Halo: The Flood – Gaming’s Place in Literature

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

The Flood is a Halo book that’s known to get some flak from the fanbase, and I can understand why. Coming off of Nylund’s close look into the way the Master Chief thinks, the more action-oriented style can feel shallow. There are parts where Dietz slows down the story to describe in detail how the Master Chief dispatched the Covenant squads, which is particularly dull when you’ve played the campaign and recognize the scenes. I’m not sure we needed the description of our first Warthog jump in the tunnel system that “is not a natural formation.” Furthermore there are some interesting continuity choices that Dietz makes, such as everyone and their Sangheili zealots knowing that John was a child soldier.

With all these issue in mind, I will defend this book vigorously. Dietz had a lot of obstacles to overcome that were different from Nylund. Frank O’Connor has explained that Dietz not only had to transfer a well-known story from one medium to another, but also had to do so in less time that Nylund had (X). Therefore, even upon rereading, I remain both impressed and delighted with what we were given.

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Sympathetic Villains – Maul, Fisk, and Jul ‘Mdama

Tumblr user scribbleymark wrote a brief analysis on (“formerly Darth, now just“) Maul and how he is somehow able to be a sympathetic character despite doing incredibly horrible deeds.

The key to making Vader and Kylo Ren redeemable is that they eventually or constantly feel guilt or remorse for their wrong-doing; that they know what they’re doing is wrong on an emotional level, and suffer from it internally. This same idea is employed a lot with villains to make the audience like them. Consider all the reluctant, beloved baddies you know of, who do bad things only because there’s no other way! These types usually spend time pining over the pain and loss of life they cause.

Maul has none of those moral dilemmas or guilt. Maul doesn’t feel bad about what he does. Ever. He has no problem using people up and then discarding them, or maiming and murdering them for his own satisfaction. But at the same time, he genuinely cares about his brother. His heart is broken when his mother dies. He’s left emotionally scarred by the fact Sidious quickly replaced him and didn’t even want him back, and that bitterness tracks him for decades after.

Even at the finale of Rebels, Maul lashes out at everyone except Ezra. Why? Because he’s attached to Ezra.

Maul’s emotional attachments are what humanize him to the audience, rather than moral guilt. 

While I do like a good villain-redemption story based on morals, this caught my eye, because there have been times where villains have endeared themselves to me, while still being villains. And I’m the sort of person who likes the goody-two-shoes like Captain America and Superman. Looking back at many of these villains, who I have actually liked and not just enjoyed their monologues, I have liked them because of their emotional attachments to others.

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Bagheera’s Expanded Role – The Jungle Book (2016)

The thing that I recall most fondly about the 1967 Disney animated movie is Bagheera the panther. Maybe it was because of the character’s sleek design (I’ve always liked that aesthetic), or maybe it was because of his sense of responsibility (Baloo’s laid-back nature bothered me, even as a child). Either way, Bagheera was the number one character I was looking forward to in this movie, and my hopes and expectations were more than met. Bagheera’s role in this movie was expanded beyond what he was given in the 1967 cartoon, and the new movie benefits from it.

To begin with, Baloo’s identity as “Poppa Bear” from the cartoon is nowhere to be seen. There’s no talk of adopting and raising Mowgli. There’s still a fondness between them, but it’s treated as more of a partnership and a friendship, which fits for the timeframe that the two know each other. Instead, it’s Bagheera who really becomes the father figure of the man-cub. Any time Mowgli is snatched into danger, it’s for Bagheera that he calls. It’s also on Bagheera that the camera tends to linger when there’s a turning point for Mowgli, but I will get to that in a moment.

With Bagheera taking a larger role, the movie really required top notch talent to carry the panther through his various emotions. Sir Ben Kingsley (voice), Justin Marks (screenwriter), and the animation team knocked it out of the park with Bagheera. In one of many interviews, Sir Kingsley described the character as having “authority, discipline, command, and then underneath that of course, tremendous loyalty and affection” (Collider). Through the animation, the script, and the voice work, this is exactly what we are shown.

One instance that stands out to me in particular comes as Bagheera and Baloo are scaling a cliff to rescue Mowgli from King Louie. Baloo, being terrified of heights, freezes partway up. In response, Bagheera stops to look Baloo in the eye and tell him, ““Look at me, look at nothing else but me. You’re doing fine. Keep your eyes up high.” It’s a beautifully small scene that adds a little bit more to the character, touching on both notions of discipline and affection in the same line.

