I consider John Scalzi to be an outstanding science-fiction writer, a decent human being, and an owner of cats (that’s not just a fact, it’s a sign of character), so it pains me to say that The Human Division is not a good book. It’s a very Scalzi book, which means that despite its weaknesses it still merits two stars for some funny dialogue, clever shenanigans, and occasional stabs at profundity. But absolutely nothing of significance happens!
The basic story is about a mysterious conspiracy that leads to lots of surprise bombings and other miscellaneous acts of sabotage. You will find out basically nothing about this conspiracy. Instead, Scalzi gives us a lot of speculation, mostly in the form of endless expository dialogue between characters positing that the conspiracy is intended to pit the Colonial Union against the Conclave in a battle for the loyalty of otherwise-unaffiliated Earth. But that’s pretty obvious right from the beginning. (I mean, shadowy forces blow up a diplomatic ship and try to pin the blame on an innocent party!) What’s interesting is who is behind the conspiracy, what their ultimate aims are (chaos, or something more concrete), and what exactly their devious plan is. You will find none of these interesting details in The Human Division.
Instead, Scalzi gives us a lot of setup, and (my other problem) a lot of filler. The book was released in a series of thirteen “episodes” of varying lengths. About a quarter of them are basically useless: I’m thinking in particular of “Walk the Plank,” “A Voice in the Wilderness,” “The Dog King,” and “This Must Be the Place.” Are these stories totally disassociated from the main plot? I would guess not. But the connection is pretty tenuous, and there certainly would have been better and less tedious ways of getting across the same points.
Apparently Tor (the publisher) was so pleased with sales of The Human Division that it’s commissioned Scalzi to write a Season 2 that continues the story. In a way, I wish he’d just started there. The Human Division is less of a first volume than a preview episode for a series that hasn’t even really begun yet.