Review: The Human Division

Posted: June 18, 2013 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: John Scalzi, Science Fiction

In some ways I really wish we could do two reviews of THE HUMAN DIVISION by John Scalzi (Amazon). I recently got the book in the mail and read through it in a few days. It was fun and fast-paced, and like most of Scalzi’s writing it was filling with that humor, action and suspense that makes him so darn readable to many people out there. The thing is, the book was released in two separate ways and written as a kind of experiment in publishing.

For the first four months of the year Tor released one short story a week in a serial format from Scazli based in his best selling Old Man’s War universe. You could pay to read that particular piece of the story and enjoy each story on its own merits, or you could pay a fee up front to receive each short story as they were released each week.  You could alternatively wait until mid-May to buy the book in hardcover and get all the short stories put together and in chronological order (that’s what I did).

My question then is, did it work?

I can only speak about THE HUMAN DIVISION as a whole, because that’s how I read it. Also, I’m a fan of Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR (Amazon) universe having read each book in the series at least once. What I’m saying is, this book was designed for someone like me. I like the series, I know the characters and feel of it already. So, I’m gonna review it (spoiler alert, I liked it), but I wish I could see a review of someone who come into it cold, never having read Scalzi before and reading each short story a week at a time in pieces.

The book, despite being a series of short stories pulled together tells a larger tale over the course of the novel. This was the intention to begin with and the challenge. The larger narrative deals with the aftermath of THE LAST COLONY (EBR Review) and ZOE’S TALE (Amazon) which tells the same basic story from a different perspective). Basically the setup is this. The Colonial Union is made up of the humans who have either emigrated away from earth to settle new planets, or have volunteered to be soldiers for the Union. They are trying to expand humanity across the galaxy–or cosmos or what have you–by claiming new planets and settling them or taking them over from other alien races (of which there are many). Humanity therefore isn’t on good terms with A LOT of other races and wars ensue. The other races meanwhile have formed a group, called the Conclave, to try and work together instead of fighting. The Colonial Union doesn’t want to be part of it. Earth meanwhile is pretty clueless about all of this. All they know is that the Colonial Union takes some of them for soldiers and others for colonies and no one ever comes back. That is until the Conclave shows up on Earth and gives the earthlings the choice to join them. This then is the human division in THE HUMAN DIVISION. Which way will Earth go? Will they side with the Conclave, or the Colonial Union who has kept them in the dark for so long?

THE HUMAN DIVISION is a collection of short stories pulled together to tell a larger story dealing with the aftermath of THE LAST COLONY. Its works. Mostly.

Most of the book takes place in the view point of characters within the Colonial Union. I won’t go more into it here as part of the fun of each story is the setup of the characters and situations, and then the resolution. Each story is quick and fun, and taken as a whole they do an admirable job of telling that greater story of what will the Earth do. Were there some stories that didn’t hold up as well as others? Probably, but to me they were just pieces to give me a better picture of the grand story going on. The big problem I had with the novel that I can say for sure, is that its strength (being made of fun segmented short stories) was also its weakness for me. It’s hard to build up to a BIG PAYOFF at the end when each short story has a minor resolution of its own. In the end it felt like I was on a fun ride but without some of the highest highs or lowest lows. It was fun but it wasn’t able to really resonate with me because of the nature of it.

It was still a fun read and certainly a must buy for Scalzi fans out there (like me). Heck, someone who has never read Scalzi before go buy it and let me know what you think. I’m anxious to see if it works for you as well.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: There's some language here or there. But not too bad.
  • Violence: Not too much. Some action scenes but nothing too violent.
  • Sex: Referenced, never shown.


  • Marlene Detierro says:

    As always, Scalzi is very good at wry, cynical dialogue and his space-battle scenes are both exciting and horrific, but he seems to have concentrated more on the novelty of the episodic format here than on a coherent story. And if he doesn't have a subsequent book in the works to finish what he started in this one, I suspect his many fans are going to be very unhappy.

    Marlene Detierro

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