
In this case it's the murder of a dodgy French archaeologist who has been upsetting the city's Greek community just when the authorities don't need it (the Sultan is dying).  Can Yashim find what lies at the heart of a conspiracy that goes back centuries?  (Spoiler: Yes, he can.)
Goodwin, who's also a published historian of the Ottomans, obviously knows his stuff.  The way he describes the city, its people and its food is a real pleasure to read, and Yashim is a very engaging companion.

Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk and Moriarty.
Of course I'm cheating here counting these separate books as one  (thus turning my Top Ten up to eleven).  But I read them both in 2017, so they both fall within the parameters of this list.  Indeed, I was so pleased by The House of Silk, that I went out and got Moriarty straight away.
I've not read any of Horowitz's books before,  He's best known as the author of Young Adult books such as the Alex Rider series and as creator of the TV's Inspector Foyle.
Both books are Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  The House of Silk was apparently the first pastiche authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate.  In a way it's a straightforward  tale in the style of Conan Doyle, but very skillfully done.  As you'd expect, it's narrated by Watson and concerns two intertwined cases.  There is a nice twist at the end which I didn't see coming (perhaps blinded by the twist which I was allowed to see).
Twists are obviously Horowitz's bag, as he takes us on a much more twisty route with Moriarty.  Not so obviously a copy of Conan Doyle's model, it takes us into his world from a different direction.
In the Swiss morgue that holds Moriarty's body after his encounter with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, a Pinkerton agent meets Insp Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard.  Together they set out to stop the vacuum created by his death being filled by a new threat

Kim Newman, Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles.
Talking of Holmes pastiches, here's another one. It follows one of the more traditional of pastiche styles - "Look I'm taking the Holmes characters and mixing them with other writers'.  Aren't I clever and amusing!"  In fact, The Hound of the D'Urbervilles is both clever and amusing, because Newman know's his stuff.  He also has an engaging writing style which doesn't judder to a halt and signpost every time he makes an historical or literary reference.   A knowledge of turn-of-the-century adventure literature would help, but if you've heard of Fu Manchu, Raffles and Ruritania, you'll get by nicely.
The gimmick here is that instead of the found writings of Watson writing about Holmes' cases, we have those of Colonel Sebastian "Basher" Moran writing about those of everyone's favorite consulting criminal, Moriarty.  A fun read, which reminded me of the best of Flashman.  
I hadn't read any Newman before, but I've got his Dracula books on the shelf and will give them a go. 

Peter F Hamilton, Great North Road.  
In putting this list together, I was surprised that there wasn't more science fiction.  
In this stand-alone book, Hamilton picks up some of the themes of his other works - corporate dynasties, cloning technologies and wormholes - and weaves together a story in which a murder one cold, snowy night in 2143's Newcastle turns out to be of planetary importance.  
Hamilton is, of course a master of both world-building and character creation and here we see him at his best.  If I had a quibble, I would say that at 1,087pp, it's about 150 pages too long.  
After reading this I was lured into starting the Void Trilogy.  I enjoy Hamilton's work and I have nothing against either brick-sized books or trilogies.  The problem is that they do need some investment.  The Void books require me to remember who is who in the Commonwealth Saga.  Now I enjoyed the Commonwealth Saga a lot (it's probably some of Hamilton's best work), but I read it over ten years ago and my memory isn't sufficiency good to recall relatively minor characters.  To cut a long story short, I've got stuck about a third of the way through the second book and moved on to other things.  
However, I don't want to put anyone off,  as I say, Great North Road is a stand-alone, so if you want to read 1,000 pages of great science-fiction instead of 5,000 give it a go. 

Andrew Weir, The Martian.  
This wasn't a new read for 2017.  The Martian has become one of my go-to books when I want to read something familiar.  
I suspect it doesn't need much introduction.  It's a story of exploration and survival as a lone astronaut on Mars desperately tries to live long enough to be rescued. 
Good hard sci-fi.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

My Books of the Year (Non-Fiction)

It's the time of year for introspective posts, so I thought I'd put together a list of the top ten books I've read this year.

