Welcome to our premiere Listen-A-Long for the Human Division, a serial novel by John Scalzi, read by William Dufris, and set in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War Universe.
This is gonna be spoilerific, folks, and it’s not a review, either. I imagine some of you drinking your coffee, eating your second breakfasts, or having a beer, and it’s going to be a pretty casual environment. If you want a spoiler-free review of the B-Team, I recommend checking out The Guilded Earlobe’s review. This listen-a-long will consist of a recap, followed by a few more of my own thoughts.
As this is also the longest episode (I think), this will also be the longest listen-a-long post (or at least, recap) so, let’s get started!
We kick off with Bear, a human ambassador on a CDF ship the Polk, on a diplomatic mission with the Utche race. Naturally, they’re gonna show up a few days early to take in the land. Roberts, her aide, is just complaining about how boring skipping across the universe actually is when they’re rocked by an explosion. (Way to jinx it and be that guy, Roberts!) A few moments later, a ship appears, and opens fire on them. Bear and Roberts are shoved into an escape pod, while the Polk crew nobly sacrifices itself for them. They share a tender moment of laughter, and then the escape pod blows up, killing both Bear and Roberts. Well, shit. Didn’t see that coming AT ALL. No, really. I would’ve thought a smart, intelligent character named “Bear” – named after Elizabeth Bear, I think it’s safe to guess, given Scalzi’s penchant for naming supporting characters after fellow SF authors – would’ve been around for a bit longer. Oops. It kind of reminds me of the new Star Trek opening in a way…except, you know, with Nero winning in the first five minutes. (At least in that case, Scalzi wouldn’t have to hear Old Spock rhapsodizing on Red Matter! Oh, well.)
We transition to our old pal Harry Wilson, from the Old Man’s War books and the fun story “After Coup” (read it here, if you haven’t already, especially if you like this episode)! He’s doing diplomacy, or getting spit in the face, or actually both with his buddy Hart Schmidt. But, you know, they get the job done, even though Harry’s a little bitter that some other diplomat is gonna come in and get all the diplomatic glory, without getting spit on. Surprisingly, Harry pines for the good ol’ days when the CDF would just kick in the door and start shooting, instead of having to deal with all this diplomacy crap. And getting spit on. Oh, Harry. How I bet those words come back to haunt you.
Elsewhere, we meet Col. Liz Egan (another SF author name-dropped?) explaining the doom and gloom situation humanity (and in particular – Earth) now finds itself in, since Earth is no longer supplying the CDF with geriatric soldiers. It’s very, “Woe is humanity, who didn’t blindly trust the CDF, and will now most likely be extinct in 30 years.” Also, screw John Perry and Jane Sagan! (Oh. Dissing our heroes. We now know how to feel about you!) Egan’s made aware that the Polk has gone missing by Col. Rigney, including poor Bear and her A-Team. They decide that the crew of the Clarke, for better or for worse, is the B-Team, in no small part to Harry being a green (skinned, not inexperienced) CDF marine on loan to Ambassador Abumwe. They’re about to get sent to where the Polk got blown to bits.
Harry, Hart, and the rest of the Clarke are briefed by Abumwe. Harry figures out pretty quickly that what nobody’s saying is the shit’s hit the fan for Bear and her crew. After dismissing everyone else, (really, I was waiting for Harry to say “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”) Harry’s given a security clearance that outranks even the Captain. (Shiny!) All in the name of finding the Polk‘s Black Box. Harry, being Harry, of course figures out how to find the Black Box by essentially using a temperature scan for something that’s slightly warmer than space. There are several other objects slightly warmer than space, but when Hart asks Harry what they could be, Harry shrugs it off, saying, “probably nothing.” Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. I totally buy that, Harry!
Harry gets a shuttle, promises Captain Coloma he won’t get a scratch on it (Harry! Your ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash!), and then goes for a space walk in his green skin. (I seriously want green skin. Without the 90% mortality rate, ‘natch). Harry downloads the Black Box info into his BrainPal, and sends it back to the Clarke. Of course, while out there, Harry realizes what those other warm objects were: CDF missiles! Oh, shit! (Harry said that, not me. I just echoed it! Which made my co-workers look over oddly at me. Now they all want to know who Harry is. Oh, shit!) Somebody was trying to blow up the Utche with CDF missiles! Was it the CDF? Or was it someone trying to set up the CDF?
Harry’s able to set off most of the missiles in space by sacrificing his shuttle (sorry Captain!) and taking another space walk. Unfortunately, one more missile is still around when the Utche show up for the negotiations. Captain Coloma gets the missile to target the Clarke instead of the Utche ship, probably stopping a Big War the CDF and humanity can’t afford to have.
An Utche shuttle picks up Harry floating in space, takes him back to the Clarke, and Abumwe and Coloma insist that they continue their diplomatic mission, despite the shit-state the Clarke’s in (Harry said shit-state…okay, no, that was all me). Amazingly, there were no casualties on board the Clarke, and the negotiations go off smashingly.
Transition back to Cols. Egan and Rigney, discussing the B-Team’s incredible success over cheeseburgers. Rigney realizes that this team works great under pressure, and suggests they continue to give them more Mission: Impossible scenarios. He then asks Egan if she was on the level about that “30 years before humanity’s extinct”. She tells him 30 years is optmistic, and leaves. Rigney does what I would do in that situation: Orders a second cheeseburger. (Hopefully, In-N-Out have opened in space now.)
Roll the credits!
If that was the pilot episode, I’m totally down with listening again next week. It was Scalzi-esque in its space opera excitement, humor, and fun. Now I just need to get my dad to read it so we can talk about it!
Over at the Guilded Earlobe, Bob mentioned that Scalzi releases have become Events at Audible, and this is certainly no exception. For my part, I’m thrilled, and can’t wait to hear what happens next week. I think the episodic nature of the story will be a lot of fun – and feels kind of natural to Scalzi (I don’t think Old Man’s War would suffer at all if it had been told episodically, and Agent to the Stars was initially told episodically on Scalzi’s own blog). [Sam’s note: Old Man’s War was also originally self-published by Scalzi as a web serial, before getting picked up for later hardcover publication by Tor.]
I’m glad that Scalzi went with Harry and Hart here, which wasn’t a safe choice for him. Safe would’ve been going back to John Perry and Jane Sagan, or even Zoe. I love those characters, but I like this choice more. It’s essentially how I now feel about Star Wars – let’s leave the Skywalkers behind and explore the rest of the galaxy. It makes the universe feel a little bit bigger, and people getting blown up in the first section makes it seem kind of sinister too. With Redshirts as his latest book, and Little Fuzzy right before that, I’ve become accustomed to a more comical Scalzi, and it’s nice to be reminded that he can write things like Old Man’s War or The Ghost Brigades. Harry, Hart, and the rest of the crew aren’t incredibly deep characters, but they’re fun, and easy to relate to. (How can you not relate to someone getting spit on by aliens and trying to smile about it?)
Most of the direct plot is resolved, as in what caused the Polk to blow up, and the diplomatic mission was completed.
This episode also had the task of setting up the story to come over the rest of the serial: That being: The B-Team is formed (even if they don’t know it) and given their
five year 13 episode mission. Also, a mystery: who is either trying to set up the CDF and get them into a war with the Utche. Your thoughts?
William Dufris was great too. His narration channels Scalzi’s Grand Ole Space Opry dialogue and character posturing perfectly. It’s generally minimalistic, which I dig, except for the aliens, which makes sense. And it’s so smooth. Yay, William Dufris!
So, what were your thoughts? What were your favorite parts of the first episode? Will you be checking in next week? Chime in in the comments!