Review: The Human Division by John Scalzi

The Human Division by John ScalziFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Science fiction
Length: 432 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: May 14, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

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.

Being published online from January to April 2013 as a three-month digital serial, The Human Division will appear as a full-length novel of the Old Man’s War universe, plus—for the first time in print—the first tale of Lieutenant Harry Wilson, and a coda that wasn’t part of the digital serialization.

My Review:

old mans war by john scalziFor some strange reason, probably because I read (and absorbed) Old Man’s War and stayed fixated on the war, I made the assumption that the “division” in the title The Human Division was a military unit.

Bad assumption, no cookie.

It’s something much more basic, and, well, more human.

The Human Division is the story of the division in the human race, now that the humans on Earth know that the humans in the Colonial Union and the Colonial Defense Forces have been pulling the universe’s biggest con job on them for the past two centuries.

The Colonial Union needed the Earth to give them an unlimited supply of colonists and soldiers. So it kept the people of the Earth in the dark about the true nature of the threats out in space. It also inhibited their access to advanced technology and space travel.

Last Colony by John ScalziSome might call it “mushroom management”–keep them in the dark and feed them (bull)shit. It worked until someone in the Colonial Union decided to use former CDF soldier John Perry’s experimental colony as bait for the alien Conclave. And Perry called them on it by bringing the Conclave’s ships to Earth and revealing the truth about the long con. (These events are told masterfully in The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale)

The Human Division is about dealing with the extremely messy aftermath. The CDF and its government, the Colonial Union, were definitely pulling a fast one on the people of Earth. But, and it’s a very, very big but, there also really was an element of that greater good involved. The CDF did protect Earth, and it still needs protection. Not just because it doesn’t have enough advanced tech.

But because there are many, many more intelligent and belligerent interstellar species among the stars than there are humans. Everyone is competing for the same habitable planets. Human beings, as a species, are not as physically strong as many of the other races. We really do need each other, or we’ll be wiped out.

The humans on Earth have not unified, even in a space-faring future. Now they’ve added their grudges against the Colonial Union into their normal interplanetary infighting.

The pundits at the Colonial Union are estimating that if the human race can’t get its collective head out of its collective ass, it’s doomed. Not someday. In a couple of decades.

That means diplomacy all around. And that’s where this story begins. The Colonial Union discovers two things within its ranks. A diplomatic “B” team that everyone thought was going absolutely nowhere, turns out to be great at swooping in at the last minute and saving the day. Ambassador Abumwe is terrific at firefighting.

And the Colonial Union has a saboteur within, one who wants to see the Union, the human race and possibly also the alien Conclave, go down in flames.

Escape Rating A-: There’s the story, there’s the characters, and then there’s the episodic way this story was written.

Taking things in reverse order: first, the episodes. The Human Division was written as a serial, released one episode a week for 13 weeks. Each episode became a chapter in the final book. The episodes don’t seem to be stitched together, so there’s not a flow precisely. Each chapter ends on a pretty steep cliffhanger. Occasionally it’s an interlude that shows action related to the story but not directly. This would have driven me nuts if I’d been getting the episodes, because they don’t feel complete. Of course, Dickens’ readers must have felt the same way. I’m glad I waited for the whole book.

This is part of the Old Man’s War universe, so there is a character who we’ve met before. Lieutenant Harry Wilson was in the same group of recruits that John Perry, the “old man” of Old Man’s War, was in. The difference is that Harry is still a soldier in the CDF and Perry has retired.

Harry is a smart-aleck. He always has been. What makes Harry more interesting than most is that he can back it up. Being a soldier in the CDF means that he is 90 years old in a genetically enhanced 20 year old body. He’s strong, smart and experienced. It makes him a useful military and technical liaison for a diplomatic team that is always flying by the seat of its collective pants. Or robes. Or whatever.

The team is a bunch of misfits. That’s why they’re the “B” team. Abumwe isn’t terribly likeable outside of the negotiating chamber. Any negotiating chamber. But when everything goes pear-shaped, she gets the job done. And she gets the best from her people, one way or another.

It’s the story itself that carries the reader through the slight choppiness of the episode breaks. The Colonial Union is having a hard (make that damn difficult) time reinventing itself. It liked being a big, fat bureaucracy with an endless supply of Earthling colonists and soldiers. There are a lot of pencil pushers and time wasters (read politicians) who can’t realize that the universe is about to eat them alive. Possibly literally.

The Earth humans aren’t willing to admit that the Colonial Union humans are, in effect, just like them. Manipulative but not necessarily evil incarnate. and that the universe contains bigger dangers that they really do need protection from. Politics haven’t changed from today.

The Earth humans are too busy looking for someone to blame to think that it might be in someone else’s best interests to keep all the humans squabbling amongst themselves. And that the entity in question is not the Colonial Union.

The mystery of who out there is manipulating events, and why, is what kept me turning pages long past my bedtime. There’s somebody else out there. Who are they and what do they want?

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