The Human Division, Episode Six: The Back Channel is Now Live

Why, hello, Tuesday. I see that once again you have brought a new episode of The Human Division with you, this time “The Back Channel.” Here’s what it’s about, from the official blurb:

The Conclave is a confederation of four hundred alien races—many of whom would like to see the Colonial Union, and the humans inside of it, blasted to extinction. To avoid a conflict that neither side can afford, Conclave leader General Tarsem Gau appoints Hafte Sorvalh to resolve an emerging diplomatic crisis with the humans, before the only acceptable solution is war.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this episode features political intrigue, aliens, Abraham Lincoln, churros and goats! You can’t go wrong with any of those. And if you can I don’t want to you know, you sick person, you.

It also features one of my new favorite characters in the Old Man’s War universe: Hafte Sorvalh. She’s not totally new — longtime fans will remember that she popped up briefly in a pivotal scene in Zoe’s Tale — but she’s really fully fleshed out for the first time in this episode, and all I can say is I wish I were as smart as she is. She’s a blast to write. I hope you have as much fun with her as I have.

As always, there will be a discussion of this weekly episode on today; I’ll link in when it goes up (update: Here’s the link!). Likewise, as always, if you feel moved to review the episode, please do; it’s nice when people have conversations about the episodes.

And remember to tune in next week for “The Sound of Rebellion,” in which a simple mission for the CDF warriors of the Tubingen (last seen in Episode Three) takes a turn for the strange.

The Back Channel: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBookstore|Google Play|Kobo|Audible (audio) (all links US)

41 Comments on “The Human Division, Episode Six: The Back Channel is Now Live”

  1. So, how do you go about writing a character like Sorvahl who is smarter than you are? I mean, no disparagement intended, but you are…you.

  2. Read it with my breakfast porridge. Intrigue! Big grin! Also – I love the art work – a lot of lots.

  3. Just finished listening to the audiobook. I have a question about the meaning of a euphemism used by some of the characters towards the end, but I’m not sure I can ask it without spoilers.

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever finished a Scalzi story with a smug, vicious little smile on my face before. Congratulations. Also, yes, Sorvalh is an awesome character, I can see why you would enjoy writing her.

  5. Not trying to be a dick, but saw a small typo. “And if you can I don’t want to you know, you sick person, you.” should switch the “you know” to “know you”. Feel free to eliminate this post if you correct it

  6. I wonder if there’s a place where we can discuss how this “experiment” is going?

    So far, I’m enjoying all the human division books – just not as much as I thought I would. I’m not sure why, but I think part of it is that each book is written to be a standalone short story. Rather than simply being a new chapter each week building on the last one, there’s a new short each week that may be very loosely tied to the overarching plot (i.e. the one a few weeks ago about the talkshow host on Earth).

    Its kind of a disjointing experience. While I’m enjoying reading all the books, I kind of wish I’d held off on pre-ordering all the ebooks and just gotten the complete one in May.

  7. You’ve made Tuesday a better place, thank you. Also, after jonesing for another episode just a little too much, I downloaded the audio book of “Fuzzy Nation” yesterday. For that I also thank you, and wonder if I used “jonesing” correctly…..

  8. all I can say is I wish I were as smart as she is.
    John, I’ve heard you and other authors say things like this (I think someone on a Big Idea post a few months back said something to the tune of, “I hate it when my characters go off in directions I didn’t plan.”). Being completely uncreative as I am, I’d love to know how something like this works when you’re writing. How can you write a character smarter than you are? Is that because, as the author, you can control the universe in which your character lives and therefore can make them more “insightful” than you, the author, can be about the real world? And how can a character go off in a direction you didn’t plan?

    On a totally unrelated note: for a man who was on vacation last week, you were awfully productive! Hungarian Ghost Brigades, Korean Fuzzy Nation, an episode of THD and a graphic novel all while you were on a cruise. Wow. ;)

  9. Usually I read and review your books as soon as they are released for goodreads and BN. But I have not written a review of any of these because I don’t want to say anything that might be taken out of context as negative. I do really like them but don’t want to discourage anyone from buying them. I thought after reading “The Back Channel” I would post my thoughts here.

