Sunday, January 3, 2010

Halo: Evolutions Novel Impression

Halo Evolutions

Halo: Evolutions, the latest Halo novel from Tor Press is like an expansion pack for fuller novels already released. These eleven stories are not meant to fill in the gaps of the larger plot points but rather they show different experiences during the Halo wars from the average marine to the iconic Master Chief. Knowledge of the fuller story is beneficial but won’t detract from the full enjoyment of this novel. The short stories break into four sections one which takes a look at the everyday troops, the next the Spartans, third Master Chief and finally one legend and one Covenant well after the conflict ends. Let’s take a look at each story.

Beyond – Think of this as level 1 for the novel. The stories contained cover some of the lower level characters, the grunts and regular troops in the Halo universe.
  • Pariah by B.K. Evenson – The story of Soren, a Spartan candidate with an unusual background and end results shows a depth and side of Dr. Halsey not often seen and also shows a side of the Spartan program never talked about. A great story of one who did not become all he was meant to be.
  • Stomping on the Heels of a Fuss by Eric Raab – The Brute society is, well brutal, and this isolated pack shows a side of the Halo universe that is gory and repulsing. There are worse things than being killed in battle, just ask the survivors captive to these Brutes. An interesting look into the Brute society and what they are capable of.
  • Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian by Frank O’Connor – If not for great sacrifice by individual marines how much sooner would the Covenant have found Earth? That question is answered in part in a story of an ambushed ship and one lone survivor who does his party to keep the Covenant away.
  • Dirt by Tobias S. Buckell – As one enlisted Marine, an ODST at that, sits dying he tells his story from his life on Harvest as a farmer to fights with Innies and then the Covenant and eventually a confrontation with his own. This story is excellent and shows so many levels and layers not touched on in any game and mentioned in many novels. This is the true grunt story not to be missed.

Acheron-VII – Two Spartan stories and one about the dreaded Flood. A step up in character profile and one this reader has been wanting as the stories and missions of the Spartans are so riveting.

  • Headhunters by Jonathan Goff – Two Spartans, one planet way behind Covenant lines and some good old seeking and destroying. The stories of the non Master Chief Spartans deserve telling and while they all may not end well seeing these incredibly powerful soldiers in action is worth the purchase by itself.
  • Blunt Instruments by Fred Van Lente – Speaking of Spartans this team of four finds themselves disrupting an entire Covenant fleet’s energy supply and their help comes from an unexpected source. From two to four, seeing a larger team of Spartans in action shows that the dynamics don’t actually change that much, it’s a well oiled machine of destruction.
  • The Mona Lisa by Jeff Vandermeer and Tessa Kum – This tale feels more like a Dead Space or Sci-Fi horror flick than a Halo adventure. The Flood is front and center and the fate of The Mona Lisa is revealed in a nice post-Halo story dealing with the remnants of Halo.

Icon – Master Chief and Cortana; need more be said? Two tales, one for each, both should be familiar to gamers.

  • Palace Hotel by Robt McLees – Like playing the first Earth level of Halo 2 but from a narrative standpoint. The best thing about this story is the play between Cortana and Master Chief and a little surprise at the end which gives a glimpse into John’s past.
  • Human Weakness by Karen Traviss – Gravemind vs. Cortana. She was broken down and stripped of so much of what she is but seeing how the battle plays out, not this is a well told story.

Connectivity – An interesting section as the story of Cole and The Return don’t share much in common other than they enjoy ability.

  • The Impossible Life and the Possible Death of Preston J. Cole by Eric Nylund – Told in a very unique manner this collection of mission reports, letters to family and speculation is an investigation into the life and mysterious end of the legendary Preston J. Cole. The universe is a big place, so big even a legend could hide if he wanted too.
  • The Return by Kevin Grace – This tale of a lone Elite Shipmaster is essentially the only true Covenant story. The greatest part of this story is the ending which leaves a very big question mark on ‘what if’ the Shipmaster succeeds in what he’s searching for? It could mean more games, novels, toys … the point is of every story this is the most open ended for the franchise a very interesting read.

Overall Halo: Evolutions offers some great story telling. The way each tale is told is reflective of the variety of players that have made the Halo universe so successful. From an enlisted grunts tale as he dies to the legendary Preston J. Cole, all angles are explored from the first Halo through Halo 3. Pieces of the game feel fleshed out, pieces of prior novels explained a bit more. Gaps are filled in, information revealed but it’s all done in a manner that stands by itself as a read, not needing to have the background. The few pieces of included artwork beg for coloring as they are pretty, oh so pretty.

Bottom line, Halo fans need to get this novel for its short and excellent stories that span the whole of the Halo universe from start to finish.

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