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On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1)
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Werner | 1535 comments This is the place for posting any and all of your comments about David Weber's On Basilisk Station, if you're taking part in the discussion this month. (This thread will still be open after this month, for any future comments; and I thought we might as well also make it our clearinghouse for discussion of the series in general.) If you post any comment that could be a spoiler, remember to use spoiler tags (if you need directions about those, just ask!).


 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 360 comments Hopefully, I can start this soon.


message 3: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I started it as an audio book yesterday. It's pretty good this way, too. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I originally read this as a freebie ebook from the Baen web site. I re-read the series mostly in paper format with another group a few years ago.

Weber has a complex universe that he builds in this book so there are some data dumps & explanations of fairly complex concepts. IMO, he keeps them down to the minimum, but I've heard others complain about them. I'd highly recommend paying as much attention as possible, though. Many of them are very important & play a continuing role in the series.

I found the detailed description of the drive systems fascinating the first time, but a bit redundant the second time. Listening to them in an audio book wasn't torturous, although each book repeats them, at least in a short form so I can just about repeat them verbatim by now. The strengths & weaknesses they impart are critical strategically & tactically throughout the series.

I'd also recommend that first time readers pay close attention to the first war game. Understanding the 'Wall of Battle' & crossing the T are basic concepts that also come up frequently. Understanding 2 dimensional naval tactics helps a lot. If you're familiar with sailing battles such as Sharpe's Trafalgar, it's a plus. This series owes a lot to the Horatio Hornblower series in more than just the characterization.

Still, even if you don't get the technical details, many people enjoy the series just for the characterization & action. A bit simplistic, but fun.


Werner | 1535 comments Re the Hornblower connection, Weber is a fan of C. S. Forester, and dedicates this novel to him. It's clear that there's a literary influence there. Both series feature a young naval officer with the initials H. H. (okay, Honor's over 40; but with the life-extending treatments that her culture uses, she's still young!), though one deals with a sea-faring navy in the historical past, and the other a space navy in the imagined future. Honor's Manticore and its enemy, the "Republic" of Haven, have similarities to the England and France of Hornblower's day; and though I'm not far into this book, I could sense a similar "feel" of the two navies, in things like their elaborate protocol.

The only Forester novel as such that I've read is Mr. Midshipman Hornblower; so I'll have to rely mostly on others in the group for direct comparisons. But that could be a worthwhile avenue for discussion!


message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Somehow I've never gotten around to reading the Horatio Hornblower books. I keep meaning to do so. Too many books, not enough time!


Janelle (janelle5) Just finished it last night, and while I really like Honor Harrington as a character, I won't be reading any more books in the series. Personally, I found On Basilisk Station to be incredibly dull up to about chapter 7. It picked up after that, and for the most part I found it enjoyable, but not enough to make me want to continue on. As Jim said above, there are some "data dumps & explanations of fairly complex concepts", and I'm one of those people this bothers.

I could definitely see the parallels with Horatio Hornblower, having read most, if not all the books in that series. In some sense, those parallels bugged me as much as anything else in On Basilisk Station. It gave Weber's book an air of artificiality and imitation that I found annoying. I would have enjoyed Honor and her world more as their own individuals, rather than something that seems to be constructed as a copy. But hey, that's just me, and looking at the various reviews, many people love the book, and have good reasons for doing so.


message 7: by Werner (last edited Feb 04, 2014 07:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Werner | 1535 comments Janelle wrote: I would have enjoyed Honor and her world more as their own individuals, rather than something that seems to be constructed as a copy."

Janelle, you're not alone in that, and some Hornblower fans actually regard Weber's series as an almost blasphemous profanation of Forester's iconic figure. Going back over discussions on other threads, I found the Honor Harrington novels characterized as a "rip off," "plagiarism," and a "terrible joke."