    I have followed the conversation about this being new or an experiment or whatever in some ways. I take that into consideration. In addition, I read your response to others about the length and how it compares to your other books (the same in a words per dollar etc. sense).

    I think you use the term “a lot of freight to ship” when making sure that the Human Division can stand by itself without having to have read the other books in the series. I understand the rationale. All that being said, the format is shipping freight episode to episode as well. When that happens, perhaps you should discount the amount freight shipping counts when considering the true length / entertainment value if you are to do this again.

    I mean in a TV series, often they revisit things from the previous episode for those who missed it, but this is still a book / written medium. I think with each episode, it becomes less likely that someone just picked it up for the first time. I mean we spent quite a few pages in Tales from the Clarke going over the Clarke getting destroyed . . . which happened just two episodes earlier. The conversation in “the Back Channel” that the Conclave members have ships freight from the universe (destroying their fleet) as well as from the Human Division (wildcat colonies with covert CDF forces). As far as net new story – well I won’t do a spoiler here, but not really a lot happens. Sure, I expect the Back Channel and the relationship to become important, but as with a lot of these, I was left hoping for a bit more.

    TL:DR when considering length and story depth, please consider “discounting” freight shipping work when measuring the episode. I think it would lead to a richer experience and help the stories to seem to be a better entertainment value.

    Hope this was constructive instead of just negative. If not, it was supposed to be. Love all your work of course.

  10. I get a little bit excited when I get that email from Amazon saying my book is ready to read on a Tuesday evening. Last night, I managed to read it all while barbecueing our dinner… my family were a bit pissed at me because I overcooked the steaks.

    Loving the series!

  11. Lance, Beej – there are lots of resources you can take advantage of as an author that your characters don’t have access to in the story. When the character comes up with brilliant plans/realizations without such access, that demonstrates that they are smarter. Total knowledge of the universe is one such resource, of course; time is another. You can take hours/days/weeks/months to come up with the daring stratagem that they put together in seconds while thinking on their feet…

    John – I believe the typo Cliff is pointing out is in your blog post, not the book. Which may or may not affect the dickishness level but probably means that you don’t need to forward it to Tor..

  12. So, the character who is as smart as you wish to be loves churros as much as you do? Your narcissism is showing. ;-)

  13. Well, I went to Brand “A” and bought the first six episodes…you know I wouldn’t be able to resist. Read three pages…love it already!

  14. @ markjreed

    Who was it who first said don’t mistake being first for genius? Was it Mozart, or was he cribbing someone else?

    @ Chris

    So, the character who is as smart as you wish to be loves churros as much as you do? Your narcissism is showing. ;-)

    I’m pretty sure John would actually have to believe he was as smart as his character, and be wrong, in order to be narcissistic. I doubt writing wish-fulfillment fantasy qualifies as self-love in either the diluted lay sense or the technical psychiatric sense. Indeed, if a fictional character is no smarter than the author, but the author believed she was, that could be the opposite of narcissism…though I strongly doubt John suffers from any unhealthy deficit of self-esteem :)

  15. I finally took the plunge last weekend and bought the first episode. Needless to say I downloaded the rest in a jiffy and tore through them all and have been waiting for this one. It’s a really great, but most of all, fun to read tale, and I realized that that was what I’d been missing in my reading recently. So thanks for that!

  16. @Bess: “with a smug, vicious little smile on my face ”
    Having now read the ep, I know exactly what you mean!
    And it’s a very good ep too; the only caveat I have is that all the aliens sound like humans…

  17. @Sooz: “the only caveat I have is that all the aliens sound like humans”

    I actually like that – I just presume that the author has translated what the aliens say into perfectly idiomatic English to indicate that they’re speaking in perfectly idiomatic alien. It’s something I learned from translating ancient Greek – my teachers would deduct marks for coming up with translationese like “Greeting, O Socrates” instead of the more colloquial “Hello, Socrates”.

  18. [Very slight spoilers ahead]


    Read it last night and now I think I see what you mean by wishing you were as smart as Sorvalh. At least, I assume you’re talking about how she gets the colony to move. I must say, between that tactic and your way of dealing with the Racist Sexist Homophobic Dipshit Problem, I don’t ever, EVER want to cross you.

