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John Scalzi – The Human Division

August 4, 2015

30. The Human Division by John Scalzi (2013)
Old Man’s War, Book 5

Read my review of book:
1. Old Man’s War
2. The Ghost Brigades
2.5 The Sagan Diary
3. The Last Colony
4. Zoe’s Tale

Read By: William Dufris
Length: 14h 53m (432 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 09 June 2015
Finished: 17 June 2015

Where did it come from? Downloaded from Audible.
Why do I have it? I’ve been working my way through Scalzi’s catalog in audio, and I think this might be one of the last that I hadn’t read.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 15 May 2015.

Diplomatic ships
are armed with only their brains
and tact; they’ll need both.

Summary: After the events of Zoe’s Tale, Earth has largely cut ties with the Colonial Union, citing the fact that the Colonial Defense Fleet has been largely using the Earth as nothing more than a source of raw materials, settlers, and soldiers while keeping it deliberately ignorant of the larger universe. This puts the CU in a very precarious position diplomatically – most of the other sentient life forms in the galaxy are members of the Conclave, which has the power to wipe out human colonies if it so desires, and the Conclave is currently offering membership to the Earth – in opposition to the CU. Harry Wilson is the CDF liason stationed aboard the CU diplomatic ship Clarke, staffed by Ambassador Abumwe and her aide, Wilson’s friend Hart Schmidt. They’re treated as the B-team by the upper divisions of the CU diplomatic service – not sent out on missions of critical importance. But the more scrapes that the team of the Clarke manage to get themselves into – and out of – without causing any major diplomatic incidents, the more that they start to be taken seriously… because there’s a bigger crisis brewing: someone is trying to start a war between the Earth, the Colonial Union, and the Conclave.

Review: The Human Division is not so much a novel proper as it is a short story collection focused around the adventures of the Clarke and her crew. This is a reflection of its origin as a digital serial novel – each of the stories (“episodes”) tells a more-or-less complete story that could function on its own; the question is how well they come together to form a larger whole. And, at least for my part, the answer was “pretty well”. On the whole, as long as I thought of it as a short story collection rather than a novel, I didn’t mind that there wasn’t one distinct narrative through-line. What the stories do accomplish is giving the reader a sense of something bigger taking shape below the surface, murky and shadowy but becoming clearer with each additional installment. It was an interesting experience, trying to piece everything together based on the fragments we see, and so in general, I liked the non-traditional format. Ignoring the format and the plotting, Scalzi’s writing is on point here – the episodes themselves are exciting, well-constructed, and fun. His dialogue is as funny and as snappy as ever, even if his use of basic dialogue tags gets kind of monotonous to listen to. This book was easy to get into, fun to listen to, and kept me wanting to go bak and listen to more.

However, my primary issue with this book was that the shadowy shape below the surface never comes into focus: we never find out who the bad guys are. I listened to the audio version of this book (which was very well done; William Dufris does a nice job with all the characters and with Scalzi’s sense of humor, although it was weird listening to a Scalzi book without Wil Wheaton narrating). Anyways, I had about an hour and a half left to go when I thought to myself: “he’d better get a move on; that’s a lot to wrap up in the next 90 minutes.” And then it turned out that it was actually only five minutes left of the book itself – the Audible version includes a reading of the two short stories “After the Coup” and “Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today” – and basically nothing was wrapped up. So it left the book feeling fragmentary (which I didn’t mind), and incomplete (which I did). Hopefully the sequel, The End of All Things, will provide some more answers (and you’d better believe I’ve pre-ordered that audiobook for when it comes out). 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Scalzi does a nice job of worldbuilding in this book, such that it could be read on its own, without having read the Old Man’s War series. That said, it’s nice to have a more detailed background on what CDF soldiers are and what they can do, what a BrainPal is, what the “John Perry incident” was, etc., plus the Old Man’s War series is just so good. Regardless, I think Scalzi’s in the upper tier of modern sci-fi writers, particularly if you share his similar snarky sense of humor, and while this way of structuring a “novel” might not appeal to everyone, if you treat them as loosely connected short stories, I think this book is definitely worth reading.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Guilded Earlobe, In Which Our Hero, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Ambassador Sara Blair knew that when the captain of the Polk had invited her to the bridge to view the skip to the Danavar system, protocol strongly suggested that she turn down the invitation.

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