Halo - First Strike by Eric Nylund
Del Rey / Ballantine / Random House PPBK: ISBN 0345467817 PubDate: 01/01/04
Review by Ernest Lilley
352 pgs. List price $ 6.99
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Set in the X-Box Game universe of Halo, a first person shooter whose premise combines Niven's Ringworld, Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game (though more in the novelization, Halo: Fall of Reach than the game) Halo: First Strike moves the action along in time from the end of the first game to just before the opening of the second, which will be released this April.
John, alternately known as the "Master Chief" may be the only surviving member of an experimental program of augmented soldiers known as Spartans, created by Earth's military to combat a race of alien religious fanatics determined to cleanse space of everyone else. At the end of the Fall of Reach, which this book reprises, he'd sent his fellow troops planetside on what he thought was the safer operation, while he took on a mission to retrieve the navigational database from an orbital station before the enemy could capture it...and learn Earth's location, our most carefully guarded secret. When the planet falls, as promised in that title, the aliens begin their standard practice of superheating the world until it's surface becomes one sheet of glass, and between his losses on the space station mission and those on the planet, he realizes he's the only Spartan left in the fight, a fight which then takes him to the Halo artifact, which in true video game fashion, he destroys before it can be used as a weapon of mass destruction itself.
But what happened on Halo is less important that what happens in between, because one is a constrained by the events of the game, and the other is expanded by giving a talented author room to maneuver.
Coming out of the debris field that used to be Halo, the MC's (Master Chief's) assets are down to a small ship with out FTL capability, and an AI that has absorbed enough data during their adventure so that she's gotten a tad quirky, but fortunately, between the two of them they can outfight and outthink aliens in their sleep, or they could if they ever got any. Space is littered with debris of the massive battle fought here, and the MC manages to pick up a few survivors, soldiers that survived against the odds even if they weren't Spartans, and together they perform a classic SF maneuver, assaulting and commandeering an enemy flagship, the Ascendant Justice. Without Cortana, the MC's AI, it wouldn't have been possible, but with her, they are able to escape the enclosing alien fleet and run for home with a more information about alien technology than humanity has ever dreamed of.
But not straight home. First off, that would tip off Earth's location and that's not just against regs, it's a death for humanity. Secondly, though he may not admit it to himself, the MC has unfinished business somewhere else, finding out what happened to the Spartans he left behind on Reach. So the MC, Cortana, and a handful of others return to Reach to see if there's anything left of the planet or... more importantly to the MC...of the Spartans.
If you're not a gamer, you can read the in between novel Halo: The Flood, written by William Dietz, another excellent Mil-SF author, which follows the game itself, but constrained by the games own plotline, it's forced to start when the Master Chief arrives on the Halo ringworld, and ends when it's been destroyed. So, if (like me) you missed the middle book, you can still pick up where First Strike takes off and jump into the action. Of course in Mil-SF with as high a battle tempo as these stories, it's not like there was a lot of deep story to miss, but in amongst the adrenaline soaked prose there actually is a story line, with hints of character development once in a while.
If you're a fan of high tempo Mil-SF, or if you've finished the Halo game and can't wait for the next version to come out, this should be perfect reading to whet your appetite and keep you immersed in the Halo universe.