Welcome to our second listen-a-long of John Scalzi’s The Human Division. This week – Episode 2 – WALK THE PLANK!
But be warned! We’re assuming you’ve heard the story (or read it), so spoilers abound!
Let’s get started.
We listen to a transcript recording from a Wildcat colony (that is, an illegal colony unsupported by the CDF) who are looking for their supply freights. Their leader, Chenzira, is interrupted by two medic (Aurel and Magda) who have found a man who “isn’t from around here.” Malik is beaten up pretty bad, has some kind of disease, and will (at the very least) lose his leg.
Turns out, Malik was on the supply ship Eerie Morningstar, which was boarded by soldiers, dressed in black with their faces covered, and the majority of this episode is his account of what happened. The soldiers locked the crew up in the two extra freight boxes and forced them to “Walk the Plank” so that they tumbled to the planet’s surface. Everyone who fought was killed on the spot. (Resistance is futile.) Most of the crew died because the freights didn’t have any kind of seat belts or restraints. Those who did survive were killed by giant wolves (throwback to the Last Colony?) The poor guy keeps asking to be shot up with painkillers.
Chenzira steps outside, asks the medics if the recorder has been turned off, they tell him it is (although it isn’t, because we’re still hearing all this), and he directs his people to where they can find the missing supply freight, and orders the medics to shoot up the patient with pain meds, and kill him before the infection the Pack gave him will make him explode from the inside (or something). They act as if they’ll agree, but there’s some ambiguity as to whether or not they’ll do it, or just continue to shoot him up with painkillers until he dies.
(Hey Wildcats – next time you should settle on a planet where the water won’t cause a zombie-like infection!)
Transcript Ends. Or as we like to say in Hollywood: TO BE CONTINUED!
Wow, that was a much shorter episode, wasn’t it? So let’s get something out of the way up front. That old writing advice “Show Don’t Tell”? Yeah, Show Don’t Tell is bullshit.
The format of this one is all show, and while the transcript form might not be the easiest to listen to in audiobook form, it’s not impossible. Really, it’s he said, she said, and what this kind of technique does really well, is place all the focus not only on the dialogue, but helps us get a pretty strong view of who these characters are based solely upon what they say. Additionally, for a book like this one, a book that I’m sure will be jammed pack with lots of space operatics and action! action! action!, I appreciate the different pace Scalzi employs here. Yeah, we could’ve seen this whole account first hand. But we’re gonna see plenty of that shit in the 11 weeks ahead. And as a big fan of campfire stories, I like that Scalzi chose to tell the story the way he did. Honestly? I think it’s a bit more distressing, and creepier. Did you notice how Scalzi, who can generally bring the funny, kept this episode completely devoid of humor? All in all, it gives more weight to this circumstance, and it lets the action that’s sure to come later not feel so standard and ordinary.
Now, that’s not to say I’m in love with this episode. As a second chapter in the book, it’s a perfectly serviceable chapter – it moves the overall plot of the story forward. As the second episode of a serial? I’m not so crazy about it. It’s not just that these are all new characters, different from the first episode. It’s that I’m doubtful that we’ll see any of them again in this series. Hopefully, I’m wrong about that. I wish we could’ve at least seen who was receiving/reviewing this transmission. (Egan and Rigney, maybe? The soldiers?) And who knows? There’s plenty of conflict between Chenzira and the medics, and we’re never sure if they’ll find their freights (even if they do – what then? They’re supply ship is done for).
Plot-wise, this chapter appears to be here to show us what Harry and the B-Team are up against: Some really bad guys. But who are they? The goons who set up the missiles to take out the Utche is the safe bet. But does this attack take place before or after the foiled attack on the Utche? (My bet is it’s for something we haven’t seen yet.) One interesting fact: these bad guys are apparently humans (though we don’t see their faces, and there commands are very rote). There’s a small part of me that wonders if they might be some rogue faction of the Ghost Brigades (though I have no idea why I think that). Did they just want the ship, or did they want the supplies too? So, lots to think about in the overall scheme of things.
I want to give a special shout-out to William Dufris for this episode. The trick of reading this one – particularly with all the dialogue tags – must’ve been pretty difficult. No hyperventilating, of course, but he made it all sound so easy and natural. (Now somebody pleeeeeeeeeeease give that poor guy a drink of water and a shot!)
So those are my thoughts. What’d you think? A satisfying second episode? Did it do a good job of making you want to hit that button again in 108 minutes?