Mar 26 2013 12:00pm

The Human Division Read-Along, Episode 11: “A Problem of Proportion”

The Human Division Read-Along Episode 11 A Problem of Proportion

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.

Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
Another good episode in general. I liked that the threads are starting to come together--just two episodes left after all. I didn't see any other clues than what Ron mentioned (semi-Colonial tech, attacking both).
The use of the bomb tends to confirm they are nasty players whoever they are.
2. JCS in SATX
They were thorough too... both the bomb and the coordinates that would skip him into the sun if he did complete his mission.

On a lighter note, I really enjoyed the interchange between Harry and the Conclave soldiers.
Stephen Rochelle
3. lomn
I thought it interesting that, after our conspirators have leaned heavily on CU-oriented tech, that missiles from a yet-unknown race (the Acke) were used in this ambush. Particularly I wonder: are the Acke part of the Conclave?

Ultimately, though, I think that question is secondary to this: was the intent of the ambush to kill, or did the Mysterious Someones want at least one party getting away? It seems to me that the latter is the more destabilizing possibility: either the Conclave escapes and says "we were attacked by our own stolen ship; it's obviously the CU" and/or the CU escapes and says "we were attacked by a Conclave ship", and the most likely outcome is open war. But who could the Mysterious Someones be that would benefit from that? Any human faction within the CU will have a tough time convincing everybody that they're actually not worth shooting at, thanks. A Conclave faction might be happy for the excuse to destroy the humans, but why mess around with all the Earth-CU skulduggery in the lead-up to that?
4. JR_One
I agree, Lomn. I don't get who would be motivated enough to start up this conflict between the Conclave and the CU.
If they are Human, they are runing the risk of humanity being wiped out. What's in it for any Human if this happens?
If they are alien - what humans would work with them? I could see any number of races from the other OMW books wanting to weaken/eliminate Humanity. I could even see the Consu being involved on some level - but then I think that we are beneath their notice.
Matthew Gray
5. Your_Alien_Overlord
For right now I'm guessing the Consu but who knows. Also one thing that has been bugging me is: why hasn't the CU been making up the slack for Normal CDF with special forces? They have the production to make all the bodies the only thing they get from earth is the consousnesses. I mean, in the last colony Slizard even talked about this. Did something happen there?
Stephen Rochelle
6. lomn
Your_Alien_Overlord @5: I asked John about this after the first episode, and he replied that Ghost Brigades established that the CU "doesn't really trust the Special Forces for anything other than specialized roles."

He then said "this may be explored further later" -- that hasn't explicitly happened, and there's not much time left in the series to do so, but note the general sense of revulsion that Sorvalh had regarding Harry's BrainPal, the notion of consciousness transfer generally, and the creation and use of not-really-human soldiers specifically. A CU policy of "conquest by Special Forces" might well be the issue that gets the Conclave to vote for a crusade of moral genocide or the like.
7. Leatherneck6693
I don't see how John is going to locate and resolve the McGuffin in just two episodes without resorting to the old "and then they were all run over by a truck" scenario.
8. PantheraOnca
Your_Alien_Overlord - I agree on the Consu. They're the only group that would seem to benefit (re: entertainment viewing) from CU and Conclave going at it that we are aware of. Basically any other group/race has the possibility of being dragged in to the engagement (with or without intent from CU/Conclave) which would probably not be a good thing.

lomn - I'm not sure why CDF isn't using a more zerg strategy. I imagine there's a database somewhere with all the consiousnesses that have been put into CDF/SpecForce bodies. I would think they would be able to just build more enhanced clone bodies and put the consiousnesses into them. If for some reason that doesn't work I could see a out-of-one-old-body-in-to-X-new-bodies kind of thing going on at point of transfer.
9. davea47
What about an alliance of disgruntled humans (wildcat CU colonists and / or Earthlings?) and members of races that are nominally in the Conclave? Earthlings might be looking for the neutering of the CU as payback for their treatment; colonists and others might be looking for the breakup or weakening of both the Conclave and the CU to free them to settle where they want -- maybe pushing past the boundaries of currently settled space.

Just a thought....
Stephen Rochelle
10. lomn
PantheraOnca @8: Mostly because I don't think what you suggest is qualitatively different from standard Special Forces (though, admittedly, I'm going from memory and don't have an e-copy of The Ghost Brigades to search on). First, as of not long ago, the CDF didn't have any way to store consciousnesses. There's also no guarantee that the CDF found it worthwhile to roll that tech out (and deal with possible unintended consequences) in the wake of TGB given that they've got what appears to be a limitless supply of Earth humans. If such a database isn't rolling by the time Perry hits Earth, I don't think there's enough data left to collect (unless you want a Clone Wars-type platoon with 40 of the same guy).

More importantly, I don't think I buy into the idea that an indefinite copy/paste on an Earth human is qualitatively different from creating a stock SF soldier; that seems to me to be a lot of the point about Jared Dirac being his own person (but this is where I don't have TGB on-hand to check the particulars). I don't know why the one-to-one transfer is privileged in this regard, but my reading of the series suggests that it is.

As for the various Consu theories: no way. They don't have any reason to stoop to the skulduggery running through the series, and particularly it doesn't fit with their philosophy. This is a race that individually commits ritual suicide after speaking to an alien and collectively launches space stations into black holes after aliens visit them. They're not going to have any part in a plan that involves hijacking ships, interrogating alien soldiers for alien political data, fomenting low-grade rebellions, or otherwise acting or appearing as anything but Consu. Could their religion (or whatever it is) have an interest in seeing a war break out? Sure, I guess. But this isn't their MO.
11. GarageOffice
@lomn - I'm not sure I completely agree on the Consu, but I think you're generally right in that regard. On the topic of copy/paste soldiers, I think the big difference between them and the standard SF soldier is the fact that the SF soldiers are personalities that are grown from a seed resident in their brainpal. Copy/paste soldiers would start out with a fully integrated personality with associated ACQUIRED knowledge and face the brainpal integration issues described in OMW. I would assume, however, that the "Multiplicity" issue would surface as they would each consider themselves THE person even as their experiences created divergence.
12. R Walton
James Brown: Godfather of Soul.
Jim Brown: Hall of Fame NFL running back/actor/activist.

Is thirteen episodes going to be enough to tie up the loose ends satisfactorily?

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