Tue
Feb 12 2013 12:00pm

The Human Division Read-Along, Episode 5: “Tales from the Clarke

The Human Division Readalong, Episode 5: Tales from the Clarke

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 5, “Tales from the Clarke.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s glad to see Sophia Coloma, the captain of the diplomatic starship Clarke, back in the storyline, in an episode that builds directly off the events of “The B-Team.” Following an inquiry into Captain Coloma’s decision to take a direct missile hit to her ship, she and some of her top officers have been re-assigned to a 50-year-old ship the Colonial Union is planning to sell to Earth as part of their efforts to restore their relationship. It’s a bit of a fixer-upper, but Colonna and her crew are up to the challenge.

Speaking of the crew, Coloma needs somebody to be a liaison with the Earth delegates who are coming to check out the ship—someone with both a strong technical background and a familiarity with Earth psychology. Fortunately, Harry Wilson is available.

(We don’t learn a lot about how Harry got out of the bind he was in at the end of “We Only Need the Heads.” All we’re told is that the Bula took the starship he was on hostage, and Amassador Abumwe negotiated their release, although those negotiations are still ongoing. So maybe we’ll be circling back to this issue before we’re through...?)

Of course, the mission goes south pretty quickly: Harry figures out the people who’ve come to buy the ship aren’t who they say they are, and the ship’s engineer finds evidence of attempted sabotage. Here’s what we learn after things are straightened out, as summarized by the CU State Department’s Colonel Egan:

“We discovered that whoever tried to sabotage you has access to confidential Colonial Defense Forces research. We discovered whoever it was has the ability to access communications through Colonial Defense Forces channels. We discovered they have access to CDF shipyards and fabrication sites.”

So those of you who’ve been looking at the CDF as the source of the conspiracy to derail the Colonial Union’s diplomatic efforts (with Earth and with alien races) have just picked up some ammunition. And that theory about Special Forces being involved somehow doesn’t seem so far-fetched, either....

Looking back at the three episodes in which Harry plays a prominent role, I’ve been kicking around a variation on the idea I mentioned during the read-along for “The B-Team” about Harry as a Campbellian hero, an action man with tech skills. He reminds me a lot of Jack Ryan, the hero of several Tom Clancy novels; specifically, he reminds me of the Jack Ryan of The Hunt for Red October, and maybe the staging similarities between a submarine and a starship have something to do with that... Anyway, I asked Scalzi if Clancy technothrillers were any sort of influence on him, and he told me he hadn’t actually read very many; the technical infodumps weren’t his sort of thing.

“I will say,” he added, “that the movie version of Hunt for Red October, and other action films directed by John McTiernan, have had a strong influence on my approach to action scenes.” (No surprises there for fans who remember Scalzi’s background as a film critic.) In particular, he admires McTiernan’s pacing, “the way he hits all the marks and ratchets up the tension” as the story progresses. “So, short answer: Tom Clancy no, John McTiernan yes.”

By the way, Cubs pitchers and catchers reported for spring training yesterday, but without Jorge Alamazar on the roster, I wouldn’t give them much of a chance.

Join us next week, when we meet a familiar face from The Last Colony, and get to see a character from Zoe’s Tale in a whole new light, in Episode 6, “The Back Channel.”


Purchase and read The Human Division, episode 5: “Tales from the Clarke,” at:

Art by John Harris.


Ron Hogan is a big Scalzi fan from way back. In addition to running the literary website Beatrice, he reviews science fiction and fantasy for Shelf Awareness and the Dallas Morning News.

10 comments
Erik Harrison
1. ErikHarrison
I love the freedom to shift perspective that this format is giving Scalzi. You can imagine a novel shaped version of this story that gives Captain Colonna short shrift.

Also, I wonder if "Tales from the Clarke" is a nod to Clarke's collection of short stories "Tales from the White Hart". There are certainly some parallels to Scalzi's writing in those stories.
Stephen Rochelle
2. lomn
So my wider plot arc thought for the week is that "Erie" sure crops up a lot relative to the various colonies that could be named. I still think the Erie Morningstar is Chekov's Gun, and this week the lead fake Earthling is an Erie resident.

