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 8, “The Sound of Rebellion.”
Remember back in Episode 3, “We Only Need the Heads,” when Harry tagged along with a Colonial Defense Forces platoon commanded by Lt. Heather Lee? Lt. Lee takes center stage in this week’s episode, set during the aftermath of a failed “separatist rebellion” on the colony planet of Zhong Guo. The lieutenant and two of her soliders are kidnapped after the rebellion has been squashed and, as we see over the course of the story, she’s able to escape her captors by putting her BrainPal and SmartBlood to use in ways that aren’t necessarily covered in the operating manual.
Longtime fans of the Old Man’s War series will remember the basic principles of the SmartBlood trick from The Ghost Brigades, but the sonar application of the BrainPal is all-new, and it gave me an opportunity to ask Scalzi how he comes up with the advanced science aspects of his science fiction. Does he keep a folder full of neat ideas that he can write stories around?
Well, no. “That’s more organization than I can claim,” Scalzi wrote back:
“Rather what often happens is that I will be writing a story and I will have need of a bit of science and then something pops up in my memory that I read recently—or even not so recently—and then I pull it up on the computer and then try to extrapolate logically from it.”
As for finding those ideas in the first place, Scalzi says he’s “always had a good head” for science facts, the result of a personal interest in the subject that extends back to a childhood desire to become an astronomer.
So something like Lt. Lee’s creative use of her BrainPal isn’t a trick that Scalzi’s been holding back, waiting until he could use it in a story. Instead, it’s the outcome of putting her in a situation where her escape depended on “a logical and defensible expansion of what we already knew BrainPals could do, in conjunction with the CDF soldier’s genetically engineered abilities.”
“You do have to be careful about making sure any piece of future technology doesn’t become a convenient piece of deus ex machina,” Scalzi continued, “and the way you do that is by making sure that what you do with tech is only a small step beyond what’s been seen before.” Take the previously demonstrated ability of the BrainPal to transmit images into the brain when a soldier’s line of sight is blocked, combine it with the genetically engineered superior hearing of CDF troops, and you’ve got a sonar sense Matt Murdock himself might envy—refined enough to identify the objects on a table top.
(Oh, and we’ve also learned that it’s possible to manufacture a drug “designed with SmartBlood in mind.” That sounds like it might be worth filing away for future reference….)
What sorts of technological innovation can we expect in the remaining five episodes? “Hey, I’m finding out about this stuff as I go along,” Scalzi protested. “That’s part of what makes it exciting for me as a writer.”
As far as the big picture’s concerned, we’ve got direct evidence of one Colonial Union planet rebelling and attempting to re-align itself with Earth, and the Zhong Guo rebels are intensely curious about how well prepared the CDF is for rebellions on other colony planets…and how far along those rebellions might be progressing. Now, when Colonel Egan shows up at the end of the episode to debrief Lt. Lee, she specifically says, “There’s no organized separatist movement, and the Earth isn’t actively trying to recruit any colonies.” And Lt. Lee can tell Col. Egan is lying when she says it.
In next week’s episode, “The Observers,” Harry Wilson and the rest of the Clarke are playing hosts to a diplomatic team from Earth. Of course, we all remember how well things went the last time the Clarke was supposed to entertain Earth visitors…
Purchase and read The Human Division, episode 8: “The Sound of Rebellion,” at:
Art by John Harris.