Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Human Division -- John Scalzi

John Scalzi originally published The Human Division as a series of 13 inter-related episodes in electronic format.  Soon afterward it was released in hardcover, which is the edition I read, with two additional episodes.  Each episode is designed to stand alone, but there's an overall plot that ties them together.

Since this book is set in what's called "The Old Man's War Universe," it helps to have read the previous novels in the series, but it's not necessary.  What you need to know is that there's a Colonial Union (humanity) that's been keeping a lot of secrets from Earth.  There's the Conclave (every other race in the universe) that's not happy with the CU and is trying to get Earth to join it.  The Human Division is primarily about a diplomatic team that's working with alien races to make them allies of the CU or at least make them lean in that direction.

I quite enjoyed this book.  It's what I think of as being a lot like the Good Old Stuff, and I also like to think that John W. Campbell would have published each of the stories in Astounding in the '50s.  It has a lot of the things Campbell liked: smart, competent humans who usually come off well in their encounters with aliens; attractive, courageous, quick-witted characters (aliens and humans alike); a readable style; humor and sentiment.  Some of the stories play out familiar tropes (single combat, for example, in the first coda), but they're well done and fun.  Here's my only caveat.  This seems never to have been designed as a standalone novel.  The overarching mystery behind the attacks on the CU ships is never resolved.  Scalzi says he's writing another book to follow this one, and I think that was his secret plan all along.  If you don't like books that leave you hanging, then you might want to skip The Human Division, but you'll be missing out on some good reading if you do.

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