Why relevant? It's because of something that bothers me in the post-mortem, where Rigney is breaking down how much info the Mysterious Someones have access to. They knew about a secret diplomatic mission, had access to advanced military tech, intercepted a supply run to a wildcat colony, and then tipped off the Bula about said colony and the cover-up. That much sets up this week's episode. Then, this week, the Mysterious Someones find out about the diplomatic mission with Earth, presumably know about the competing interests between the CU and the Concord with respect to Earth, booby-trap the diplomatic mission via CDF's Phoenix shipyards... but they don't know that there isn't really an Earth delegation? They don't know that it's headed by a guy from Erie? They don't know not to tip their hand vs the CU's bluff? Suspicious. Suspicious enough to make me wonder whether Rigney et al are really the ones pulling the strings regarding who's on the fake delegation.

Let's back up for a second to The Last Colony -- Perry's deputy, the guy who takes over when Perry leaves for Earth, the guy who pushed hardest for Colonial colonization... he's from Erie. Maybe Erie sees this whole mess as their chance to become an independent nation. Siphon off some ships and equipment for a covert military, let Earth establish the notion of individual human planets joining the Conclave, splinter the CU, and maybe then you've got a multi-planet nation (let's go ahead and lump Roanoke in here) and your ticket to colonizing on your own terms.
Rontar
3. Rontar
lomn -

That sounds like a darn good guess. Erie has cropped up a lot, and if I remember correctly it is one of the oldest colonies. Maybe they are itching for independence. Maybe The Human Division isn't just between the Colonial Union and Earth.
Rontar
4. Jennifer R
Ooooh, good point about this recurring Erie thing.
Stephen Rochelle
5. lomn
Ambassador Bair, from the very opening scene, was also from Erie -- but I can't manage to fit that into the conspiracy theory.
Tyler Sprenger
6. Kappi
The prominence of Erie cropping up over and over is interesting, but I find it difficult to line up with this latest information. The whole mission was a mole hunt by Rigney, and he, presumably, chose the fake Earthlings (love that term by the way). Why would an Erie Conspirator endanger themselves if they know there is a bomb on the mission? Unless they are ready to go suicidal for their cause. Could be a coincidence, or a red herring.

The most recent information points me more to the Special Forces.
They would have access to CDF tech, communications, and facilities. Szlizard (spelling?) had a command BrainPal that allowed "psychic" eavesdropping on at least subordinate BrainPals. This could allow them to snoop on communications, and obvious evidence to higher tech. He (Szlizard) also showed a natural inclination for cloak and dagger, considering how he gave Jane her BrainPal, and just the nature of SF missions. The group that attacked the Erie Morningstar didn't talk at all. Could be an indication of both tight discipline and/or an inclination of being able to communicate through BrainPal since "birth".

"The Human Division" could be describing, amongst other things, the division between Special Forces and original Humans. The CDF doesn't trust SF, and the SF knows this.
Steven Halter
7. stevenhalter
I think this was my favorite chapter since the first. Scalzi gave us a nice little mystery. Actually there were two mysteries--who planted the bomb and where did the "earth" diplomats come from. The Earth mystery was nicely wrapped up here and the bomb mystery nicely added bits to the ongoing mystery of who is trying to derail the talks with Earth.
Then, of course, there is the reintroduction of the Clark and its crew and bringing Harry back. All well done I thought.
Sean Arthur
8. wsean
I have to admit I got a kick out of the Cubs' futility continuing so far into the future. :P
Rontar
9. Malthusius
Kappi, I think you are bang on. That we have now had 5 episodes without so much as a casual reference to the special forces is suspicious. But more specifically I think General Szilard has an important role to play in all of this. I can't help but think back to Szilard talking to Perry about the SF intelligence corps in The Last Colony.

Szilard was also openly passionate about a scenario where the SF account for more than 1% of the CDF and are valued properly by the rest of the CU. He's involved somehow in all of this, I just haven't figured it out yet. I also refuse to believe that the Obin don't have a role to play....
Rontar
10. AFS
Not sure I buy the idea that General Szilard is the bad guy here. He is all about damage control, whereas this dark conspiracy is all about destabilizing both Earth and the CU.

I am kind of intrigued by this bit, from the synopsis of Episode 11: "It’s a surprise to both teams — but it’s the identity of the attacker that is the real surprise, and suggests a threat to both humanity and The Conclave."

Doesn't that suggest the Consu are involved? Who else could possibly be a threat to both humanity and the Conclave?

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