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Bookends: When Humanity was Divided Against Itself October 12, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: When Humanity was Divided Against ItselfHuman Division

By Dan Davidson

January 26, 2015

757 words –

The Human Division

By John Scalzi

TOR Books

493 pages


Most science fiction writers create some sort of future history world to set a lot of their stories in. World creation is, after all, a lot of work and it seems a shame to use all the planning just once. Some, like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, go so far as to link nearly everything they write to that same universe. Scalzi is one of the newer generation of writers, but he pays tribute to SF’s past in a number of significant ways.

He came up through fandom, and won a number of awards for his fan service before he went professional. His breakout debut novel was a the very Heinleinish Old Man’s War, a Hugo Award runner-up, in which he postulated a universe where humanity took on all comers by recycling the Earth’s elders into cloned and upgraded super-soldiers, while keeping the home planet embargoed from most of the technological advances that mankind among the stars had managed to acquire. With no limits to population growth, Earth provided a near endless supply of recruits.

So far there are four previous novels exploring the consequences of that plan. In the third, which I have yet to read, the plan broke down and humanity was divided (hence the title of this book) into those on Earth and those who reside in the colonies and on ships. The rift is pretty bad and attempts to deal with it, one way or another, underlie pretty much everything that goes on in this, the fifth book.

Scalzi’s other tribute to the past was to produce this novel as a serial in thirteen episodes. SF has a long tradition of “fix-up” novels in which stories with similar backgrounds and continuing characters are cobbled together into novels. One of these, A.E. Van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle, was the partial inspiration (with a long list of other sources) for the first of the Alien movies. In the old days the installments would have appeared in magazines before being collected between covers. Apparently, this baker’s dozen episodes appeared online.

There are several plotlines that weave together to make a coherent novel. One major part is the work of a diplomatic team that is trying to sort out relationships between the Colonial Union portion of humanity and the Conclave, made up of various races with which it has been doing battle over an extended period of time.

The Conclave is a sort of disunited nations. Everyone has a common enemy – Humanity – but they don’t get along with each other very well either.

The Union has always been out numbered, but their forces have been very effective, and it used to have an apparently endless supply of new recruits eager to live beyond their usual three score and ten in a fresh young body, with the promise of settlement land on a colonial planet of their choice at the end of their hitch in the forces should they survive the experience. This may seem like an odd choice to make, but when the alternative is old age and normal death anyway, one can see that it might have some appeal. Some chance would be seen as better than none.

Lieut, Harry Wilson is a former soldier who is currently the technical advisor to Ambassador Abumwe’s team. He is the most important character in this book, although others have their moments in the spotlight. Each of the 13 episodes deals with some aspect of several plots intended to either win points for the Union’s attempts to achieve diplomatic success, or to foil attempts by the Conclave (all the alien races) to increase the wedge between the two human groups (the division of the title).

Most of the episodes are complete little stories in themselves, some longer than others, while some are set-ups for things that are developed further in later episodes.

It’s a very busy book. There are ambushes in space, an exploding space station, a murder mystery, spies, secret colonies, lots of skullduggery and even an episode or two from the point of view of members of the Conclave, key members of which are actually trying to find peaceful solutions to some of the issues between them and the Union.

There are rumours that some part of this series may be adapted for television by the SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi) network. If so I hope they do a good job.




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