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Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear

01/06/2011. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy Halo: Cryptum audio book in the USA - or Buy Halo: Cryptum audio book in the UK

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pub: Macmillan Audio. 7 CDs 9 hours. Price: $39.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4272-1008-1) narrator: Holter Graham

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I remember going to an astronomy talk where the lecturer hung out a washing line to represent the age of the universe. At the very end of the line he had a sheet of paper with a modern human on one side and an Australopithecus on the other. The thickness of the sheet of paper represented the time difference between the two species. A quite illuminating demonstration which came to mind when listening to this audio book!

‘Halo’ is a video game, shooting down aliens with great rapidity, but it is also a very interesting series of books. The main competition within this series is the battle between Humanity and The Covenant. The latter had the hang-up of collecting relics from an ancient race called The Forerunners, a mysterious race that ruled the galaxy 100,000 years in the past only to disappear forever for no apparent reason. The Forerunners now become the subject of a three-part series, of which this is the first book, written by the well-known author Greg Bear. He needs no introduction to anyone interested in Science Fiction.

Well, it seems we have been misled. The Forerunners were not so big and powerful after all because before them there was another powerful and mysterious race called The Precursors. All this within the thickness of a sheet of paper. If you think about it, 100,000 years or one million years, while it may seem a long time to us and even alien beings that have experienced the rise and fall of empires many times, is nothing more than the thickness of a sheet of paper. In the life of the cosmos or even a star like the sun, it is nothing.

For whatever reason we now have a trilogy about The Forerunners. I suspect this may be a mistake but hopefully I'll be proved wrong by the time the third novel is out. You see, with the previous ‘Halo’ novels, The Forerunners were in the background of the story; mysterious and enigmatic, they had disappeared without trace. This novel takes away the mystery and puts them into flesh and bone, somehow making them seem more ordinary and less special.

There is also a problem about identity for the reader. It's difficult to relate to alien beings that left the scene 100,000 years ago. Okay, humans are put into the story but it's scraping the barrel to accept that humans actually existed to the decree of civilisation claimed in the story for that time. As far as I know, we were just coming out of Africa and putting humans into a galactic scenario in that era is just not credible.

There is also a sense of the tedious about all this. We thought The Forerunners were the big thing in the galaxy but of course we now learn before them you had this race called The Precursors. Who or what existed before them? We could go back further in time for billions of years with thousands of special alien races. That being the case, does it really matter about any of them? It was also the case that both alien races mentioned in this novel had a predilection for causing mass extinction amongst every living thing in the galaxy. Nice guys!

Make no mistake about it, this is a very well-written book which is what you would expect from Greg Bear. Holter Graham's narration is excellent, again what you would expect from someone with vast experience and awards to his name. Sherilyn Kenyon's vampire books have been narrated by Holter and also to his credit are acting roles in lots of TV series which include ‘Army Wives’, ‘Damages’, ‘Rescue Me’ and ‘Law And Order’.
Don't expect a lot to happen in this novel. It's not a monster of a book and you'll get through it in only seven CDs. In fact, the entire three book series could easily have been put together in one volume. I imagine you will have to wait until the very end of the third novel to arrive at some sort of dramatic conclusion to the story.

The Forerunners are somewhat similar to Doctor Who's Time Lords. In ruling the galaxy they've taken on The Mantle of civilisation and by reading the novel you'll find out exactly what this Mantle actually is. The main character is a person called Bornstellar, basically a youth, whose destiny it is to become a Builder. They are a very important class of being in the galaxy, responsible as the name suggests for all the technology to put everything together. Nevertheless, like most young people, he is rebellious and decides instead to search out relics of The Precursors, the previous bigwigs in the galaxy. In doing so, he attaches an alliance with The Miners and ends up dabbling in the power politics of everything and anything. In the process he meets up with a couple of humans.

Apparently humans had a great society way back then. One slight flaw in this argument apart from the fact that humans probably didn't exist 100,000 years ago (except in a small corner of Africa) is that in the context of this novel there are no relics as such from humans. ‘Halo’ novels talk about Forerunner relics and this novel talks about Precursor relics so you would think that had a complex human civilisation existed 100,000 years there would be human relics somewhere.

I'm afraid this novel has the feel of being manufactured. It also doesn't have enough identity to give the reader a sense of empathy. In reading this you don't feel that you belong within the story. There's also the sense that going back in time and again and again to previous civilisations just becomes meaningless to the extent that it is all no more than the width of a sheet of paper.

Perhaps I'm being overcritical with the basis of this story because otherwise it's fairly entertaining and enjoyable to listen to. It will be interesting to see how the next volumes evolve and if you have purchased the previous ‘Halo’ books then this is definitely one you can add to your collection.

Rod MacDonald

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