The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund
List Price: $6.99
Mass Market Paperback (October 30, 2001)
Del Rey; ISBN: 0345451325
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK
Author Jerry Pournelle told me that the X-Box game Halo was incredible. Jerry's written more than his fair share of fast paced SF and knows more about computers than almost anyone I can think of, so I filed his enthusiasm away for reference. Since then I've seen plenty of reviews that support his view. Halo is a "Starship Troopers" sort of game using the advanced graphics capabilities of Microsoft's latest attempt to conquer the world, the X-Box game platform, and some very sophisticated software design to make your interaction with the other characters and your powered battle suit's AI seem more like movie than a game.
But this isn't about the game.
Eric Nylund has written some pretty good stuff, including Signal to Noise (see review) and Dry Water, both of which I enjoyed. He's probably mortified that we noticed his novelization of the backstory to Halo, but occasionally I find that game based fiction is a lot of fun, and with a few caveats, Halo: Fall of Reach falls into this category.
The story follows the point of view character of the game from childhood where he's abducted from his family by the government, through adolescence, where he's trained as a warrior for the state and physically modified to become more superman than man, and to maturity, where he leads his fellow augments into battle against the usual "bug war".
"John", a.k.a. Subject 117, aka Master Chief, and his fellow "Spartans" go from being the toughest and most adaptable children the human government can steal, to the best hope for mankind's survival against the alien onslaught which calls itself the Covenant.
There's a spark of Ender's Game, and more than a dash of Starship Troopers in here as we follow John and his friends through teambuilding exercises where they learn the lesson of "all for one" and into combat where they learn the corollary, of "one for all."
Though the whole thing fast forwards through decades of development and warfare, and the human elements of the characters are kept in check by their destiny to be computer game fodder, Eric Nylund is too good a writer to create bad characters. John, his friends and teammates Kelly, Sam and Linda are all good and courageous folks who feel real, if emotionally dampened, and in the background there are classic characters moving them along their arc-- Dr. Halsey, the spinster scientist who sacrificed everything for the program, even the children in it. Keyes, a starship commander with more book learning and loyalty than the Navy is comfortable with, and CPO Mendez, the tough old soldier with the task of turning "Boots" into tougher newer soldiers.
As result, the story is both interesting and frustrating, as years and lives slip away and the story sets gears up for its destiny, to pit one surviving Spartan against all odds on the alien artifact that will be known as Halo.
Just when you thing the story is about to really take off, it comes to an abrupt halt, preamble over. Though the book lists for $6.99, the game will cost you considerably more, so I can only hope that they consider a sequel so that we can find out what happens next...without having to buy an X-Box to do it.
© 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu