The B-Team ~John Scalzi (A Spoiler-Free Review)

Carl V. Anderson —  1/15/2013 20

“Which is to say, ladies and gentlemen, that from this very moment, the human race is thirty years from extinction.”

    The Colonial Defense Forces ship, the Polk, has arrived at a point in space a few days ahead of a sensitive negotiation with a race of aliens known as the Utche. The plan was to scout the area for danger and to set the stage for a successful negotiation. When they run into unexpected difficulties it becomes necessary to resort to plan B. And what do you do when you have one shot at averting an all out war and your best team of negotiators is suddenly unavailable? Why you send in the next best team, of course. Or, failing that, the team closest to that area of space who can get there in the nick of time…

Starting today, John Scalzi returns to his popular Old Man’s War universe with his latest novel The Human Division. Echoing his actions a decade ago when he released the first novel, Old Man’s War, episodically online, each chapter, or episode, of The Human Division is being released on a weekly basis beginning today, Tuesday January 15th and continuing across the next thirteen weeks.

Each episode is DRM free and costs all of .99. 99 cents?!?!? The book in its entirety will be released by Tor Books in the Spring of 2013. But why wait? For less than the price of an Egg McMuffin you can be a part of what is going to be a HUGE ongoing thirteen week group read. And more importantly, you are getting good value for your money because the Old Man’s War stories are contemporary space opera at its very best: characters you will grow to love, galaxy spanning adventure and humanity up against impossible odds with the need to come together and use its collective wisdom, and not just weapons, to save the day.

My long-held desire to have a color e-reader became a necessity when I read of John Scalzi’s episode release plans and heard that the covers for each episode would feature work by one of my favorite SF cover illustrators, John Harris. Thanks to Tor Books I got an early release of the first episode, The B-Team, and promptly devoured it last week. In case you are interested, I also purchased the episode.

The plan as put forth by John Scalzi is to have each episode function independently as a short story with all of the episodes coming together to form an overall story arc. One need not be familiar with the previous novels to enjoy the episodes of The Human Division. From the standpoint of being an avid fan of the other stories in this series, I found The B-Team to be a rich experience because of the knowledge and expectations I had from spending time in the Old Man’s War universe. Looking at this first episode objectively, the episode does have a good story-shaped structure with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end and fans of entertaining short fiction will be right at home in this universe regardless of previous experience.

The B-Team features a second tier character from the earlier series who I like very much and was pleased to see that he will be a part of this novel. And right from the start he is entertaining. The story opens and wastes no time in shocking the reader and then proceeds to introduce a cast of characters in a fun but appropriately tension-filled manner. The story is very accessible for readers of all kinds, one need not be a science fiction aficionado to grasp the concepts. I won’t say much more than that other than to say this is going to be an adventurous ride.

Tor Books is hosting a weekly read along and I will be posting brief thoughts on each episode along the way, so please feel free to chime in if you are reading these episodes or just with general thoughts.

While this review was spoiler-free I am hoping that anyone reading this may want to talk about it in more detail so comments may include spoilers and I would ask if they do that you put the SPOILERS tag at the start of your comment.

Carl V. Anderson

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20 responses to The B-Team ~John Scalzi (A Spoiler-Free Review)

  1. I have my copy. Thanks for the reminder. There is definitely value in the experience of reading this together as a community. I’ll get back to you soon. Nice idea on your feature image, I may steal that concept someday for my blog posts now that I have a color reader.

    • Steal away, I stole the idea from Tanya Patrice who is so much more creative than I am with her images.

      It was fun to open up the Kindle this morning and see John Harris’ cover there (the Tor copy did not come with the cover image).

      Do hope you’ll pop back over and we can talk about it when you are done.

  2. Oh, I preordered this first spisode of the serial to check it out, particularly since I enjoyed reading the Old Man’s War series last year. I just checked my Kindle and it’s there! I’ll read it and come back to comment. :)

    • I was so excited to see this on my Kindle when I fired it up this morning, a beautiful John Harris cover there front and center.

      Look forward to your thoughts.

  3. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of an Egg McMuffin. I always liked the sausage biscuit and hash browns. I don’t even want to consider how bad they were for me.

    I look forward to your enthusiastic posts.

