cahn: (Default)
5/5. So I was sufficiently disappointed in The Bishop's Wife that I started reading bits and pieces of Lost Boys to compare, and I ended up snarfing almost the entire thing down — all the bits that referenced the LDS church, in any case.

This is a book I can't think rationally about at all, so, you know, I love it very very much and you'll just have to take that with all the grains of salt in the world. It's a formative book for me. I read it first in high school, when I had no idea about anything involving marriage and kids, and it has informed the way I think about relationships and families in a deep way. Like, there's a passage where Card — I mean, Step Fletcher, the narrator, although you can tell this is a book where the characters are deeply identified with Card and his family, where the pain of the characters is pain from Card's own life that has been transformed and transmuted (compare e.g. a lot of his early work, where he just enjoyed torturing characters just because) —

Cut for length: Marriage. Kids. Church. Writing and the ward prophetess. )

Also, you know, for this book: basically all the trigger warnings IN THE WORLD. Seriously, if you have any triggers (including bugs) I would not recommend reading this, at least not without talking to me first. And the whole thing makes me bawl. I mean, on rereads I can barely get through a chapter of it without bawling (partially because the themes of the ending are shot through the entire book).

But if you want a primer to LDS life, to what it's like to live as an LDS family in an LDS ward, I can think of no better, more heartfelt, or more true example than this book.
cahn: (Default)
So [personal profile] nolly linked me to an interesting article about gay sex and death in Orson Scott Card's work. ...I definitely agree with some of it (probably more than not) and roll my eyes at other parts of it :)

I state the author's conclusions in italics and my own conclusions afterwards:

Homoerotic desire is one aspect of the human condition that Card represents frequently and with a great deal of poignant detail.

Hm. Not sure I'd say frequently? But more so than the vast majority of writers in the 80's. I agree about the poignant detail. And an interesting point she raises about the, er, gay male gaze -- I only recently became aware of the "male gaze" as a thing, and... yeah, that's very interesting, you hardly ever get descriptions in Card's work of female breasts and hips and whatever; it's something that I (subliminally) actually rather liked about his work when I was snarfing through it in high school. But there do seem to be a lot of beautiful young men described in a lot of detail.

Though gay sex is thus figured as intensely appealing, it is a resolutely forbidden fruit. Characters who “give in” to homosexual impulses are punished—and not merely by the villains of the novel. Villains, heroes, the dictates of the plot, the biological imperative to reproduce, even God: all conspire to torture, maim, shun, kill, and genetically annihilate any gay character so “misguided” as to be true to his feelings.

...I mean, this is true, I guess? Except that maiming, killing, and general physical and emotional torture seems to happen to men in general in Card's work, regardless of their sexual orientation. Let's see. Tortured to death without anesthetic? Two heterosexual humans and one heterosexual alien. All limbs cut off and genetically annihilated? The sexuality-undetermined protagonist of "Kingslayer." Head cut off, forced to live, and tortured with mental bladder pressure? (Really -- minor character in Wyrms.) Heterosexual, again. Forced to kill your own son (speaking of genetic annihilation)? Heterosexual. I mean, basically, if you're a male character in a Card novel, your odds are not good regardless of your sexuality. I am not sure I can think of any books I've read by him where at least one male character, of various sexuality and marriage status, was not tortured/mutilated/messily-killed. (This propensity was strongest in his earlier work, and has decreased over time, so it's possible that some of his recent stuff doesn't have it. But his recent stuff is also high on the crazy and the bad-writing, so I don't read it anymore.)

Actually, this is an interesting article because it makes me realize that this almost never happens to women in Card's fiction. I can think of exactly one example where a (heterosexual) woman is (physically) tortured/killed/genetically-annihilated: the wife of the slavemaster in Prentice Alvin.

…I could say a lot of things about what this might say about torture as homoerotism and/or the way women are placed on a pedestal in Mormon culture, but I won't.

