The Human Division #9: The Observers, John Scalzi

The Human Division #9: The Observers, John Scalzi

The Human Division #9: The Observers, John Scalzi

The ninth episode of The Human Division is called “The Observers”. We’re back to the Clarke and Abumwe has yet another negotiation to get through.

One thing I don’t have a good sense of in this book is the passage of time–how much time is elapsinng between episodes of the A plot? It’s hard to tell!

This time, however, there will be observers from Earth at the negotiation and Abumwe delegates Harry Wilson to liaise with them. He connects with the American delegate and is helping her finish off a bottle of Laphroaig  when one of the other delegates turns up dead.

Of course. And once the specter of sabotage–and murder–is broached, there’s nothing for it except to autopsy the poor dead guy and determine that yes, he was murdered. The murder method is ingenious and the trigger somewhat surprising and the final scene of this episode was extremely disturbing for me.

I still feel like this is a bunch of characters wandering around looking for a plot. I feel like we’re having the same things repeated at us week after week now. Yes, there is someone out there who has a vested interest in the CDF and the Earthlings being at loggerheads, yes, isn’t it nice that someone from the CDF is smart enough or gets their hands on just right right technical doohickey to figure this out before things go really pear-shaped, blah blah blah. Something needs to happen to resolve these, like, three dangling plot threads. Seriously.

I feel kind of bad that I’m not enjoying these later episodes as much as I enjoyed the earlier ones but it just seems to me that there are serious structural flaws in this book that are exacerbated by the demands of the self-contained episodic format. I suspect that if each episode didn’t need to stand on its own then things would flow a lot more smoothly. I have been assured by someone (ELISA) who has read the whole thing (JEALOUS) that it does come together in the end but I am dubious.

Ivanova and Londo

The Human Division #8: The Sound of Rebellion, John Scalzi

The Human Division #8: The Sound of Rebellion, John Scalzi

The Human Division #8: The Sound of Rebellion, John Scalzi

Episode 8 of The Human Division, “The Sound of Rebellion” starts out with Heather Lee, a CDF soldier, in a precarious predicament. She’s tied to a chair and she’s naked. And there’s a voice telling her that she’s about to be interrogated and that if she doesn’t cooperate then it’s a shotgun blast to the face.

So she does what any rational person intent on saving their hide does: she sings. She sings like the canariest canary that ever  did canary.

But the reason for her singing is the clever thing here–and I’m not going to spoil the reveal but let’s just say that there some seriously awesome naked ass-kicking.

I felt like this episode had a lot more to do with the overall arc of the story than last week’s but I still don’t have a good sense of where things are going or even what the hell is going on.

We’ve got some shadowy conspiracies, we have the CDF and Earth factions and we have the Conclave (who I suspect are the shadowy conspiracists). Conspiracies, factions, and snappy dialogue aren’t enough to hold a novel together–there is a lack of narrative tension that is, I think, exacerbated by the episodic structure and the stated goal of making each episode work on its own. Without rereading the whole thing each week, it’s hard for me to maintain continuity: I’m the kind of person who likes to read one book at a time all the way through (luckily I’m a very fast reader so this isn’t usually a problem). There aren’t a lot of obvious links between the episodes, not really even in the A plot.

I don’t know. I love this setting and Scalzi’s a skilled writer, but with each week that passes I am more and more meh about this particular book. I’m still in it for the duration, though; I’m really enjoying my Tuesday morning reading over breakfast and will be bereft when I’ll have to find something else to read in its place.

Ivanova slapping Bester (as he so righteously deserves). So hypnotic...

What I imagine Heather Lee looked like as she kicked some ass. Except naked.

The Human Division #7: The Dog King, John Scalzi

The Human Division #7: The Dog King, John Scalzi

The Human Division #7: The Dog King, John Scalzi

Back to the A plot for this this week’s episode of The Human Division, “The Dog King”.

Except it doesn’t really feel like much of an A plot story. The set up is fairly simple: Harry Wilson gets sent on yet another diplomatic mission, this time for a spot of dogsitting while the ambassador tries to negotiate a peaceful end to a multi-century long civil war.

While Harry’s watching the dog there are, of course, complications. This time in the form of a giant carnivorous plant and an underground cave system–which, of course, holds the clue to what happened to the Icheloe’s missing king.

There are some new bits of information but not a whole lot and I honestly am having a hard time seeing how this fits in with the rest of the story so far. It doesn’t really seem to fit–unless the Icheloe have a larger role to come, of course. Which they might. I guess we’ll see.

This was pretty entertaining and I think that if I weren’t expecting to see more explicit movement in the main plot that I’d be really happy with it–so part of my dissatisfaction is definitely with me and not with the text (wow, it’s really freeing to be able to say that). The story is definitely well-written and enjoyable on its own, it just doesn’t seem to be lifting its weight in the overall story arc unless there’s something really subtle going on that I’m missing.

