ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MY TUMBLR, January 2015
Reposted without edits, save navigational issues.
No, I am not referring to the intergalactic horror show that caused the ESRB to declare Combat Evolved an Mature-Rated game without even seeing the gameplay. I referring to the book, Halo: The Flood by William C. Dietz, the novelization of CE.
Interestingly, this is one of Halo’s very few adaptations. For the most part, each story they tell stays within the medium it was first published. Only Combat Evolved, The Fall of Reach, and a few of the short stories from Halo Evolutions, were ever retold in a different medium, and The Flood was the first of these.
This is far from the most popular Halo book, both by critics and within the fandom. On gooodreads.com, the only one in the series with a lower score is Broken Circle, and that could easily be to its more recent release. And many of the criticisms leveled at The Flood are well founded, but it is difficult for me to voice those criticisms because this book, my own copy falling apart at the seams, was the very first piece of Halo lore I had ever owned.
In previous discussions about my entry into the Halo franchise, I had not give The Flood its due credit. It was not my introduction to Halo, but it was my initial immersion. On our way to a family gathering halfway across the country, my parents, brothers, and I were waiting for our connecting flight. Being the bookworm that high school GreenReticule was, I found time to kill in the airport bookstore and there I located this book. Having already heard the basic of the plot, I purchased it and let it sit in my backpack as I finished up my current read (some Fantastic Four novel, I believe).
However, the moment that book was complete, I cracked open The Flood, and Mr. Dietz introduced me into a world that was filled with wonders, delights, and horrors. And it was more than that; Dietz did more than introduce me into this world, he welcomed me into it and established many themes and ideas that would become relevant to the franchise in years to come.
The Flood is not without its canonical issues, such as Keyes, chosen by Halsey to assist with the selection of S-II candidates for his ability to keep a secret, spills the beans about the program rather unceremoniously to Major Silva. Nevertheless, The Flood introduces many themes, ideas, and even characterizations that are continued and built upon (or that enhance) future canon. (i will be focusing on the 2003 edition of the book, and not reviewing the added content from 2010).
Human connection for Forerunner technology – this is shown in the game, with the Halo Ring requiring a Reclaimer’s activation – but The Flood takes it a step further with the idea of intuitive use of the Forerunner technology. This excerpt is from when John activates the light bridge when rescuing Marines in the downed lifeboats
“He stopped at the source of the light, a pair of small, glowing orbs hung suspended above a roughly rectangular frame of blue matte metal. Floating within the frame were a series of pulsing, shifting displays – semitransparent, like Cortana’s holographic appearance, though there was no visible projection device. The display’s shimmering geometric patterns nagged at him, as if he should recognize them somehow. Even with his enhanced memory, he couldn’t place where he’d seen them before. They just seemed…familiar.
“He reached a finger to one of the symbols, a blue-green circle. The Spartan expected his finger to pass through nothing more than air. He was surprised when his finger met resistance – and the panel lights began to pulse more quickly.
“‘What did you do?’ Cortana asked, her voice alarmed. ‘I’m detecting an energy spike.’
‘I… don’t know,’ the Spartan admitted. He wasn’t sure why he touched the ‘button’ on display. He just knew it felt right.
[Cortana asked], ‘ How did you know what control to push?’
‘I didn’t. Let’s get the hell out of here.’”
-The Flood, pg 84-85 (emphasis mine)
This idea to me seems like the precusor to the idea of the geas utilized in later canon. Humanity’s genes are programed and John-117 in particular is considered the pinnacle of the Librarian’s planning (alongside Cortana). What I think is also important to note is that after this instance, the rest of the “Halo” level from Combat is brushed over two pages. This particular interaction with the control panel from the cutscene is not only included, but expanded upon. Now The Flood isn’t the sole provider of this intuitive interaction with Forerunner technology, but it is one of the first, being the third piece of lore ever produced in the Halo franchise.
This is also the first instance in canon that we get to see things from the Covenant perspective, a glimpse of what we would witness in Halo 2. And in fact I would call the Unggoy Yayap the precursor to Thel ‘Vadamee.