    • I haven’t either, not since I started eating healthy and working out last year. I still know they are on the McDonald’s dollar menu though. :)

      I’m hoping each post WILL be enthusiastic as I’ve been excited about this one ever since I read the first press release.

  4. I think I’ll wait till it’s available as a book rather than episodes. Besides I haven’t read anything past “Old Man’s War” anyway. But I did enjoy that book.

    • I’ll be getting the hardback too when it comes out because it is a lovely looking thing with its own John Harris cover, and I will want it with the collection of other Scalzi OMW books.

      You should read the other OMW books John. The first is the best but the others are quite good. Because, you know, you don’t have anything else to read. ;)

  5. “Why wait?” Because if I wait I can get AN ACTUAL BOOK instead of a computer file, that’s why. You’ll pay more, at a buck per, for all the installments than for the book, I suspect. As far as Egg McMuffins are concerned, yes they still have them. I had one during the holidays. Yum, but only allowed every 6 months or so.

    I wonder what “Spring” means in this case, and how many installments are planned?

    • As I said to John, I’ll be buying the book too when it comes out. There are 13 episodes so it is unlikely that the hardback will be quite that cheap with Amazon discount but it may be close.

      I believe I read one place it was due out in May and another in June so that is why I opted for “spring” in my post.

      To me it is worth paying $.99 a week for the experience of the episodic storytelling from an author that I trust I’ll get a good experience from. It is pretty cheap entertainment and something fun to look forward to popping up on my Kindle every Tuesday morning for the next 3 months.

      • I assumed TOR would bring it out in trade paper. I’ll wait for that if I have to. I’d rather have a mass market paperback, of course, but they make more money from a TP so I likely won’t have a choice.

        • I’m sure they will in another year. It is listed on Amazon as slated for release in hardcover for $15.85 on May 14th. They just released his novel Redshirts in trade paperback yesterday as well (not quite a year after HC release) so I assume they will follow suit and then also do a MMPB at some point. All of the other OMW novels are out in MMPB so I’m just assuming they will eventually do that too. I wouldn’t expect that for a couple of years down the line.

  6. I really like the concept of this release and what a fun universe to host a series of short stories that come together…and what a great excuse to get a series of cover art instead of just one for the collection (which, I hope they include all the art regardless).

    • I thought it was a great idea myself. Makes me think of the “old days” when stories were released episodically. I’m really hoping that if Tor doesn’t include the cover art in the hardback that they will do some kind of special edition that has each cover’s artwork before each chapter. I’d pay a little extra for that.

  7. This sounds like a really fun idea to be involved with. Certainly does make you think of the ‘old days’ – Charles Dickens used to release his stories in instalments as well!
    I like the sound of this but I haven’t read The Old Man War series – is that a must would you say?
    Lynn :D

    • We are two peas in a pod, Lynn. I was thinking about Dickens as well when I first heard John Scalzi was doing this and I came *this* close to actually mentioning that in the review.

      It isn’t a must to have read the series but it is one I like tremendously. I think if you risked the buck and really liked this first episode I would say continue on. If it seems good but not great to you then I would check out Old Man’s War, the first novel.

      • Some years ago Stephen King released The Green Mile as six small books (another prized part of my collection). The first two were out when I started then a couple of weeks later another would appear. It was fun to follow along.

        I have now started the Human Division… (thanks Carl). At .99 it is perfect accompaniment to my daily espresso and lets me forgo the danish! :-) This should be fun.

        • Carl V. Anderson 2/2/2013 at 3:27 pm

          That’s cool, I’m glad you started in on it and that you are enjoying. It really is a great buck treat every Tuesday morning. Dessert for the eyes and the imagination.

  8. Very cool. I enjoyed The B Team just yesterday, as Audible.com offered it for free. I thought it was a great way to introduce myself to Scalzi’s work, and I was impressed. I look forward to checking out TOR’s weekly episodic releases and to digging up Old Man’s War.

    • I unfortunately couldn’t get the free Audible download as I was already on a trial membership, but I’m happy that you and others have snatched it up and are enjoying it. Even happier that this was your first experience with Scalzi and that it was a good one. Happy that you’ll be doing the weekly episodes and hope you share your thoughts each week as we make our way through them.

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