e-Book/Audiobook deal; a brief review of Scalzi’s “The B-Team: The Human Division, Episode 1”

Since I’m trying to find short books that will build worlds for me without having to commit to ten thousand pages, I bought and listened to John Scalzi‘s “The B-Team: The Human Division, Episode 1” narrated by William Dufris on Audible.com. This is a book set in the same distant future as his “Old Man’s War” novels, but it’s being released as a weekly serial for $0.99 an episode. The e-Book is also available for $0.99  ($1.16 for me, because I live in Canada, the publisher sets a higher price, and I am paying taxes on the purchase), and I bought it as well.

Why did I buy both?

Well, for starters, $1.16 is pretty inexpensive for a well-written novella of about 90 pages. Or almost any length, really. I also wanted to try out the Kindle/Audible WhisperSync system (haven’t tried it yet, sorry – I’ll get back to you on that one). Lastly, I wanted to read the names of the planets, species, and characters, so I’ll go through the book again. For example, there is a character in the book with the last name “Bair”, but I was imagining it spelled “Behr”. If I’m going to transition later into Scalzi’s longer books, I might need to know how things are spelled. Plus, I find characters more memorable if I can “see” their name in my head.

I like this model of delivery: a weekly release of short books all set in the same world. Books on the Nightstand says it’s the year of the short story; I certainly think it is for me.

Brief review; no spoilers

Overall, it was a good, fast read. The characters are complex enough for a novella, and there are several small plot arcs in the context of a larger plot. There isn’t a lot of time for characters to grow in two hours of narration, so there wasn’t much there.

The narration was good but not excellent. The characters’ voices were usually distinguishable from each other, but there were a few times that I wasn’t sure which male character was which. Also, the voice of the narrator (um…. not sure how to say this… the book’s narrator, not the performance’s narrator…) sometimes sounded too much like the characters’ voices.

He said, she said

But I always knew who was talking because of the number of “saids” in the story. In an exchange in the first few pages, the dialogue looks (structurally) like this:

"Sentence," character 1 asked.
"Sentence," character 2 said.
"Sentence," character 1 said.
"Sentence," character 2 said.
"Sentence," character 1 joked.
"Sentence," character 2 said.

When you flesh out the sentences, it’s not really so bad, but it’s still noticeable. When the narrator has to say all of those saids aloud, it’s a bit jarring and it takes me out of the story a little. I hope I’m not overstating this; it’s a minor problem.

The only other criticism I have is that a few times the characters say things that I don’t know would be said by far-future humans (like references to high school and paper bags). Little things, to be sure.

Still worth it

Overall, great book. 4.5 stars. You should read it if you like space opera. I’ve already bought “The Human Division 2: Walk The Plank” (Audible and Amazon).

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