Apr 2 2013 12:00pm

The Human Division Read-Along, Episode 12: “The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads”

The Human Division Read-Along Episode 12 The Gentle Art Of Cracking Heads John Scalzi

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 12, “The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads.”

Danielle Lowen, who initiated a fairly substantial flirtation with Harry Wilson when she was part of the diplomatic team Earth sent to the Clarke in “The Observers,” is the focus of this week’s episode, pressing a Brazilian functionary for information about Luiza Carvalho, the assassin who evaded capture by walking into an airlock and exposing herself to the vacuum of space. Clearly, there’s some level of conspiracy involved here—and the bombing of the Brazilian consulate shortly after she steps outside only underscores that point.

Then she has a conversation that answers several of the how questions that have emerged over the last few weeks, but still leaves us in the fog about the who. It’s entirely possible the “generically handsome” John Berger (a nod to the philosophy book Ways of Seeing?) is on the same “team” as Michael Washington from “A Voice in the Wilderness,” and that’s where my money is going, personally—but we don’t know for sure. (Heck, the physical descriptions we’ve got are scanty enough that it’s possible John Berger is Michael Washington.)

What we do learn dovetails with much of what we’ve been learning these last few weeks. Specifically, whoever’s working to keep Earth and the Colonial Union apart has capabilities, specifically a combination of SmartBlood-like technology and consciousness-altering nanobots, that seem like they could be cutting-edge extensions of Colonial Defense Forces technology... but are they?

(By the way, Berger’s explanation of how the nanobots might be introduced into someone’s system raises a really good question: What do we really know about what was in Lt. Lee’s drink?)

Next week’s episode, “Earth Below, Sky Above,” is the Human Division finale—so it’s reasonable to expect some major revelations. I’m not giving you any hints, though... and you’ll thank me for that when you get to read the episode for yourself.

(By the way, congratulations to Scalzi on the Hugo nomination for Redshirts! Also, in a unnaturally forced segue, here are the Human Division tour dates....)

Purchase and read The Human Division, episode 12: “The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads,” here.

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.

Stephen Rochelle
1. lomn
Alright, so there's a lot of plot stuff in this one.

Let's take as a given that Berger is right about the method of assassination from Ep 9. That leaves (and opens) a lot of questions:

What was Berger's original role in this? Why didn't Wilson or Coloma go recover Carvalho's body? Rolling back to the front side of the story, what was the real objective for the bombing? How does this tie in with the Conclave-related intrigue? But none of these are the really tasty tidbit. No, here's the big one:

Carvalho had "meningitis" two years ago.

Two years! Scalzi isn't giving us a Weber-style week-by-week chronology, but we know that it's been less than two years from front to back of this book (per Schmidt's toast in Ep 10), and all-but-certainly less than two years since Perry returned to Earth (per the excitable redshirt in Ep 3). The Mysterious Someones may have adjusted their plot around the realities of the present Earth/CU split, but the plot itself predates that. On the other hand, without Perry as catalyst, Earth and the CU don't split, and this skullduggery doesn't seem to get into gear. What good are nanobot assassins to a galactic conspiracy if they're trapped on Earth?

Recapping: our conspirators have been working to destabilize the Earth/CU relationship, destabilize the inner political workings of Earth and the CU individually, destabilize the CU/Conclave relationship, steal a bunch of weapons and ex-military starships, create creepy brain-boxes (compatible, we assume, with multiple species) to operate said starships, and kill people in creative ways with nanotech, plus the occasional gunshot and/or blunt force trauma. They are predominantly but not exclusively human-focused. Who fits that, and why?

At some level, it's too late for me to get off my Erie Separatists horse. It's hard to force-fit all the pieces into that theory, but there have been enough things things from early episodes that pay off later that I don't think Scalzi will drop in a new villain with no foreshadowing in the last episode, and Erie has certainly gotten its share of namechecks. I don't think it's the Special Forces. Neither Berger nor Washington talked like three-year-old engineered killing machines, and the tech involved pushes well past CU/CDF standard. It's not that SF isn't intellectually capable of doing research, but I'm pretty sure the CU's wariness where SF is concerned would extend to "don't let the engineered killing machines develop tech to overthrow you". I don't think the Consu need the subtlety. The Obin... yeah, they could factor in, but I fall back on "no foreshadowing". Some anti-human factor in the Conclave explains the CU/Conclave stuff but not the interest in human backwater politics. But I'm sure there's at least one more good theory that I haven't gotten into this list.

