The Human Division

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

Welcome to the 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.


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