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Halo: First Strike by Eric Nylund

01/06/2005. Contributed by Phil Jones

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pub: Orbit. 340 page paperback. Price: 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-84149-422-4.

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'Halo' first appeared as a video game on the XBox and later Mac and PC. This excellent first person shoot-'em-up has now spawned three spin-off books. 'First Strike' is the third and continues the story from 'Halo: The Flood' which also is the storyline of the first game.

We join Master Chief, an augmented human super-soldier in a small ship after earlier destroying Halo from the clutches of the Covenant alien race. The destruction of Halo also destroyed the Flood, a parasitic xenoform that will use any sentient life form as a combat forming host. Halo was a huge circular structure floating in space with its own environment and landscape and structures. Built by an ancient race, the forerunners to contain and study the Flood, also to contain and destroy the Flood's food source across the universe.

Three weeks previously, the Covenant had attacked Reach. The last main stronghold of the humans. The Spartans, of which Master Chief thought he was the last, were sent down to Reach to protect it. The A.I. Cortana assists Master Chief escape the battle at Reach, along with the crew of the Pillar of Autumn. Only to arrive at the system containing Halo and more Covenant forces.

After the destruction of Halo, left alone on a small longsword attack vessel, Master Chief searches for a way out of the system as he has no means of faster-than-light travel. A huge Covenant flagship comes out of slipspace. Cortana and Master Chief power down nearly all their systems to avoid detection. Cortana scans the surrounding and eventually locates some cryopods floating amongst the debris. Carefully manoeuvring allows them to move closer and eventually recover the cryopods. This is aided by the appearance of a Pelican dropship that had been hiding behind an asteroid.

The two ships evade the Covenant flagship by slingshoting around a moon and linking up, with careful manoeuvring, they board the flagship and proceeds to take control and return to Reach to see whether any of Master Chief's SPARTAN comrades are still alive.

The book, then through a flashback shows, that Master Chief is not the only SPARTAN to survive and not all of Reach's areas have been destroyed. The Covenant are burrowing to uncover a secret ONI facility. The surviving SPARTANs attack and capture Wraith tanks and destroy the Covenant's digging equipment and they themselves slip into the ONI base.

On the journey back to reach, Cortana gathers valuable information about Covenant Weapons, slipspace equipment and technology. She also discovers that Covenant are contemplating an attack on Earth itself. The race is onto get this information back to Earth in time.

This, like the previous books, is full of full on action, firefights and battles with differing scales. There is, as a whole, little character development albeit we do get to know more about the Covenant and to some degree a bit more about the forerunners.

The most enjoyable aspect is the interaction between Master Chief and Cortana. The story is basically light and would have benefited from a bit more depth and character evolution. The combat does get somewhat tiresome. Yes, I know that this is the 'kingpin' to these stories but widening the scope of the stories wouldn't have hurt. This just feels a bit like this book was written to a brief and that's it. I didn't feel this with 'Halo: The Flood' which ironically had tighter constrain as it was the storyline of the game and didn't accord the writer, William C. Dietz, much freedom. There was a higher degree of both character development and also 'realism' - well as much as you can have in these types of universe. The military aspect of the 'Halo: The Flood' worked much better than in Nylund's 'Halo' books.

There is much expenditure of ammo with little elucidation of its source or where or how it's carried. So, barring these faults, is it any good. Well yes, it's an easy read and if you're a fan of 'Halo' then you'll lap it up. Personally, I preferred 'Halo: The Flood' to 'First Strike'. As spin-offs go, it's not bad. I wouldn't recommend reading this book unless you've read the previous two or at least played the first game to get an idea of the background. If you like action based SF, then this will probably be up your street even if you've never heard of 'Halo' the game.

Phil Jones

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