This list isn't in any particularly order.  It had been my intention to choose five fiction and five non-fiction titles, but I found that I hadn't read as much non-fiction as I'd thought, and that in choosing five I was struggling and excluding some fiction that deserved the cut.  Nevertheless, I;ve still been able to waffle on about them at suffient length to justify splitting the list into two posts in order to give you a break.

So, here we go...

Claire Tomlin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self.  
A  biography of Pepys, who shouldn't need any introduction to my readers.  The C17th "isn't my period", but Tomlin did the trick of making Restoration politics interesting and giving a good, rounded picture of the world Pepys was operating it.  
Unlike some other of his biographers, she devotes as much energy to Pepys' life after he stopped writing the diary as before.  In doing so, she reminds us just what an interesting life he led, and us what a loss it was that it ended where it did.  
We're so used to the diary set-pieces being thrown as us - what would it be like if they included his impressions of Paris, the death his long-suffering wife or the short reign of James II?  What would we learn about the machinations that saw him elected to Parliament, Secretary to the Admiralty, imprisoned in the Tower, tried as a cypto-Catholic and serving out his time as a non-Juror?  What personal revelations would we find about 'the second Mrs Pepys', the mistress that he kept for 20 years?  
This is a damn good read, and the best book I read this year.

DA Thomas, Edwin's Letters: A Fragment of a Life, 1940-43.    
As the subtitle suggests, this is a biography on a much smaller scale than the one of Pepys.  Thomas has collected letters (mostly from Edwin to his mother) relating to his brother's time in the RAF, from call-up, through training, to joining a bomber crew, being declared 'Missing' and finally the confirmation of his death in action. 
It's the fact that very little of this book concerns itself with operation matters that appeals to me. The great majority of the letters concern themselves with a young man thrown into a strange world and bothered about things like whether he will have to re-sit his exams on navigation yet again.

Geoffrey Bennett, Naval Battles of the First World War. 
Capt Bennett's study - first published in 1969 - is now a classic, and perhaps somewhat dated.  Despite this it's well worth the read if you want an introduction to the Royal Navy's activities during the war, particularly the Big Ships.  If you want something more comprehensive that covers all theatres, nations and types of naval combat, read Paul G Halpern's A Naval History of World War I, which I also heartily recommend,
Bennett starts with a consideration of how the German merchant cruisers were tracked down and neutralised - concentrating as you'd imagine from the title on von Spee's squadron and the Battles of Coronel and the Falklands - and the pursuit of the Goben and Breslau.  After that, despite a couple of interesting chapters on the U-boat campaigns, he is firmly focused on the North Sea face-off between the Grand Fleet and the Hochseeflotte.  
For those of you who are naval wargamers, this provides a lot of inspiration and food for thought: not least on the problem of how inadequately wargames represent the fog of war, mis-identification, lack of communication and sheer bloody cock-up.

Elizabeth Speller, Following Hadrian: A Second Century Journey Through the Rom an Empire.
I picked this book up thinking that it would be a travelogue, following some of Hadrian's peregrinations.  It isn't.  In a way it's more than that, it's a consideration of Hadrian's philhellenism and how that affected his attitude to ruling an empire.  Mainly it is concerned with the visit to Greece and Egypt in 128-130CE and how the mysterious death of his lover Antinous changed him and quite possibly his plans for the Empire.
I'm not a Roman scholar, or even anyone with more than a general knowledge of Roman history, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of Speller's arguments.  Certainly, I can imagine that for someone with a 'serious; interest in Roman history her insertion of large chunks of a fictitious diary of one of the Empress' confidants would grate.  For me, those bits were well done and reminiscent of Allan Massie's books (his praise is the cover blurb), but perhaps they belonged in another book.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Monsterman and AD&D Dieties

Now, I think I've probably mentioned James Holloway's podcast Monsterman ('Because Monsters Are Interesting') before.  Some of you will know James from his blog Gonzo History: Gaming Edition, but Monsterman is
a podcast that delves into the classic AD&D Monster Manual from 1977. Every episode looks at one or more D&D monsters, digging deeper into their inspirations and uses. 
It's not so learned as to put one off, but there's some really interesting stuff there.  Basically a mix of 'real' mythology and a consideration of why it appealed to hairy '70s types.  If you play RPGs and especially if your a GM who's interested in world-building, it will reward listening.  We need more of this kind of stuff.

