Halo: Last Light

I didn’t even realize I’d made a Halo pun in the start of one of my other posts about all these Halo books, but referring to all these book reviews as a “flood” of posts totally is a Halo pun. Whoops.
Anyhow, this one just absolutely took the cake as my favorite Halo book ever. Which is saying something, considering that, as of now, I think I’m only one book shy of having read all of them.1
So, why was this one my favorite? Because the main character was so interesting. Inspector Veta Lopis is introduced as the best criminal investigator2 on the colony of Gao. Her task of the moment: find out who the serial killer is that’s been murdering tourists in the massive Montero Cave System. Unfortunately for her, the UNSC is also on site, having rolled in with an entire battalion as an ONI research task-group works on tracking down… something. Most people think it’s the source of the ‘miracle cures’ that have been cropping up in the caverns lately, which suits ONI just fine – they don’t want anyone to realize that they’re looking for an active Forerunner ancilla.3 Which is cool, because I love me some Forerunner tech. We also got a cool look at a Lifeworker Huragok, though why one was present in the ancient Forerunner base I have no idea.4
But why I loved it is that, for the most part, the book remembered that it started out as a murder mystery. Sure, some ex-Covenant show up and people start shooting at one another, but all throughout Lopis refused to lose sight of her goal: identifying the murderer.
(As a murder mystery, I thought it worked pretty well – there were a lot of different suspects I came up with, including a few that neither the Inspector nor the UNSC thought up.5 There were one or two very obvious ‘taunting you with knowing who did it but not saying it yet’ moments, but for the overall thrill of the chase I’d say they earned one or two.)
And the part that had me making excited noises as I read the book was the inclusion of a few Spartan-IIIs. I’d kinda forgotten that they could be back, since the last time I saw them was at the end of Onyx, with them being locked up in the Shield World. Except that wasn’t the last time I saw them, because one of the books featured Dr. Halsey helping to crack open that shield world and begin exploring, and they had the help of the Spartan-IIIs there while doing that. Onyx was the one I’ve read several times, though, so that’s what stuck in my mind. Seeing the Spartan-IIIs again was a nice little bonus, like, oh yeah, some of the characters I like actually survived the Human-Covenant War.6
And oh dearie me, the way those children interact with Lopis? It was heartbreaking. Keep in mind, they are literally children – there are two surviving members of the first class of Spartan-IIIs, and they serve as parental figures for the rest; other than those two, the eldest of the Spartan-IIIs is still too young to drive legally. They’re teenagers, and instead of going to school and having awkward Prom experiences or whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing as a teen, they’re entering their tenth year of being super-soldiers, killing the enemies of the UNSC.
And then they meet Lopis, and she finds out just how young they are, and she’s different. Because everyone else sees them first and foremost as Spartans, as untouchable super-soldiers purpose-built for war. But she sees them as kids, and she stands up for them. By the end of the book, they’re all calling her “mom.” It’s somewhere between ‘touching’ and ‘heartbreaking’ and I adored it.
That’s really what I want out of all of my media – superhumans, be they Spartans or superheroes, just trying to live their lives. Everyone wants to be normal, to fit in – and while most people don’t ‘fit in’ just because it’s inherently impossible to do so, these sorts of folks don’t fit in because they are the Übermensch. They’re stronger, faster, better than everyone else – but they still have problems.

Basically, I loved Last Light, and I am begging Microsoft to make sure we get to see Lopis and the IIIs again.7 I want it more than anything else in the world.
Go buy this book and read it. It was wonderful, and I want to make it clear that there’s demand, because economic forces rule us all.

  1. Not including the comics – that’s a project for… sometime after I graduate, when I start having enough disposable income and space to buy physical books again. 
  2. I’ve said the word ‘investigator’ too many times in my head already, it doesn’t sound like a word anymore. This doesn’t bode well. 
  3. This book included the word ‘ancilla’ so many times. I’d call it egregious, but I think the whole existence of the word ‘ancilla’ is – it’s just an AI, folks. You didn’t need to make up a special word for it just because it’s a significantly better AI than what anyone else has. You’re also referring to it as an Archeon-class, so having multiple words to point out that it’s fancy is just excessive. 
  4. Another thing I noted is that, while the ancilla itself went into a deep sleep mode roughly 100,000 years ago, the Huragok itself apparently didn’t and spent the entire time awake and wandering around the base, doing the Huragok version of being bored out of its mind. Poor thing. 
  5. One of them was ‘the MJOLNIR armor on its own, being controlled by hackers or something’ which vaguely came up, but only in the way that it’s possible to freeze a Spartan in the armor, not actively control it. Dang. 
  6. To be fair, Cortana and Dr. Halsey are probably my favorites and they both survived, but the Spartan-IIIs are nice because they’re only mildly sociopathic, instead of the ‘taken it to the point of pride’ level that Dr. Halsey’s at. 
  7. Spoiler warning

    The book ends in a way that made me shed a (metaphorical) tear of joy – Lopis and her IIIs getting to stay together as a family. A messed-up, ONI-sanctioned family of ultra-violence-using investigators, but a family nonetheless. 


