Welcome to the Tor.com read-along for John Scalzi’s The Human Division—each week, as a new episode in this serialized novel is released, you can use this space to talk about how you think the story’s going so far and put forward your theories about where it might be headed. You’ll also get behind-the-scenes info from Scalzi, as well as the occasional insight from his editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden… and maybe a few other special guest stars along the way.
Warning: Although I’ll strive to err on the side of caution when I talk about each episode’s plot points, this read-along is meant to be a zone where people who have already read the story can talk about it with each other. Expect spoilers.
Okay, then! Let’s talk about Episode 11, “A Problem of Proportion.”
If you’ve seen Sleepless in Seattle, you may remember the scene where Tom Hanks explains to Rita Wilson what types of movie scenes guys cry at, citing the example of James Brown’s sacrificial run at the end of The Dirty Dozen. You can add the final conversation between Harry Wilson and Captain Ablant to the literary equivalent of that list, I think. If you haven’t been moved to tears by any previous installments of The Human Division, this may be the scene that finally gets you. At least it did me.
In my experience, anyway, Scalzi’s able to work at least one such scene into most of his novels: Think of the message Jared leaves for Boutin in The Ghost Brigades, or Zoe’s speech to the Obin in Zoe’s Tale. So what, I wondered, activates his waterworks? “The question is what doesn’t make John Scalzi cry at the movies,” he wrote back. “I’m a crier of nearly John Boehner-level ease, and it’s only gotten worse with age. Seeing me cry at something is not in itself an indication of its quality; it just means that I’m that much of a sap.”
Me too, I guess.
OK. Now the big deal about “A Problem of Proportion” is that it starts to bring together some of the various plot threads that have been kicking around in the earlier episodes. The most obvious, of course, is that Harry Wilson and the Clarke team cross paths with Sorvalh and her crew, so the two teams can discuss why both Colonial Union and Conclave ships have gone missing in recent months. Then we find out what’s been happening to those ships—like the Erie Morningstar, which was hijacked way back in “Walk the Plank.” We already knew what happened to the crew of that ship; now we’ve got an excellent idea of what happened to the ship’s captain. Furthermore, although we don’t have a conclusive answer on this front, we are led to the conclusion that while whoever’s behind this is attacking both sides, they do seem to have access to technology that more closely resembles that available to the Colonial Defense Forces.
I asked Scalzi how he’d been keeping all the necessary threads straight until this episode, which lays the groundwork for a big season finale. “Generally when I’m writing a novel,” he explained, “what I tend to do is get to a point where all my plot threads are extended out as far as they’re going to be and then I start weaving them together, and they get tighter as I go along.” For The Human Division, though, he deviated from his usual pattern of starting at the beginning and working his way straight through the story. Writing the episodes out of sequence—which we also discussed after Episode 2’s release—made tying the plot points together a different process, “and not necessarily a bad one,” he commented. “During the latter part of writing, I could look at what I had, see what needed to be connected, and then write something new that made the connection between those events. The trick, of course, is making it look organic—when you read it, it should all flow naturally.”
I liked to imagine Scalzi with a bunch of index cards pinned to a noteboard, laying out all the characters and events he had to set in order to make the story work. I was way off base: “I didn’t tend to outline or make notes, simply because it’s not what I usually do and because I have a good head for the details of a book I’m writing… while I’m writing it. Once I’m done, whoosh—memory purge. But during the writing, it’s all in the head.”
One plot thread that doesn’t get addressed in this episode is the extent to which the conspiracy the CU and the Conclave are facing is operating on the planet Earth itself. We’ll be getting some insight into that aspect of the story as a character from “The Observers” returns for next week’s episode, “The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads.”
Purchase and read The Human Division, episode 11: “A Problem of Proportion,” at:
Art by John Harris.
Ron Hogan is a big Scalzi fan from way back. He just launched a new website called The Handsell, where he recruits authors and indie booksellers to make reading recommendations for people based on books they already love.