As I've noted in a previous post, there is a part of Card, suppressed in his later years, that is deeply ambivalent about biological reproduction vs. other kinds of contribution to the world. Gay/bisexual boy gets to be -- spoilers, but I don't care anymore -- emperor of the universe AND give his non-genetic artistic heritage to the entire universe, which is presented as a much better (and more poignant) alternative than either being emperor or reproducing genetically. Yeah, fine, it would be better if he also had hot gay sex on the side, but let's see what happens to the other characters in the same book: gay guy is mutilated and tortured and hangs himself, okay, but let's look at the other characters: guy who kills the gay guy (of indeterminate sexuality) self-mutilates himself to death (random thought based on propinquity of reading: oh hi there Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons, I hadn't made that particular connection before, though I've known for years that Card's early work is littered with ideas he stole from Cordwainer Smith); het guy is driven insane and shot to death; woman who plays by the (sexual) "rules" and has het sex only within the confines of marriage is NOT tortured physically (probably because she is female, lucky her) BUT has already been condemned to exile and knowing she can't do what really matters, and is presented as possibly one of the most unhappy characters in the book... Oh, and a happy ending for four characters (two females (one het), one undetermined-sexuality male, one the gay/bisexual) in the book: three of them die of cold exposure and the fourth gets a job she hates which will one day culminate in her dying of cold exposure. Yes, those were the happy endings.

The thing is, you just don't want to be in an OSC book, period.

There is only one alternative for gay characters who wish to avoid genital mutilation and/or genetic death: to repress their desires, to get married and to father children, taking what comfort they can in the joys of parenthood and their passionless partnerships with women.

...yeah. I agree with the author's analysis of the Ender novels (and the Memory of Earth books, man) that way. It's true that Songmaster (and to a lesser extent Ender's Game) gives one more alternative: to transcend genetic death through artistic life. But in general yeah, and this message sort of gets stronger with time (until it turns into the crazy we have today).

No matter how hard the narrative tries to pound home this last, official-policy message (repent and repress), there remains a lingering sense of the impossibility of ever finally killing desire. Individual bodies may be mutilated and torn apart, whole generations of buggers exterminated, yet in novel after novel, the longing returns, resurrected, and with it the choice: submit and sublimate, or die.

I can't argue with this one, actually. I find this kind of an interesting analysis, and rather perceptive.

I also like how the author ties it in to Card's being an outsider (which he also is in Mormon culture). I find that observation a perceptive connection that I didn't make myself but which I think is very interesting. (I've noticed before that his books with strongest Mormon explicit text -- The Folk of the Fringe, Lost Boys -- tend to be his best work, because he's sort of working counterpoint to the party message.)
cahn: (Default)
3+/5. Um. Yeah. My parents brought me a bunch of books from my bookshelf at their house last year, and this was one of them. It’s my favorite of Card’s early work, for what are probably obvious reasons. (Songs! Singing! A boarding school where they teach singing!)

This book made me really sad, but not (just) because of the elegiac nature of the book itself; it reminded me that Card used to be able to write, and write really well. It’s clearly work where he’s still struggling to find his feet as a novelist — this was first a novella that got expanded to novel form, and the seams are pretty clear. For example, there’s a whole huge plot thread that is introduced for shock value (it was the twist ending of the novella) and that then dangles helplessly in the wind, never actually going anywhere or (as far as I can tell) being referred to again. But much of the writing is really excellent, and it made me sad for the writer he used to be but isn’t anymore, a writer who could do subtlety and subtext and characters who weren’t just authorial voices and characters whom you loved even when they did terrible things. Oh Card, I miss you.

Now for the elephant in the room.

This is Card’s only book where the protagonist is queer (it’s not entirely clear whether he’s gay or bisexual, probably the latter), and also the only one where we see a mutually loving and respectful same-sex relationship on-screen. Interestingly, this was one of three authors I read as a kid (the others being L’Engle’s House Like a Lotus — and [personal profile] ollipop, I haven’t forgotten I owe you a post on L’Engle, and I am working on that — and Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows trilogy) that taught me that queer sexualities were perfectly normal and homophobia is wrong, which let me tell you, was not a message I was getting from real life (hello, small city in the South, conservative Korean parents, and church!)

Because of this book in particular, I’ve always given Card a lot of leeway when it comes to people ragging on him because of his stance on gay marriage. (The other reason I give him a lot of leeway is that, well, it’s really hard to explain to people who aren’t inside it what it’s like to be inside of Mormonism. I’m not really inside it in the way that Card is, either; it’s easy for me to be in favor of gay marriage, or whatever, because of that.) Because Card clearly has a lot of empathy and sympathy for Ansset, the protagonist.