    Once again you’re reminding me of Harlan Ellison, especially his short story “The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge.”

  19. @John K Fulton: that’s a good point, thanks. I’m also not sure if the key plot twist completely works, but won’t write any more as I don’t want to risk spoilers :).

  20. John, I’m not sure who to talk to (so, well, I’m channel blasting, I suppose, contacting as many people involved as I can reasonably assume ought to be involved) about the Google Play aspect of e-reading. You’re indicating here that The Back Channel has been released, I paid for it and…it’s still pre-ordered, sitting there, taunting me. Have you heard anything about this? I’m not sure if this is a communication issue between Tor and Google, a Google issue, or a local system issue and I’m trying to track it down.

    I’ll be contacting the Google folks about this as well, if you want to hear what they have to say to me about it.

  21. Quick follow-up: It’s a Google thing. Sometimes their payment processing system delays (reasons unspecified, assume software glitchiness somewhere, or massive order load…) for a day or two, so I’ll be following this up with a rep later.


  22. I always wanted to ask this…but when you named General Tarsem Gau, did you know that “General Gau’s chicken” is an alternate name for General Tso’s chicken in some places? :)

    (Sorry if this was answered elsewhere; I’ve been avoiding The Human Division discussion threads, as I’m planning on reading the whole thing at once post-release. I’m in the “waiting would probably drive me nuts” crowd.)

  23. I’m greatly enjoying the series and, so far, this episode most of all. Unlike some comments I’ve seen over the last few weeks about this experiment, for me it’s a rousing success. I’m realizing that if there were more serials out there I’d probably be reading a lot more. Over the last few years the amount of my brain available for novels has dropped but unconnected short stories don’t appeal that much either. I really like having a series of semi-connected short stories delivered to me one week. I think I will be sad when the run is done.

  24. Unlike Mr Turnbull, I find myself in a totally different environment. As a 71 year old retired engineer, I am in a position where my voracious appetite for reading is growing, and my leisure is almost endless (excluding “honey-do entries). I have just finished “The Human Division” releases to date, and find myself, like being in the midst of a Scalzi novel, unable to wait to get back to it. The thought of having to wait a week at a time for more is unendurable! I’m like the kid a week before Christmas. I’m sorry, Mr. Scalzi, you’re just going to have to write faster, or assume responsibility for my melting down into a greasy stain. I love your stuff!

  25. I’m loving these series, thanks for the good work.
    However I feel that there is something missing; if you do something like this again I would recomend increasing the interrelation among chapters. I mean, it’s great as it is, but with it being released weekly I kind of want to have some addition to the last chapter on the new one, I really would like some bits sneakily placed that could go unnoticed.

  26. I have to ask based on the churros outside the Lincoln Memorial: did you ever watch the cartoon Clone High? All I could think of was Robomatronic Abe Lincoln’s speech “I say to you: try the churros!”

  27. This was probably answered elsewhere, and it’s obviously a technology issue for the book sellers’ sites and not you or Tor, but it sure would be nice if you could just subscribe to each of the serial episodes when they are released.

    I know you can buy them all together after they are done in one volume, but why doesn’t Amazon allow you to pre-order the whole set so they are delivered to your Kindle as they are made public? That’s basically how serialized novels in magazines work, after all.

    That seems like the kind of feature that would be necessary for widespread adoption of the serialization model in the ebook era. Maybe you could communicate something along those lines to Tor, who would in turn do the same for Amazon? The programming can’t be that hard for them to add that feature.

  28. Sorvalh is a wonderful character and person (Person as in sentient life form, not H. sapiens). Her solution is elegant, and proves that the power of churros can be used for good.

    Also, now we know where the 101 spare goat uses concept took form.

  29. You mention the next installment…

    “And remember to tune in next week for “The Sound of Rebellion,” in which a simple mission for the CDF warriors of the Tubingen (last seen in Episode Three) takes a turn for the strange.”

    Isn’t the next installment “The Dog King”? “The Sound of Rebellion” is #8. Unless you want to release 2x at once.

    I wouldn’t complain. ;-)