Human Division #2: Walk the Plank, John Scalzi

Written by Natalie Luhrs

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

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January 23, 2013

The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank, John Scalzi

The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank, John Scalzi

“Walk the Plank”, the second installment of John Scalzi’s The Human Division serial is short.

The amount of story that’s jammed into this piece, especially considering that not only is it short, it’s also all dialogue, is pretty incredible.

Consequently, this post is overflowing with spoilers. Enter if you dare.

The wildcat colony of New Seattle is expecting a shipment of supplies from a ship, the Erie Morningstar. Those supplies never appear. Instead, they get what they initially think is a stowaway.

Malik Damanis is seriously injured and may be infected with something called the Rot. He’s in a tremendous amount of pain but with supplies running low, the colonists are only able to give him the barest amount of palliative care–and they won’t know for sure that he has the Rot until his blood test results come back.

The colony’s administrator, Chenzira El-Masri is a total hard-ass–and has to be. As a wildcat colony, New Seattle gets no support from the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) and is wholly reliant on whatever supplies they can procure from merchant ships–so when their supplies don’t show up their very existence is endangered.

That’s the set-up–but there’s way more information to be had in this story. Damanis tells a tale of the Erie Morningstar being boarded by mysterious people in black, a good number of the bridge crew being killed, and the remaining crew shoved into cargo containers and pushed out of the ship–the walking the plank of the title.

There’s also an impossible decision to be made at the end. While horrifying to contemplate, when put into the context of what the colony is dealing with around limited resources, the decision is unavoidable.

What does this tell us about the overall story? It tells us that there are colonies out there that are unsupported by the CDF–and that they’re on worlds with ecologies that are actively detrimental to human life and that the infrastructure to support these colonies is precarious enough that a single disruption to supply drops may be enough to doom them.  It tells us that there is some organization out there–presumably the same one from the first episode–that knows about not only military transport schedules but commercial ones, too. And they are well-financed and able to interfere in potentially catastrophic ways, as well. This all implies a far-ranging plan–although to what ends are still a complete mystery at this point.

So. While this segment does stand alone, it works better taken in context with the first installment even though the setting and characters and even the tone have very little in common with “The B-Team”. It moves the story forward and does so in an economical and extremely well-constructed way that gives the reader just enough to hold them over until next week’s episode.

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  1. Carl V.

    Nice review! There was indeed a lot packed in this considerably shorter episode and although I had a few niggling qualms with some of the dialogue (mostly the ongoing conversation meant to keep the reader engaged with the idea that all this was taking place inside a hospital room) I am excited because the amount of things hinted at and slightly revealed means that we have some pretty exciting stuff coming up in the next eleven weeks.

    I am enjoying this weekly anticipation for each episode and love being able to wake up Tuesday morning to open the Kindle to see what surprise awaits. I’m already lamenting when this all ends. I won’t know what to do with my Tuesdays anymore.

    • Natalie

      I was really impressed with how much story was jammed into such a short piece, especially since it was all dialogue. The ethical conundrum posed in this piece also serves to highlight how high the stakes are–if we hadn’t already figured that out from “The B-team”.

      I am really looking forward to seeing what happens next–I’ve never really read a serialized novel as it’s been published before, so this is a new experience for me.

    • Carl V.

      Me too, and it is a heck of a lot of fun. I may have to re-read this one again before next week as it rushed by so quick I think I’ll need another Scalzi fix before Tuesday.

      I’m really excited to see what lies ahead and where in those episodes we will see the results of seeds that were planted in these first two.


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