The Human Division by John Scalzi

The Human Division by John Scalzi
The Human Division by John Scalzi

The novel “The Human Division” by John Scalzi was published for the first time in 2013 putting together a number of short stories published previously. It’s part of the “Old Man’s War” series.

The Colonial Union is working hard diplomatically with various alien species to try to build new alliances or at least to make new deals and avoid more wars. The situation is made more complex by the fact that someone seems intent on sabotaging those efforts, for example by destroying the spaceship on which a human ambassador is traveling.

Ambassador Ode Abumwe is forced to meet an alien delegation with very little time to prepare after her colleague who was supposed to lead the diplomatic mission was killed. Harry Wilson is only a lieutenant of the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) but his intelligence work gives him the authority to assist Abumwe and Captain Sophie Coloma, who is on alert to prevent her spacship from getting destroyed.

“The Human Division” is composed of 13 short stories that originally were published separately in digital format and two more short stories, one set before the previous ones with Harry Wilson, one of the “Old Farts” seen at the beginning of the “Old Man’s War” series, as its protagonist and another one disconnected from the others that has as its protagonist Hafte Sorvalh, a character who appears in some of the short stories. The novel is linked to the previous ones of the “Old Man’s War” series so it should be read after them to have a good understanding of its stories and the many references to previous events.

The events that concluded “Zoe’s Tale” brought important changes and the consequence is that the Colonial Union faces a difficult situation. To tell those efforts John Scalzi chose to write a series of short stories that were as self-contained as possible but at the same time formed a bigger story. The result is in some ways a jigsaw puzzle as most of the short stories have more or less the same protagonists and concern their diplomatic missions while the others have different characters with disconnected plots that are independent but form pieces connected in various ways to the bigger picture.

One consequence is that “The Human Division” is in many ways the most complex novel in the “Old Man’s War” series as it brings together very different plots and situations. The diplomatic element is the most immediate and the most present and already shows a good level of complexity for what Ambassador Abumwe and her team have to face but there’s much more. John Scalzi uses some short stories to show the situation on Earth, on a colony, within the alliance known as the Conclave and more with various facets in the relationships with the Colonial Union.

From the beginning there’s a mystery connected to the sabotage that someone is working towards the Colonial Union with the need to investigate with absolute secrecy because there’s the suspicion that even in the CDF someone’s involved in that activity. Some short stories offer various pieces of that puzzle that must be put together.

The division into stories creates an novel that’s uneven in its pace as in some of them there’s a lot of action while others are based on dialogues and reflections. Harry Wilson is a character already known by the fans of the “Old Man’s War” series, the other protagonists of the short stories related to diplomatic missions are developed quite well while in other short stories various new characters appear along with a few already known ones.

The major flaw of “The Human Division” is that it begins with some major problems for the Colonial Union but ends with no real resolutions of the plots that are developed on those foundations just reaching another important moment. Every real conclusion of the main plots is postponed to a further series, in this case of novellas that were later collected in another novel. Honestly, this decision was disappointing because it gives the impression that John Scalzi is especially interested in just continuing the “Old Man’s War” series, certainly in agreement with his publisher.

I can’t say that “The Human Division” is a bad novel but the feeling of incompleteness I had in the end is frustrating and I understand that someone may have been irritated by what seems like just a commercial operation. If you don’t consider all of this a problem I think it’s worth reading, knowing that you’ll need to get the next one in the “Old Man’s War” series as well.

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