John Scalzi has a talent for smoothly blending dire situations with flip and sarcastic (but also brave, loyal, competent, and involved) characters. He's also able to design a classic, epic space opera plot and deliver it with a clarity that makes it easy reading. There are plenty of innovative, hard-science ideas, and their effect on society, and on individuals that you care about, will wring your heart. This is episode six of as series called The Human Division, and it's less than an hour long. There have been shorter episodes, and longer episodes, but this one is just a little less than the average, which is about an hour. I don't recommend starting the series with this episode. Start at the beginning - Episode One: The B Team. Scalzi makes sure that each episode is self-contained, but in a series, some episodes will set out mysteries and raise dramatic tension while others give you a break and let you see at least some of the background politics, and the people working them out. Each episode is written from the perspective of a different set of characters, although there is at least one main set of characters whose recurring episodes are forming a backbone for the plot. The Back Channel is the first episode written from the perspective of characters from alien races who are dealing with the continuing human problem. And while it's interesting in it's own right, it's more interesting if you've experienced the preceding episodes and know the pain and bloodshed that the political ploys are intended to avoid, and that will rain from the sky on many planets if they fail. Although since the politics is all done via back channel, if things go south, they never happened at all.
Although not a pivotal moment, I enjoyed watching Emissary Hafte Sorvalh being guided on a tour of the Lincoln Monument and discovering the joy of churros. The moment with the goat WAS pivotal, but that would be a spoiler.
William Dufris has a wonderful range of voice attitudes, which gets a good workout in this series. There are more than 400 alien races in The Conclave alone, and many more who are unaligned. Not to mention the strong differences playing out within the human race. He gives each character its own voice, and there are many characters. His flip sarcasm can slide from smooth to pointed and suits main character Harry Wilson (not in this episode) wonderfully. A few of Dufris' words can make you sure that you're hearing a violent asshole (this episode) or a flaky ambassador (not this episode). Hafte Sorvalh, this episode's main character, is believably competent, dangerous, civilized, and charming. That she is also an alien comes through subtly, as her English diction is confident and relaxed. It makes her feel more of a threat, somehow.
I wait for each episode to be released each Tuesday and download it as soon as I'm home from work. If I can't listen to it immediately, I get grumpy.
After listening to a few episodes, I had to download and listen to the three novels set in the Old Man's War universe that had preceded The Human Division. You don't need to hear them to understand the action in the series, but they're available, they add richness by providing additional background, and they can be downloaded on any weekday. That helps me wait for the next Tuesday. Or, it did. Next week is going to seem long.
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