01/05/2005. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Orbit. 341 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-84149-421-6.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.co.uk
This is the second 'Halo' book (the first being 'The Fall Of Reach' by Eric Nylund) and follows the main plot elements of the first 'Halo' game which was initially released on the Xbox to huge critical success and then later on the PC and Mac.
For those who have never played 'Halo', it's a first person shoot-'em-up based around the character Master Chief and main protagonist of the game(s). He's an augmented human who was raised by the military from the age of six and fitted with an armour suit (MJOLNIR). Giving increased speed, strength and shielding to the wearer. Master Chief, last of the SPARTAN project to survive, aboard the Pillar Of Autumn wakes from cryogenic sleep to find the ship has arrived at a huge gas giant, next to which is a huge artificial space structure, Halo.
The human race is at war with an alien race, the Covenant, who are hell bent on wiping out mankind. After the huge battle at Reach, one of the last remaining human strongholds, the SPARTAN soldiers are wiped out bar one. Master Chief and the crew escape by jumping at the last moment to a relatively unknown or what is believed to be a random location. The Pillar Of Autumn arriving at Halo is set upon by Covenant forces and boarded. Isolated from other ships, Captain Keyes orders an evac of the ship. Master Chief and a group of Marines escape down to the surface, but the jumpship crash lands and Master Chief is the only survivor in the group. On the surface of Halo, he searches for any other surviving personnel from the space cruiser, Pillar Of Autumn. He is assisted by an AI Cortana who is linked directly to his mind through MJOLNIR.
Captain Keyes, meanwhile, attempts to crash land the Pillar Of Autumn on Halo. He jumps ship with the rest of remaining crew, just at the last minute in a rescue pod with a stowaway on board. An Elite, a Covenant soldier whose orders are to attempt to kidnap the Captain, hides on board camouflaged by a cloaking device.
The remaining survivors set up a makeshift base and Master Chief, and the others discover that the Covenant view Halo as sacred. Built by an ancient alien race, its purpose unknown. The Covenant, on the other hand, want to glean its technology and they suspect that Halo is not just a huge space station. Equipped with artificial gravity, landscape and an atmosphere similar to that of Earth's but a huge weapon of some kind.
Master Chief and the rest of the human military on Halo discover that Halo has a number of dark secrets. The most significant of which is that Halo is a weapon but not quite as the Covenant or the humans first think. There is also another alien presence on Halo, one which the human and the Covenant would rather not encounter.
William Dietz is quite a prolific Science Fiction writer. He has had the unenviable task of taking the plot from the first 'Halo' game and filling in the blanks. Thus condensing the playable action sequences into something that resembles a book. This is no easy task, as the majority of readers will have at least played the first game and pretty well know the major plot elements. Also, it's not really that vague within the game as to where the story goes. Dietz deals with this by expanding on the Covenant culture and society. By following initially a grunt Yayap in a landing party on the Pillar Of Autumn who escapes death. By dragging a wounded Elite Zamamee back to a Covenant ship, he finds himself out of the firing line. We get an insight through these two, the Grunt and the Elite, into how the Covenant military and society function exposing an in-depth view of their class system.
The difficulty of large sprawling sections of combat-filled scenarios that fill the game, is that they are difficult to write and convey to a reader. Playing the game, there is a degree of non-linearity and freedom to explore the environment. You don't have this luxury in a book. Dietz, on the whole, deals with this very well, sticking closely to the geography presented in the game and rigidly to the games script.
Dietz also expands on the marines story on Halo along with giving us a glimpse of what it's like to be possessed by the parasitic Flood. Dietz hasn't taken the easy option many writers do when producing a media tie-in book. Usually, writers choose to write a prequel or sequel. A much easier job as you don't have such a fixed storyline, but you have a ready-made universe, background and characters to play with.
Mentioning prequels, I enjoyed this book far more than the previous book, 'The Fall Of Reach' by Eric Nylund. The writing style is much better and gives a more realistic military feel. The characters are realised more fully, impressive considering how closely to the original dialogue and plot line Dietz keeps.
The few areas where the book wanes are in the retelling of large combat areas. It sometimes feels a little flat, like Dietz is trying to fill a void. These though are few and far between. The pace is fast and the book helps to broaden the Halo universe. If you are totally new to the 'Halo' experience, I would be tempted to skip the first book and dive straight into this one. It explains the background story sufficiently and is a lot better read. Fans of 'Halo' though, will lap this up!
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