Weekend Shorts: Wool #4 and Above the Factory

The UnravelingWool #4: The Unraveling, by Hugh Howey
I have to admit, the wool/knitting metaphors are getting a bit precious, especially considering that there’s very little actual wool in this story and it’s not ever used for crafty things! But I also have to admit that they get the job done, as this story is, in fact, about the unraveling of our favorite silo full of people.

It is also knitted together quite well, trading off between the story of Juliette, who has gone out for a cleaning and managed not to die just yet, and the stories of the people still in the silo who are variously surprised, angry, terrified, and motivated to war by the failed cleaning.

There’s not much real action in this story — it’s more of a bridge to what’s clearly coming next — but we do learn a lot about this strange world of silos and secrecy, and I am very excited to see what’s coming next.

It’s interesting, as I go through this series, to remember that it started as just that one ridiculously amazing story and then managed to turn into a pretty strong series. Either Howey developed an unnecessarily complete world for his first story or he’s a master of retcon; either way I’m loving it.

“Above the Factory”, by Jerry Gabriel
I was listening to an old episode of that Literary Disco podcast I mentioned a while back, and the main segment was about this story. The three… panelists, I guess?, didn’t particularly like the story, but it sounded really interesting to me so I thought I’d go ahead and read it anyway.

It’s hosted on a site called Five Chapters, where apparently they serialize short stories in five chapters over five days, which seems pretty cool and like something I will be checking out again. And perhaps if I had read the story one chapter at a time, like I am managing to do with Wool, it might have come out better.

But as it is, the five chapters don’t flow terribly well into one whole story, or I guess really the first three chapters are one story and the second two a different one. In the beginning, it’s all about how this young married couple has moved across the country into a house they’ve bought without, apparently, terribly much inspection, considering that on the Monday after they move in they are surprised by the people going to work in their basement, which turns out to be a small factory for widgets of some sort or other. The first three chapters cover the couple coming to terms with this factory thing in their own ways and deciding it’s a pretty okay thing.

In the second half-ish, though, the story moves to a coworker of the husband who is obsessed with the fact that said husband is a happy person, because happy people are obviously hiding something and so the coworker MUST know what it is. Things kind of go off the rails here, with the coworker weaseling his way into the house but never finding out anything because the girl he brings along wanders off into the night and then the married couple (spoilers?) decides they don’t like their house after all and decide to leave.

It is really weird, and although I get that the author was trying to do a more thinky story with the random factory as a symbol for whatever, I would have much preferred a vignette of what life is like with a factory in your basement, because that is certainly not a thing I know about. And maybe if someone could explain to me about the date girl and her anger and the walking off thing? Because I did not get that at all.

Any recommendations for cool short stories I can read this week?

The Human Division #13: Earth Below, Sky Above, by John Scalzi

Earth Below, Sky AboveI don’t want to say it, but it is true: I was more than a little underwhelmed by this story, the last in the 13-week adventure that was The Human Division. You’re going to read it if you’ve read the rest, so I’m going to skip over a summary (well, I’ll say it was still pretty cool!) and just give you my feelings about the series.

After the rollicking first episode and several delightful and/or awesome episodes thereafter, with conspiracy and questions and more questions at every turn, I suppose I thought I’d get some more explosions, perhaps a huge fight, and some big answers that maybe left me with a few more questions to gnaw at my brain for the next few days.

Instead I got… I’m not really sure what I got. There were definitely explosions and fighting, though the fighting was more or less one-sided, but I think the only answer I got was to the question, “What did happen to all those missing ships?” Unfortunately, this was pretty low on my list of questions I wanted answered.

I’m chalking my disappointment up to the format of this publishing experiment, which was part serialized novel, part collection of standalone but interconnected short stories. If Scalzi and Tor wanted people to be able to find this story and read it without any knowledge of what had gone on before, it would have had to have been more than its double-length to really recap everything that had happened in the first twelve stories and also it would have bored me to tears. So, by necessity, it leaves out most of the big questions that had been asked and instead briefly mentions a few things that would mean something to series readers and would be kind of interesting to new ones.

The story stands alone quite well, I think, but for my own personal reading happiness I would have preferred this series to be more truly serialized, so that this last story could have been that epic question-answering and question-creating finale rather than one that didn’t really do either.

On the plus side, Scalzi recently announced that there would be a continuation of this series, which I assume will again be in this short story/serial format. He’s also taking comments and concerns about said format over on his blog, so I’m hoping if enough people say, hey, meany-face, you forgot to actually end this series, it will at least be a consideration in writing the next one. (Fingers crossed!)

