The Human Division, by John Scalzi

Usually by the time that I hit book five of a series, I need a break.  I’ll feel a little tired of the author; I’ll have come to expect their turns of phrase, I’ll know some of the ways in which they think, and I often have some inkling of where the story will go before it ever gets there.  Tired isn’t quite the right word, but you get the idea.  It’s right around then that I start looking at other books longingly and prepare to binge my way through a different series.

But John Scalzi has completely avoided this predicament.  I mean, sure, maybe I expected some of what was coming from Zoe’s Tale, but that’s mostly because it covered a lot of territory that I had already read in The Last Colony.

Where am I going with all of this?  Here: The Human Division is great, and I want more.  In fact, I want to see the next book in my hands as soon as possible.  I accept that this might take some time, as I am certainly aware of the frustratingly slow pace at which stories are often written, but nevertheless.  This series is exceptional, and reading it feels a bit like I imagine being sucked out of an airlock must feel.  Except that the frigid void of space is actually a deeply engrossing series of story lines, and you don’t end up boiling your liquids out through your pores while freezing at the same time.  Ok, look, the analogy was a bit forced, but these books will grab you and pull you along mercilessly with all the force of an explosive decompression, only freeing you once you’ve come out the other side.

Treat yourself to a good time and read this series, you won’t be disappointed.  Would you like to know more?

First of all, The Human Division is not one uninterrupted story.  Unlike the other books in the series, the narrator jumps around, switching focus from one chapter to the next.  It does sometimes return to the same characters, and the larger story being told does represent one contiguous whole, but it’s more like a growing mystery story as told by an ensemble cast rather than a classic hero’s journey with one central character.

I’m quite happy with the structure that Scalzi chose for The Human Division, because it seems to me that it lets him explore and hint at a much larger picture without letting any one person know all of the important details.  In many ways, it feels more like the way that I would expect a TV show to operate, letting the audience know of things that are beyond the awareness of the main characters.  There are hints and details that let us, the readers, piece together a little bit more about the terrifying troubles which lurk behind the scenes, even as our heroes are scratching their heads and trying to put two and two together.  All of this works wonders for enhancing the tension of the story.

Oh, and now that Redshirts is being produced as a TV show, I can’t help but think that this structure was intentional.  I would totally watch The Human Division as a TV show.  I’d just hope that whoever made it would have the sense to stick to the structure laid out by Scalzi rather than trying to cram everything into stories following only one set of characters.

Finally, I’m really impressed by how well Scalzi seems to have kept track of all the little details that he’s worked into the piece.  He’s laid down so many separate threads, and left so many pieces there for us to pick up and for his later stories to build on, that I wonder how he’s going to make use of all of them.  I mean, he’s already used them to lay the grounds for an excellent thriller: The Human Division shows that.  But when the next book comes out, how many of them will he resolve?  I feel only excitement at the thought of seeing what he does next.

For your entertainment, my original notes for things that I wanted to address in this article: HOW DEEP DOES IT GO?  WHERE DO ALL THE THREADS LEAD?  HOLY CRAP SCALZI.  Layers within layers.  Like an onion, or perhaps an ogre.


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