Halo: Hunters in the Dark

And we’re back with even more Halo. A side note: I realized sometime while I was reading this book that I’ve never played Halo 5, and that I didn’t even know what the plot of it was. There’s a good reason I didn’t really care about Halo 5, though, which I might turn into a separate blog post at some point.
Anyhow, Hunters in the Dark. It’s another interwar book, though a bit of a precursor1 to the Human-Forerunner war to come. There was also a nice hint of follow-up with what happened to the UNSC Rubicon, the ship that Guilty Spark stole at the end of one of the Forerunner Trilogy books. I kept hoping for more on that, but I apparently haven’t gotten to the correct book and/or game for that yet, so oh well, I guess I’ll just keep reading.
This one follows a mixed group of Sangheili and Spartans, with the addition of Olympia Vale before she becomes a Spartan and a pair of human doctors. And, my favorite, a Huragok. I love the Huragok, they’re so delightfully weird. Based on comments throughout this book and the last, they’ve gotten very rare throughout the galaxy in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant War, and I’m really hoping that ONI or someone has an ongoing project to help them repopulate a bit. They’re kinda incredibly useful resources, and as far as I’m aware they can reproduce without too much work.2
Anyhow, the plot of this one kicks off with Luther Mann and Henry Lamb, the two doctors mentioned earlier, exploring Zeta Halo. There, they find an active countdown, which shortly thereafter leads to the discovery that the Halo array has been activated. Again.3 They realize that the signal came from the Ark, and start working to get the portal at Voi4 up and running again. Which is where the Sangheili come in, bringing the Huragok with them.
From there, it gets proceedingly more mysterious, and we never actually get answers as to what all was going on on the Ark. Sure, a lot of it could be explained by who the Bad Guy ended up being, but Drifts, the Huragok, made a few references to a third party messing around with the systems of the Ark, and I’m quite curious as to who that was.5
This one was a good read, though, I think I liked it more than New Blood. There wasn’t nearly as much flashback, and though the progression of time got a little nonlinear at times – mostly because one character’s storyline was revealing things a lot faster than the others’, and the author was trying to ensure that both plots would be interesting – but never did the sync get off by more than, oh, 12 hours or so. Quite manageable, and like I said, an interesting read.

  1. Get it? Precursor? Like the- oh, nevermind. 
  2. If I’m remembering right, it’s basically a matter of giving two or more Huragok access to enough raw materials, both biological and otherwise, to build a new one. They then connect and upload sufficient data for the new Huragok to become sapient and a useful tool. 
  3. Somewhere an ONI AI drops its head into its hands and starts calculating how expensive it’d be to just blow up all of them. (Back of the envelope math says: surprisingly, not that bad – it only took the overloading reactor complex of an early-model Frigate to do it in Combat Evolved, which means the things can be snapped with only, like, a couple H-bombs. Wouldn’t even need antimatter warheads!) 
  4. Why it’s referred to as being at Voi when it’s, like, five hundred times bigger than Voi and stretches all the way to the much-bigger city of New Mombasa, I don’t know. 
  5. Based on the timeline, I figure it could be Cortana, a local copy of 343 Guilty Spark, the Didact, or the Librarian. Or a Gravemind. There’s quite a few options there. 

Playlist of the Month: March 2016

I’ve decided that, for some of these things, I’m going to include links to buy the songs1 – make it a bit easier for y’all to find the songs, if you’re interested, and throw a bit of support to the artists.2
5AM – Amber Run
Shiver – Amber Run
I Need My Girl – The National
Forgiven – Millesim Remix – Wolf Colony3
Trusty And True – Damien Rice
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky
Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay
Just My Soul Responding – Amber Run
Elysium – Mendum
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield4
Midnight – Lane 85
Summer Heart – Pretty Haze
Fire – Jack Garratt
You Can’t Save Me – Johnny Stimson
Ghost ft. Patrick Baker (Lane 8 Remix) – Lane 8
But Now A Warm Feel Is Running – Fhin
Haven, Mass (B-Side) – Bon Iver
Canyon Moon – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
House for You – LOYAL
Maps For The Getaway – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness6
Animal – The Dunwells
Your Call – Duck House
In the Air – Star Slinger Remix – Ten Fé
We Were Happy Once (feat. Bess Rogers) – Anya Marina7
Man Of Lies – Blueneck
Broken Fingers – Blueneck
Father, Sister – Blueneck
I Feel The Weight – Miike Snow
Back Of The Car – Miike Snow
Monster – Mumford & Sons
I Will Wait – Mumford & Sons
Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford & Sons
Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons
Ghost feat. Patrick Baker (Lane 8 Remix) – Lane 88
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako9
Klara (Theo Kottis Remix) – Lane 8
Afterlife – XYLØ10
SCRAM – Mogwai11
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – XYLØ
Fat Man – Mogwai
America – XYLØ12
Lou Lou – Albin Lee Meldau13
Communicate – The Dunwells14
Lucky Ones – The Dunwells15
LA Love Song – XYLØ
She Whispers – The Dunwells
Tzar – Mogwai
Smoke Signals – Hotel Garuda16
U-235 – Mogwai18
Will You Wait For Me – The Dunwells
Sunlight (Jody Wisternoff Remix) – Lane 8
Ether – Mogwai