However. One thing that doesn’t disturb me about Card’s portrayal of alternate sexuality in this book, one thing that very much does, and one thing that makes me think I could be wrong about the thing that disturbs me. Warnings for severe torture and death. Also warnings for both spoilers for Songmaster and vague spoilers for other Card oeuvre. )

tl;dr : I like this book very much, and Also Music Yay, and Big Severe Issues, and Confusing Issues, and I don’t even know what to think about it.
cahn: (Default)
3/5. And this is a pity 3. So remember how I was talking about how really good writers try new things? Card used to do this, but now he has become ... the antithesis of this; apparently he now has nothing better to do than to write increasingly irrelevant (and what's worse, boring) fanfic about minor characters from a spinoff of his most popular work. It's frankly quite surprising to me that the same man who wrote the brilliantly disturbing Ender's Game and the incredibly moving, thoughtful, and subtle Folk of the Fringe, not to mention the layered Memory of Earth series, is putting out this kind of shallow garbage.

I mean, I was expecting the terrible dialogue where all the characters come across as OSC clones. That's par for the course. (Although even there, you don't find this kind of dialogue in Fringe.) But this tale of Bean in space with his genius mutant kids fails not only on a tired-tropes-are-we-still-talking-about-this-why level but also on a basic writing level, which is really surprising to me because I've always relied on him to at least get that right. Mild spoilers, but really, do you care? Mostly cut for rantiness: in which I make fun of various things, solve the characters' problem for them, and am angry at retconning. ) So, I mean, I think this was a book he needed to write, and that maybe he didn't think he had time to really do it justice, and I get that. I understand that things come to writers and they have to put them down. But I do not think this is a book you necessarily have to read, unless like me you are an OSC addict.

And even then, I swear to you, if he writes a book about Bean's grandchildren, I am not going to read it. Even I have my limits.
cahn: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] julianyap has once again declared National Put Quotes in Your Blog Month, so I'm going to put one in every post I make this month.

"Truth is all I have, and truth is never a comfort. But understanding truth, that is what you taught me to do. So here is the truth. What human life is, what it's for, what we do, is create communities. Some of them are good, some of them are evil, or somewhere between. You taught me this, didn't you?"

-Diko to her mother Tagiri, Pastwatch

[livejournal.com profile] winterfox had a very interesting post. It's locked, I think [EDITED: unfortunately, has been deleted], but here are the money quotes:
...even in fairytales where the girl is the one setting out to rescue the boy (i.e. "The Snow Queen"), the alpha and omega of her desires--her person, her motive, her dreams--is still a man.
And
It's like, a lot of authors who think they are being feminist and shit don't... quite get the point: their female protagonists, rather than forming strong relationships with other women, are defined by their relations with men. Their fathers shaped them from childhood. Their boyfriends give them a reason to exist. It's all... proper.

Oh, sure, their dads supposedly taught them to be progressive and enlightened and strong and shit, but why not their mothers? It could just easily have been. Or their older sisters, or their aunts. Whatever. Why can't these super-feisty heroines grow up with female role models?

My first reaction was, "Ah, that can't be so!" and then I went to look at my bookshelf. Cut for randomness and rantiness )
And ending with a strong-female-friendship quote in honor of NPQiYBM:

It finally dawned on her that their exaggerated courtesies signified respect.

It made her furious. All Kareen’s courage of endurance had bought her nothing, Lady Vorpatril’s brave and bloody birth-giving was taken for granted, but whack off some idiot’s head and you were really somebody, by God—!

2-5-11: ETA link to unlocked post, above.
cahn: (Default)
The little food machine (whom I shall also probably refer to as Princess Baby The First) is quiet right now for once, so I shall indulge myself with a quick post instead of doing the sixteen other things I really ought to be doing. (By the way, this post is dedicated to Harvey Karp's Happiest Baby on the Block, without which you would not be getting a post at all. YAY SWADDLING.)

Once again Deaver was alone on the boundary between the pageant wagon and the town, belonging to neither-- yet now, because of the show, belonging a little to both.

