The E-Book As Appointment TV: John Scalzi’s The Human Division

One of the highlights of my year in geek culture was finally discovering John Scalzi.  Of course, it was through his brilliant novel Redshirts, which is about precisely what you’d think, until it inverts and subverts itself in ways I can’t begin to reveal here.  Just trust me on this, if you’re a sci-fi geek and you haven’t read it yet, you really should.

And if (like me), the experience of Redshirts inspires you to try more of his work, you should check out his newest project.  It might be the best midseason replacement you’re not watching.

Granted, that’s only because it’s not actually on TV.  But still.

The Human Division has been conceived, and will be released, as a weekly series of e-books, with the first of 13 episodes to be published on Tuesday, January 15.  I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of the “pilot”, and based on that first episode, I’m very excited to see where Scalzi leads us next.

The story takes place in the universe Scalzi established in his acclaimed novel Old Man’s War.  And it’s a universe that… has some issues.  The human colonists who have made their way to the distant stars are currently enjoying a relationship with their homeworld best described as complicated.  Which of course means said colonists are left to fend for themselves amidst a host of alien races who may not always be hostile, but aren’t altogether thrilled to have them around.

So, while they try to patch things up with Earth, the colonists’ diplomatic corps are working to build better relationships with their neighbors.  Which brings us to Episode 1, “The B-Team.”

The series opens in medias wreck, as one particularly important diplomatic mission goes Horribly Awry.  Left with few options (and that’s being generous), the Colonial Union sends in another negotiator to pick up the pieces.  Not much is really expected of Ambassador Abumwe and her crew, not because they’re incompetent, but because they’re unremarkable. Still, they’re close by, and the CU has to do something to salvage these negotations.  So, Abumwe and her “B-team” are ordered to the Danavar system.

But as it turns out, that B-team may know what it’s doing better than it knows…

As first episodes go, this one’s pretty fantastic.  Scalzi wastes no time in setting up the game at play here; by the time “The B-Team” wraps up, you will know the board, the players, the pieces, and most of all, the stakes.  And as our heroes work to untangle the mess they’ve been ordered into, the book hints at a much darker storyline, with the kind of conspiracy that threatens the very survival of the human race…

That’s about as far as I can get into the story for now.  But if you liked Redshirts, I think you’ll have just as much fun with The Human Division.  I have no idea how it’s going to end.  But after reading how it begins, I plan on being there to find out.

The series will be available at the online retailer of your choice, with a new episode premiering every Tuesday from January 15 through April 9 (and a collected edition promised for the summer).  I hope you’ll tune in with me.

Until the next episode, “be seeing you…”


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