  1. From iTunes or Amazon Music, as those are the two stores I ever use- I used to use Google Play, but haven’t since I switched to iPhone. And I’ve got a Thing against Spotify. 
  2. The exact metric by which I’ll decide which ones to link is “randomness with a bias in favor of less-popular groups.” And a good bit towards “new to these lists,” as well. 
  3. Fun story: while trying to verify that this was the correct version of the song to link to, I accidentally hit ‘play’ and iTunes started playing a totally different song while the Amazon sample was playing. “This is not at all the right remix,” I thought, before realizing what I’d done. 
  4. “I’d normally never listen to Lorde, but I’d listen to an album of you doing Lorde covers.” – someone complimenting me when they heard me singing along to this. Thanks, friend! 
  5. This song is so calm, it’s up there with “Your Hand In Mine” in my favorite songs to listen to when I need to defuse a bad mood. Or diffuse it. Either way. 
  6. The first few times I listened to this song, I was biking, and what with the wind and all that I couldn’t quite hear the lyrics right, so I spent a while thinking this song was about planning a heist. 
  7. For some reason, this song reminds me of a lullaby that I’d listen to as a child. Which is weird, considering how depressing it is. 
  8. Why yes, this is the second time this song is on here – one version is the Soundcloud rip (sorry!), and one version is from the actual album. 
  9. Another one my roommate gave me, I love this song. 
  10. Things I’ve learned today: how to type an uppercase Ø. Shift+option+o, for those wondering. Leaving out the shift gets you the lowercase ø.
    Interesting note about this: you can’t type that character into the Amazon search field. 
  11. This whole album is all ‘nuclear history’ references and it makes me so happy 
  12. Why yes, I am linking to multiple songs off this album. I’d’ve linked to ‘Afterlife’, as well, but Amazon only has the explicit version and I have very strange ideas about what level of censorship it’s necessary for me to have on this here blog. 
  13. The only thing I don’t like about this song is how dang short it is. I want mooooore. 
  14. This song is basically how I respond whenever my friends complain to me about their relationship problems. “JUST COMMUNICATE” 
  15. For some reason, my laptop saw fit to change ‘Lucky’ to ‘Luckyy.’ … Okay? 
  16. This one reminds me of that song. “If our love is tragedy,” yadda yadda. If you lived through, what, 2012? Yeah, I think that was the year. Anyways, if you lived through that year, you know this song. 
  18. Get it, because uranium isotopes? heh, I have a weird sense of humor. 

Halo: New Blood

The flood of Halo books continues!
This one was a lot of flashing back. Like, two chapters of “this is what’s going on now,” and the whole rest of it was flashback. Buck,1 as it turns out, has a propensity for storytelling.
That story meanders quite a bit, because while he has a propensity for storytelling he’s got even more of one for going off on tangents. As it turns out, he’s now become a SPARTAN-IV, one of the new group that were created in the lead-up to Halo 4.2 And that’s sort of what this whole book is – an interwar period, a look at what the UNSC was doing in the immediate aftermath of the Covenant War and before the Didact showed up and started ruining things again. Which was a pretty cool bit of territory to play with, one that I don’t think we’ve really seen before in the Halo series. One of the core ideas of the games was that you’ve got the Covenant, these scary xenos,3 to provide a Big Bad Enemy that we don’t have to feel guilty for killing. But without the Covenant, humanity’s own mess of fighting amongst themselves came back out to play. It never really ended during the Covenant War, it just got put on hold – even ideologically antithetical enemies can put their differences aside when they’re faced with mutual obliteration at the hands of a third party.4 And so, in that interwar period, the rebellion against the UNSC and the UEG springs back to life, and all the troops that’ve gotten so use to that no-gray-areas war with the xenos are suddenly thrown back into the moral gloop that is a colony-vs-empire war.
And that’s something that, like I said, hasn’t really been explored in the Halo canon very much. Sure, the origin of the SPARTAN-II program was as a force for fighting against those rebels, and we’ve been through one or two missions there, but never with even a moment spared for their ideology – they were portrayed just as ‘terrorists.’ Which is fitting, considering how brainwashed all of the SPARTAN-IIs were; it’s even acknowledged in New Blood that one of the key reasons they were abducted and put into the program at the age of 6 was so that they’d have that sort of undying loyalty to the UNSC. The SPARTAN-IVs are all adults, converted into superhumans after they’ve been serving in the UNSC. And they’ve already formed their own opinions – they poke at their orders a bit, don’t obey quite as blindly, and in a couple notable cases, they actually side with the rebels. They’re not the point-and-shoot weapons that the SPARTAN-IIs were, but there’s more of them and it’s less likely to feed the rebellion when people find out about them and how they’re made.5
The fact that this one was such a gray area like that, though? It made it a much more interesting read. Depressing in places,6 but definitely interesting. Give it a read, especially if you want to find out more about the SPARTAN-IVs.

  1. The sergeant from Halo 3: ODST and a SPARTAN-IV in Halo 5, if you’re wondering why I’m acting like that’s a name that should be familiar. 
  2. Fun fact: I just now realized that Halo 5 has been out for a few months. I’m way more invested in the multimedia project that is Halo than I am in the video game series. 
  3. The term “alien” gets too much use in politics nowadays, so I’m going with “xenos” as shorthand for extra-terrestrial non-humans. 
  4. Imagine how the Cold War would’ve gone if Martians had shown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis and started laying waste to the entire planet. 
  5. Because, seriously, imagine the PR disaster that ensued when the Office of Naval Intelligence finally had to reveal that the SPARTAN-IIs were created by kidnapping children and brainwashing them and then testing a bunch of geneva-convention-violating surgeries on them. 
  6. There’s nothing more aggravating than having a playable character die at a point in the game when you can’t control them – you can’t help but feel like if you were in charge you could’ve done something different, you could’ve saved them. Cutscene deaths are stupid, and so are book-sequel-deaths. Which could be more of a spoiler if I gave you any idea of who died, but I won’t. 

“Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage”

“When veterans get together, it doesn’t matter who won or lost,” [Makarov] said through his translator. “It’s enough that both survived.”

Oh boy, do I love me some Cold War history. It’s easily my favorite time period to read about, and the one that I keep coming back to whenever my education requires I learn something about the past, lest I repeat it.1 The craziness of the whole period fascinates me – the Space Race happened in such a short time, people were cramming nuclear reactors into anything they could think of, Freeman Dyson was wandering around spitting out ideas that will probably remain the basis of science fiction giga-structures for the rest of human history, and the military was determinedly ensuring that they could wipe out the entire human race before the Commies could, dammit! It was insane! And a bit of a miracle that we all survived, really.
This book dove2 into an aspect of the Cold War that I hadn’t actually thought about very much. Yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about submarines, but never really as elements for espionage, always in either their key role as an element of the US nuclear triad3 or in the sort of crazy things I’d do with them if I had the sort of ridiculous budget that both Navies had during the War.
But they actually make a lot of sense in that context – nearly impossible to spot from orbit, invisible from the surface; their only real weakness to detection is sonar, and from the standpoint of a submarine or other stealth craft, active sonar is a big no-no when you’re trying to stay hidden. They’re basically the perfect stealth vehicle. So why not use them to do a bit of listening in?
And boy oh boy did they do some cool stuff with that. The one that takes the cake is actually how I found this book: Operation Ivy Bells. A specially-modified nuclear submarine wandered in past Soviet naval defenses and settled down on top of a key underwater communications line. Divers went out, divers affixed a wiretap, divers went back in. Wait a day or two, pick the wiretap back up, and then sneak back home to deliver the tapes to the spooks at the NSA.4 Between them and the people listening in on the sub itself, they found that the line was a treasure trove: the Soviets assumed it was safe, as it ran entirely within Soviet territorial waters, and part of the time they didn’t even bother to encrypt their communications. It was an intelligence coup, one that would be repeated on multiple other undersea cables, bringing in massive amounts of information. (At first, the wiretap could only run for a week at most before being replaced; the NSA and the Navy called in engineers from telecoms companies, and wound up building one with some rudimentary computational capabilities and an onboard nuclear power plant;56 the new device could be left in place for a year or more, require far less frequent invasions-of-territory by US subs.)
I’m going to stop there, having given away one of the biggest success stories told in the book, but that’s hardly all of it – the book, a beautiful work of non-fiction, weaves several interesting tales, ranging from political intrigue to scientific success stories to on-the-edge-of-your-seat adventure novel in places. I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s at all interested in Cold War history.7

  1. What, exactly, I’m personally in danger of repeating from the Cold War, I don’t really know. 
  2. Pun absolutely intended. 
  3. Land-based missiles, SAC bombers constantly in the air, and submarines packed to the rafters with SLBMs. 
  4. This was back in the good old days, when our nation’s spies were looking outside the country. Mostly. Unless you were a Communist. Or Communist-adjacent. Or, y’know, vaguely suspicious.
    That said, the NSA didn’t do the “watching our own,” that was mostly handled (very illegally) by the CIA. 
  5. It wasn’t stated in the book, but I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that it was a radio-thermal generator, better known as an RTG; both sides in the Cold War used them to power space-based devices, and the Soviets also used them to power a grid of remote lighthouses along their long, long coastline. 
  6. The “nuclear-powered lighthouses” thing would turn out to be a horrible idea, though only after the Soviet Union had already collapsed; the lighthouses these days have been stripped for materials, leading, presumably, to a spate of heavily-irradiated thieves around the country. 
  7. Or just people who’re interested in submarines, a stance which I totally respect – submarines are cool! 

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.” 

Halo: Saint’s Testimony

Another one in the “books I’ve gotten for free” category, though in this case it was because I had a $1 credit on my Amazon account and the book was $0.99.1
I definitely would’ve bought the book anyways, though, because I’m far more of a fan of the Halo lore than I should be willing to admit, and this one was about an AI, so how could I resist?
Because, you see, I’m a total sucker for AI in any mythos. I love it, I love people exploring the interactions between humanity and the intelligences that they create. It’s a spectacular moral gray area, one that we really desperately need to explore now, before we’re living in one of those stories.
And so here come my issues with this book.2
First, the historical aspect: it’s set in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant War, which places it solidly in the late 26th century. The UNSC’s brand of sentient AI, Smart AIs, were first built in the late 21st century. Which means that, somehow, human society made it half a millenia without a single AI going to court and suing for personhood. It took, what, 200 years between the creation of American Sign Language, it being taught to apes, and then apes being granted personhood in a variety of jurisdictions? And in five hundred years, not a single one of the super intelligent beings manufactured, in essence, by uploading a dead human brain into the cloud tried to prove they were a person?
That aside, there’s some continuity issues that’ve been starting to crop up in the past few books, and this one really brought those to the forefront, in my mind.3 The way AIs function in the Halo universe doesn’t seem to be all too clearly set in the minds of the writers. Back when the series first started, Cortana was the best example of an AI, and she was basically a human mind, running super fast. Sure, it was a very analytical, probably sociopathic human mind, but a human mind nonetheless. She was wrapped up in different programs, which allowed her to control her appearance and interface with different systems, but still a human mind. Copying herself wasn’t an innate ability, but one she picked up while digging around in a Covenant system.45 Now, it appears that all the Smart AIs the UNSC is using are capable of the same feat, and quite a few other manners of thinking that simply aren’t possible for human minds.
I mean, yes, there’s an argument to be made that there’s been a lot of development going on in the field of Artificial Intelligence, but I’m going to go ahead and cite that ‘500 years’ figure again. A technological leap of that size over the space of a couple years simply isn’t realistic when they’ve had 500 years with access to the same technology and not made one notable improvement.

