Halo: Nightfall

I’m gonna be honest with y’all, I didn’t finish this one. Not something I normally do with Halo media, but I’m bad at movie-watching to start with,1 and this one had lots of creepy worms. I quite enjoyed the setup, and figured out after a bit2 that this is Spartan Locke’s backstory, which was kinda cool. Having it be live-action, and still featuring a couple Sangheili? I quite liked, and I think the visual effects were handled well.
That was actually one of the weirder things about this, for me – I had no idea this was a thing until a couple days ago, and it seemed like a rather big-budget sort of thing for Microsoft to not have advertised at all. Then again, I don’t think Google’s ad algorithms are smart enough to link what I post on here with my viewing habits elsewhere, so probably they have no idea that I’m a big ol’ Halo nerd, and that’s why I never get Halo ads on YouTube.3
So I liked the first half of the movie or so, but then the worms showed up. Conceptually, and in writing, I enjoy the Lekgolo species, I like the idea that the massive Hunters are actually weird hive-mind things. It’s just so cool. But seeing the worms on their own? Eurgh. They’re creepy.4
The real reason I even bothered to write up this review – usually I don’t bother, for stuff I don’t finish, which is why you never really see me posting hugely negative reviews – is because of a single little joke I wanted to work in here. It’s the explanation of why I think worms are creepy, in fact.
It’s because I know that, one day, worms are gonna be one of the big contributors to the decomposition of my body. And for some reason, they all look like they want to get that started ahead of schedule.

Does that count as a joke? It’s hard to type out the tone of voice I’m going for in my head, and I think that’s more ‘morbid’ than ‘funny.’ Oh well, so is half of my sense of humor.
So… if you’re not freaked out by worms like I am, go watch the movie! It’s pretty good, well-made and all that. If you have an existential horror of worms, then… really don’t watch this movie. Your choice.

  1. I need a minimum of, like, 1.25 things to be doing at any given time, and a movie counts as, like, .125 or something. I dunno, trying to make math out of ‘movies can’t hold my attention well’ is hard. 
  2. Also contributing to my lack of attention: I watched this while ‘working,’ and even when there’s no customers, a pool is loud
  3. Except when Halo 4 came out, but I’m pretty sure that at that point Microsoft had bought every ad slot on the site, so that doesn’t really mean much of anything. 
  4. I think all worms are creepy, to be honest. It’s the one downside to when it rains – all the worms are out on the sidewalks and stuff. 

Halo: Shadow of Intent

Good lord, I thought I was done with all the Halo books but then I found another one I hadn’t read yet.1 So I’ve got at least one more of these things to write.2
This was another of the interwar-period books, following some ex-Covenant folk. On one side, a Prelate, roughly the Covenant equivalent of a Spartan.3 On the other, the Half-Jaw, an old warrior who sided with the Arbiter in the mess of post-Covenant Sangheili politics. Seeing the mess that was Sangheilios, the Arbiter sent the Half-Jaw and his ship, the sole remaining assault-carrier in the Sangehili navy. If you’re in the middle of a morass of a civil war, you don’t want the under-staffed, under-defended Big Gun being right nearby and easily accessible to anyone who might want the power to glass half the planet.
The book felt deceptively short, to be honest – I was going to describe a bit more of the plot, but I realized that was easily halfway through it already, which is going a bit beyond my ‘no spoilers’ rule I try to abide by. More of a novella than a novel, I suppose.
That said, they managed to get some good character development in – the Prelate has a tragic backstory going on, explored through a couple (nightmarish) dream sequences, which gets worse over time. Rather sad, really, but I suppose that’s what happens in war. The Half-Jaw, on the other hand, is an old warrior, nicknamed for the injuries he received in the Covenant civil war, and wants nothing more than to be able to rest. Not really an option when you’ve got a Prelate trying to kill you, though. Poor guy.
There’s a bit of a Forerunner artifact involved, because of course there is, but it doesn’t really get explored very well – the part of me that always wants to know about Forerunner tech and history was quite annoyed about the lack of explanation on what exactly it was, but oh well. I’ll live.
Now, if I’m remembering properly, this being such a short book also meant it was pretty cheap, so go ahead and give it a read.

  1. It was already on my Kindle and everything. My roommate is making fun of me for having “the least unhealthy addiction ever.” 
  2. I say “at least” because at this point I might go back and reread the ones I’ve got as actual paperbacks and do re-read-reviews of them or something. It’s all an excuse to read more Halo books, I’ve gotta be honest. 
  3. Prelates are, apparently, retro-genetically modified San’Shyuum, so closer in relation to Spartan-IVs than anything else, I suppose? They’re also, notably, some of the only members of the Prophet race to be able to walk under their own power, and are actually impressively good fighters. 

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. 

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. 

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.