From Orson Scott Card's Folk of the Fringe, which I reread the first week post-delivery. Dystopian-future-SF short stories featuring Mormons and non-Mormons. I think it's amazing stuff, and reads much better now I'm in my 30's than it did when I was in my teens. I wish Card had gone more this way-- I enjoy hearing what he has to say about community (and family as a subset of community) and belonging, but he doesn't do nearly as much of that anymore, choosing instead to focus explicitly on Families Forever. Mind you, I do think Card is at his best when he writes about Mormons, in fact, because it frees him up to actually, you know, think about ideas (and almost all of his Mormon-centric stuff has stuff that contraindicates theology for a True Believer), as opposed to Giving You a Lecture.

"Powers preserve me from thickheaded, self-centered, cocky teenage wizards!"

Diana Wynne Jones, The Merlin Conspiracy. If this isn't a shout-out to Harry Potter (the publication date is 2003) I'll be very surprised, although of course in context it has nothing to do with HP. I really, really liked this one. (Though [livejournal.com profile] nolly, I suspect this is the DWJ you read which made you decide you might not like DWJ. If so, all I can say is, yeah, you're probably right.) Any other author would be content with one-tenth of the imagination DWJ has, and it's in full display in this book, which pulls in Arthurian tropes, Welsh tropes, a world with a lot of hard radiation, the Little People, and an elephant, among other things. It's a sort of vague sequel to Deep Secret, which I didn't realize until after finishing it, and honestly it stands rather better on its own than as a sequel (where is any mention of Maree?) - but I just love the mad rush of ideas, plus which DWJ has that elusive quality that I absolutely love, where her descriptions can go between prosaic-English to wild-elegant-Welsh, with humor as well:

"Forgive me," [the King] said, looking up at the Count of Blest. "I haven't exactly done well, have I?"
"Others have done almost as badly," the Count of Blest said, quite kindly, riding on.


Speaking of humor, I just reread the Attolia trilogy-so-far (Megan Whalen Turner). My favorite bit has always been

"...and I threw an ink jar at his head."
..."I had not pictured you for a fishwife."
"Lo, the transforming power of love."


These books are The Best. Oh, well, The Thief is mildly entertaining, but I don't love it with overwhelming passion the way I do Queen of Attolia (though YES, I have vast trouble with the relationship) and King of Attolia (which I just love, partially because I pretend like some of the relationship from the previous book does not exist, or is tamped down a couple notches), though one must read The Thief to get to the good stuff in the later two books. Although, as [livejournal.com profile] julianyap points out, Gen is rather a Gary Stu, I love them madly anyway -- Turner has a precise, elegant way of writing; and her elegant plots remind me of Bujold's or Brust's in the neat way they hang together. Really, these are some of my favorite books (maybe top 20 or so) I am SO psyched for Conspiracy of Kings, due out at the end of March. If you have not read them you should go read them right away. Just be warned about The Thief not being quite as good, and Queen having the somewhat disturbing relationship thing (though, when I think about it, somewhat less disturbing than Twilight).
cahn: (Default)
In ascending order of interest to me.

The Company (KJ Parker): So I really liked, or at least was terribly fascinated by, Parker's Engineer trilogy. This stand-alone was... ennh. It was vaguely interesting, I guess, but predictable and not particularly twisty (The Engineer trilogy, while the entire arc was perhaps predictable, was definitely twisty, and if it was a bit Rube Goldberg at times, one was still rather interested in how the mouse in the treadmill exactly did connect to the pulley and so on...), and at the climax I rolled my eyes so hard I could very well have sprained something. (I mean, for serious?? At least have your climactic action be not based on a biological urban legend!)

Ender in Exile (Card): No, really, Mr. Card, no one wants to hear you talk about how totally and fantabulously awesome marriage and reproduction is. No one. Not even me, and look, I'm married and reproducing! I'm on your side! But no one likes being lectured at, 'kay? Showing characters who derive great satisfaction from reproducing, yeah, fine. Having each one of them make a cute speech about how important it is for them to be married and reproducing, not so much. No one talks like that! No, not Mormons either, unless they're giving a talk, and not very many of them then either. Okay, now we've got that over with... if you can stand, or skip over, the lectures, it's really not bad, in that compulsively readable way that Card has, although sort of lacking in anything resembling a coherent plot, being more of an Ender and Valentine have Crazy Adventures in Space Christmas Special! sort of thing. And yay we are finally done I think with Achilles. Please?