Recommendation: Do please read this series, because it’s pretty awesome, and might end up being awesomer in book form? Who knows?

Rating: Story, 7/10 for not answering any of my dang questions; series, 9/10 for being explodey and delightful.

The Human Divison Parts 10-12, by John Scalzi

We’re in the home stretch now! Just four more stories to go after these… it’ll be interesting to see how this all comes together in the end. As always, some thoughts on the recent installments:

#10: This Must Be the Place
This Must Be the PlaceI was a little worried about this one, as the entire Internet was telling me that it was a complete change of pace from the rest of the stories and probably about half of said Internet was telling me it was a no-good change of pace. Even my husband, who managed to read this one first, was like, “What the heck was that?” But I actually liked this one, so whatever, haters. In this episode, our old friend Hart is taking a vacation from dealing with aliens and intrigue and puppies to go home for Harvest Day (Thanksgiving, I’m guessing) and hang out with the fam. There’s obviously not much action here, aside from normal family squabbles, but it is a nice insight into Hart and also into how more or less regular (albeit powerful and rich) people are viewing from a distance all the fights we’ve seen up close. It’s going to be a weird chapter when this is a book, but as a standalone story I quite liked it.

#11: A Problem of Proportion
A Problem of ProportionHoly crap, John Scalzi. We head straight back to the fighting in this one, right in the middle of some, in fact, and it is awesome. Even better, we get to meet up with our Conclave friend Hafte and get some more of that enemy point of view. Even better than that, we find out that there is a really mean person or group of persons (aliens can be persons too, right?) out there who apparently don’t like either the Colonial Union or the Conclave and are willing to be total assholes to mess things up. I am still bitter about this.

#12: The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads
The Gentle Art of Cracking HeadsAnd again, Scalzi just makes my mind boggle with his combination of politics, intrigue, and blowing stuff up. Also science, as we learn about a very interesting idea that hypothetically could be just as asshole-ish as what happened in that last story. Seriously, who are these persons who are doing things? How are all these mysteries going to be wrapped up in just one more story (double-length, even!)? How unlikely am I to drink tea ever again?

Rating: I’m gonna go 8, 9, and 9, because dang.

The Human Division Parts 8 & 9, by John Scalzi

We’re in the home stretch now! Just four more stories to go after these… it’ll be interesting to see how this all comes together in the end. As always, some thoughts on the recent installments:

#8: The Sound of Rebellion
The Sound of BadasseryUm, holy crap, guys. I know that the CDF soldiers are superhuman and all, but wow. In this story, a soldier wakes up after a night of drinking to find herself blindfolded, restrained, and totes naked (because her CDF uniform is pretty useful itself), held captive by a disembodied voice and a silent in-room helper. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that she then BAMFs her way out of trouble, because seriously, badass. There’s of course a bit of other stuff that ties this in to the overall plotline, but whatever. Badass.

#9: The Observers
The ObserversAt first I was like, Fringe shoutout? Probably not, but that’s okay. The humans are back, with more baseball knowledge this time, and there’s some boring trade negotiation and two sides getting to know each other until a bit of disaster strikes and our poor B-Team has figure out whodunnit or else find themselves the scapegoat in a seemingly inevitable war. The ending had me and my husband confused for a minute, because one of us does not understand spaceships and the other does not understand physics, but once we put our heads together we were like, dude. Scalzi really takes no prisoners, here.

Rating: 8s all around!

The Human Division Parts 6 & 7, by John Scalzi

I really cannot help but enjoy The Human Division. It’s like a present (that I paid for) every week! Here are some more thoughts on recent stories:

#6: The Back Channel

The Back ChannelI really think the best part of this story series, and eventually this novel, is that we get a chance to see what’s going on from all sorts of different points of view (without having to read an entire other novel, though that’s fun too!). This story is especially interesting because it’s from the point of view of the generally accepted bad guy, though of course he’s not as bad as people make him out to be. In fact, it seems that he’s just like any of our good guys, doing the politics and making the promises and getting people to solve his problems with threats of violence. As it goes.

#7: The Dog King

The Dog KingThis is a story that I found probably more amusing than it was, on account of I was reading it while doing my treadmill thing (as I’ve done for all of these stories) and it was a delightful distraction. There’s a tiny puppy and carnivorous plants and you might be able to see where this is going but of course things are slightly wackier than that. It was definitely cute when I read it, but it hasn’t really seemed to further the story even having read a little farther in the series, so that’s a bit disappointing. But whatever, it’s a wittle puppy! I’m okay with it.