Alright I’m going to stop now, because I’m being a bit too much of an obsessive fan here and it’s starting to creep me out. Expect a couple more Halo books being reviewed soon – I got a pile of ‘em for Christmas and I’m just now starting into those.

  1. I wonder if they’re going to leave the $0.01 credit on my account? It wasn’t a gift card, it was a “thanks for choosing the cheap shipping option, Prime Customer!” thing. 
  2. Well, ‘novella’ might be a more accurate term, considering that it was written purely for e-reader and it’s also a novella length. 
  3. There were different ones that were bugging me in the other books – namely, the fact that all of humanity suddenly had access to instantaneous galaxy-spanning communications equipment at the end of the Human-Covenant War. Sure, Forerunner tech and all that, but the time between “finding the relevant Forerunner tech” and “our own version has been implemented everywhere” was… really short. 
  4. Which still has a few unanswered questions, to my mind – the weird AI running around in those systems, was that some ancient Forerunner ancilla, or a human AI that’d been captured a while ago and gone very uniquely rampant? 
  5. And yes, I am enough of a nerd that I just used the canon-accurate term “ancilla” for a Forerunner AI. 

Playlist of the Month: February 2016

How did February go past so quickly, when did that even happen? Weird.
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
All I Want – Kodaline
Fast Car – Navarra
I Found – Amber Run
5AM – Amber Run
Shiver – Amber Run
I Need My Girl – The National
Homegrown – Mahama Remix – Haux
Forgiven – Millesim Remix – Wolf Colony
Trusty and True – Damien Rice1
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky
Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay2
Spark – Amber Run
Just My Soul Responding – Amber Run
The Hanging Tree – James Newton Howard
Elysium – Mendum
Ghosts – BANNERS
Start a Riot – BANNERS
Shine a Light – BANNERS
Back When We Had Nothing -BANNERS
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield3
Midnight – Lane 8
Summer Heart – Pretty Haze
Fire – Jack Garratt
You Can’t Save Me – Johnny Stimson
Ghost ft. Patrick Baker (Lane 8 Rework) – Lane 84
But Now A Warm Feel Is Running – Fhin5
Haven, Mass (B-Side) – Bon Iver
Canyon Moon – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness6
House for You – LOYAL

That’s it for this month – I’ve been so busy with the choir tour and the start of classes7 that I haven’t had a whole lot of time for messing around with my playlists. Hopefully next month’s will be a bit longer.

  1. I did a bit of digging into my old playlists at one point, this one came up. 
  2. I didn’t watch the Halftime Show while it was going on – I was actually on a bus, driving away from San Francisco at the time – but I did watch it about a week later. Impressive. 
  3. One of the best compliments I got this month was as I was singing along to this- someone told me “I’d never listen to Lorde, but if you did a cover of Lorde I’d listen to that.” Flattering, in a weird way. 
  4. Lane 8 was probably my top find for this month, even though it’s only these two songs by them that I actually enjoy. I’m subscribed on Soundcloud, hopefully they’ll release more stuff in this vein. 
  5. This is listed as “Deep House” but on name alone I think it deserves honorary standing as “Post-Rock” 
  6. Anecdote time: I wound up with this song because I was editing a video for a class and it needed to have some sort of upbeat song playing in the background. But this is me, I don’t have happy music, the closest I get is, like, energetically depressed. I asked Chase if he had any, and this was the only upbeat song he had. We have similar taste in music. 
  7. And the various extracurricular nonsense that I choose to get myself embroiled in. 