In the Forests of Serre (McKillip): I love the Riddlemaster trilogy, which I find immensely satisfying. McKillip herself I think is a lovely stylist. Ever since the Riddlemaster trilogy, though, I feel a little as if she's a lovely stylist in search of a story worthy of her talents. This book made me feel rather that way too, though not so much as some of her other work I've read, and I rather do like the magicians. And I very much enjoyed the Russian/Eastern European mythology.
cahn: (Default)
I've been rereading the Memory of Earth (Card) series lately. I think these books are utterly amazing-- I feel that they were written at the height of Card's powers, before he lost his trademark utter compassion for all characters, even the stupid and/or evil ones, but after he figured out mad writing skillz. And these books are written for grownups. Ender's Game was an adolescent book; its themes resonanted sharply with me as a geeky teenager, though now that I'm a bit older they seem a little less important. The Memory books talk about civilization, and gender roles, and how those interact, and how people cope when gender roles are overturned, and what it takes to build a society, and... yeah. I read these first in high school, and all of that went over my head, and now I get it.

And yet... although I adore them, and think the series is the best and most interesting stuff Card ever wrote, and am planning to give them to at least three people for Christmas presents, I am not sure they are not for everyone. In particular, I would describe these books as "Card's response to Narnia, on SF steroids and with actual women characters"-- that is, possibly not as interesting to those who are not into Christian theology/ethics. They've got plot and sociology and biologically-altered organisms and cool technology, yes, and all that is very well done and worth reading for, but underneath that Card is interested in talking about Christianity, and how that interfaces with theology and ethics. (And if you're Mormon, of course, they have yet another extra added layer of resonance, but as I don't think anyone Mormon reads this LJ, I'll defer that discussion.) What if God told you to kill someone? Why would you want to do what God wants, in general? What's the point of religion if religion gets half the stuff wrong? What is the role of government in religion? What (as [livejournal.com profile] nolly pointed out to me when we read this first) could have been going through Saul of Tarsus's heart as he changed? Plus analogues of prayer, baptism, scriptures, etc. etc. Also, the third book in the series should be read by anyone who thinks Card hates gays (you may, instead, come away with the idea that he doesn't think about marriage in at all the same way many do, which would be far nearer the truth, but I will also defer that discussion unless someone wants to hear it). Anyway, highly, highly recommended for anyone who really liked Curse of Chalion, which has got some of that same "let's have plot and sociology and think about theology at the same time!" vibe, though used in a less Christian-centric way.
cahn: (Default)
As part of the great rereading orgy I had over Christmas (including all of the John M. Ford books I've been missing since his death, and some old Star Trek cuddly favorites) I reread Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card. Wow. I had forgotten how much I love this book. It's one of my favorites.

Let me digress here to say a couple of things about Card. I've talked to several people recently who don't read him because they don't agree with his viewpoints, especially on homosexuality. To that I say:
1) If I only read authors whose opinions I always agreed with... I wouldn't read anybody, including any of my favorite authors and *definitely* including anything written before, oh, 1980. In fact, if I only read authors whose treatment of women I agreed with... that's basically nothing before 1960, at least.
2) He doesn't write about gay politics in his novels, and his gay characters are actually really cool, nuanced characters. (So actually he gets slammed by both the right and the left, which I take to mean he's doing *something* right.) He does write about it occasionally in his essays... but... it's actually possible to boycott, you know, his essays without boycotting the books.
3) He's Mormon. This means he utterly believes, perhaps even knows, that there is a latter-day prophet who speaks the commandments of God. And, you know, you can't really argue with God. Well, you can, but you won't get anywhere, fast. You can argue that he's stupid for believing the prophet thing, but not that he ought to break away from Mormon teachings... because then he wouldn't be Mormon. It's kinda like Dante and the unbaptized babies going to hell (which honestly I think is a LOT more offensive than someone thinking homosexual sex, or even sex in general, is a sin, especially if you have the Mormon take on the afterlife)-- he was a great man and a great poet, but he believed absolutely in Catholic theology, and that meant he had to make sense of a great many things I personally believe to be senseless.