Of course, that's a subjective perspective, and there is a contrary view. I'd agree that, for example, stealing the entire plot and characters of another author's book(s), with just the names and setting changed, would be plagiarism, and unethical. But I don't think Weber goes that far. Rather, what he's done seems to be taking the spirit and ethos of an earlier series he really liked, and using it as inspiration for a new work in a new genre and setting, with his own creative changes added to make it fresh (like the changed gender of the protagonist). To me, it seems like a homage, in which the borrowings from the past provide a pleasing resonance, but the story is also something uniquely Weber's own. So I don't really have a problem with it; I see it as just a new chapter in a proud literary tradition (which includes not only Hornblower, but works like Billy Budd, Sailor, and Mutiny on the Bounty.)


Janelle (janelle5) Hi Werner, from a literary perspective I'd agree with you that On Basilisk Station is a homage to the Hornblower books. And I don't really have an issue with that. But on a personal level, the strong similarities between the books impacted on my enjoyment of On Basilisk Station. Having read the Hornblower books so much, I found it difficult to read On Basilisk Station as an individual and separate text.


message 9: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) It's funny how that works. I've never liked The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks because I felt like it was a complete ripoff of the Lord of the Rings, but many that read Brooks first like both or even Brooks' version better. I was just very invested in LOTR, I suppose.


Werner | 1535 comments Jim, I also thought that The Sword of Shannara was overly derivative (and I also read LOTR first). I don't think Brooks really found his own voice until he started his Magic Kingdom series.

Janelle, I can understand where you're coming from. My reaction is a little different, because I've only read one Hornblower book (and in that one, he's still just a midshipman, not a ship's captain); and I've also read other treatments of the "British Navy in the age of sail" theme by different authors, so I don't associate it so strongly with just one character. What we've read in the past definitely influences how we respond to what we're reading now!


message 11: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I finished the book today. I didn't like it as well in this format. The info dumps were too much - both already familiar, but I couldn't skim. Still, I gave it 3 stars & am going to listen to the next with the same narrator. My review is here:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Werner | 1535 comments Jim, good review! One obvious advantage of the audio format (even though it was offset by disadvantages, in this case!) is that you can finish a book a lot faster that way, by listening while doing other things. I've only gotten to Chapter 9. Still, I'm far enough in to have formed a few impressions.

Weber obviously owes a debt to Forester; but he's also drawn on the long-standing SF genre tradition of space opera, with the ideas of widespread human colonization of the galaxy, and large-scale warfare in space. (This goes all the way back to the pulps of the early modern era.) He posits faster-than-light space travel, a common genre convention, but like some other writers, he supplements it with the idea of wormholes that allow instantaneous travel between fixed points. I don't know how much his "science" owes to actual science, or to currently accepted astrophysical theory (much of which frankly strikes me as dubious); but since I'm not a "hard" SF purist, that's not an issue for me. The veneer of "science" just provides an illusion of verisimilitude for the premises of the storyline.

Given that he needs to explain how his imaginary spaceship technology and premises about space travel work to readers who don't initially know anything about it, as well as sketching the political situation in Honor's part of the galaxy, Weber does resort to a lot of data dumping. (And this would be particularly boring in audio format if you'd already read it in print!) The redeeming feature of these dumps, for me --so far-- is that they're actually conveying information that's valuable to have in order to understand the storyline (unlike those, in works by some authors, that seem to just pad the book with useless information). I don't understand all of the technological explanations, but I get the gist of what their effect is on what the spaceships can and can't do, which is important to know here.

One feature of Manticore's society that I appreciate is the obvious complete gender equality! That's easy to see as an extrapolation from the present. Less easy to imagine (if you think about it), though, are the political features that resemble those of England in the era of the Napoleonic Wars: a monarchy that still has political influence, and an aristocracy that still wields political power through a functioning House of Lords. The political situation of England in that era was the result of a particular ongoing process of development, over a period of centuries, captured at one moment of historical time. It would not likely be duplicated in human-colonized space in the far future (barring a technological collapse that might usher in a new Dark Age and a return to feudalism, but Weber doesn't suggest that). It would be interesting to see if later volumes of the series give any explanation for why the colonists of Manticore opted for a monarchy and an aristocracy at all, given the current historical trend to reject both on principle.

Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will recall Capt. Picard's characteristic phrase, "Make it so," when telling someone to execute a particular order. It was interesting to note Honor using the same phrase here! Since the series debuted in 1987, and this book was published in 1993, it seems obvious that the latter was imitating the former, as a kind of hat-tip allusion. :-)


message 13: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) There is an explanation of how Manticore came to have the gov't it does. Makes sense in the context of the story, IMO. That's one of those places where I think he dumped a bit too much data, though. He could have given us the necessary clues in several places, but instead just went into pages of explanation - an entire history in a nutshell. Another place he does this 3/4 of the way through the book when he delves into the history of space travel yet again. He'd already done it enough, but then we get a longer explanation.


Werner | 1535 comments Jim, is that explanation of Manticore's government further along in this book, or in one of the later ones? (I'm assuming, from your post, that it's in this one; but I just wanted to make sure! My curiosity is whetted. :-) )


message 15: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) This one, which is why I really objected. He gives us enough of one earlier on, IMO. I really didn't feel like I needed to know all the gory details, especially not in one fell swoop. It wasn't that important to the story at this point.


message 16: by Werner (last edited Feb 06, 2014 02:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Werner | 1535 comments Okay, I'll be on the lookout for it, then. Being a history major, I might be more forgiving of the history lesson than you were. :-) It's in my nature, whether I'm dealing with reality or fiction, to always wonder, "Okay now, how did we get to where we are now...?" (Though, other things being equal, in novels I do prefer short and sweet explanations rather than long info-dumps!)


message 17: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I prefer stories to dribble out the info as I need to know it. I remember it better, even when - maybe especially when - I'm wondering about it. Zelazny did it very well, although he could be too subtle for many readers. Where Weber gives 3 pages of explanations, Zelazny might drop a name full of historical significance. The reader either doesn't get all the implications or fills in the blanks with their own memories. Far more effective & lends some ambiguity so re-reads are an adventure.

BTW, the next book makes a big point of the Manticoran & Havenite sexual equality by putting them in contact with a civilization that doesn't. They have/had a good reason for it, but their reemerging tech is banishing that reason & Honor is a catalyst for change. I think you'd really like it.


Werner | 1535 comments Thanks for the tip, Jim. (If I like this book as well by the time I get to the end as I am so far, the next one in the series is definitely going on my to-read shelf, and what you said adds to my interest!)


message 19: by Candace (last edited Feb 09, 2014 10:04AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Candace (csavvy) | 3 comments I'm not sure if there's a better place to post this for more people to see it (since most of the people in this thread have probably already read the book), but On Basilisk Station is current on sale at audible for $4.95: Link to Book on Audible

The sale ends at midnight on Feb 19th. I think you have to be an audible member in order to view and get the sale price.

Just thought I'd share in case anyone hasn't picked it up yet!

UPDATE: Oh, and apparently it's $0.00 on Kindle right now? I'm not sure how long that will be for. I guess I'm getting the Kindle version! Link to Kindle Version on Amazon


Werner | 1535 comments Thanks for that info, Candace!


Werner | 1535 comments It would be safe to say, I think, that Weber embeds some subtle political commentary with a contemporary relevance into his contrast of Manticore and the People's Republic of Haven. In particular, the latter has a self-serving government that calls itself a "republic," but that in practice is anything but; that keeps a large part of its population pacified by supporting them with government hand-outs; and that gins up imperialistic wars in order to rip off other people's resources. (Hmmmm, now why does all of that sound so familiar?)

The author also imparts a very real message that things like honor, courage, integrity, and devotion to duty aren't "hokey" or stupid or passe,' and never will be. In large part, what drives that message home is Honor's character. As a fictional heroine, she's already won a special place in my personal pantheon; she commands admiration and respect as naturally as she breathes. To be honest, I already like her better than I do Hornblower! :-)


message 22: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Except for the word 'subtle', I pretty much agree.


