John Scalzi, ‘The Human Division’ and ‘The End of All Things’
I finally had a chance to sit down and read John Scalzi’s ‘The Human Division’ and ‘The End of All Things’, those two being the most recent volumes in the Old Man’s War series.
Some not-very-organised thoughts follow…
One thing that sometimes annoys me with long-running series is when the same enemies and the same factions keep coming back, time after time. (Mass Effect 3 had a particularly-bad case of this.) This sometimes happens long after it stops making sense.
To my enormous relief, Scalzi didn’t take this approach here.
Both ‘Human Division’ and ‘End’ are concerned with the fallout from the game-changing events at the end of ‘The Last Colony’. Earth’s isolation has been broken, and the planet’s nations have been made aware of how they were being manipulated by the Colonial Union.
And it’s fair to say they’re not happy.
As ‘The Human Division’ progresses, the political climate declines from cool to outright-glacial. In fact it gets sufficiently bad that Earth’s governments sever all relations with the CU. Furthermore, the introduction of Earth onto the galactic scene seems to have comprehensively-destabilised the already-tense relations between the Colonial Union and the Conclave. But there’s also growing hints that someone or something might be pushing the incipient chaos to grow – but who, and why?
Things I Liked
I think my favourite thing about the newer books was just how much political and social evolution there’s been. Earth is having to adjust to an active role in galactic society, the Conclave is now sufficiently-established to be developing some serious schisms, and the CU’s internal contradictions are becoming more and more obvious. In fact, it’s got to the point where secessionist movements are springing up all over the colonies, and the CDF’s heavy-handed responses are having exactly the opposite effect to the one that’s wanted.
Another intriguing aspect was that there’s some evidence that the morale of the CDF is starting to crack. By the later sections of ‘End’, it’s got to the point where CDF troops are starting to simply walk off the job. In the earlier books, they were reliably-loyal, sometimes to seemingly-insane degrees, so this is quite the change. (But, by the time ‘End’ roles around, most of what they’re doing is shooting other humans rather than attacking aliens – and a lot of the people they’re shooting at are civilian protesters.) And there’s also the awkward fact that they know the homeworld is now watching everything they do, and Earth’s reaction seems to be pretty much universal horror.
Basically, the CU’s violent back-stabbiness has caught up with it. It’s attempts to squirm off of that hook go about as well as you might expect.
Another interesting aspect is that ‘Division’ and ‘End’ use a new set of characters. John Perry et al. are frequently referred to – after all, they’ve caused a lot of trouble! – but not seen.
Things I Didn’t Like As Much
One thing that did make me scratch my head a bit, though, was the apparent importance of Earth. Granted the homeworld probably has huge symbolic significance, but at the end of the day it’s only one planet. And given that CU policy has been to retard its technological development, presumably Earth also has an unusually-small and poor economy. It’s a plot point that the planet has little in the way of a space-launch capacity; surely that would limit its ability to affect galactic affairs?
I also had somewhat mixed feelings about the new villain-group, Equilibrium. They’re basically a sort of multi-species Cerberus, whose goal is to pitch the galaxy back into the state of internecine warfare it was in prior to the rise of the Conclave. I have to admit to being a bit unenthusiastic about secret conspiracy groups – it’s an overused trope in modern fiction. And what wasn’t really clear to me was, how exactly is Equilibrium funding itself? Navies and big secret bases have sky-high running costs, after all. These things are largely toys for big governments for sound economic reasons.
Both books are definitely page-turners. They’re pretty hard to put down, and I strongly enjoyed both. They’re written with Scalzi’s characteristic brand of black humour. Given that the setting and events are pretty dark, this is essential. But there were plenty of moments that had me smiling along to some acerbic observation by any one of the several narrators. If you liked the earlier books in the series, then these won’t disappoint.