I recently read John Scalzi's The Human Division (on my Kindle, not that Amazon gives me anything to mention this, the chintzy jerks -- hey, Bezos, you promised to spend all my Amazonbux on Blue Origin, remember?).
It's good stuff, classic SF ideas presented in the modern style. Set in the same universe as his Old man's War, it (mostly) follows the efforts of a Colonial Union diplomatic team in the aftermath of the split between Earth and CU. My guess would be that some fraction of reviewers will compare it to Keith Laumer's "Retief" short stories; but where Laumer is satirical and sharply critical of most of his diplomat-characters and their organization and the hero triumphs in spite of their pettifogging and myopic focus, Scalzi's crew, for all they are something of a bunch of diplomatic misfits, work doggedly and to the best of their abilities against rather grim odds. Some of the byplay and dialog -- and the tone -- reminds me of Eric Frank Russell's connected short stories (collected in Men, Martians and Machines) about the adventures of crew of the spaceship Upskadaska City. (Though, of course, there'll never be another Kli Yang or Jay Score). And Ambassador Abumwe is as nicely drawn a portrait of a difficult, talented, dead-ended high-ranker as I've found in SF. The ambassador is not our main focus; many of the stories spotlight the work of Harry Wilson, an apparently unambitious Colonial Defense Forces officer and Hart Schmidt, underachieving third-tier bureaucrat. Jame Retief and Ben Magnan, they're not -- but they get the job done, in plausible, engagingly-told tales.
If you've been following Old Man's War and sequels, you'll get more from this collection than if you haven't -- but if you don't mind starting in the middle, it would make a good introduction to that fictional universe. Recommended.
1. Or most of it, via the one-story-a-week release schedule. If you buy the physical book or compiled collection, there's two extra yarns in 'em, all part of How e-Books Kept An Author From Starving In a Garrett.
2. Why hasn't anyone brought Retief to film yet? He'd out-Bond Bond and leave most movin'-pitchers SF in the dust! Scalzi has at least been optioned; so one can hope for an eventual film. Maybe it won't be Starship Troopers.
5 months ago