Games Wizards Play

Oh man oh man oh man, I love Diane Duane. She’s one of those writers that I’ve been reading forever, I grew up with her work.1 And I think all of it is wonderful. Duane does a good job of keeping her website up to date, and I follow her blog and her Twitter account pretty closely, so I’ve known this book was coming out soon. Unfortunately, I was on a bus driving around California when it actually came out, and didn’t have any time to spare for reading2 so it had to wait until now.
But man was it worth it. I loved this book, oh so very much. It’s full of beautiful little hat-tips – S’ree’s appearance, early on, was a nice little moment, and it allowed the slow-burn story of what she’s doing with her life to expand a little more. Sker’ret also poked his head in once or twice, and he’s doing quite well for himself, apparently. Carmela, who over the course of the series went from “deeply annoying” to “quite possibly my favorite character” has become a wonderfully-Involved3 person, a bit of a power player on the galactic playing field. Which I love, because she’s not a wizard – she’s just got a talent for languages and a skill for making connections.
The core plot of the book was an interesting one- once every eleven years, all the young wizards of Earth get together, throwing their best and brightest into an Invitational where they show off their spellcrafting skills. Our main characters are a bit too long in the tooth for that, though, and instead get tapped to mentor the younger folks. Dairine got paired with a young Iranian girl whose introduction had my laughing at how uncomfortable Dairine got, while Kit and Nita, always a team, got handed someone who I, personally, referred to as “an annoying startup of a human being.”
And with that as the backdrop, they were off to play. Nita and Kit spend a lot of time worrying about the change in their relationship, trying to figure all that out.4 Nita, of course, has to deal with the mess of visions that the future is throwing at her – which are, intentionally, baffling to both her and the reader. Dairine, meanwhile, has showed some of the most amazing growth as a character that I’ve ever seen – when she first was introduced, she was a powerhouse burning like a star: fierce, bright, untamable. Since then, her power levels have dropped rapidly, to a far more normal level, and while she spent a while being very upset about that, the loss of first her mother and then Roshaun forced her to grow up fast. And she did: as a mentor, she’s amazing, becoming both a friend and a protector for her mentee. I adored it.
One moment that I wasn’t quite sure I liked: the introduction of two queer characters. The first was something that’s been a long time coming, I’d say – a bit character from two books ago reappeared as a wizarding friend of the main characters, and mentions in passing that he’s gay. Nita has a little epiphany at that,5 and while still staggering from that finds out that another of those bit-characters is asexual. Plot wise, that one-two punch made sense – it was the confusion from the first coming out that led to the conversation about the second, but taken from the standpoint of a reader like me it seems a little bit forced. This is, what, the tenth6 book in the series, and you introduce your only two queer characters within a couple pages of another? It whiffs a little of tokenism.
That little bit aside, I’m going to have to stop myself now, because otherwise I’ll get into too spoilerific of territory. There are a couple new characters introduced that had my cackling with laughter or almost literally pushing my nose into the book to read with more scrutiny,7 and in a similar vein we got to see a lot more of Irina and find out more about her life.8 And the end of the book, oh lord, that ending. It’s a good thing neither of my roommates were around while I was reading it, because the delighted noise I made would probably have frightened them. It’s a perfect ending, in Diana Wynne Jones territory, and it made me so happy. This has been one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year, and I seriously recommend it to everyone.9

  1. The other one is Tamora Pierce; the last time she came out with a new book, I stopped everything I was doing and reread the entire series up to that point, then the new book itself. 
  2. “You’ve got spare time? Nonsense, go practice your music!” 
  3. A term I’m borrowing from Iain Banks’ Culture series; to be Involved is to be a player on the galactic scale. 
  4. Ah, high school. 
  5. Which I found a little bit entertaining, because I can remember the same sort of epiphany waaaaay back when I first found out that not everyone is straight. What a weird time that was. 
  6. I’d originally written “thirteenth” here, but Diane Duane corrected me, and I’ve updated this page to be correct. 
  7. You’ll know who they are when they show up, they’re rather unforgettable. 
  8. Which was something else I absolutely loved about this book – the way that Nita, and Dairine, are both surrounded so constantly by figures of massive importance, and neither of them let it slow them down. Dairine goes through some tough negotiations with Irina, the bloody Planetary, and Nita gives a nickname to a being that exists on a scale quite a few orders of magnitude larger and more powerful than her.
    Which actually made for some very interesting foreshadowing for the reveal at the end of the book. 
  9. Bonus points if you pick it up from the author herself – she sells books and ebooks directly, on her website 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

“… I hate myself, Dr. Luther.”
“But not so much that you didn’t come asking for help.”

I hope it’s pretty obvious to everyone, by now, that I’m a big fan of the superhero tropes. And it’s just that, actually- tropes. I recognize where things are generic story elements being slotted in, and I love it- it’s something familiar, and quite often people can do interesting things with them. It’s like the people who build functional computers in Minecraft- sure, there’s only a couple different elements you can use, but good lord is there some impressive work being done, overall.
This book… wasn’t like that. There was a little bit of it present, in the weird little chapter headings1 – a mechanic that took me a little while to catch on to, actually. It’s a very fun idea: the story plays itself out during the chapters themselves, but each heading describes the generic-YA-adventure-novel tales of Satchel and the other “indie kids.”
The goal of the book was, clearly, poking fun at those- the title is a hat-tip to that, with everyone trying to live in a world that’s plagued by the occasional outbreaks of whatever was popular in our world’s adventure novels at the time. They had zombies. Most recently was a spate of “beautiful vampires.” Sound familiar? And then, my favorite bit, the John Green nod, with references to “all the indie kids dying beautifully of cancer.”
Except the book didn’t quite get away from all that. In writing style, I’d call it almost a John Green novel itself. Or, rather, the child of John Green and Terry Pratchett. If Pratchett had written a summary or idea for a book, sketched out a couple of the characters,2 and then handed it off to Green to finish up.
I liked it, I suppose, though not as much as I could have. It was just a little bit too depressingly real for my tastes, I suppose.3
Nonetheless, a good book, one that I felt compelled to read through rather than do my homework today. Give it a go, I suppose.