It suits my magpie mind very well and, quite frankly, if you find my approach to blogging of interest, James does in much better.

James has now launched a new project.  Do consider supporting it:-


Edit

Although I've said that MonsterMan isn't off-putting, be aware that Deities and Demigonds does have it's moments.  Frankly, you're not going to get a consideration of the Sumerian Pantheon that doesn't include chaps with confusing names and discussion of  some Big Ideas.  Do persevere though.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

November Loot

For various reasons I won't go into now, November was a complete write-off hobby-wise.  I've just checked and it was one of only two months since August 2012 when I haven't even made a single blog post.  But I'm not here to beat myself up about it...

With the prep underway for the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge 'Ate, hopefully this will change, but I thought I'd start the ball rolling with the old stalwart - 'What I've Bought Recently'.  As regular readers will know, I don't spend much money on hobbies, so it's not a large haul.

With the relative successes of Zomtober and 'Go Sober!' I thought I'd treat myself to some of the money the latter saved me so went out and got me a survivor's gang.


These, of course, are Hasslefree Miniatures post-apoc version of Mystery Inc - hopefully should be fun to paint. 

While in this self-congratulatory mood I also treated myself to David Manley's White Bear, Red Sun - his mini campaign covering the Russo-Japanese War, which I blogged about when they were published back in early October


Since then, Topside Minis have released their Tsushima range and David announced yesterday that his supplement covering the naval side of the Spanish American War is now available.  Both are high on my list for my next splurge of retail therapy.


For some years now Bob Murch at Pulp Figures has been producing a figure to raise money for Movember (his giving page is still open).  For the first time these have been easily available in the UK , with North Star carrying masses of Bob's ranges, so I took the opportunity to pick up previous years' figures (this year's didn't appeal to me).  As you can see, these are really great figures, full of character.

Misc Stuff

28mm  mini for scale

A really lucky find was this semi-flat Doughboy that I picked up very cheaply in a charity shop.

Yesterday, I went for a mooch around some of the 'antique' shops in town (as a antidote to Christmas shopping).  I was lucky enough to find this:-


Seems to be complete...
For those interested, the write-up on BoardGame Geek can be seen here.  A few months ago I'd seen a copy of L'Attaque, the land equivalent, and had been half kicking myself for not picking one up. 

Friday, 27 October 2017

Sober for October!



Well, I'm in the final stretch of my sober for October challenge, raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support   Thank you everyone for your support.   If you feel able to, please give me a boost by making a donation - the price of a pint of beer sounds reasonable. 

Donations can be made at my giving page.  Cheers!


Saturday, 21 October 2017

No Zomtober This Week - But Noggin!

I doubt very much whether I'll be posting anything for Zomtober this weekend. 

I have done any painting this week, and I'm feeling so awful at the moment I can see any being done over the weekend.

On the bright side, there is a rather nice Kickstarter going on, which may warm the cockles of the heart of anyone who was in the UK during the late 60s and 70s.


Yes, it's Noggin the Nog!

Sadly, given the above-stated 'feeling so awful' situation, my immediate thoughts were on the grumpy side of negative:

  • There's no mention of the IP rights in the 'Risks' section.  Edit:  I've just re-read the preamble, and is says they've got a licence from the Postgate sons.  So - Yay!
  • At £20.00 for a blister of four figures or £60.00 for all 16 figures, it is very expensive

If you aren''t as grumpy as I am, go and have a look at it here - a month left to run and already fully-funded.


Monday, 16 October 2017

Zomtober '17 - Week 3 (in Week 4!)


To comply with the not-very-demanding Zomtober rules, these should really have been posted yesterday.  I'm sorry about that - they just weren't ready.

