Following the events of The Last Colony, John Scalzi tells the story of the fight to maintain the unity of the human race.
The people of Earth now know that the human Colonial Union has kept them ignorant of the dangerous universe around them. For generations the CU had defended humanity against hostile aliens, deliberately keeping Earth an ignorant backwater and a source of military recruits. Now the CU’s secrets are known to all. Other alien races have come on the scene and formed a new alliance - an alliance against the Colonial Union. And they’ve invited the people of Earth to join them. For a shaken and betrayed Earth, the choice isn't obvious or easy.
Against such possibilities, managing the survival of the Colonial Union won’t be easy, either. It will take diplomatic finesse, political cunning…and a brilliant "B Team", centered on the resourceful Lieutenant Harry Wilson, that can be deployed to deal with the unpredictable and unexpected things the universe throws at you when you’re struggling to preserve the unity of the human race.
©2012 John Scalzi (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
"A Middling Position"
First and formost, if you haven't read the Old Man's War series and are considering picking up this book - what are you doing?
Even if you've stumbled onto this page by accident and your curiosity is naught but a faint glimmer in the distance, that's good enough. Go to the search bar and find his earlier works before coming to this one.
It's not that the Human Division (located in the same universe as OMW) won't make any sense (it won't) or even that there are spoilers in the Human Division for the previous series (there are) - the truth is that Scalzi's first foray into this world was better. As a matter of fact, it was fantastic.
His characters had more shades, the aliens were more interesting, the science was explored more deeply, and the plot line was more intricate.
Scalzi is true to his style in this newest novel - easy and interesting, funny without pandering to the audience, and the story zips along - but it's clear that the Human Division is propped up by the strength of the last series.
Don't get me wrong - Scalzi stands heads above the rest of herd, and is still one of the most engaging sci-fi writers around. I'll continue reading the series with the same relish as I read most of Scalzi's work, but given how high he set the bar with the first series, it's hard not to feel a little let down.
Also, as an aside: the dialogue tags. My god, the dialogue tags. In the written form it's easy enough to gloss over the word "said", but listening to it repeated over and over and over was occasionally, frustratingly, hugely distracting.
Every so often, I found myself thinking of synonyms that Scalzi could have used in place of the word "said" and noting the rare occasions he chose to use them.
If that's liable to bother you, you might want to consider getting the book.
"SciFi TV series in audio book form"
This book was originally a series of short stories released once a week, a format Scalzi will repeat again. Tellingly, in his announcement that he would be writing another Human Division novel, Scalzi said that he had been renewed for "Season 2." The metaphor of a science fiction television series exactly nails the good and bad of this novel.
The books are a loose story arc of self-contained episodes taking place in the Old Man's War universe. Some of the episodes- sorry, I mean stories - are very solid, some are pretty mediocre. The overarching plot is dished out in small doses, which makes the pacing feel uneven. At its best, it is like watching a great Star Trek episode. At its worst, it is like watching a bad one. There is never a moment where the novel breaks down, but it is rarely very compelling either.
I am a Scalzi fan, but, as much as I like his work, he can be extremely uneven. His most compelling work (Old Man's War, for example) is like a smarter, modern-day Heinlein, with wonderful characters and interesting settings. At his less-than-best (Redshirts, this novel) he is still entertaining, but the formula of witty, insubordinate characters and repeated low-grade mystery-solving becomes a little obvious. He is still one of the best writers of fun science fiction out there, but I keeping hoping for another home run. While a solid entertaining time, with occasional moments of brilliance, this is a base hit.
"Structured Like a TV Series"
I haven't read Old Man's War, so I'm approaching The Human Division as a new series, a spin-off set in the OMW universe. In fact, the way the book was written -- chapters called episodes published weekly -- this omnibus volume has the feel of a TV series. For me, this is a good thing.
But it's more than just the publication schedule (13 episodes, the standard for a cable drama). The way the episodes and the overall story are plotted are key to the feel of a TV series. The episodes stand up on their own, for the most part, as complete stories, and they also figure into the overall story arc -- attempts by various forces to either divide the human race scattered across the galaxy from Earth or keep them united.
Every other episode centers on the main characters -- Colonial Union officer Harry Wilson, diplomatic aide Hart Schmidt, and ambassador Ode Obumwe (there are several other major recurring characters). In between, the stories follow other characters, some of whom figure more or less as the overall story unfolds. The emphasis on characterization over plotting is highly successful, as it would be on the best TV series.
The book ends with a cliffhanger that leaves the central mystery unresolved, anticipating the next entry in the series, due out this year (2015) -- indeed, in announcing the next entry, John Scalzi said "The Human Division has been renewed for a second season".
