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Halo: Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten

01/10/2008. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy Halo: Contact Harvest in the USA - or Buy Halo: Contact Harvest in the UK

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pub: Macmillan Audio. 10 CDs. 11 hours. Price: $39.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4272-0249-9). read by Holter Graham and Jen Taylor.

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I must confess that I have never played video games of any description and, sad as it may seem, my last computer game was on a BBC computer 24 years ago. Undeterred, I took it upon myself to review this audio book. The benefit of my position in this enterprise is that I am unencumbered by preconceived notions of what this book should and should not be like and, in fact, having suffered no media contamination were I to be on a jury passing judgement on Halo, I would be the perfect juror.

Of course, 'Halo' video games are immensely popular but I believe the series of books of which this is the fifth has not been an exercise simply to make more cash but rather it is an attempt to flesh out the bones of a medium which, by its nature, is not designed to tell complex stories. 'Halo' is there to shoot them down but the book is responsible for setting them up in the first place.

The story is conventional Science Fiction. We've seen it before. Four hundred years in the future, following the development of faster-than-light technology, Earth has expanded its sphere of influence in the galaxy. Within this association administered by the United Nations Space Command, the older and more central planets, populated and wealthy, rely on commodities from the outer colonies. Harvest, the setting for this book, is one of the newly founded communities on a planet at the edge of the empire. A new beginning, a world populated by country-type people simple in nature, they are pioneers who have made it the hard way.

Instability is caused by the Insurrectionists. Thinking they have been economically and otherwise disadvantaged by the richer planets, these fanatics have started a terrorist war to gain independence. It is a dirty war, the same type of war which we see in many parts of the world today. Being in the future this has more high-tech devices but basically the people fighting the war are just the same as today.

The specialist forces, the strikeforce marines, are indistinguishable in my opinion from American marines today. What's worse than a couple of staff sergeants who can't stop fighting even amongst themselves? If only they had Sergeant Bilko! The main character is Staff Sgt Avery Johnson. He's basically a good guy but in a situation where he has got to make the best of it. His sparring partner, an Irishman called Bryne, has a chip on his shoulder about everything and when he isn't fighting Johnson, he is shooting hell out of everyone else. These two gentlemen have the task of forming a militia on Harvest to help fight the Insurrectionists.

As with conflicts today, it is sometimes difficult to make out who the bad and good really are. However, like many conflicts today, ethics seem to be left on the shelf and when people have been killed on Harvest either by the marines or the terrorists, we remain strangely ambivalent as to the whole process of justice. The main object is to kill before you or others are killed.

The audio book is very well described. It is fast-moving, taking you to the action with intricate instruction and delivery. Left in no doubt as to what is happening both in space and time, it's easy to imagine yourself actually being there. However, this story isn't just about fighting Insurrectionists because aliens stick their nose into it making the former fight a mere sideshow.

An alien empire called The Covenant had designs on Harvest, not for its agricultural wealth but for something else. You see, these aliens are religious nutters who are deeply into worshipping an ancient and extinct race referred to as The Forerunners. Anything belonging to them is sacred and of paramount importance. It so happens that at some time in the past Harvest was populated by these Forerunners. They left artefacts behind which the Covenant is desperate to recover. This starts a war between Earth's United Nations Space Command and the Covenant which Johnson and his men have to fight in front line action of unparalleled ferocity.

While I found the dialogue and action with humans very exciting and believable, I'm afraid when it came to the structure within The Covenant I was unable to take it seriously. For some strange reason, I began to think of Gerry Anderson's 'Terrahawks', the puppet series made over 20 years ago. Of course, the aliens are the enemies and they are the bad guys to be shot down but they are also a joke.

Harvest is the catalyst which starts a long and protracted war between humans and The Covenant. Portraying some of the action from the aliens part is an attempt to explain their motives and reasons for going to war, in sad contrast to the way that similar wars today are waged against insurgents in the Middle East and other political hotspots on our planet. Nevertheless, all of this evaporates when the shootout comes, as anticipated in the video game, with survival being the desired end result.

This is certainly an interesting audio book. It is a brave attempt to bridge the gap between video media, books and audio media. On reflection, it is successful, definitely worth purchasing and good value for money. My only complaint is in the way the aliens are portrayed but this is a very subjective matter and others may find The Covenant to their liking. In Science Fiction literary terms, no new ground is broken. We've read and watched this stuff many times before. However, it takes video media and supporters into uncharted territories which will probably expand with other audio books from the Halo universe.

Rod MacDonald

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