As a bit of compensation, I can offer no less that four (yes, that's right, four!) Zeds instead of the one-a-week I'm managed so far during the month.


And what a bunch they are.  Warlord Miniatures' again, and I'm beginning to warm to them a little. 

It's hard to tell from these photos (or on the table really), but I've attempted my first lady zombie.  This was done by the simple expedience of sticking a head from the female sprue onto one of the male torsos.  It's an interesting head - half the face has been eaten away to reveal the skull, but I don't know if you can see that from the photo.


As promised , I thought I'd try blue scrubs rather than last week's green ones.  I prefer the blue as they stand out more on the table: what do you think?  It is. of course the same body.  As with all these zombies, I've perhaps gone OTT on grunging her up. 



Halloween Sale!

I dare say we'll get quite a few of these as the month comes on, but Hasslefree Miniatures has beaten the rush by announcing 20% off orders for the rest of the month (which won't be shipped until the beginning of November).  They of course do some rather nice zombies and survivors.

Friday, 13 October 2017

"Chap(s) With the Wings" and Dwarves

Jenkins is going to need more than five rounds!
I saw these the other day in a charity shop and, although I haven't got an immediate use for them, they must be useful for something.  Right?  Statues, living or otherwise.

It a set from Past Times, apparently a 'Gothic form' of noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe for those of you on t'other side of Atlantic) made of resin.  It provides ten gargoyles of two slightly different designs.  Only one is broken.


Dwarves!

In other news, Northstar Miniatures are taking pre-orders from today for their 'Oathmark: Battles of the Lost Age' dwarves (with goblins, men and elves to come and a promise of other races).  You probably know all about this, as they have been trailing their coat for some months, but
Oathmark is a mass-battle fantasy wargame in which players command armies of dwarves, elves, goblins, and men, and campaign to expand their realms and secure the loyalty of those they conquer. Oathmark allows players to field the fantasy army they have always wanted, whether a company of stalwart dwarves or a mixed force with proud elves and wild goblins standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the battle line.
The rules are being written by Joe McCullough, of Frostgrave fame, and published by Osprey Games.  The miniatures (which we are told will be compatible with Frostgrave minis) are sculpted by Bob Naismith.

Joe McC's post
Review of Dwarves
Preview of Goblins
Northstar's Oathmark page

Metal Dwarf Wizard (or Frostgrave Raven Master?)
I doubt whether I'll go for the game, but I do have a soft spot nicely sculpted dwarves.  Northstar has done the rank-and-file in plastic (a box gives you enough to build 30) with 'character figures' in metal.  Sounds a good approach.  Pre-orders are a bit cheaper and come with bonus figures.

Metal Dwarf King

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Hobbit on the Shelf

OK, before I start I'll admit that this is really a) a post about nothing and, b) a very First World Problem.  Be prepared to snort in disgust and think "What is he complaining about?!".  But you should have realised before now that I prefer to blog about trivia rather than the real problems of the world!

This is why I frequent charity shops!
A lucky find last week of a couple of Christopher Tolkien's books in a charity shop caused something of a storage crisis.

First some context.  When My Wife and I moved in to live together we faced the problem of how to merge our books.  I'm led to believe that this isn't an uncommon stumbling-block - rather akin to the shock at finding one's wife squeezes the toothpaste tube from the middle(!)  or the fact that I eat my boiled egg from the wrong end.*  The problem was that I like to arrange fiction alphabetically and non-fiction by subject, whereas My Wife prefers the serendipity of the 'as found' approach.**  I won't bother going into the story of how we resolved this (partly because it's so trivial that I can't remember).  Enough to stay that we have a storage problem when it comes to books.  Shelves are double- or triple-staked and have volumes lying flat upon the tops of the standing ones.

*As we all know, literary wars have been fought over such things.
**Paradoxically, She trained as a librarian and I as an archivist. 

Occasionally, we try to rationalise things (and sometimes even get rid of books!), and the purchase of the volumes of 'The History of Middle Earth' prompted me to do so with the Tolkiens.  Since the last sort-out, some Tolkien and books about Tolkien have been downstairs on the fiction shelves (between Thynne and Tolstoy obviously) and others have been on my bedside pile (apparently bookshelves in the bedroom spoil 'sleep hygiene', so we compromise by having books piled around instead).