Werner | 1535 comments I guess I might have been using the word "subtle" loosely. :-)


Werner | 1535 comments Okay, I've now read the explanation for Manticore's government, and I agree that it's perfectly plausible, in that historical situation! That doesn't mean I think it's a good idea; power and privilege need to be accompanied by the kind of moral character that doesn't abuse them, and as characters like Lord Pavel Young demonstrate, people don't automatically inherit that kind of character the way they inherit titles and property. :-( But it IS thoroughly believable.

Jim, I see what you meant about the history lesson; it does constitute an info-dump. There may have been ways in which Weber could have scattered the information through the book, or shortened it. But to me, it was actually an interesting info-dump (the boring ones are the kind I don't like :-) ); there's something to be said for putting it all together in one whole story in one place, and explaining Klaus Hauptman's background, IMO, is a good handle for it.

I don't know if everyone's finished with Chapter 20 yet. All I'll say on that is, "WOW!" The conclusion of the chapter was one place where I'd like to have reached into the page and given one of the characters a high five. (view spoiler)


message 25: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I'm actually listening to The Short Victorious War, the third in the series, now.

Yes, I find some of the info dumps interesting, others less so. Sometimes they're better or worse on a re-read, too. Depends on how well the subject is understood. There are less info dumps in the later books.


Werner | 1535 comments I finished this book earlier this week, and finally had time to review it last night; if anyone's interested, my review is here: www.goodreads.com/review/show/39117448 . (I gave it five stars!)


message 27: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Good review!


Werner | 1535 comments Thanks, Jim!


Werner | 1535 comments Not much more time left in this month (though of course the thread will stay open after March 1). I've sort of neglected this discussion for a few days, because of other things going on in my life offline, sorry!

Honor sometimes reflects, in this book, that there's no sense trying to wear her hair elaborately because she'll never be "beautiful" anyway. Judging from the cover art, she's mistaken on the latter point; and there are other fictional heroines who are equally attractive, but who explicitly think that they aren't (Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels comes to mind). Some reviewers think this is unrealistic and irritating. Personally, I don't find it so. People often don't see themselves the way others do; for the most part, I think we tend to have inferiority complexes about our looks, and to be deeply influenced by disparaging comments that may go back to our childhood (and may not objectively deserve the kind of subjective attention we give them). And to me, a heroine with Honor's attitude about her looks is more appealing than one who's obsessed with clothes and grooming, and who has an inflated view of her appearance. What do the rest of you think?


Janelle (janelle5) Can't stand books with girls who primp and fuss over their looks. Erk! I'd much rather read about someone like Honor who doesn't think too highly of herself, but just gets in there and does what has to be done. And is heroic in the process.


 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 360 comments I'm pretty swamped with review books, so I will end up reading this into March. I'll pop in and post my thoughts when I finish reading it.


message 32: by Danielle The Book Huntress (last edited Feb 27, 2014 11:08PM) (new) - added it

 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 360 comments Regarding Honor's attitude towards her looks: I haven't gotten very far, but I kind of like that she's no-nonsense about it. I think there are a fair amount of women who aren't into primping and wearing makeup. Doesn't make them any less womanly, just a different way of expressing themselves.


Janelle (janelle5) Well put, Danielle!


 Danielle The Book Huntress  (gatadelafuente) | 360 comments Thanks, Janelle.


message 35: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads) wrote: "... I think there are a fair amount of women who aren't into primping and w..."

Absolutely! None of my girls ever primp unless an occasion specifically calls for it. I appreciate 'natural' women. The ones that are always dressed & made up don't seem as real, approachable, &/or human. Constant worry about mussed hair or broken nails is a complete turn off to me.


Werner | 1535 comments Danielle wrote: "...I will end up reading this into March. I'll pop in and post my thoughts when I finish reading it." Sounds good, Danielle! We'll look forward to hearing your assessment. (And if any thoughts come to you while you're reading it, go ahead and let those fly, too. :-) )


Candace (csavvy) | 3 comments Just finished.

