Human Division #1: The B-Team, John Scalzi

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.

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January 16, 2013

The Human Division #1: The B-Team, John Scalzi

The Human Division #1: The B-Team, John Scalzi

The first part of John Scalzi’s serial novel, The Human Division came out yesterday. It’s called “The B-Team” and comes in at about 22,000 words–a short novella. There are a total of thirteen parts and they’ll be out every week between now and mid-April. It’s an interesting experiment and one, I think, that is well-suited to Scalzi’s strengths as a writer (specifically his ability to tell fast paced and episodic stories in a way that’s engaging and entertaining). The episodes are priced at 99-cents each and will be compiled into one digital volume (and paper volume) in mid-May for what I assume will be the usual price for Tor hardbacks–so buying the episodes individually will probably cost about the same as the ebook.

Normally I write up my own summaries, but the day job has been a bit stressful and I’ve been sick so I’m totally going to steal this week’s from the publisher because it really says everything that I would in a way that’s about a million times more concise than I’d manage. Or something.

Colonial Union Ambassador Ode Abumwe and her team are used to life on the lower end of the diplomatic ladder. But when a high-profile diplomat goes missing, Abumwe and her team are last minute replacements on a mission critical to the Colonial Union’s future. As the team works to pull off their task, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson discovers there’s more to the story of the missing diplomats than anyone expected…a secret that could spell war for humanity.

So anyhow. This is a lot of fun–it is definitely self-contained, but it’s also doing two other things: setting up the other 12 episodes as well as inclue-ing readers into what exactly is going on here. It’s been several years since I’ve read anything set in the Old Man’s War universe and while I enjoyed them tremendously I have generally had other things to reread when I’ve been in the mood for re-reading. So the amount of exposition was just about perfect–got me back up to speed on what had happened in The Last Colony and helped lay the land (space) for what happens next.

Well, practically first up is an extended bodily excretion joke because it wouldn’t be a book by John Scalzi without at least one of those, but after that the smart-assery is mostly limited to Harry Wilson, the Scalzilogue in this particular story (each Scalzi book seems to have it’s own Scalzi stand-in–a Scalzilogue! you heard it here first!). I feel it’s important to mention this because it’s a stylistic quirk that either works for the reader or doesn’t.

Then we get into the nitty-gritty of the story and it is delightfully twisty-turny in a way that I suspect long-time fans of space opera will see coming a mile away but which goes a long way to setting up the conflict in this serial and which will, I think provide lots of plot for Scalzi to mine. There’s quite a bit of handwavium around faster-than-light travel as well as materials engineering of the future, but it more or less holds together and I didn’t find it very distracting, even though a big chunk of the plot totally hinges on futuristic materials engineering. And a completely insane spacewalk.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes, both in terms of the episodic structure as well as the overall structure of the story. This was a lot of fun to read and, I expect, it was a lot of fun to write as well.

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  1. Liz Bourke

    I was going to wait for the hardback. But perhaps reading the serial will make for an interesting experiment.

    (Also, you make it sound good. 😛 )

    • Natalie

      It is good! I generally like Scalzi’s fiction quite a bit. He is actually very good at what he does and if you like smart-ass heroes who are funnier and more clever than you are, then this should be right up your alley. 😀

    • Liz Bourke

      I’m fond of his Old Man’s War stuff, not so much the rest of his work (I think he gets carried away with his own sense of cleverness at times, too in love with it) but I’m thinking it will be *interesting* to read a serial – serials are Old School. 😀

    • Natalie

      I agree–it’s either an authorial quirk you can get on board with or not. I like the OMW stuff because it reminds me of many of the things I like about Heinlein without any of the gross racist or sexist stuff. I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a serial, to be honest.

    • Liz Bourke

      I don’t think I ever have. So it’ll be a change of pace. 🙂

      The Old Man’s War stuff is very well-balanced operatic SF. (More like this would be good!)

    • Natalie

      Couldn’t agree more–there needs to be more of this kind of SF in the world!


  1. Human Division #2: Walk the Plank, John Scalzi — Radish Reviews - [...] even though the setting and characters and even the tone have very little in common with “The B-Team”. It…


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