ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE OLD HALO ARCHIVE, MARCH 2015
Reposted without edits, save navigational issues.
Review and analysis of Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund
Halo has long been a major game changer in the industry. It redefined first person shooters for the console and helped establish online communities through the launch of Xbox Live with Halo 2. The role of Halo within the medium of video games is a widely-discussed topic.
But what of its role in the genre?
Not the first-person shooter genre, but the science fiction genre? Some have called it “archetypical” (x), while others others have compared its cultural impact to Star Wars (x). This reading journal series isn’t designed to give the ultimate answer to the question, but it is designed to give insight into the style of each Halo novel and what sort of story it contributes to the genre of science fiction. I will be using a textbook called Genreflecting to assist me with the latter portion.
I will be going through these books in chronological order of publication, but reading the reprints that added additional content, such as the adjuncts in the Master Chief’s “trilogy” and the short story addendum in Silentium. Graphic novels and short stories are currently not on the reading list.
First up: The Fall of Reach (The Definitive Edition) by Eric Nylund.
A summary of events that follow the creation of the Spartans, key battles in the Human-Covenant War, and of course, the fall of Humanity’s second home.
With a few exceptions, this story is told from the viewpoints of John-117, Catherine Halsey, Jacob Keyes, and Cortana. Nylund places a great deal of emphasis on how the characters think and respond to situations. While in untalented hands this can bog down a story, Nylund is rather deft, using the characters’ perspectives to not only give insight into personality, but to drive the events of the book forward and reveal aspects of the universe.
As a result, 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.
If there is one thing that I can fault Nylund on in his style, it’s repetition. Sometimes it works in his favor. Key points like the ideas mentioned above, for Halsey, John, and Keyes in particular, work well as repetition. It helps to draw you in and realize how much these thoughts weigh on their minds. Other points, not so much.
I lost track of how often “Kelly” and “fast” are mentioned in proximity. For the first part, during their training, I thought the emphasis was perfect, but when John tried on the MJOLNIR armor for the first time and “even the lightning-fast Kelly was impressed” at the speed, I had to roll my eyes a little. The phrase “Even Kelly was impressed” would have just as much weight as it’s been strongly established that she’s the rabbit of the group. Even El-ahrairah would be impressed.
(Watership Down joke? Anyone? No? Okay.)
The easiest Genreflecting category of science fiction to slide Fall of Reach into is Expanded Universe. Halo is even listed right there on page 380. I will be going into more detail with the Expanded Universe category in my post about The Flood. Such a discussion would be fitting here, as Fall of Reach is the first in Halo’s Expanded ‘Verse, but there’s a reason for the postponement.
Genreflecting describes science fiction as a whole as the “literature of self-discovery” where individuals are forced to confront change (Genre, pp 340). This is absolutely true with The Fall of Reach. As mentioned above, this book is a character-driven story. Even if there is no resolution, the characters are still asking questions about who they are and what are they capable of for both good and ill.
Two moments in the Fall of Reach stand out for me with this notion in mind. The first is John’s training exercise of “Ring the Bell.” Initially John fails in this because of what he has believed initially – winning is a solo event. The second time around, after a hard lesson, John discovers who Sam and Kelly are, strong, fast, and friends, and so discovers a portion of himself that defines him for the rest of his life.
The second moment is the change in Keyes’ crew after the completion of the daring “Keyes Loop” at Sigma Octanus. Beforehand, they are merely going through the motions in their duties, keeping the paces with little sincerity or enthusiasm. After their stunning victory, the bridge crew comes alive. Lt. Hall drops pretenses of ambition to give herself to the task at hand, and Lt. Hikowa’s lethargy vanishes into crisp motions and confidence.
Even Frank O’Connor in the “Fore World” foreword of the Definitive Edition makes mention of self-discovery: “Whereas Halo is all about loneliness and exploration, Fall of Reach is about a different kind of journey – that of childhood into adulthood and innocence into war, for both its protagonist and the species he champions.”
There are three other categories of science fiction into which I would place Fall of Reach: Space Opera for the story of “interplanetary or interstellar conflict” (Genre, pp 345), Military SF for the focus on “military strategy, the chain of command [Master Chief does a lot of saluting], and the pressure that technology puts on space-age warriors” (pp 351), and Aliens and Alien Invasions as we learn that our galactic neighbors are “out to get us” (pp 369).
Liked Fall of Reach? Need other reading materials? Let me get you set up.
As I mentioned above, Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein has a similar style of events and character viewpoints. Andromeda’s Fall by William C. Dietz is another with that style, this time with a female protagonist. These and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card are good choices for those who enjoyed the Spartan training portions of this novel.
Looking for space battles complete with tactics? Both the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber and The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell are definitely worth a look. They also take some time to analyze morality in war, if you enjoyed the moments where Halsey really questioned her decisions with the Spartan program.
Also, due to the Fall of Reach be more focused on delivering the events through character eyes than a structured plot, I would recommend looking into some historical nonfiction books.
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman describes life in Nazi-occupied territory through the eyes of a family and their Jewish friends. Genreflecting recommends war titles such as Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, The Good Soldiers by David Finckel, and Valley of Death by Ted Morgan.
Want more thoughts on The Fall of Reach? Head over to the companion series of the reading journals – Arbiter Watch – to track sightings of Thel ‘Vadam(ee) throughout the books.