I really loved Honor (the character). It's not often that you get to see a female character in command in a sci-fi, and Honor was definitely someone that young girls and grown women alike could look up to.

I loved that her strength was derived from her intelligence and capability, rather than her ability to literally "kick ass," which seems to be the trend in modern media depicting (literally) strong female characters these days.

However, the book on a whole, I did not care for. Mostly due to Weber's writing, but not just the data dumps - there was other stuff that bothered me, too.

Here's my review if anyone is interested.


message 38: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Candace, I read & liked your review. I found the intricacies of missile flight interesting, though. If that sort of thing is a turn off, don't read any further in the series. There's all of that & more.

I agree there was a huge cast & they tended to fall into the 'red shirt' category in this book. (Red shirts are from Star Trek. They had bit parts & usually a short life span if they were in a boarding party.) In future books, many of those introduced here become important secondary characters. I didn't get lost in the characters this time because I've read it before, but I believe I did the first time, too.

The greatest weakness of this book was that it introduced so much about such a huge universe so quickly.


message 39: by Werner (last edited Mar 02, 2014 06:11AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Werner | 1535 comments Candace, I liked your review, too, and agree with a lot of your criticisms, even though I rated the book much higher than you did. (Liking or disliking a book often is a pretty subjective reaction that's not entirely tied to objective weak or strong points, though those play into it.) There was more than one occasion when I forgot a particular officer's role, and thumbed back to where he/she was introduced to refresh my memory. :-( And that example you quoted of Weber describing a missile launch, in the midst of a climactic spaceship shootout, with a paragraph of incomprehensible techno-babble is a perfect illustration of one of his stylistic faults, IMO (and pretty hilarious, when you stop to think about it!) It's as if a Western writer, in describing a shot in a gunfight, paused to give the readers an ultra-technical explanation of bullet velocity from powder grams, vectors and angle of flight, influence of wind, etc. :-)

I agree with you 100% about Honor, too, and I also appreciated the fact that her prowess as a commander here came primarily from her intellect, ability to size up situations under pressure and discern a solution, her guts and determination, and her capability at relating to the people under her and bringing out their best; she's not just a physically strong woman. (Of course, she's that too, though it doesn't play much of a role here; her home planet has a heavy gravity, and the exercise of day-to-day life in that setting makes both men and women build up strong physiques. We're told that she once beat a would-be rapist to a pulp --which is one sort of physical challenge that Hornblower never had to face!)


message 40: by Candace (last edited Mar 02, 2014 09:45AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Candace (csavvy) | 3 comments @Jim - Thanks! I didn't necessarily not enjoy the hard science passages, but I felt that there was a time and place for them. Like, I didn't appreciate them being in the battle scene and slowing down the pacing/action there. But I could totally see how someone else might love them being anywhere!

And yes, I totally didn't think of the Star Trek connection, but the characters were total "Redshirts." (Speaking of, I'm been meaning to read Scalzi's Redshirts novel for an interesting take on that.. /tangent)
-----------------------
@Werner - "It's as if a Western writer, in describing a shot in a gunfight, paused to give the readers an ultra-technical explanation of bullet velocity from powder grams, vectors and angle of flight, influence of wind, etc."

Hah, yes, exactly! And yeah, thumbing back for the characters would have been a good idea. Instead, I started off googling, which often got me spoiled about a few characters' future in the series :(. So instead I was just referencing the book's Wikipedia page, which didn't have all the characters, but had a good chunk of them. But yeah, that's why I think a glossary would have been nice!


message 41: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Werner wrote: "...It's as if a Western writer, in describing a shot in a gunfight, paused to give the readers an ultra-technical explanation of bullet velocity from powder grams, vectors and angle of flight, influence of wind, etc. :-)..."

