I finished The Human Division by John Scalzi today, which is set in the Old Man’s War universe. It’s the conglomeration of a bunch of written “episodes” that were released one-at-a-time Starring John Perry‘s fellow old-fart, Harry Wilson (among others). It’s like a TV series, except better for your brain.
So, how’d it stack up as a back-to-back compilation? More like a TV show than you’d think. It was like watching an entire season of Fringe on Netflix. There’s an overreaching arc, but each episode is its own individual story.
The format is kind of disarming at first, but you get used to it. Most novels keep the story tightly woven throughout to keep you interested. In The Human Division, Scalzi doesn’t worry about about that so much. Read more after the break.
First thing’s first: this book starts to answer the question I was asking myself after John Perry brings all the aliens home to Earth at the end of The Last Colony. I remember thinking, wow, that is NOT going to be a simple situation to resolve. In fact, I think the CDF (Colonial Defense Forces) is pretty screwed.
I was right. In this book, Earth finds out the space-faring branch of humanity has been keeping them down for centuries to keep a steady supply of curious geezer recruits and families of colonists coming. Sound weird? It is–and it’s kind of a cool idea. Go grab a copy of Old Man’s War if you haven’t read it yet, and this will all make a lot more sense.
Anyhow, The Conclave (a sort of federation of alien races that have banded together in peace–mostly) starts wooing Earth, treating it as separate from the CDF. Meanwhile, the CDF tries to woo Earth into backing it up, sort of like old times, but with more information.
While this political shit-storm goes down, a third party seems to be screwing up the works. There’s even a faction that says humanity should reject the CDF and start a new government led by Earth (though Earth is still split into disparate nations). It sounds like a mess because it IS a mess.
The story–the overreaching arc of the book–is clever as hell, and it mirrors a lot of the crap going down in the USA right now, politically. It’s insightful and raises a whole lot of interesting questions that everyone (regardless of affiliation) should find real interesting. The underlying current that stood out the most to me is how we let fear rule our society, and how that is a bad way to do the business of living.
Based on story alone, this book is worth reading. You may want to consider reading it an episode at a time, in fact, to give you brain a bit to churn over the information before you start in on the next one.
The prose is also pretty awesome. It’s incredibly clean, with no frills. That makes for prose that gets straight to the point without drowning you in beautiful, cliche, misused, abused, or unclear adjectives. (See what I did there?) In short, it’s good stuff. Scalzi, as always, has a crystal-clear voice.
Now, let’s talk about Harry Wilson. He’s a retired physics teacher turned green super-soldier. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, again, I’ll recommend going to grab a copy of Old Man’s War. I won’t get into the technical details here, but it’s a cool way to introduce some complications in character development.
However, I find Harry Wilson to be a little bit too much like John Perry, the hero of Old Man’s war. I wish there would have been a little bit more of a distinct voice, but perhaps this was done on purpose? Maybe John and Harry get along so well is because they are so similar?
That’s not to say Harry is a bad character–I actually think he’s awesome. Just like John Perry was. They’re both a blast to read about, and they really make you you WANT them to win. They’re just fairly similar.
I did really like most of the characters in this book, but there’s something you have to understand when you sit down to read a Scalzi book. The dialogue is full of witticisms, some well applied sarcasm, and it’s always fast paced. It’s fun to read, but ALL of Scalzi’s characters generally seem like the cleverest people in the room at any given time. I think that’s what gives them all a similar-ish voice, but I really enjoy it so it works for me.
To sum up–it’s a good book, and I definitely recommend it. Is it Scalzi’s best work? Nah (I’m fairly partial to The Android’s Dream, myself), but it’s still quite good, and it flows forward with a realistic series of events following Old Man’s War.
Fair warning (spoilers)? John Perry gets mentioned a lot, but he’s not actually IN the story. There’s also a fairly massive cliff-hanger, but I went to Scalzi book signing just today, and he has confirmed that “season 2” is on the way.