Halo: Broken Circle

I told y’all there’d be a lot of Halo books coming up, didn’t I? Well, if I haven’t, that’s a thing.1
Broken Circle was an interesting one, because, unlike the rest of the Halo series, it didn’t follow a human around.2 Most of it was also set quite a ways into the past – sure, the Forerunner trilogy3 was set millions of years in the past, but that’s so far into history as to be almost unassailable.4 This one took place roughly 500 BCE, and bounced off the formation of the Covenant to show us the turmoil immediately following. And oh, there’s some fun xenopolitics going on there. Most of the political intrigue was the internal affairs of the Covenant, posturing by a new Hierarch, trying to control an ex-Council member trying to have a quiet retirement of theological study. Instead, he’s sent on a couple of missions – first, to the San’Shyuum homeworld, both to recover a Forerunner artifact of great importance and to steal some females to bolster the ailing gene pool aboard the Dreadnaught.5 When that mission ends, he’s sent to confront Ussa ‘Xellus, the leader of a splinter faction of Sangheili who refused the Writ of Union and the Covenant, seeing it as a surrender that was culturally impossible for the Sangheili people.
And then, following a beautiful little confrontation,6 the book skips forward three thousand years, to the aftermath of Halo 2, and the beginning of the implosion of the Covenant. The ancestors of those two main characters take over as the main characters, an interesting plot device, and the book comes to a pretty good ending. There was a touch of deus ex machina going on, although, seeing as the deus in question are Forerunners and the events were an ancilla, I’d say it’s more of a “machina ex deus,” sort of situation.7
The only problem I had with the whole thing was that both of these species have intensely patriarchal systems. The Sangheili are a very warlike culture, and they’ve got a history of repressing scientific research via killing; that same ‘fix problems with death’ mindset was apparently applied to any female who wanted to contribute to the war efforts of the entire society. The San’Shyuum, meanwhile, were a splinter faction of their own people that decided to use Forerunner relics, rather than just worshipping them in place; they quite literally broke off from the home planet, stealing the Dreadnought8 and leaving to eventually build the Covenant. Their society is less ‘patriarchal’ than it is ‘reminiscent of a stereotypical fraternity.’ When faced with a lack of genetic diversity, their response was not “use our advanced genetic science to fix this,” it was “go steal some new babes from the homeworld.”
Actually, no, I’m going to revise that – it’s not ‘stereotypical fraternity,’ it’s ‘stereotypical group of nerds living in their collective parents basements.’ This is a group that prides themselves on intellect, worships machinery made by people older and much smarter than them, and can’t move without aid from their chairs. Yeah, they’re a not-very-subtle mockery of the ‘gamer’ stereotype. Which is weird, considering that this whole series is still clearly aimed at gamers.
Why do I say this? Well, first off, look at any of the female characters. All four of them, consisting of “generic female spartan,” Cortana,9 Dr. Halsey,10 and The Librarian.11 And secondly, as I’m apparently going all ‘militantly queer’ of late, I’ve noticed that this series, set in the 26th century when the LGBTQ+ rights battle has presumably been over for hundreds of years, has yet to acknowledge the existence of non-heterosexual people.12
Ah, well. I’ll keep reading the books and hope they’ll eventually get better at inclusiveness. It has to happen sometime, right?

  1. Got a bunch for Christmas, it’s taken until now for me to get to them. 
  2. Even the Forerunner trilogy of books spent at least one of the books being told by a human, and as that was the last one the way it was set means that, arguably, the rest of the books were narrated by a human, as well. 
  3. I keep coming back to these as a exceptions to the general rules of how Halo books have been; really, I think they were a bit of a turning point in the book series, along with the games, in that they opened up the lore to more than just the human/Covenant/Flood war. 
  4. Plus, since Forerunners have an average lifespan measured in the tens of thousands of years, and constructs that easily last millions, time seems a bit meaningless for them. 
  5. Somehow, none of the Hierarchs thought “hmm, we’ve got a Dreadnaught the size of a city, capable of wiping out entire planets, and a new fleet of battleships staffed with millions of Sangheili warriors, maybe we should just go back and conquer our homeworld?” Considering that the homeworld, from which they broke off, has technology consisting of ICBMs at the upper end of the hard-science scale and then a lot of biotech, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge to take over. 
  6. It really was a beautiful thing – the entire battle happened as a private conversation between the two main characters, and it ended with both sides winning, and both knowing that the others had won. It’s best described as something like a really satisfying game of chess. 
  7. God I’m proud of that awful joke. 
  8. The Keyship, as it came to be known in the videogame series. 
  9. Also known as “she’s not technically naked, since there aren’t any visible nipples.” 
  10. In remarkably good shape for an 80-year-old child-kidnapping sociopath. 
  11. She only makes an appearance as a hologram, and in that she’s a ten-million-year-old alien. 
  12. Things my roommates heard me grumbling as I read: “there aren’t even any humans in this book and it’s still heteronormative as shit.” 

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