Actually, The Day of the Jackal & Time To Hunt were both praised & known for this sort of description. Neither was a western, but about snipers. I have read a couple of westerns like this, too. I can't recall the names, but one was about a mile shot with a .50 caliber in an Indian fights (Antelope Wells?). Anyone who has shot long range, much less at a moving target in 2D, probably appreciates it. In 3D, moving at those speeds, under those restrictions, I found it fascinating.


Werner | 1535 comments Okay, it's a valid point that when you're describing a shot made over a very long distance, the situation isn't strictly comparable to the average close-range western gunfight. I haven't read either of the novels you linked to, Jim, but where writers are describing long-range shooting with a sniper rifle, I usually accept some technical info as appropriate. The case here is arguably similar. But some writers are more adept at imparting it in a less clunky fashion than Weber does, IMO.


message 43: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Weber is describing shots that take minutes to get to very small targets which is why I feel sniping is a better analogy than a western gun fight. This particular description makes a real point as to why they don't just fire at full thrust & leads us into understanding building velocities, a concept that isn't particularly intuitive. The balances between velocity & maneuverability against the limited amount of computing power & fuel make the explanation necessary in this instance, IMO. It adds to the tension in much the same way the sniper's attention to detail does in the books I mentioned. Of course, if a person doesn't have any experience or interest in that aspect, it comes off as techno babble. I'll certainly agree that in other areas he uses info dumps, just not in this one.


Werner | 1535 comments Jim wrote: "Of course, if a person doesn't have any experience or interest in that aspect, it comes off as techno babble." Yes, this is definitely a case where individual readers' experience and interests would materially color our reactions.

A lot of Weber's technical explanations are most easily understood by readers who have a strong background in higher math. I'm not one of them; I always got As in arithmetic, but like Honor, I did poorly at academic higher math, mostly because of a mental block. She and I also share a dislike for coffee, and a preference for hot chocolate. Those commonalities helped to build my rapport with her. :-)


message 45: by Derrick (new)

Derrick (noetichatter) | 91 comments Well gang, I got the book out from the library. I kept it almost a full three weeks. I tried several times to start reading it, and I never got past the first few pages. I guess I just was not as in the mood for space opera as I thought I was. Dang it.


Werner | 1535 comments That's okay, Derrick; not everybody in a group will take part in every common read, for all kinds of reasons. At least you gave it a good try!


message 47: by Jon (new)

Jon Abbott | 297 comments I just skimmed through the comments about On Basilisk Station. This was his first book, at least in the series. It was out of print for quite awhile. He only hit his stride with the middle books, such as Field of Dishonor. After about book 10 or 11 in the series, the quality of plots and characterization dropped off while the number of words swelled.


Werner | 1535 comments Jon, thanks for the heads-up about the later books. Personally, I do plan to continue with the series, as time and opportunity permit; but I still have yet to read the second book, The Honor of the Queen.


message 49: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc (authorguy) | 66 comments Werner wrote: "Jon, thanks for the heads-up about the later books. Personally, I do plan to continue with the series, as time and opportunity permit; but I still have yet to read the second book."

The first few books were okay. I liked Honor Among Enemies best. After she became an Admiral, Weber's inability to write decent dialog got in the way, and the excessive political history became tedious. I don't think I read any of the later books in their entirety.


message 50: by Jon (last edited Jun 30, 2015 04:11PM) (new)

Jon Abbott | 297 comments Marc: I actually purchased The Hunt for the Red October in the original Naval Institute (?) edition in the mid-80's. Haunted bookstores. Not so much anymore.

Weber got better and then worse. Many series authors seem to follow a similar arc: Bujold, Clancy, Michael Shepherd, WEB Griffin, Moon, etc. Two exceptions, IMHO, so far are: Molly Harper The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf (Naked Werewolf, #2) by Molly Harper (Half-Moon Hollow) and Patricia Briggs's Mercedes Thompson series. Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, #1) by Patricia Briggs

Do you have any recommendations for good writers with series that are only at book 2 or 3?

Separately, is there one of your books you would most recommend to an old school Sci-Fi fan? You may have to message me off list if such is a list no-no.


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