Certain story changes from the cartoon also allow for these traits to surface. For example, Bagheera is required to be absent from Mowgli’s story in order for the boy to grow (Vox), but the way in which this happens in this movie is preferable to to the 1967 cartoon. In the original Disney adaptation, Bagheera leaves after one frayed nerve too many. In fact, Bagheera’s main obstacle to his loyalty in that version seems to be himself. He’s endlessly trying to untangle himself from the Mowgli mess only to come running back any time he hears of danger to the man-cub. In the 2016 script, physical barriers alone keep him from Mowgli’s side. This gives the audience a stronger sense of Bagheera’s loyalty.

There could be an argument made that Bagheera’s turmoil over Mowgli in the cartoon makes him a more complex character. Perhaps, but those shifts in mood seem to be more driven by the plot’s demands instead of the character’s motivations. The 2016 film flips that on its head. Bagheera is given his own character arc that helps propel the plot forward.

Spoilers ahead for The Jungle Book

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Halo: The Fall of Reach – Gaming’s Place in Literature

The first entry in my series, Halo’s Place in Science Fiction for Halo Archive, this analysis on The Fall of Reach will also be the first entry in a more expansive series.

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

Fall of Reach is very much a character-driven story. Scenes transition from one to the other when a character point is made or developed, as opposed to the completion of an event. In fact, looking at it from a whole, there is not that much of a solid plot. There is the underlying themes of what it takes to save humanity and the continual comparisons of lives spent and lives wasted. Each segment gives something else from which the next can continue and build. However, there is no overarching story line; it’s more a chronicle of events.

I do not fault Fall of Reach for this, not in the slightest. This is no detraction from the novel. One of the most widely celebrated science fiction novels, Starship Troopers, is the same. There is an end goal and a final exciting event that changes the course of the war, but the story is more about the characters and their journey. Quite frankly, I think a plot would get in the way with the sort of story that Fall of Reach is trying to tell.

A plotted story calls for resolution at the end, be it triumph or tragedy. Here, there is no resolution. Halsey’s constant questioning of morality is never answered. John’s understanding of winning/losing and spending/wasting lives is never finalized. Keyes and his crew find their morale, only to have to torn from their grasp. Cortana has barely entered the world proper and already her goals have been forced to shift drastically. It’s a strange sense of reality that was interwoven so beautifully that I didn’t even realize the lack of plot until I sat down to write this piece.

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“Smart” Science Fiction

The Museum of Science Fiction recently tweeted out an essay with a question attached:


I at first assumed that “smart” science fiction was referring to “hard” sci-fi, where real-life science defines the rules and, more often than not, drives the plot. Reading through the piece, I discovered that the author Darren Beyer instead defines smart science fiction as:

Novels like The Martian and the Atlantis series rely on plot, theme, tempo, and realism to draw the reader in, versus attracting them simply because they belong to a genre the reader finds appealing.

Beyer goes onto say that smart science fiction has been a staple of the genre over the years, but it has never made the leap to the mainstream until recently due to the majority of novels catering to old tropes.

I am of two minds about this. The first part says that there is no hard-and-fast rule for how a genre is defined. The second part makes worrisome noises and warily eyes old quotes of literature elitism.

In the past, many authors have done their best to have their books avoid the dreaded “science fiction” label. After all, that meant talking squids and spaceships, and nothing serious or insightful could come from such things. While Beyer’s essay does keep the novels like The Martian firmly planted in the science fiction genre, I disagree with separating them from the other piece of science fiction based on quality.

For one, the way I discover new works is that I look for common themes that I would like to explore further. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was picked up because I wanted to read more science fiction in which songs played an important role. I first read Starship Troopers because Halo had given me a craving for military science fiction. Sub-genres work because they are based on similar elements.

Secondly, it seems to be a similar separation, though on a lesser scale, to avoid a dreaded label. That work isn’t space opera – it’s a serious exploration of imperialism. This work isn’t an alien invasion book – it’s a metaphor for communism. These works are GoodTM and therefore cannot be scifi horror, alternate history, cyberpunk, etc. Perhaps this is not what Beyer meant, but the sub-genre of “smart” science fiction rings a little too close for my taste.

But then that loops around to the first part of my mind; there is no solid definition for science fiction, and like genres themselves, there are many overlaps in sub-genres. If smart science fiction is a sub-genre that Beyer can use to organize his readings and his understanding of science fiction as a whole, then he is welcome to use it. I, on the other hand, will pass.