I’m not much of a Halo fan. This is not something I would have read by choice and I won’t bore you with the details of how I was made to read it. The point is, I don’t care about Halo and I read this book, so my perspective is going to be a bit weird. To me, Master Chief is a sci-fi shooty man who sells Mountain Dew sometimes.
I do, however, know who the late Greg Bear is. I was surprised to see a Hugo and Nebula award winning hard-science-fiction author at the helm of a Halo book. I don’t want to say that Greg Bear is too good for Halo, but I am going to say that.
Taken by itself, this is a solid sci-fi story set in a very well developed alien society with complex social and religious institutions. There’s very interesting “ancient alien” stuff going on with humanity and its interactions with these aliens. It makes The Flood much more intimidating and scary than anything I ever experience in the game…where again…I shot and punched them like I did everything else I encountered.
It’s kind of a shame that this has to be tied back to Halo. The Flood in this book represent a threat to hyper-advanced pangalactic civilizations. The Forerunners, in their hubris, decimated humanity without first learning our secret for holding back The Flood. In the book, the secret is pretty cool. In the game, I punched them. You shoot the big ones, and then the little ones, you punch. Git gud, Forerunners.
I’m picking on the video game a little bit, but in all seriousness, I’d like to illustrate the tonal dissonance between the source material…the games…and the adaptation…the novel. As a result, I’m not really sure who to recommend this novel to. I think fans of the game might be bored by the slow, dialogue heavy plot. Most of the book is a meditation on Forerunner culture and the realization of Bornstellar that his people have become divided and are losing their way. The conflict is his slow realization that in order to live up to his ideals, he’ll have to sacrifice everything. In all of this, he does not fight. Not even once, does he fight. Notably absent from the book is any violent confrontation with “a bad guy.”
I saw someone call this the “Dune of Halo”, and I’m surprised to say that I kind of agree with them. But I don’t usually associate Halo with anything like Dune. I like this book, but I’m reluctant to get too interested in it because I know that this book is an outlier in its own universe.
With all that said, though, in a vacuum, it’s a solid Greg Bear sci-fi novel. If you can set aside all the baggage of Halo and take it purely for what it is, then I would recommend it.
Content and Ideas 4/5 – The entire Forerunner society is, at times, both alien and familiar. It is engaging and I find myself wanting to know more. I find the threat of the flood to be very interesting as well, or at least I would if I hadn’t played the games. I really have no complaints.
Organization 4/5 – While I’m sure many readers may, I think rightly, expect more action out of a Halo novel, this story is very well paced. New and interesting information is revealed in almost every chapter. The chapters that don’t focus explicitly on lore tend to focus on the development of the main character. Again, no complaints.
Language 4/5 – I’m a little less confident in this grading, but I’m erring on the side of generosity today. Greg Bear makes an effort to tailor the language to the setting. He invents new words and conventions that are in line with established Halo lore while not feeling out of place with the world building he has been allowed to do with regard to The Forerunners.
Personal Preference 4/5 – What can I say? It’s the Dune of Halo.
Recommendation Strength 4/5 – Overall it is just a solid science fiction novel. I’m not sure that this is what anyone wanted from a Halo novel, but if we disregard the branding then it’s just a solid science fiction novel.