Oh, right, the real final theory: two years ago. What else happened two years ago? "Some kid named Jorge Alamazar" pitched a perfect game and led the Cubs a World Series win. A veritable horseman of the apocalypse. A portent to inspire the ultimate crime of passion and set one man on a path of vengeance. Who would destroy humanity to rain brimstone on the Cubs? Why, the man we know to be diametrically opposed to the long-awaited redemption of Wrigleyville. The one known Cardinals fan in the OMW universe. Our true ultimate villain is none other than...

Harry Wilson.
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
lomn@1:Hard to argue with that conclusion, :-). But, then it is hard to argue with just about any conclusion with the set up we've been given so far. The last episode would seem to have a lot to cover to wrap things up well.
The question I have is why blow up the consulate and then tell Lowen how it was done--and then kill the teller? Are there two groups at odds here or is the shadowy group just that shadowy?
Stephen Rochelle
3. lomn
@stevenhalter: what I missed on the first read-through (and didn't catch until late in my post cross-check) was Berger's line, near the end of the conversation, to the effect of "maybe I'm telling you this because I'm fed up" -- it strongly suggests that he's been in on the conspiracy and is coming clean, even knowing it's a death sentence. Without noticing that, I couldn't make a bit of sense of his arc.
Jennifer R
4. Jennifer R
It just seemed too easy. Danielle doesn't even get to figure out why it happened herself. She starts drinking in a bar and some random guy sits down and she starts spilling her hypothetical guts to him about top secret shit (and she's a politician's daughter and current media darling--doesn't keep quiet about this to a guy that as far as she knows, was just looking for a fuck?), and he flat out tells her what went down? Really? That....annoyed me. Too easy, Scalzi.

It really does make me wonder how it's going to get pulled out at the last minute here when we still don't know whodunit and it's the next to last chapter.
Steven Halter
5. stevenhalter
lomn@3:Thanks, I glossed over that line also. That does seem to explain Bergen's role here.
Jennifer R
6. BrandonE
I'm incredibly curious to know how this will get wrapped up in one more episode. I think we've probably been given plenty of clues, but with the amount of information thrown at us, it's hard to tell what's relevant and what isn't.

Scalzi really needs to be a TV show runner. He's really showing his versatility with this series.

I do love lomn's anti-cubs theory.

I'm wondering if this is going to be some bizzaare manufactured conspiracy to bring the CDF, Earth, and the Conclave closer together by making up an outside threat. Seems a little overly complicated though.

The only other thought I had, at the end of episode 10, was some sort of xenophobic coalition of wildcat colonies attempting to build their own seperatist alliance. But 11 really seemed to knock that theory down, unless by getting the CDF and the Conclave to fight each other, they are hoping to get a step up on the two outside forces, still seems overly complicated, and not very healthy for humanity.
Tyler Sprenger
7. Kappi
I missed the "meningitis two years ago" clue, but then again I didn't get to read this until late at night this time around. Thanks lomn for pointing tha out. I find in story timelines very hard to keep track of, at least without a handy dandy chart or something.

Where does Charles Boutin's defection to the Obin come in on the timeline? Maybe he had human conspirators and this is the remants of their original plan, which included the destruction of the CU and notable barbecuing of the population of Pheonix by the Rraey (spelling?).

My thoughts are is that this conspiracy has to have primarily human backers, mostly because almost all the conspirator movement we've seen has been human. I would think it is very difficult for an alien species to turn a human mole agains his own species (or any person against theirs really), with the notable exception of Boutin. Boutin, however, seemed to be the initiate for the actual destruction of the CU, and not the Obin. The Obin just wanted conciousness.

Scalzi has shown that it's possible for human minds to inhabit non-human bodies, so why couldn't the opposite be true? We just haven't seen any alien races exhibit this technology have we? Now that would be a cool book! Sci-Fi spy thriller. A spy in the body of a species not their own.

Now I'm rambling again. Tsk. I might re-read all the espisodes again and look for more references to two years ago, assuming I can find the time between this and playing XCom.

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