The Human Division by John Scalzi

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
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Although not presented as such this is really a book of linked short stories (episodes Scalzi calls them). They follow a common timeline and have common characters and, whilst there is an overall mystery that links them all, this is never resolved and left completely hanging at the end. In Scalzi’s acknowledgements at the end of the book he says “with its own unique set of challenges, not in the least was writing thirteen separate episodes that had to work as their own stand-alone stories while at the same time functioning as a novel when they were all stacked together. It was a hell of a lot of fun, but it was also a hell of a lot of work.” Each of the stories flowed with Scalzi’s excellent writing but I am not a great fan of short stories – I like to get absorbed into the plot of a good novel and find short stories too brief to get that absorption – and so, combined with the, in my opinion, rather weak linking story which never gets concluded, this was ultimately a disappointment.

The main group of characters in these stories is a second-rate diplomatic team that are discovered to be remarkably effective at quick thinking and rescuing situations that appear to be lost causes. Now to me this does not sound like a ‘second-rate’ team and yet despite their ‘bosses’ figuring out how good they are they are still treated as a second-rate team. And yet this, to me, implausible set up drives almost all of the story plots and, combined with rather more of the generally excellent Scalzi humour than any of the other Old Man’s War books, makes this book feel too light and inconsequential – almost pulpy – for its overall topic.

Due to its success Tor have contracted Scalzi to do another book in the same episodic style; The End of All Things. Call me a cynic but sadly this seems to me to be driven purely by money. I bought The Human Division as a single complete ebook for £3.59 whilst each individual episode (no longer available with the publication of the complete book) cost around £1.89. With thirteen episodes it’s not difficult to see why Tor considered this a success and commissioned the following ‘book’.

A sad disappointment that calls into question my reading of The End of All Things. It does appear to reveal more of that overall mystery and maybe that alone will convince me to read it but I’m far from certain about that.

3/5 stars
 
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