Monday, March 25, 2013

Scalzi, The Human Division Eps 8-10

Welcome to the latest installment of reviews for John Scalzi's serialized novel The Human Division. In case you are just getting on board, here are my reviews for Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3Episode 4 and Episodes 5-8. To summarize, "book good/interludes growing on me/generally quite funny but with occasional snark overload." Through eight chapters, the book has a cumulative score of 7.57/10. So how are the next three?

The Meats and the Maths

Episode 8: The Sound of Rebellion

Episodes 6 and 7 sort of inverted my prior feeling that stories featuring the central characters are inherently better than the interludes in which they don't figure, and The Sound of Rebellion continues that trend. True, there's no Harry Wilson, Ambassador Abumwe, Captain Coloma or Hart Schmidt here, but there is a very interesting story about kidnapped CDF soldiers suffering "enhanced interrogation techniques," to use the Cheneyspeak euphamism for torture. Regular readers of this blog will know by now how I feel about excessive cruelty in SF/F, and may wonder if a story about torture can manage to be compelling without falling into the grimdark pattern of moar moar blood plz. So let's all give Scalzi a hand for proving that it can be done, and done well. Plus we get some cool insights into the things that make CDF soldiers special without the dreaded infodumps most genre writers can't seem to live without, and some hints about the conspiracy at the heart of The Human Division while we're at it. Top shelf stuff, if ebooks could be put on shelves.

[INPUT 8/10 (+1 for doing torture without the bloodporn; +1 for showing not telling; -1 for it's another interlude, and even if they are getting better, there are a whole lot of them) OUTPUT 9/10]

Episode 9: The Observers

Of course, on the flipside of the interlude episodes' improving fortunes lie diminishing returns for the chapters featuring the flagship characters. The Observers, in which the Clarke plays host to a set of dignitaries from Earth only to find some black ops at play, isn't bad--far from it. But we have kinda sorta already been down this road in Episode 5, and for my money, that one did it better. Plus the scenes in which Wilson interacts with his potential love interest Danielle Lowen are too zippy by half. Though Scalzi is generally great with dialogue, at times he veers into the kind of excess quotability Charlie Jane Anders warned us about

[INPUT 7/10 (+1 for returning to the main story; -1 for being at least 40% retread; -1 for excess zip and snark) OUTPUT 6/10]

Episode 10: This Must Be The Place

This Must Be The Place focuses on Hart Schmidt, who to date has primarily served as Ambassador Abumwe's affable assistant and Harry Wilson's only real friend on the Clarke. Now we find out he's the wayward scion of the major political family on the Phoenix colony. Dad wants Hart to come home and follow in his footsteps, only Hart prefers making his own way in the CU's Department of State. You'll recognize this plot from a lot of TV shows, but it's generally well done, if still relatively light filler material. Did I enjoy reading this one? Sure. Did I love it? No. Scalzi, for the record, seems to have anticipated this kind of reaction. Who knows--maybe this one ends up more vital to the plot than it seems like it is right now?

[INPUT 6/10 (+1 for focusing on Schmidt, a very likable character; -1 for being filler material that doesn't seem to advance the plot much) OUTPUT 6/10]

Cumulative Score - Episodes 1-10: 7.40