Both begin with their actions in battle drawing unwanted attention from their superiors. For Thel, it’s condemnation and a demotion to a rank that’s guaranteed to result in his death. For Yayap, it’s praise and a promotion to a rank that’s guaranteed to result in his death. And both have the Master Chief to thank for it. Both are trapped in those situations by the heirarchical structure of the Covenant, a system with they both eventually turn from, for the greater good or just for their own sake. Another very small parallel is that they both share the penultimate scenes of their game or book. In Halo 2, Thel is seen alongside Miranda Keyes and Johnson before it cuts to Earth and the Master Chief. In The Flood, Yayap turns to watch the Pillar of Autumn explode before it cuts to Chief and Cortana in the longsword.
One of the most interesting things to me is the fact that a sympathetic Unggoy and a sympathetic Arbiter would be the first major steps to introducing the complexity and deception of the Covenant. While the relationship of the Grunt Rebellion and the rank of Arbiter would be introduced a year later and explored another ten years on, it’s a strange relationship, both in meta and canon. In fact, three out of the four in the Master Chief saga, your first combatants are always a combination of Unggoy and Sangheili. While I am unable to completely voice my fascination with this relationship between the species, it certainly adds to my excitement regarding the parallels between Yayap and Thel ‘Vadamee.
There are plenty of other instances showing the relationships between the Covenant races – the arrogance of the Sangheili, the Kig-Yar and Unggoy feud, and even some of the blossoming tension between the Sangheili and San’Shyuum. And even though many people like to point at the different Sangheilis’ clear breaching of honor on multiple occasions, it is shown later on in canon that “honor” is a flexible concept among the species.
Another frustration among many people is the mischaracterization of John in this novel. I’m sure there are valid points, but here are some things that I’ve seen utilized in later canon or lauded by the fandom.
One point that I’ve heard as a complaint leveled against Halo 3 is that we don’t get to see John’s fear of the Flood, particularily when he charges into High Charity after Cortana. Where was that fear introduced? Why it was in the appropriately-named novel!
“His shield dropped away from the force of the blow, which allowed an infection form to land on his visor.
“Even as he staggered under the impact, and pawed at the slick body, a penetrator punched its way through his neck seal, located his bare skin, and sliced it open.
“The Spartan gave a cry of pain, felt the tentacle slide down toward his spine, and knew it was over.”
-The Flood, pg 323.
“The Engine Room hatch opened, an infection form went for the Master Chief’s face, and he fired a quarter of a clip into it. A lot more bullets than the target required, but the memory of how the penetrator had slipped in under the surface of his skin was still fresh in his mind…”
-The Flood, pg 327
Another piece of character used and loved is the dry wit that John and Cortana use to interact with each other. Even being an early installment in the series, The Flood is not the first to use this, but as it is really the first time we get to see them as partners. In The Fall of Reach, it is only towards the end that John and Cortana find themselves in a partnership, and in Combat Evolved, their interactions are rather one-sided as John does not talk in-game. In The Flood, we get a delightful array of responses and interactions both with Cortana, and with the soldiers surrounding him, which leads me to my next point: John’s empathy.
Cortnan made an excellent post about this, which dendritic-trees expanded on; John is a very empathetic person and we do get a demonstration of that here. He thinks he’s the last Spartan alive, and still defends his S-II brothers and sisters to a superior officer (a precusor to his defiance of Del Rio). He stops in the middle of the Library to retrieve dog tags and give a small eulogy to a fallen soldier. He was in denial that Keyes could be part of the Flood. And when he and Cortana are all that’s left, he thinks specifically of McKay, Foehammer, and Keyes, taking a moment to mourn their deaths.
ALSO! COMPARE THIS:
“He was floating in the never-never land somewhere between cryo and full consciousness when the dream began.
“It was a familiar dream, a pleasant dream, and one which had nothing to do with war. He was on Eridanus II – the colony world he’d been born on, long destroyed by the Covenant. He heard laughter all around.
“A female voice called him by name – John. A moment later, arms held him, and he recognized the familiar scent of soap. The woman said something nice to him, and he wanted to say something nice in return, but the words wouldn’t come. He tried to see her, tried to penetrate the haze that obscured her face, and was rewarded with the image of a woman with large eyes, a straight nose, and full lips.
“The picture wavered, indistinct, like a reflection in a pond. In an eyeblink, the woman who held him transformed. Now she had dark hair, piercing blue eyes, and pale skin.
