The Human Division: Episode 1 review

God, I didn’t want to read this first episode.

I mean, I did want to read it. Just not right away. I am a fan of John Scalzi and his Old Man’s War series. But I am also a guy who waits until a TV show is on DVD so he can watch it all the way through in a week. I prefer to read a series of books all at once, so I won’t start Book One until Book 34 is out and everyone is already talking about the next big thing. I am only up to date on The Walking Dead television show because I have friends who were literally pulling their hamstrings trying not to spoil anything that happened two seasons ago.

Additionally, I am really more interested in if a project works as a cohesive whole. Episodic, while difficult, isn’t as high a bar as episodic and unified. I didn’t want to get sucked into the novelty of the book and lose sight of the thing as a whole. I told myself that plenty of people would review the novellas/short stories individually, but few would go in blindly and read it as a novel as opposed to a collection.

But, I signed up for Tor’s newsletter some months back. They sent me a link to download the first episode of John Scalzi’s new book The Human Division. AND LIKE A FOOL I DOWNLOADED IT AND TRIED TO RESIST READING IT.

If you don’t know, this book is being released as 13 separate episodes, of variable length, for $.99 a piece. It works out great, because if you buy the first one and it’s awful to you, then you’re just out a dollar as opposed to $12.98. But if you’re a fan of the series (as I am), it’s like getting the book spoon-fed to you early. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any plans to convert your 13 individual files into a single e-book (like how you can Complete Your Album on iTunes), so if you buy all of these you’ll have SO MUCH SCALZI in your e-reader. But the inadequacies of e-books is a rant for another time. At the very least, these stories are sold minus the DRM so you can travel them between your various devices without hassle.

The Human Division is set in the universe of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. In this first episode the characters are new, with the exception of one minor character from the first book (Harry Wilson). This will be the fifth book in the series, not counting a few short stories and a novella that he’s produced in the universe. You don’t have to have read any of those things to follow what is happening. Scalzi does a really good job of explaining things so that the story stands on its own. If you pick this up and there is an alien race mentioned but no description, you can rest assured it’s not because it was described in another book.

(Caveat: You should at least read this short story, as it takes place right before the events of the novel and is referenced in the text. Also, the incredibly satisfying ending of the third book in the series is given away. So, honestly, go read at least the first three books in the series before you pick this up. The fourth book could probably wait, since it’s the same story as the third, just from a different character’s point of view. But if you’re going to all that trouble, ya know, read that too. But I’m very fond of this series, so I of course am going to tell you to read it from the beginning. But you don’t have to. You just should.)

I guess I have to give you a synopsis or something of the story? Isn’t that mandatory in a book review? Even though, you know, Tor, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the Loch Ness monster, and Felipe Escobar’s strip club blog have summed up the story for you in the hopes that you’ll buy it, I suppose I must stick with convention and sum it up for you.

[Movie Guy Voice]

“In a world where humans are kinda fucked, diplomats are our only hope of survival…”

That doesn’t sound very good, does it? Well, don’t let that fool you. It’s a lot more exciting than that. The story starts off with a bang, and simultaneously creates mystery both large and small. The small one is answered by the end of Part One. The second, bigger mystery encourages you to buy the next chapter.

Scalzi’s stories are carried by banter filled dialogue and a bare minimum of description. The characters are interesting and unique from each other, so it is easy to distinguish them. It’s no surprise that I enjoy his work. They read quick, they’re funny, and the science is presented without feeling like you’re sitting through an lecture that you have no choice but attend. It’d be nice if there were more clues in the text for keeping the different species that he’s introduced in his series straight, but that’s just a nit that I want to pick as it’s not terribly vital to the story itself.

So, the point of all this is, I plan to download this thing a buck at a time for the next 12 weeks, and I think you would not regret joining me on that front. Is this a way that every book should be put out? No, I don’t think it should be. I think some bugs need to be worked out with this system if they do it for other authors. The biggest one that comes to mind is that I couldn’t easily find a site where I could sign up for each episode with one click. That’ll need to be addressed. Think about it: one weaker story kills the momentum and suddenly the next Tuesday clicking that link or pulling a buck out of the bank isn’t as exciting as it was the week before. If you’ve already locked in, though, it’s less tempting to quit. And yes, clicking 13 times on the preorder button does the same thing, but why punish your customers for doing you a favor? Conversely, I can see the argument being made that it’s then easier to unsubscribe as well, which is counterproductive, but I don’t believe a reader is going to write off a collection as quickly when they’ve already made the decision to spend a fixed amount. This is just my uninformed opinion, which as we all know is completely allowed on both the Internet and any discussion of economics. Mostly, it annoys the shit out of me that I can’t go to someone’s site and say “I want this every week” without flipping through 13 pages of Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Those are completely moot complaints though. I’m confident this will be a really good book all the way through when all is said and done. I’m excited by it. You should be too. Go get it.

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About wombatdeamor
I am a writer who has yet to be published. I am using this blog to shame myself into writing more regularly, in the hopes that I will be able to improve the "About Yourself" box to something less awkward. I also like to cook and use profanity.

2 Responses to The Human Division: Episode 1 review

  1. James Caplan says:

    My solution was to buy the novel and get the episodes included. I will most likely buy both, but I kind of resent having to pay twice for the same content in different formats. This is, at least to me, different from buying the eBook and the hardback of the same novel.

  2. denelian says:

    i don’t watch TV for the reason you complained about – i hate WAITING for the next installment.

    so i’m waiting for the hardback. it’s already per-ordered, though…

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