Things I liked about the story: the giant carnivorous plants, the gardener and his completely inappropriate curiosity–it was very Gregor Vorbarra-ish in its “let’s see what happens”-ness, and Tuffy the dog. I liked the not fully explored caverns under the planet and I liked the way they played a critical role in the plot. I liked the way Wilson and company try so very hard not to offend their hosts.

So to sum up: amusing short story, unsure how this fits into the bigger picture. And at the halfway point, I would have expected to see something more substantive here.

I’m definitely going to have to re-read the whole novel after all the parts have been published.

Lennier has a hard head, just like Harry Wilson

Lennier has a hard head.
Just like Harry Wilson.

The Human Division #6: The Back Channel, John Scalzi

The Human Division #6: The Back Channel, John Scalzi

The Human Division #6: The Back Channel, John Scalzi

It’s time for this week’s episode of The Human Division! Yay!

I am really enjoying the serial format–so much so that I’m actively looking for other serials to read (and possibly review)–I’d love to get some recommendations, so if you have some, lay them on me!

So this episode is called “The Back Channel” and I am twelve. And now that that’s out of the way, what’s this one about?

Well, it becomes clear from the first page that this week we’re going to get a closer look at the Conclave and that’s a good thing, since they’ve mostly been off-page up until this point and as a major player in this story, it’s about time we get a look at things from their point of view.

We get some initial politicking and then General Gau sends his advisor, Hafter Sorvalh, to negotiate with the CDU via some seriously unofficial channels.

One thing I really like about this book is how the aliens aren’t this monolithic and unified front (unlike in Julian May’s books; she’s rigged things so they have to be unified) but that they all have their own agendas. And that they argue about what should happen and that they are, really, just people. Which I think is a really good thing in science fiction–and I think it’s really good considering what happens at the end of this episode, too.

It becomes known to the reader that the Conclave is well aware of the wildcat colonies and that they are receiving clandestine support from the CDU. And, unofficially, the Conclave would like this to stop so they don’t have to start a war because war is just not a good idea and even if the Conclave has superior numbers, they suspect that the humans would be able to get the psychological drop on them.

Rigney, the CDU’s unofficial representative, agrees that the wildcat colonies need to go. And 9 of them won’t be a problem but the tenth? Is a bunch of racists. And not just xenophobic humans, but white supremacist racists. Who have connections and money and a lot of guns.  And as I was reading the denouement, which is quite a lovely and underhanded thing, I kept returning to my favorite Vir moment from Babylon 5:

Vir Cotto is almost as awesome as Ivanova.

“I’d like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I would look up into your lifeless eyes and wave like this. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?”

Because that’s basically what happens. And hey, couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people.

I feel like I’m back on The Human Division bus after not feeling too terribly enthusiastic about the last couple of episodes (discussions of proper spaceship maintenance and capital investment aside). I’m pretty excited to see what happens next and to see if I’m going to be able to find an appropriate Babylon 5 image every week for the rest of the book, too. Because I totally have my priorities straight.

The Human Division #5: Tales from the Clarke, John Scalzi

The Human Division #5: Tales from the Clarke, John Scalzi

The Human Division #5: Tales from the Clarke, John Scalzi

The fifth episode of The Human Division, “Tales from the Clarke takes us back out to what I’m now thinking of as the A plot and gives me, the reader, that little bit of forward momentum I needed–the CDF finally comes out and says that they know that someone’s got a cunning plan and that they’re trying to figure it out.

Captain Coloma of the Clarke has been relieved of duty as the decision has been made to scrap the ship.  And instead, they have this crappy old ship they want her to have–just temporarily, of course, as they’re selling it to a bunch of Earthlings at a good price as a goodwill gesture. Coloma feels like sharing the misery, so she decides that Harry Wilson can come along as well.

I kind of sort of totally love this wreck of a ship they’re given. It’s so old that parts haven’t been made in at least a decade and it’s terrifically inefficient. The hardware is too old to run the latest software so their engineer has to create a virtual machine in his PDA to upgrade it.

It’s just like where I work! Except I don’t work on a spaceship but at a manufacturing facility where both these problems are something that my co-workers deal with on a daily basis (I am the person yelling at them for overrunning their budgets). So I don’t know who Scalzi’s been talking to about this stuff, but he’s got this part absolutely dead on right–if there’s any way a capital budget can be safely cut, it will be. Which is cynical, but that’s what 10 years at my job tells me. Bubble gum and duct tape and maybe a little bit of string.

Anyhow. I really enjoyed this–I enjoyed the interactions between Harry and Coloma, I liked the contrast between new and old tech, I liked the sleuthing, I like that we’re starting to see thing coalesce a bit more, and I really liked the bits about the Cubs. This episode worked a lot better for me than last week’s did, that’s for sure.

And this is sort of what Coloma looks like in my head now. FOR REASONS.

Ivanova is Suspicious

Ivanova is Suspicious