This was not satisfactory!  

Tolkien is now consolidated on has his own shelf (except for his writings on Middle English, which are wherever My Love keeps her books on Medieval Lit).

Not much room for expansion...

See?  I told you this was a blog post about nowt.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Zomtober '17: Week 3 - WIP


A WIP post for Zombtober. Not for today - because today has been crap - but for yesterday.

So, I spent a little time de-spruing and assembling some Zombs.  I got a half-dozen done before the inevitable meeting between craft knife and index finger.  Fortunately, I had some superglue on hand.

Tomorrow they *might* get primed, which would give me a dozen to play with before the end of Week 3 on Sunday.  What's the betting I only have one complete yet again?

Again, these are Zombs from Warlord Game's Project Z.   I must admit to being somewhat disappointed that the Zombie Horde expansion pack merely duplicates the sprues in the core box.  Am I naive in this?  I'm not terribly fond of the female figures (both Zombs and survivors), who are all a bit tits and ass for my liking - but again, that's probably just me being picky.

Blogging Schedule

If things go to plan, you should see the following posts this week.  But who knows, something exciting might happen to mix everything up!

Thursday - JRRT books
Friday - Dwarves and gargoyles
Saturday - Paint table
Sunday - Zomtober

Monday, 9 October 2017

Royals in Medals Update: The Wessexes (Again)



The main 'Royals in Medals' page for the Earl and Countess of Wessex is here.

As the Wessexes are currently the Queen's go-to couple for foreign engagements, they are picking up several foreign commemoratives that may prove tricky to identify in future - though most will only have permission to wear at functions relating to appropriate nation.

We have already covered one such, which turned out to be either commemorative for enthronement  of Prince Albert of Monaco in  2005, or his July 2011 wedding.

Another appears to have been awarded to both the Earl and Countess last week, when they attended the celebrations of the Sultan of Brunei's Golden Jubilee. 

The Earl attended the Silver Jubilee ceremonies 25 years ago, and wears the Silver Jubilee Medal at the end of his rack.  As some stage (which I missed), he was also awarded the Canadian Forces Decoration, as was the Countess.





Sunday, 8 October 2017

Zomtober '17: Week 2


Slow progress this Zomtober, but I've met the criteria of having at least one zombie or survivor to show each Sunday.


I'm not sure whether it's clear given the poor quality of the photos, but this chap (another of Warlord's) is wearing medical scrubs.  They're not as shiny in real life as the photos, but I still think that the next one I do will be in blue rather than this green.


More zombs next week...

Friday, 6 October 2017

Russo-Japanese War



This just received from Long Face Games (AKA David Manley)
Released today from Long Face Games, White Bear, Red Sun is a mini campaign covering the Russo Japanese War from the initial surprise attack on Port Arthur through to Tsushima and beyond. 
Also included is a brief history of the naval campaign and the “Broadside and Salvo” fast play pre-dreadnought rules and a complete set of ship data for the rules allowing the campaign to be fought out over a weekend or a few club nights. As well as the main 48 page book in PDF format there are additional files with A4 and A3 versions of the campaign map, sea area control counters and ship record counters for both sides for use with the campaign system. 
All for the princely sum of £7.50 
http://www.wargamevault.com/product/223354/White-Bear-Red-Sun
This seems an excellent bargain, especially as the promised release of Topside Minis Tsushima Set is soon..

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Zomtober '17: Week 1


 Well, the Zomtober rules requiring submissions on Sundays in the month, Week 1 is already on us!

I therefore present Patient Zero.... 


A businessman just back from a inspection tour of a new Asian facility for the cloning of GM battery chickens.  He developed a snuffle on the flight home...



He's one of the Warlord Project Z figures.  His other arm's somewhere between the shed (where I primed him) and my painting table.

My first bash at a Zombie - quick and dirty.



Saturday, 30 September 2017

Going Sober for October!



