Halo: Fall of Reach
At the time of writing, Halo is going through something of a renaissance, thanks to the Master Chief Collection coming to PC and Halo Infinite looming on the horizon, but there has always been a background aspect of Halo that many of the fans like to indulge in, despite some wonky timeline occurrences and reorganized events. The Halo novels are an expansive look into the franchises universe that often delves far deeper than you would expect, with some intricately written sections far outweighing anything that has been shown in the games to date. So, with the release of Halo Reach and Halo Combat Evolved (two stories which effectively occur back to back in the game canon, but a little differently in the novel canon) I’m going to be looking at the original run of novels from Fall of Reach through to The Cole Protocol.
Halo: Fall of Reach, is the sort of book that helps define a franchise in a way that a video game can’t realistically do without being exceptionally drawn out.
What I mean by that is, the book is surprisingly slow-burn in its approach to the Fall of Reach, with the actual battle for the planet being an occurrence that is largely relegated to the latter half of the book as an important event that isn’t given much screen time. Rather, we get introduced to the cast of characters across moments in time that have shaped themselves and their lives. For example, we meet Keyes when he’s still young and transporting Dr Halsey, who’s also young, on a mission to meet John 117, who’s still a child. But when the book ends, Keyes is captain of the Pillar of Autumn; we don’t know if Dr Halsey is even alive, and John 117 is in a cryotube aboard the Autumn which finds itself hanging over Halo Installation 01.
Packed into the pages is a tremendous amount of detail, with each chapter going so far as to open with the date and time to help cement the evolving timeline of events which can be broken into five distinct parts. Reveille, Boot, Sigma Octanus, MJOLNIR, and Reach. Each part tackles a specific part of the story, from the inception of the Spartan II Program and its selection procedures, including various training operations and moral quandaries for the Spartans, to superbly well written space battles that paint a very vivid picture of void warfare. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that the void warfare in Fall of Reach is the highlight of the book. Author Eric Nylund might have overused some terminology a bit too often, like repeating the full names of weapons that are being used, but when it comes down to laying out an evolving battle in the depths of space, he excels.
There’s an issue, however, to be leveled at character consistency. Master Chief is our narrative lens for most of what involves the Spartans. There comes a part in the story when a team of Spartans, led by Chief, must erase some critical information that would give the Covenant a huge advantage in the war that they are already winning. Spartan James-005 is voided into space, and Master Chief barely blinks an eye, acknowledging that it’s a bad death and then getting on with the mission. But a few pages later, Spartan Linda-058 is shot by Covenant forces and Chief lets out a good old, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” This inconsistency with the chief pops up every now and again, but it’s not something that ruins the book. It’s just noticeable.
Generally, however, everything else in the book goes off without a hitch. Nylund absolutely nails the important things, like Halsey’s attachment to “her” Spartans, how the children react to being thrown into bootcamp, the internal struggle that the Chief must overcome in regards to lives being spent vs lives being wasted. Personally, I think more could have been done to establish a better relationship between Cortana and the Master Chief, but given how that’s more of a driving force in the later entries, I can accept its absence here.
There’s a story that has been told about the writing process for Fall of Reach. According to the author, the entire thing was written in only seven weeks, which is incredibly impressive given the level of depth that it goes into. The story goes that Bungie were going to cancel the book because of fears over giving Master Chief a definitive background. After some back and forth, a deal was struck and the book was published, going on to sell over a million copies and opening the floodgates for an entire extended universe.
Fall of Reach is definitely something I would recommend to a Halo fan, but I would advise avoiding the audiobook version. I’ve listened to it before and it just doesn’t come close to modern audiobook standards. It’s packed with microphone clipping, inconsistent volume levels, and more mispronunciations that you can shake a Spartan at. So this is definitely one you should read if you can. The audiobook should be a last resort.
Check back next time when we’ll be going through Halo: The Flood!