“He knew her name: Dr. Halsey.
“Dr. Catherine Halsey had selected him for the SPARTAN-II project. While most people believed that the current generation of Spartans had been culled from the best of the UNSC military, only a handful of people knew the truth.
“Halsey’s program involved the actual abduction of specially-screened children. The children were flash-cloned – which made duplicates prone to neurological disorders – and the clones covertly returned to the parents who never suspected that their sons and daughters were duplicates. In many ways, Dr. Halsey was the only ‘mother’ that he had ever known.
“But Dr. Halsey wasn’t his mother, nor was the pale semi-translucent image of Cortana that appeared to replace her.
“The dream changed. A dark nebulous shape loomed behind the Mother/Halsey/Cortana figure. He didn’t know what it was, but it was a threat – of that he was certain.
“His combat instincts kicked in, and adrenaline coursed through him. He quickly surveyed the area – some kind of playground, with high wooden poles, distantly familiar – and decided the best route was to flank the new threat. He spied an assault rifle, a powerful MA5B, nearby. If he placed himself between the woman and the threat, his armor could take the brunt of an attack, and he could return fire.
“He moved quickly, and the dark shape howled at him – a fierce and terrifying war cry.
“The beast was impossibly fast. It was on him in seconds.
“He grabbed the assault rifle and turned to open fire – and discovered to his horror that he couldn’t lift the weapon. His arms were small, undeveloped. His armor was gone, and his body was that of a six-year-old child.
“He was powerless in the face of the threat. He roared back at the beast in rage and fear – not angry just at the threat, but at his own sudden powerlessness…”
-The Flood, pg 17-19
And tell me that there aren’t any parallels!
In fact, using similar visuals to John’s dream for this Halo 4 trailer changes what Dietz wrote back in 2003 into foreshadowing. John’s sudden inability to protect this dream-figure of which Cortana was a part, foreshadows his inability to rescue her from her rampancy and her eventual self-sacrifice.
Overall my point is that The Flood has a lot to offer the Haloverse and started a great many trends that we know and love in the franchise today.
And since I started this post on a personal note, I will end it the same way.
A WELCOMING GESTURE
This one is the most important to me on a personal level.
Halo is known stereotypically as a “dudebro” franchise; and the idea of “dudebro” franchises generally means that it’s unwelcoming to the ladies. After all, what’s more manly than a manly man in manly armor with a manly gravelly voice shooting up aliens (in a manly fashion)? You don’t want the chicks to pop in and screw it up with their drama and romance. (yes, a very shallow view of john, halo, men, and women, but that’s what it can look like when you’re peeking in from the outside and interacting with certain people. !stereotypes! *jazz hands*)
Furthermore, science fiction in general has a general lack of powerful ladies as viewpoint characters. I had always loved science fiction, but they were all men’s stories. Transformers film had Mikaela, but she never got to do that much beyond looking pretty. The Matrix had Trinity, the Oracle, and the other lady, but one of them died and the other two felt mainly used to reaffirm Neo’s destiny. Even Asimov’s robot stories, of which I was very fond, was Susan Calvin as the odd-one-out in a man’s world. As I never related very much to Dr. Calvin, I never really emotionally connected to the stories. Star Wars, with Padme and Leia and all those background ladies, was the closest I got to self-immersion.
Then I read The Flood. Right off the bat, I was introduced to Cortana, Flight Captain Carol Rawley (Foehammer), and Lt. Melissa McKay, all three of which were major players and viewpoint characters throughout the book. And they weren’t alone – Keyes’ bridge crew consisted of Ensign Ellen Dowski and Lt. Aki Hikowa, and the Chief Engineer was Gail Purdy, and countless smaller roles scattered throughout.
In fact, my first self-insertion fantasies about Halo all those years back revolved very much around Rawley and McKay being my mentors. It was because of them (McKay in particular) that I began connecting to the Master Chief and the Halo series as a whole.
Background and foreground characters. Being a woman was normal, not an exception, here in the UNSC military, and they ranged towards all personalities and ranks. There were no sexist remarks regarding them, no special treatment, no need to prove their worth. They were equals. And with this inclusion of women playing major parts, winning major victories, or causing major defeats, I was told that I women were important here.
I was told that I was welcome here.