01/08/2009. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Pan Macmillan. 396 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-330-44512-2.
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com
'Halo'. Well, if you haven't come across this universe then you probably will soon because there is a film on the way. 'Halo' originally was a game developed by Bungie originally for the Mac. With Microsoft buying up the company for a flagship game it wanted for its new console they got the 'killer app' that they wanted. The Halo Universe borrows from numerous sources and the game was a first person shoot 'em up.
Unusually the game had quite an elaborate back story and universe of which you were thrown in the deep end with the first 'Halo' game 'Combat' evolved. Following a Spartan Master Chief as he is thrown into the thick of it on an alien world fighting against a group of alien species called the covenant and also a deadlier alien known as the Flood.
This book rewinds back twenty-eight years before the events of 'Halo: Combat' evolved. The previous books have been centred mainly around the period that the first game is set. The three books written by Eric Nylund and William C. Dietz are predominately military Science Fiction orientated. Eric Nylunds offerings especially going into unnecessary info dumps that weren't always that relevant.
The interesting thing about this book, as well as being a prequel and explaining a bit more about how we arrived by the world we know from the previous books and games, is that it is written by one of the main writers for Bungie. Joseph Staten also directed the cut-scenes for all three 'Halo' games so it he is well versed in both 'Halo's story and creation being, so to speak, one of its creators.
So where to begin. The Earth and its population have spread out through the universe with the ability to travel faster-than-light. The Earth and its closer richer colonies rely on resources brought in from outlining colonies. They impose their will through the military body, United Nations Space Command or UNSC. The outlying colonies become disturbed and resentful of the heavy-handed leadership and unrest starts occurring. Terrorist action occurs on various worlds, and it's left to UNSC to deal with. Effectively, it's a civil war.
The book opens with Avery Johnson, a Marine having to deal with a hostile situation with a terrorist - a human bomb in the middle of a busy cafe. He has the order to take them out with his sniper rifle but, because of a civilian who is in the way of a clean shot, he holds back. This leads to some of his team being blown up and after a bout of absence, he gets reassigned to go to one of the outlying colonies, Harvest. Initially, he thinks he's there to train the locals to be soldiers to act as a small fighting force if there's any trouble. He also finds he's being reassigned to Harvest along with Staff Sergeant Byrne who is not too happy with Avery's previous field behaviour.
He discovers that there is an ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) agent on Harvest and the real reason the two marines have been reassigned from the war effort is because cargo transports have been going missing. Initially, it's thought to be to do with terrorists and the civil war but after an ambush it becomes clear that their opposition is not human and the small local military force is pretty much all they have on the planet to protect them.
It's going to take time to persuade and get any help out to the far lying Harvest, so it's up to the two men and the ONI agent to get them ready for an alien onslaught. We also get to follow the two artificial intelligences that control the supply chain from the planet. One of them hides a secret though and it becomes pivotal in their evacuation and survival.
The book also comes from another angle that of the Covenant, a collective of various alien species. From the first encounter with a human vessel, they follow the same religion holding in high regard and worship the Forerunners, an extinct race that has left highly prized relics on various worlds. So when a Kig yar ship detects hundreds of relics on a little-known planet and also on alien vessels using a copy of a forerunner's machine known as a 'luminary'. The Shipsmistress sets out to investigate.
Dadab, a Covenant Unggoy Deacon, becomes distressed though when he realises that the Shipsmistress has knobbled the luminary. Not only that she withholds sending the information. Both heinous crimes in the eyes of the Covenant. He is left with the dilemma as he knows his life will be in danger if he tries to stop her as he is not the most favoured on board ship to say the least.
The message about the relics is eventually sent through, but the Shipsmistress decides to grab what she can and hi-jack one of the alien vessels. This is an ambush set up by Avery and Byrne, leading to disaster with only Dadab and his only friend and Huragok, Lighter Than Air, escaping. They are eventually picked up by a Jiralhanae vessel who have orders to investigate the validity of the relics on Harvest. The ship's captain realises the value of the two he rescues and put they to good work on his ship.
You kind of know where this is all going and the book culminate in a battle. Mainly for survival for those on Harvest. There are some interesting diversions and paths taken that you don't expect. Lighter Than Air proves to be an interesting character and not as hostile as you would expect. We especially get an interesting overview of the alien species given from Dadab's point of view. Along with the political machinations of the Covenant itself and how the elements of their culture come together.
There is a health balance as well with the whole combat and technical description of the Halo universe at that point in time. Unlike Eric Nylund who just goes into far too much unnecessary detail, Staten delivers just enough to keep you up-to-date but doesn't burden you with information overload. One thing I would like to point out is there is no Spartans or Master Chief. Probably the only character you'll be familiar with is Avery who crops up in both the previous books and games.
There is a lot to like about this book, although if you're expecting a lot of action you may be a tad disappointed. It does concentrate on creating a realistic believable world. Even the AIs take on more than a one-dimensional characterisation. This gives you a real insight into the Covenant, its beliefs and how it came about but also how to some degree misguided they are.
It is different from the previous books and coming almost straight from the horse's mouth. For non-military Science Fiction fans, this still might be a bit too much but for those fans of 'Halo' that wants to know a bit more about the background or Science Fiction fans, you'll probably enjoy this as a basically light read. If you don't expect too much, there's a lot to enjoy.
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