I’m an unhappy customer after reading The Human Division in its serialized run. It was clear by around episode 8 that Scalzi would not be able to wrap up all the threads of the story, but (no spoilers) the book ends with an epic battle and no resolution of the main plot, and with smoking guns littering the stage. The day of the final episode’s release, Scalzi announced that there was going to be a sequel (or perhaps sequels, given how he’s likening The Human Division to a TV series), which he’d just been signed to write, and which therefore may be more than a year away.
I’m a big fan of Scalzi’s work; I just gifted a friend with paperbacks of Old Man’s War (OMW) and Redshirts. But this time around, the work, and the process of getting the work to his readers, disappoints.
The Human Division is the latest novel in the OMW universe, and for the most part it is enjoyable. I felt that Scalzi has turned up his trademarked Banter-O-Meter a bit too high this time, to the point where many of the characters tended to talk too much alike. For example, if you take lines of dialog from two characters, say Harry Wilson and Hart Schmidt, and place them on a page by themselves, it would often be difficult to know which character was speaking, because they use the same snappy banter style. I like the banter, but banter isn’t quite the same as characterization.
In terms of plot, there’s plenty of it, and clearly there was too much for one book to contain. The book slams to a halt after a huge, masterfully written battle, then ends with a brief coda, with all the major plot threads hanging. Since I didn’t know in advance it was going to be a multi-parter, I felt as though I only got half a book for my $13.
The Human Division was first available as a buck-a-week serial, and the book suffers from it. Scalzi says its his longest book by word count, yet it felt much shorter; some of the individual episodes could be read in 10 minutes. I think being chopped into so many pieces hurt the overall feel of the book. The book felt smaller than OMW.
I’ve crystallized the big issue I have with the serialization format. I’m fine reading series, either serializations a la Analog magazine in the 70s, where I read a lot of great novels split up into three or four chunks, or current book series, like James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse. I was happy to read Leviathan Wakes knowing that it was the first in a series, and the book kicks so much ass it is effectively stand-alone.
The difference between the serializations of the 70s and today is that now we have Internet reviews, which would have alerted me that The Human Division was not a complete novel. Had I known that, I would not have bought it now; I would have waited until the second volume was released. I just did that with the Benford/Niven book from last year. Because of the nature of this experiment in serialization, Tor/Scalzi (I’m not saying maliciously) withheld reader information that I for one have come to rely on. As a result, I ended up as an annoyed customer, rather than a happy one. I look forward to reading the next installment of The Human Division, but I won’t buy it serialized, and I won’t buy it if reviewers say it doesn’t wrap up the plot lines. I signed up to read a novel, not watch Lost (I did watch that, and you see where that got me).