Anyway. That particular rant aside, I must say that although I used to adore his books (and still adore the earlier ones), I have not been excited about one of his books in some time-- because he's started to talk about his particular beliefs in his novels, instead of showing us through the characters, and that. Just. Drives. Me. Nuts. Heck, I even agree with most of his points-- but I just hate it when a character is all, "Listen up, youngsters! Families are good!!" Which basically happened in one of his Shadow books.

Pastwatch, however, was written before he started this trend and when I believe he was at his peak as a writer. (Lost Boys is the other ultimate Card, but one which I rarely reread as I find it painful in its intensity.) It does have the Card trademark (I used to like this, but it's semi-annoying now) where all the dialogue is between two snarky wise-guy Card-clones-- but it's got loads of ideas, being a story of history, alternate history, parallel universes (sort of), time travel (sort of), and the end of the world-- it's the sort of book where abolishing the institution of slavery and finding the historical basis of Noah's flood are corollaries of the bigger ideas; this book is on a very grand scale-- but without losing sight of the essential humanity of some great characters, most notably Columbus himself who just awesomely rocks and makes me want to research his life. And it made me cry in, like, five different places (though to be fair I hadn't had much sleep so was more emotional than usual).

Because it has the Card trademark I adore-- his vast compassion for his characters, something that I feel hasn't been as prominent in his recent books. In this book it's especially strong, because there are no villains-- oh, perhaps the occasional small-minded or petty person, especially in Columbus's time, but usually just people trying to do the best they can in the face of impossible odds, sometimes having to change themselves into something new and strange in the process-- and sometimes they fail, and sometimes they are wrong, but sometimes they succeed beyond hope.
cahn: (Default)
So I read Orson Scott Card's weekly "Reviews Everything" column every week. I enjoy it a lot, especially when he starts ranting. (My favorite was the week he ranted about a) how "words mean what they mean here and now" -- his point is that it's okay if you call a piece of food a fajita, even if a Mexican person would be really puzzled by it. Then he turns right around-- in the very same essay!-- and b) is disturbed when Americans in Italian restaurants-- American Italian restaurants, mind you-- mispronounce "bruschetta." Awesome stuff.)

I've noticed that what I like is a subset of what he likes. A couple of times he's recommended books that I thought were worth reading (The Carpet Makers, Megan Whalen Turner). He also highly recommends books I think ar absolutely terrible (Elantris, which has paper-flat two-dimensional characters, and Crown of Stars, which has a rocking plot (which I did enjoy) and characters who aren't hateful *coughpayattentionGeorgeRRMartin*, but little else).

A lot of times his ire seems to be raised (understandably, as he's Mormon and all) by books/movies that make fun of families or put down family values (e.g., premarital sex). So when I watched Sweet Home Alabama, the basic setup of which that a girl LIES to her fiance and covers up essentially her whole past, including that she, by being with him, is technically CHEATING on, um, a man that she is in fact married to -- anyway, when I watched this, I was sure that Card'd hate it.

Nope. He loved it. "Sweet Home Alabama keeps you laughing so much you don't ever really notice you're being taught important and truthful lessons about how to live your life." What, the lesson of bigamy? Oh, it talks about how smalltown life is sooooo cool and the big city is not all it's cracked up to be. Um. The main character is completely self-absorbed, and she does things that just make my teeth stand on edge because of their pure meanness (I still can't get over the part where she is trying to marry some guy without having told him a WORD about anything about her life, and where he seems to be more-or-less okay wit this), and she never really suffers any consequences. The small-town characters he loves so much are to me two-dimensional caricatures of Nice Old Home Folks: aw shucks, they sure look all unsophisticated and all on the outside, but look, so warm-hearted on the inside! Ugh. After watching this I was SO glad I had moved to California!

I'm watching Steel Magnolias right now for the first time (I'm about halfway through), which is what prompted this particular rant. (Card also liked Steel Magnolias, though it's due to another online recommendation that I'm watching it.) Steel Magnolias is brilliant. It really captures the things that I love about where I grew up-- the instant friendliness, the real sense of community, the interrelationships and the way they protect and nurture their own, the generous inclination to help anyone who needs it-- as well as the flip side: the incessant gossip about Everything, the long-lasting feuds, the cattiness that can sometimes come out. And it's never done by bludgeoning you over the head with it-- it's very subtle, sometimes only suggested by a scene or even a throwaway line. It made me miss home, at least a little!

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