Rating: 8/10 and, say, 7/10 (with bonus points for adorable dog)

The Human Division Parts 4 & 5, by John Scalzi

I have more thoughts on these delightful Human Division stories! I know you’re shocked.

#4: A Voice in the Wilderness

A Voice in the WildernessSo clearly Scalzi is doing a thing here, alternating the main space plot with a story from somewhere else. But unlike Walk the Plank, which I found weird and not easily read by itself, this story is kind of fantastic in its own right. The focus is on a radio personality not unlike Rush Limbaugh whose ratings are not doing so well. So he makes an agreement with a shadowy person to talk up the Colonial Union in exchange for fame and fortune, but as one might expect things don’t go exactly as planned. I liked the way this story took on journalism and pseudo-journalism and the way that history is so dependent on what people say about it; it reminds me of not a few stories I had to write in a certain way when I worked in newspapers and makes me feel a little better for getting out!

#5: Tales from the Clarke

Tales from the ClarkeMan, I don’t even know what’s going on in this main space plot anymore. There is all sorts of subterfuge and intrigue and it’s awesome but I really don’t have any idea how this is going to work itself out. In this installment, we have our B-Team friends fixing up a junker ship to sell to some humans as a gesture of goodwill, but when the humans show up there’s something… off about them, as evidenced by baseball (yay baseball!). I’m interested to see how our friends continue on after learning what they do about those that command them, but I guess I have to wait two more stories to find out…

Rating: 9/10 and 8/10, respectively.

The Human Division Parts 2 & 3, by John Scalzi

Some short, mostly spoiler-free notes on the second and third episodes of this fantastic series. I hope you’ll join me in reading these either now or in book form later!

#2: Walk the Plank

Walk the PlankAfter that kind of brilliant first episode of this series of short stories, I was like, YES MORE OF THAT PLEASE. Give me more crazypants space exploits and intrigue and danger! And then I read the second episode and I was like… um… what. It’s written as a transcript of an audio file, which I suppose is not a completely foreign concept for a Scalzi short story, but I was still thrown for a loop. Where The B-Team was all description and narrative and plot, this was dialogue and dialogue and a little bit of exposition by dialogue. And even worse, it was about a completely different planet and set of people and I was very very confused and a little worried about how the rest of this book was going to go.

#3: We Only Need the Heads

We Only Need the HeadsBut then this story happened and oh, goodness. It more or less explains everything that was described in the last story, and then it dials up the intrigue and the squick factor by bringing in the title. Thanks for that, Scalzi. But really, thanks for bringing back the plot and the humor and the conspiracies, because I am all about those! I am on the edge of my seat again for the next installments…

Rating: 5/10 and 9/10, but probably still a 9 taken all together.

The Human Division #1: The B-Team, by John Scalzi

The B-TeamSo I think we’ve established that I’m not terribly much of an e-book reader, because I only have back-lit reading devices and also I don’t like buying books if I don’t get an actual book for my money. We may also have established that I don’t do well with serialized novels because I forget things easily and like to read things all at once.

However, we’ve definitely proven that John Scalzi can write almost anything and I will read it and I will like it, and also that I would like to read it sooner rather than later. So when Mr. Scalzi said hey, I’m writing this book and I’m going to sort of serialize it (it’s really a set of short story “episodes”) in e-book form for thirteen weeks and you have to pay a dollar for each episode but then at the end of the thirteen weeks there will be a book you can pay an equivalent amount of money for, I protested at first but then figured I’d at least shell out a dollar for the first episode and see what happened.


So, yeah. I’m just gonna go preorder those other twelve episodes now.

Basically, if you’ve read any of the Old Man’s War series you’ll enjoy what’s going on here, and even if you haven’t, if you like space and politics and aliens and humor, this is probably a thing you will like.

In this first episode, we meet up with some new faces and some happily familiar ones in the OMW universe, and we find out what’s been going on since The Last Colony/Zoe’s Tale — namely, that things have gone kind of to shit in the alien relations department and also that Earth is like, hey, military branch that’s been helping us out with this overpopulation problem, we don’t really want to talk to you anymore, have fun out there in space with your Colonial Union. So the Union finds itself needing to do some serious negotiating, but of course there are some other people (aliens?) who would rather that not work out, hence the story at hand.

I absolutely enjoyed this, as you may have noticed, because of Scalzi’s patented fine blend of intrigue, explosions, science, and humor both subtle and completely juvenile, as when early on in the story several diplomats find themselves essentially vomited upon. It’s fun stuff, and at 93 Kindle pages for this “double episode” it only took maybe an hour out of my day, so really you have no excuse for not reading this, either now or when the book comes out in May.

Rating: 10/10