October is for more than painting Zombies - Macmillan Cancer Support are having a campaign to raise funds by having social drinkers think about stopping drinking.  There's some good reasons for doing this.  First, it raises money for a damn cause and, secondly, because drinking alcohol is a major cause of cancers in the general population.

Now, please excuse me while I go into "Testify!" mode.

Like most people, I know too many people who have had cancer.  In my case, both my elder brother and my mother died far too young because of it.  Macmillan Cancer Support provides help and advice to those with cancer and their dear ones.  It is a charity that campaigns for better cancer care in the UK.

I have had problems with drinking.  Although these days I would classify myself as a social drinker, in the past it has caused me a great deal of trouble.  It has cost me a degree, a job and several friendships.  I have had health problems, both physical and mental, because of it, culminating in a suicide attempt that left me in a coma for two weeks.  Breaking the habit for this month will help me stop entirely.  If I can raise awareness and money along the way, that's a good thing.

I ask for your support.  If you wish to donate to Macmillan though my giving page, I would be grateful.

If drinking ins't your vice, there's also Stoptober - the NHS campaign to encourage people to stop smoking.

Paint Table Saturday: Zom 1


Nothing terribly exciting here - just a little proof of life [sic].


A handful of Warlord zombies ready to be primed.  I'll talk more about them tomorrow in what should be my first Zomtober post.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Zomtober is Nigh!



With November almost upon us I've decided to participate in Zomtober - basically a joint effort by painting bloggers to get some Zombies or Survivors painted.  Details and a role-call can be found here.



I had thought that I'd leave the Project Z figures I picked up (way back in March) until this winter's Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge, but there's no harm in getting a head start on them.  For the Zomtober challenge I only need to do a minimum of one a week, which even I should manage!

And last night I found a tutorial on painting Z's...

Who knows, I might get a Halloween game in!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Killer AIs, Misogynists and Old Salts


I've recently been listening to a couple of Geeklyinc podcasts.

The first is then deliciously darkly comic SAYER - as the blurb says:-
SAYER is a narrative fiction podcast set on Earth’s man-made second moon, Typhon. The eponymous SAYER is a highly advanced, self-aware AI created to help acclimate new residents to their new lives, and their new employment with Ærolith Dynamics. 
I'm enjoying it a lot - witness the fact that I zoomed through 50 episodes in a couple of days (and nights!) and have been eagerly awaiting new ones.

Second, is Cthulhu & Friends.
actual play of the Call of Cthulhu tabletop roleplaying game using a modified version of the d20 ruleset.
This I'm more ambiguous about.  I want to listen to some Call of Cthulhu play or some Mythos-inspired Pulp Fiction, but the truth is that I don't find the cast very engaging.

I've thought about it, and it comes down to the fact that They Are Dicks.  I don't mind the swearing (they make a feature of it, keeping a "fuck count" which brings a penalty.  No, what it comes down to is that (despite the GM and one of the three players being women) it's deeply misogynistic.  That might be acceptable in the role-play - set in the 1950s after all - but it's in their personal interaction.  I don't like hearing women referred to as 'bitches' and all the references to 'pussy'.

So, if anyone has any recommendations for other Pulp listening, I'd be grateful.  It doesn't have to be as pure as the driven snow, but Dicks need not apply.

Salty Types

On the dead tree front I've been buying and reading some WWI naval books lately.

It's good to reignite old interests.

It's been making me think I should make some more Old Salts posts.  Last night in reading a chapter I thought on four different occasions 'Now his story would make and interesting post".

Monday, 11 September 2017

Gary Gygax, JRR Tolkien and Sid James Walk Into a Bar...



Another week, another Kickstarter...

Philip Hynes, one of the most talented sculptors in 28mm, has  launched a Kickstarter to fund the manufacture of some of his miscellaneous minis.  As the blurb says, it's an eclectic mix - figures that Phil seems to have scultpted just for the fun of it.  Despite the lack of theme (don't worry, there are more Undead Spartans promised!), they are lovely pieces and the Kickstarter is already funded.






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