ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE OLD HALO ARCHIVE, MARCH 2015
Reposted without edits, save navigational issues.
Review and analysis of Halo: The Flood by William C. Dietz
The Flood (The Definitive Edition) by William C. Dietz
Here lie the events that will change the universe as we know it. This novel not only chronicles the events of Combat Evolved but also fills in details of the characters on the fringes of Master Chief’s story and gives us our first look into Covenant society.
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.
The Flood is an event-driven story. Scenes transition from one to another based on when an event starts or ends, as opposed to a character point or development. This is not to say that The Flood is lacking in character. Within chapter one, we are introduced to almost all our main characters, each of them with a different voice than the other. The best indication of this is Lt. Melissa McKay and Flight Officer Cpt. Carol “Foehammer” Rawley.
There is a tendency in fiction to write every female of an occupation the same way, especially military women. The Flood however creates strong distinctions between McKay and Rawley within their introductory scenes. They both are leaders, in rank and personality. Rawley is the one to make the plan to get out of the Autumn with Pelicans. McKay enters her drop pod last to ensure her men have all made it into theirs. Rawley is quick to think ahead in terms of events – if people make it down to the Halo ring alive, they’ll need transport. McKay is quick to understand a person and their intentions – the chatter of the medic is to keep her mind off the fallen. McKay’s lines and thoughts would feel foreign in a Rawley-centered portion of the novel and vice versa.
This extends to all other characters too, regardless of gender. This makes The Flood, despite being an event-driven story, imbued with a level of humanity even in the alien characters. It also makes for strong interactions between the different players in the story as differing personalities compliment or clash.
I mentioned the dullness of the action sequences above, and I do believe that is another results of the confines of a media transfer. Unlike Fall of Reach, where Nylund had the benefit of having multiple Spartans and thus adding a sort of dialogue to the fight scenes, Dietz’s Chief consistently has to work on his own. Yet Dietz is able to make the battles outside of the campaign rich with this action-dialogue, and even a few along Chief’s story as well.
What I mean by “action-dialogue” may require some explanation. I don’t mean that there is talking between the opposing parties ala The Princess Bride, but that can be a part of it. Normal dialogue in a story, well-written dialogue, does two things. One it advances the plot, but it also reveals an aspect about the characters involved, by the way they gesture or say something or don’t say something. Action-dialogue is the same. It’s more than a spectacle or the advancement of the plot, but rather helps define who these characters or parties are. When given freedom to do so, Dietz excels at this and it helps that the characters are already so strongly defined. The raid on Alpha Base by the Covenant in particular is exquisite. Between McKay’s quick thinking, ‘Zamamee’s single-minded pursuit, and Yayap’s desperation, we are given a vivid picture of the entire battle.
If I could describe Dietz’ writing style in one word, it would be “visceral;” relating to instinctual, gut feelings. This isn’t to say that the characters don’t use their intellect – military strategy abounds in the novel – but great effort and thought is given to the emotions behind those reasoning. These can range from a joke…
“‘You just want to raid the ship’s commissary,’ McKay said, referring to the Platoon Leader’s well-known addiction to chocolate.” (Flood, pp130).
…to motivations foretelling of dire consequences.
“It was then, as McKay looked into the other officer’s half-lit face, that she realized the extent to which raw ambition motivated her superior’s actions, and knew that even if his wildest dreams were to come true, she wouldn’t want any part of the glory that Silva sought. Just getting some Marines home alive – that would be reward enough for her.” (Flood, pp 335).
“Visceral” also applies to the description of gore that would give Crichton’s Jurassic Park a run for its money. Casual references to entrails, dismemberment, brain splatters, and this simile that gave me a double-take – “Covenant troops emerged like maggots spilling out of a rotting corpse.” (Flood, pp 91) – are everywhere. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but here in The Flood, it works. It works because of, well, the Flood.
The Flood, the creature/plague, not the book, works as horror on three levels: intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Silentium and Human Weakness provide the former two respectively, and The Flood provides the third.
From a physical standpoint, people are horrified by what could hurt them. A number of my friends squirmed uncomfortably throughout District 9, with the hand-chopping scene causing particular distress for one of them. Another friend doesn’t mind the over-the-top violence but rather winces at things he might personally encounter, like a slit palm. The Flood and The Flood is entrenched in these sorts of horrors.
Intestines on the battlefield are bad enough, but Dietz’ capability to describe what different people are going through physically when they are consumed by the Flood is a step up, as it should be. This plague, parasite, ancient hunger, changes everything upon its arrival. Whatever horrors the UNSC and Covenant have faced before needs to pale. And between the experiences of Jenkins and Keyes, and the emotional devastation faced by McKay, Dietz’ writing style pays off spectacularly.