  1. Think those Victorian novels. “Chapter the Third: The Queen is kidnapped. A gaslight chase. Sir Harold is injured.” And so on. 
  2. Though not, I should note, the Love Interest. 
  3. So I like escapist fantasy. Sue me. 

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’ve Got Henchmen

I started reading this book yesterday about dinnertime, and I’d finished it before I went to bed. Which isn’t to say that it’s a short book, because it isn’t. It’s a dangerous book, because I couldn’t put it down. I adore this whole series, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting this one since I found out the author was working on it.1 And, to be honest, it was everything I was hoping for.
The second book in the series had a lot of Plot going on, to the point where it got to be too much: it got a little bit hard to follow, and I’m still a bit unclear on who some of the various factions were and what, exactly, they wanted. This went the opposite direction: there was no huge story arc throughout the piece, just a sort of “this is the life of a super-powered middle-schooler” story. Which was wonderful. I didn’t want a big story arc going on, I just wanted to experience more of this crazy chaotic world that the characters live in.2
We got a lot more of Bull in this one, and some explanation of what, exactly, is going on with Claudia, which I thought made for a beautiful little plotline, there. It was sad and sweet, and really helped to humanize Claudia, explain what’s going on with her life.
Penny, the delightfully manipulative main character, got some more of the spotlight for inheriting her mother’s (apparently non-super-powered) manipulation-streak, and for winning the “superpower genetic lottery” or some such. It was really cool, actually, to see her start getting the sort of public respect that she deserves, though not really for what she’s actually been doing.
And, of course, there were some really touching scenes with her and her family. Which is, basically, exactly what I want from a book: superhero families.3
I could not have loved this book more. I wish there was more of it. Go. Read. Now. It’s spectacular.

  1. The author’s blog is a great source of that sort of information. 
  2. One of my favorite things in the series is the description of the various video games the characters play – I really want Roberts to write a game at some point, preferably with a lot of control over the gameplay mechanics, because they all sound so fun
  3. I’ve got strange reading preferences but I STICK TO THEM, dangit. 

Invincible: Compendium One

I’d started to read Invincible at some point in the past and never finished it, apparently. Realized I still had the entire compendium sitting around1 and decided to throw it onto my phone2 for some reading material while on the bus over the first week of February.3
And I quite enjoyed it! I am, admittedly, a bit of a sucker for the whole “superhero’s kid” trope, but it got a bit beyond that. In the beginning it kinda struck me as a bit of a DC satire, in the same way that “The Boys” was a Marvel satire, but it grew beyond that.4 Their government agency is distinctly accurate to the real world in that it’s secretive and embedded in as much dark stuff as the CIA was in the 70s.
And oh, did I ever love the idea of a Superman character actually being an invader. It makes sense, though- Man of Steel had Superman accidentally killing like a million people and devastating a city over the course of a few minutes, imagine how much damage a single unfettered Kryptonian could do if given a lifespan of a few thousand years?
And then there’s Eve and Robot, two of my favorite characters present. Robot is a ‘misunderstood genius’ type, and goes a bit supervillainish at times, but I appreciate someone who’s willing to do some concerning things to get stuff done. And Eve? Oh, Eve. Someone finally did that power right- she quit being a superhero and moved to Africa to actually change things. Which is totally the right thing to do- if you can turn any molecule into any other molecule, you are absolutely wasting your time punching bank robbers.5
So yeah, that’s about it for my review. Quite a good comic, and a pretty well-developed universe. It’s got a hint of space opera, in the regard that there’s a lot going on in the background, but the main character is still distinctly a main character, both on Earth and on the galactic scale.

  1. As a single massive PDF 
  2. “I’ll use AirDrop for this, that won’t keep my phone from being able to do anything else for the next ten minutes or so, right?” 
  3. Choir tour. Eight hours of bus a day. My everything hurts. 
  4. Which is not saying that it wasn’t a DC satire in the beginning because it absolutely was, they’ve got a Batman knock-off named “Darkwing” who lives in a city that’s been magically cursed to have the same color palette as Gotham. 
  5. Though I’ll admit, the fact nobody’s had her build a space elevator yet is a bit annoying. 

The Shepherd’s Crown

“Look up here, I’m in heaven” – David Bowie, Lazarus

The Shepherd’s Crown was Terry Pratchett’s last book, published after his death. And man, I thought that Raising Steam was hard to read but, oh, The Shepherd’s Crown was so much worse. Because Raising Steam was a lively romp across the entire Disc, a chance for every single one of the characters we love to show us their lives one more time. Little glances that showed us they were doing well, living on even though we wouldn’t be able to see any more of them.
The Shepherd’s Crown wasn’t that. Part of this is because it’s for a different market – the Tiffany Aching series is the Young Adult branch of the Discworld, and so the assumption that we know all these characters isn’t there. The short introductions given to concepts that I know well, having read every Discworld book, seemed strange and out of place to me.1
And oh, those first couple of chapters were rough. (I try to avoid spoilers, but that’s not going to work this time, so consider this your spoiler warning. If you haven’t read the book yet and you want to preserve it for yourself… why are you reading reviews, anyways? It’s Terry Pratchett, it’s guaranteed to be good.)

Alright, I’ll assume that everyone who hasn’t read the book has stopped reading now.

