Summertime Mini Review #15
This is absolutely the book I wanted Invasion: Alaska to be. The prologue is direct-from-gaming fare and has plenty of fan-gasmic goodness to satisfy the curious and nominally reading gamer community. But don’t put it down if you can’t tell your HUD from your MJOLNIR. It quickly becomes a fun, fast, shoot-em up with just a hint of sci-fi complexity. It starts strong as a modern day Ender’s Game and morphs into a Navy Seal recruitment ad with a Battlestar Galactica finish. Not bad things when all is said and done, especially as the whole journey is deftly navigated by author Eric Nylund. The reader gets a full dose of rock ‘em sock ‘em tough guy, but also some baseline navel gazing and a touch of philosophical questioning. What is the nature and value of loyalty? How does one define acceptable risks in war? The SRS99C-S2AM sniper rifle with Oracle scope or the chopped MA2B assault rifle? You know, exactly the stuff you want from Master Chief.
The Worm was also surprised by how fleshed out some of the characters are. Having played the games, I did not really expect Nylund to make the stoic Master Chief interesting. I was in it strictly for the gamer geek-outs and some cool space battles. I got that certainly, and then some. Is this just a case of a work exceeding my lowered expectations? Maybe. Does The Worm care? Not one bit.
Halo: The Fall of Reach is a good time. There was none of the misogyny or jingoism I’d somehow expected. (Must have misread a review somewhere at sometime.) For the most part characters are given separate motivations and personalities. There is enough ambiguity in Keyes and Halsey to keep the reader off kilter, and most surprising of all – there is a decent bit of mystery woven into the plot with a couple of dangling threads to lead into the remaining Halo saga. (Perhaps hardcore gamers will not find these elements surprising - but I’m guessing hard core gamers are going to love this book no matter what is in it.)
As a stand alone literary work, The Fall of Reach does lack a certain narrative punch. But in all fairness, this book is NOT a stand alone literary work. It is a prequel. It is back story. And, all things considered, taking on a prequel to another body of work (the video game) and finding a way to make it plausible; to get the tone of established characters right; and to avoid kinking up the canon – is a pretty tall order. Add to that the fact that every single person who has played the game already has some preconceived idea of who Master Chief is and what he is about. Now write a book that maintains those preconceived notions but expounds upon them in a way all gamers and readers can accept. Not a job I would want. But I’m ever so glad Nylund took up the challenge. He wrote a book that absolutely had to get his characters to a certain point in the story, and he did it without altering the core concepts and conceits of the beloved Halo franchise. For that alone, Nylund deserves some praise. The Fall of Reach is not going to dazzle the reader with convoluted plot lines and Shamalanian twist endings – it is a straightforward back story. (You like what I did there – with the ‘forward and back’ bit?)
If you are familiar with, and enjoy, first person shooter games this book is definitely for you. Somehow, Nylund was able to match the pace, style, POV, and feel of actually playing a game. At the same time, those unfamiliar with these types of video games will get an accurate sense of the framework and momentum of them. Essentially, you will love this novel if you love Halo. If you have no experience with Halo, this book will make you want to play it for the first time. I reckon that makes this book a success on both fronts.
Final take-away from this mini military space opera? Bring it to the beach; stuff it in a duffel when you go camping; read it on a plane. It will not change your life – or even be distinguishable from your gaming experience in time - but even non-gamers will be entertained by The Fall of Reach. If you liked The Abyss, Independence Day, Top Gun, Aliens, or Armageddon – snap up a copy of this book. You will enjoy it. It can be our little secret. Worm oooout!