The Human Division Listen-A-Long: Episode 13: Earth Below, Sky Above by John Scalzi

12 04 2013

Earth Below, Sky Above by John Scalzi (The Human Division, Episode 13)

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Length: 2 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B+


Episode 12: The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads

The Audiobookaneers Episode 12

Welcome to the BIG TWO HOUR SEASON FINALE of The Human Division Listen-A-Long. First off, I want to thank Dave from The Audiobookaneers for being my Listen-A-Long partner. If you haven’t been checking out his thoughts, then you deserve to be sucked out into the vacuum of space without a life protecting Leotard.

I am very happy to hear that John Scalzi has signed a deal for a second season, because this truly makes this feel like a season finale, and not just the end of a book told in a serial manner. I really grew to like these characters, and knowing I should see them again next season makes this parting so much easier to take. Now, on to my thoughts on Earth Below, Sky Above.

I think that any Finale episode, whether it be the end of a TV series, or the last novel in a series, has a greater responsibility and should be evaluated not just as a standalone episode, but also in how it closed out the series. As an episode, Earth Below, Sky Above was awesome. The episode focused on the all important, what we have been building up to all season, conference on Earth position on the CDF and the "B-Teams" role in the negotiation. The first half was fun, sentimental (Harry returning to Earth for the first time) and full of humor, including a fun scene were Harry shows up some meathead soldiers who want to pick a fight with him based solely on the color of his skin (green.) The second half was full of crazy explody action in Space, and on Earth’s Space station. Scalzi knows how to write some of the most accessible, and visual action and he truly gave these scenes a big time blockbuster movie feel. It was so much fun to listen to.

As a finale, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. One of my biggest issues with the series as a whole is that the enemy lacked a face. Scalzi does a great job setting up this mysterious cabal that seems to be pitting Earth, the CDF, and The Conclave against each other for some secret agenda which may simply be the end of the CDF, but may not be. Yet, we never really see any actual conspirators, or if we do, they quickly killed off. I was hoping for some level of reveal, perhaps the theorized spy within CDF, or some player at some level of the conspiracy. Especially with the announcement of the second season, I thought it would be nice if our nameless cabal at least was given a name. Yet, the enemy remained conceptual. That being said, Scalzi did manage to pull a lot of threads together, pulling in bits and pieces of the entire series to bring about this stunning conclusion.

Can we all take a moment and raise our glasses to Mr. William Dufris. I really enjoyed the work he has done on this production, and in this final episode, he once again gave a seamless performance. Scalzi’s writing doesn’t always transfer perfectly to audio and Dufris does a great job minimizing any clunkiness. I loved his ability to slow down the chaos of the devastation of Space Station, allowing us to feel these small heartfelt moments with Harry, Schmidt and Coloma. I really enjoyed experiencing this serial in the audio format. Now, for the long wait to Season 2. What will become of our heroes during the hiatus?

One final note and it’s a suggestion to Mr. Scalzi. There is a series of books called The Dead Man, and while it’s not really a serial, it is episodic storytelling. For the audio version of The Dead Man series, each edition starts off with a Bad TV style theme song. So, I call on Mr. Scalzi, and Audible to create a The Human Division Theme Song to be included in the audio versions. I know Mr. Scalzi, being the literary rock star he is, probably hangs out with the likes of Bono, Axl Rose, Harry Connick Jr. and Paul McCartney, so one of these rock stars should help you put together something on your Banjo. Or, even better, have Seanan McGuire write and perform a little ditty for you. Don’t make me start one of those online petitions.

Thanks to everyone who bothered to stop by a read my thoughts on this series. Remember, I’m here all year round!

Audiobook Review: The B-Team: The Human Division, Episode 1 by John Scalzi

17 01 2013

The B-Team (The Human Division, Episode 1) by John Scalzi

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Length: 2 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The B-Team starts The Human Division with a splash, creating instantly likeable characters set in a complex world with a seemingly endless potential for good stories. Even if you’re not a huge science fiction fan, The Human Division may be an event you don’t want to miss.

Grade: A-

It seems now that every time John Scalzi’s releases a new project onto the world, it has the feel of an Event. Now, with the Human Division, this Event label may be more than justified. When John Scalzi announced his new project, a novel released episodically, with a new entry coming every week for 13 weeks, I was quite excited. First off, this book would take place within the world of Scalzi’s military science fiction series, Old Man’s War. I love that series. In fact, Old Man’s War was one of the first science fiction series that I listened to from start to finish entirely in audio. Yet, I was mostly excited about the episodic format. I am one of those strange people that actually prefer television over movies. I enjoy having a story told out over a series of self contained episodes. I think this format actually, well done well, allows for more complete character development, and building of a mythology. I also think it’s riskier. A self contained 2 hour story should be tight, but when you need to fill up hours of content, keep an overall theme, yet tell many smaller stories, sometimes you get The Wire, and other times you get the final season of Lost. So, I am quite interested to see how this will play out, and I for one, will be downloading each episode every week as soon as it comes out.

In The B-Team, the first episode of The Human Division, a top secret Diplomatic Mission goes horribly wrong, when a CDF Diplomatic Cruiser is attacked and destroyed. With the mission of vital import, a second group of Diplomats are sent to handle the situation. This group, made up of low level diplomats and bottom tier fixers must attempt to salvage the mission while discovering exactly what happened to the first group. In many ways, The B-Team serves as the pilot of the series, where the characters are introduced and their specific skills are shown to the reader, while the underlying mythology of the series is also set in motion. I often find that pilot episodes do more of a disserves to the overall product, full of info dumps, manufactured attempts to make you instantly bond with the characters and heavy handed world building, all while not offering much of a coherent story. Yet, Scalzi manages to accomplish all the key ingredients of a good pilot while also telling a heck of a good story. I was sucked into the story from almost the very beginning. Scalzi uses the mystery of what exactly happened to the missing ship very effectively, allowing the characters and their relationship to develop naturally. It was great to have Harry Wilson, a character from the original series, taking a leading role in The B-Team. Harry is one of those characters that readers can instantly connect with. He has a lot of the iconic Scifi hero about him, witty and sarcastic, and while often underestimated, is competent and an excellent problem solver. Harry isn’t flashy, just a strong, even handed hero. Scalzi fills out the cast with a lot of excellent new characters, including the brash captain of the diplomatic ship, and an ambitious underutilized Diplomatic lead. The B-Team starts The Human Division with a splash, creating instantly likeable characters set in a complex world with a seemingly endless potential for good stories. Even if you’re not a huge science fiction fan, The Human Division may be an event you don’t want to miss.

William Dufris returns to Scalzi’s Old Man War universe with a strong performance. I always loved Dufris reading of Old Man’s War. He was able to take these characters, and meld the youthful vigor of their bodies, with the seasoned thought process of their actual years. Dufris does a wonderful job with The B-Team. He has a great grasp on the characters, and Scalzi’s more contemplative and cerebral action style plays out well with Dufris strong sense of pacing. I will be quite interested in others reactions to his voicing of the alien species that our heroes come into contact with. It actually made me laugh a bit. It was over the top and a bit kitschy. I really liked it, but I think a few more restrained and serious scifi fans may frown at it, while shaking their heads in nerdy disgust. I really look forward to the rest of this series, all of which will be available for a pretty reasonable price for Audible members.