Granny Weatherwax wasn’t just an integral part of the Aching series, she was an anchor for a number of other books as well. Seeing her go… she was okay with it, but I must say that I wasn’t. And nor was anyone else. Reading Ridcully’s hearing about her death, and his response to it, was hard.
And yes, a lot of that is because of the echoes of Terry Pratchett himself in her character. It’d been common knowledge for a while that he didn’t have much time left – he was very public about the advanced form of Alzheimers that he had2 and his own desire to not allow the disease to make his end debilitating. In short, he knew that he was dying. And, in much the same way that his death was a momentous event for the people of the Disc, so, too, was that of Granny Weatherwax.
Basically, while Raising Steam was a chance for the people of the Discworld to say goodbye to us readers, The Shepherd’s Crown was Terry Pratchett’s goodbye. And lord, but I hate goodbyes.
The book gives us a while to dwell on that sadness, mourn the loss, but then it’s time to get going again. Time halts for no man nor woman, and Tiffany has big shoes to fill. From there, it’s almost a coming-of-age story: Tiffany takes the place that everyone but her knew was coming for her, as the first-among-equals leader of the witches of the Disc. And, slowly, she comes into her own: as a young woman, she’s got that same lack of self-confidence that’s almost a key component of any young adult, but she’s also a powerful witch in her own right. The book is her coming to terms with that, the good and the bad. And in that regard, it’s wonderful.
I think I’m going to stop here, because anything else I could say would be spoiling more of the book than I already have, and I couldn’t live with myself were that the case. I quite enjoyed it, sadness and all.
A hat tip to Sir Terry: you were one of the greatest writers of our time, and you are sorely missed.

  1. This sort of thing is, I think, the reason I never much got into the Tiffany Aching books. I have them all, as I’ve got every Discworld book – except the Science of Discworld series, but I’m working on that – but I don’t go back and reread them like I do the others. 
  2. Don’t cite me on this part, I’m writing it from memory while in a moving vehicle so I can’t easily Google to verify my memory of the facts. 

Playlist of the Month: January 2016

How is this month already over? I’m still writing ‘2014’ on my papers sometimes, good lord.1
Slow It Down – The Lumineers
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
All I Want – Kodaline
Fast Car – Navarra
I Found – Amber Run
5AM – Amber Run
Shiver – Amber Run2
I Need My Girl – The National
Safe & Sound (feat. The Civil Wars) – Taylor Swift
Thru – Vallis Alps
Arcadia – Great States
West Egg – Great States
Homegrown – Mahama Remix – Haux
Forgiven – Millesim Remix – Wolf Colony
Trusty and True – Damien Rice
Yellow Flicker Beat – Lorde
All My Love (feat. Ariana Grande) – Major Lazer
Atlas – Coldplay
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky3
Just for Now – Pentatonix
The Birds Are Chirping – Beware of Safety
Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay4
Amazing Day – Coldplay
Spectre – Radiohead
Spark – Amber Run
Just My Soul Responding – Amber Run
Heaven – Amber Run
Kites – Amber Run
Breathe In – Frou Frou
The Hanging Tree – James Newton Howard5
Elysium – Mendum
Valentine’s Day – Linkin Park
Ghosts – BANNERS6
Start a Riot – BANNERS
Shine a Light – BANNERS
Back When We Had Nothing – BANNERS
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield7
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield8
Gold Dust – BANNERS
Midnight – Lane 8

And that’s 2016 begun. A shorter list than the rest, but I’ve been keeping a strange schedule and not gotten a whole lot of new music this month, so oh well.

  1. It takes me a long time to adjust, okay? 
  2. I’ve gotta say, Amber Run was probably one of my best finds for all of 2015. 
  3. This is the variant off the Friday Night Lights soundtrack. I still haven’t watched that show, actually – the quality of the soundtrack wavers back and forth between being enough to cancel out the fact that football bores me. 
  4. I just saw the music video for this one the other day. I liked it! 
  5. I believe he’s actually the composer, and that it’s Jennifer Lawrence singing, but that’s how the soundtrack shows up in iTunes, so whatever. 
  6. Actually a different version of it than what I had, since he finally released his EP so that I could replace the Soundcloud rip. 
  7. I really wasn’t sure that I was going to like this one, and then practically overnight it became the song that I’d skip past a bunch of others to get to. 
  8. I’ve never heard the Lorde version. I should probably look that up at some point, if only for comparison. 

Future Visions

I picked this little science fiction anthology up when Microsoft emailed me to let me know that it was available for free. I mean, c’mon, who skips out on free stuff?
I know for some things of this sort I’ve done per-short-story review type things, but I’m a bit too lazy to do that.1
The concept for this anthology, so far as I understand it, was basically this: Microsoft invited2 a bunch of big-name science fiction writers to tour one of their research centers. From there, they were free to write whatever short story they wanted to, and so they did. The result was quite interesting – some of them were recognizably influenced by certain forms of research (the Skype team’s work on instant translation was very obvious in a couple of places) while others have very little connection – the final story includes a few small references to the same sort of translation technology, but paints it in a less-than-flattering light.
All told, it was an interesting read, good for reading in bits and pieces when you’ve only got a few minutes to spare, and who can beat that lovely low price of free?

  1. And, to be honest, I do those any time that I haven’t read the entirety of an anthology. This one I read cover-to-cover, with the possible exception of part of the comic that was included, as it crashed my Kindle when I was trying to read it. 
  2. Or, presumably, ‘paid.’