Having previously listened to all of Scalzi's novels except any of the OMW series, I was worried about having a narrator other than Wil Wheaton, who is my favorite. But William Dufris, who reads most of the OMW series, is excellent as well. Maybe not as funny as WW, but maybe this series is not supposed to be as funny (though Harry Wilson is a bit of sarcastic Scalzi cut-up, and Dufris does him justice).
"Smart People solving problems"
This story takes place in John Scalzi's Old Man's War universe. Personally, I liked but didn't love Old Man's War, and the sequels dropped off fast for me. I'd given up on that universe, but this story was originally released serially, I'd heard good things about the first episode, so risked a buck. Enjoyed it so much, got the series, and then the collection when released.
For centuries, the Colonial Union didn't have a lot of use of diplomacy. When humans broke out into interstellar space, they were really good at this fighting thing. An overcrowded Earth supplied an unending number of soldiers and colonists, so the CU went where they wanted, kicked everyone out of their way, and killed anyone who wouldn't move. Their soldiers were highly developed cyborg forces that originally had been the old and dying from Earth (put them in a new body with genetic and nanotech improvements). Many died in the wars, but there were a lot of old people on Earth who wanted a second chance.
Unfortunately for the Colonial Union, the good times have come to an end. Earth has learned how much the CU was holding it back, so no more colonists or soldiers. And the other races have formed an alliance. So brute force won't work anymore, they have to be smart.
And I like smart.
The first story, for example, has a nice bit of problem solving at its core - how do you find a black box that isn't meant to be found unless it responds to the right signals, and the battery has run down. And once the black box is found - how to deal with the data inside and its implications.
This story builds on the tech from the OMW universe. It's possible, if you haven't read OMW, you may be at sea with some of the references (BrainPal, SmartBlood, and so forth). They get explained, briefly, I don't know if that will be enough (having come into it knowing about those).
As I said, the story was originally released serially. This collected edition includes two bonus stories. The first, After The Coup, was a prequel to the other stories, amusing but not at the same level I thought. The second, though, was a gem. Starting with the title, "Halfte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today", it is placed after the events in the other stories. It's a wonderful little vignette of an alien talking to some schoolkids after the traumatic events in the last episode.
Yes, traumatic events in the last episode. While this is a great tale on it's own, the final episode all but has a "to be continued" sign stuck on the end. I don't mind, and am looking forward to the "next season" of the Human Division.
One minor annoyance, though. First, when writing dialog, John Scalzi does way too much "Blah Blah", he said. "Stuff stuff stuff", she said. "But interjection interjection", George said. In an audiobook, that does get annoying. Annoying to the point that the performance got four stars. I know these books are "unabridged" when recorded - but maybe a little editing for things like that would be appropriate.
"Best entry in series since first book"
Good characters, good plot and lots of laughs make this the best entry in the “Old Man’s War” series since the book that gave the series its title. The main character, Harry Wilson, bears what I think of as the typical Scalzi acerbic wit and ability to creatively solve just about any challenge thrown at him. I lost count of the number of times I laughed out loud while listening to this on Audible. I tried bookmarking some of the places that made me laugh, like this part, where Wilson is telling an ambassador that something has gone horribly wrong:
“Humped the bunk … Screwed the pooch … Gone fubar… insert your own metaphor for things going sideways here.”
But somehow all by itself it’s not quite as funny as when heard as part of the flow of the story. The banter is fast and furious, and nearly all the characters talk like they are delivering one-liners from a sitcom, but somehow it works. I lay a LOT of the credit for that with the narrator of the audio version, William Dufris.
This book was definitely meant to be heard, not read. Eschewing his usual narrator of choice (Wil Wheaton) for Dufris was a good move. Dufris does a better job than Wheaton of giving the characters different voices, even though they are all dishing out one-liners at breakneck speed.
A good example is the story of the kingsflower plant. This is a huge, Venus flytrap-type plant that eats an ambassador’s dog. So naturally, our hero has to get swallowed by the plant in order to retrieve said dog. The laconic voice used by the narrator for the character of the gardener (“Don’t be alarmed when the plant starts cutting off the circulation to your extremities, it’s a perfectly normal part of the process,”) was the defining reason this section was laugh-out-loud funny.
It is definitely worth it to stick around after the main story has wrapped up to listen to two additional short stories set in the same universe. I enjoyed both “After the Coup” and “Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today.”
After reading some of the other reviews here on Goodreads, I now realize that this was originally released as a serialized novel via Audible and that a sequel(s) are forthcoming. As long as Scalzi is writing and Dufris is reading, I will be listening.
