Humanity is divided. Until recently, the Colonial Union and Earth had a co-dependent if not mutually beneficial relationship. In the highly anticipated follow up to ‘The Last Colony’, ‘The Human Division’ checks the pulse of the galaxy after John Perry exposed the fact the Colonial Union sequestered planet Earth for two hundred years in order to farm colonists and soldiers. Earth now has a choice: ally with the Colonial Union or join the Conclave, which represents some four hundred alien races.
This time around, our tour guide is Harry Wilson, Colonial Defense Force (CDF) soldier and former member of the Old Farts. The Colonial Union is practicing diplomacy and Harry, who has been acting in more a technical than military capacity for several years, winds up a member of the B-Team. Also known as the Fire team, Harry and his cohorts — Ambassador Abumwe, Hart Schimdt of the Diplomatic Service, their reluctant ship’s captain, Sophia Coloma, and a handful of others — attend the lost causes. Situations where diplomacy is about to fail or has failed or might fail. Figuratively, they’re assigned a leaky dingy, given a rusted bucket and told to bail. It can’t get any worse, so do your best! Being the good, determined people they are, that’s just what they do.
Though the fate of humanity seems to be consigned to a rapidly oxidising tin pail, John Scalzi still manages to inject humour into nearly every page of the novel. The aliens spit, swear and sob. Diplomacy is sometimes decided by single combat and negotiations are interrupted by a brain in a box. A bush eats a diplomat’s dog. (Oops! The bit about the bush could be considered a spoiler.)
Harry and his team also face peril and sacrifice as they work not only for but against the Colonial Union and the CDF, the Conclave and a mysterious third party intent on disrupting every attempt at diplomacy.
‘The Human Division’ represents more than the next instalment of the story begun by Scalzi’s successful debut, ‘Old Man’s War’. Before its hardcover release, TOR published ‘The Human Division’ as a series of digital episodes, thirteen in all. As an experiment in publishing, the serial release was successful. Fans snapped up each new episode and rave reviews flooded the Internet. The hardcover release collects the episodes together with a note from Scalzi and a couple extras, the first tale of Lieutenant Harry Wilson and a visit with Hafte Sorvalh.
In his acknowledgements, Scalzi details his quest: to craft thirteen stories that felt complete in themselves — indeed, each had its own cover art by the talented John Harris — and would work together as a novel. In part, he succeeded. The episodes do work as self-contained stories. They also hang together well enough as a novel. But, overall, the book doesn’t read like a novel. Some threads do weave through the episodes and the same characters swap points of view. The stories are entertaining, all of them, and, by the end, I felt I could keep reading the adventures of Harry, Hart and Abumwe and her team forever…and there lays the problem. At the end of the book, we have no more idea what is going on than at the beginning. There is no conclusion, only cataclysm, and little had been resolved. The reader is left with more than questions.
Leafing back through the episodes, I felt more as if I’d read a collection of short stories about the unravelling of the relationship between Earth and the Colonial Union than a novel. Maybe that was the author’s intent.
Though mildly frustrated, I will look for the next instalment in the series. I have questions that require answers and I do genuinely enjoy Scalzi’s characters and style. Despite his success in serial publishing, I’d prefer a more cohesive novel next time. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to read more episodes in the meantime.
(pub: TOR. 431 page hardback. Price: $15.46 (US), £11.15 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3351-3)
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