The Flood is easily a Military SF and Alien & Alien Invasion story, and of course the titular alien parasite makes this a perfect Genreblend of SF Horror. In fact Genreflecting lists two books in this sub-genre that deal with supernatural plagues – a common thread in SF Horror games in particular.
Halo as a whole is also considered by Genreflecting to be an Expanded Universe, a “media franchise that is extended with other media (generally comics and original novels).” The Flood was Bungie’s second excursion in this direction and makes for the perfect talking point about the purpose of an Expanded Universe.
I hold that there are two reasons for expansion into other media. Expanded Universes are good ways to keep fans involved during the hiatus between games or films. 343 Industries has released four novels in the space between Halo 4 (2012) and Halo 5 (Fall 2015), as well as the graphic novel Initiation and the ongoing Escalation, and plans to release four novels more by the end of this year. And already we have been delightfully speculating on what these mean. Will Buck be in Halo 5? Will the return to the Ark in Hunters in the Dark confirm the Ark Theory [x]? Face it, we’ve all been making grabby hands since GrimBrotherOne posted that issue of Cannon Fodder [x].
Secondly, Expanded Universes are a good way to introduce new fans to a franchise. Being a franchise built solely on games is certainly a lucrative business. Gaming is becoming a universal pastime in the US, so there won’t be a lack of consumers. However branching out into other media allows participation from others who either don’t own the console or don’t enjoy that genre of video games.
I was among those “others,” both sides. There was no Xbox in my house and I could not get a hang of the joysticks for any FPS game. So it was through this book that I first stepped into the Halo Universe and never looked back. Fall of Reach was almost the story that was, but I chose not to read it because I figured that without playing the games, I would miss the context of the universe and be unable to connect with the story. I may or may not have been right, and I’m certain there are some lifelong fans who got their first taste in Fall of Reach or any of the other novels, but due to personal experience The Flood stands out to me as the outreach book for the franchise.
The Flood gave me similar grounds of interaction as the game fans. While the experience of reading is far different from the experience of playing, I still got to be thrilled by the mystery of Halo and shocked by the horrors of the Flood. I was able to share pieces of my journey with my brothers, who had played the game and never read the book. The moment I started on First Strike, that similar ground was gone. So I treasure this root, this overlap between the games and books, because I got to start my story in the same place as those first players in 2001.
One of the difficulties encountered Expanded Universes is continuity. With so many different mediums and creators of those mediums, there’s bound to be discrepancy between two pieces. With the re-releases of Fall of Reach, The Flood, and First Strike, 343 Industries not only added the Adjuncts with more detailed information, but also edited some outdated information that is no longer applicable to the canon. In Fall of Reach, Elites are no longer first encountered at the titular planet but are acknowledged to have been a part of military engagements for some time. The Flood takes this one step farther, not only by updating outdated information, but changing a line in order to better connect the universe as a whole.
“‘Proceed,’ ‘Zamamee said. “You know what to do. Turn on the stealth generators, check your weapons, and remember this moment. This battle, this victory, will be woven into your family’s battle poem, and sung by generations to come.’” (Flood , pp 210 ).
This was the line from the original release of the novel, and it contradicts no current canon. Battle hymns and poems are mentioned elsewhere in the universe, so there was no need to alter this line to fix the continuity. Yet they did. Here is the reprint:
“‘Proceed,’ ‘Zamamee said. “You know what to do. Turn on the stealth generators, check your weapons, and remember this moment. This battle, this victory, will be carved onto your family’s Saga wall, and recited by generations to come.’”(Flood , pp 234, emboldening mine).
The notion of Elites having family Sagas etched on keep walls would be introduced five years after the original printing in 2003 in The Cole Protocol. Having an update here in the reprint, shows just how committed 343 Industries is to weaving the Halo universe tightly together.
Liked The Flood? Try these books on for a size!
I know I mentioned both of these in my Fall of Reach post but I want to mention them again here: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein and Andromeda’s Fall by William C. Dietz. The Flood is the first time we get a focus on the ODSTs, and I challenge you to read the opening chapter of Starship Troopers and not think “Helljumpers.” Also considering the range of female characters, both continuous and one-off, that Dietz is able to slip into The Flood, imagine what he can do with a book entirely focused on a lady? Actually we don’t have to imagine because Andromeda’s Fall exists. Read it.
For the Flood aspect of it, I would recommend The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan as it deals with a vampiric strain unleashed on New York City, and focuses more on the physical horror of the situation. Genreflecting’s two SF Horror books that I mentioned above are Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear (another writer of Halo novels) and Infected by Scott Sigler.
Want more thoughts on The Flood? Head over to this novel’s installment of “Arbiter Watch,” a defense of The Flood‘s canonical contributions, and an analysis of its protagonist (spoiler alert: it’s not Master Chief).