"A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS"
WE ONLY NEED THE HEADS
I am a huge fan of Scalzi. I had listened to the first episode, The B-Team for free and liked it, so I got the whole book. I found I liked episode 1, even better the second time around. There are 13 episodes and two stories. You do not get the final two stories if you just get the episodes. The final two stories are funny and great. Many of the episodes are very good I was bored by episode 9 and 10, but the rest were good to great.
THE DOG KING
These are loosely connected, so it is mostly 15 short stories with a common theme. It is rare to have this many good stories in a collection. If you are a fan of short stories this is a must.
WALK THE PLANK
Scalzi's writing in these stories remind me a lot of Asimov's Robot stories. Asimov would expand on his robots and the laws of robotics with each story. Here Scalzi often expands on Smart Blood and what can be done with it. Asimov was not as funny, but it was a different time. If you like Asimov try this series.
it was difficult to accept the fact that this is not a John Perry and Jane Sagan book. This one centers in on Perry's friend Harry Wilson and I promise that if you make it through the first 30 minutes that you will be absolutely hooked. great novel.
"Decent In Parts"
I think this could have been a pretty good audiobook. Mr. Dufris' narration is fist rate, throughout. Having said that, in my opinion, the author fails on two levels. First, it is too "cutesy". The dialogue used by all the characters smacks of a tv sitcom...maybe even not a bad one, by today's standards. But I can't take it very long. And, it never stops.
My 2nd dislike...overt and overwhelming "political correctness". One can call me a "male chauvinist pig" or something similar, and I won't argue the point. But, the idea of portraying all female characters acting like tough guys, and espousing violence and, in general, acting just like egotistic, alpha males minus the anatomical trappings doesn't seem to serve either the story line or provide any human insights of worth. It's just a form of social pandering that seems to be in vogue, I guess. So as to sell more books of this kind to women? I don't know. Scalzi has talent. Mostly, here, its wasted.
"Another great entry in the OMW universe"
Great story arc, loved the episodic structure. Left me hanging at the end but that just means another great story is yet to come.
"The B Team in action"
When reading a book I often was wondering what happened to the secondary characters. What they did when not helping the hero? What kind of life they lived? Now I had the possibility to get to know more about some of them.
In The Human Division I met Harry Wilson of the Old Farts. If you haven't read the Old Man's War, you may not know who the hell I'm talking about. I can tell to you: you missed a great story, so you better go and read it. If you did, probably you remember the group of old people who signed up for the Colonial Defence Force, got a new enhanced body and became green in the process. Yes, they were the good Old Farts. They went in different ways in the CDF, Wilson became a Lieutenant in the technical service. Lately he got assigned to assist diplomats, who - well, to put it mildly - were the B Team. But don't get it wrong, in this dangerous universe even the B Team saves the ass of the Colonial Union once or twice. You may think that the most dangerous in diplomacy could be that you die of boredom during endless speeches in meetings. But rest assured: even diplomats get shot at or sucked out into vacuum from the space lock of the ship. And the assisting personnel may be beaten up by half size aliens and they may have to perform skydiving while the space station they just left is blown up. Yo know, the usual space stuff.
The book consists of 13 seemingly separate stories, but by the end a grandiose conspiracy plot takes shape against the Colonial Union. Or the Conclave. Or both. It's not really clear who is behind the scenes, and what is their purpose exactly. This is why I can hardly wait for the next book of the Old Man's War universe.
I really enjoyed Scalzi's sarcastic humour, it is one of the reasons he became one of my favourite authors. The narration was excellent, William Dufris got Scalzi's humour right.
"A return to the Old Man's War universe"
I'd probably not re-listen to it, there are some things about the writing in the book becomes a little annoying. I imagine that on the page the snappy 'He said' 'she said' 'he said' isn't so bad, but the repetition really started to bug me.
I'd recommend it to people who were already fans of the Old Man's War universe, whilst it has new characters, it is not a standalone set of stories.
This is really a collection of inter-linked short stories, if you go in expecting this rather than a complete novel then you will enjoy it more.
"Survives with the relation between lead characters"
A light story with some engaging character relationships. It feels like the author is attempting to convey flat irony too often and the constant repetition of ...said ...said ...said is, well, repetitive. Please be a bit more creative.
"A good humoured romp of a novel"
Fun, exciting, enjoyable
Nothing really, it is what it is, a good natured and enjoyable space opera romp
I haven't listened to any of William's other performances, but I will. Definitely.
It's not that type of novel.
If you want great literature, you won't find it here. On the other hand, if a good yarn, with lots of exciting moments and several compartmentalised stories appeals, then have a listen. William Dufris's performance was excellent. He exudes charm and character, and made the novel come alive.
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