Mark Terry

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Your Reading Radar: "HALO: The Cole Protocol" by Tobias S. Buckell

January 19, 2009
My friend Toby Buckell, who writes SF of his own flavor, picked up the enviable gig of writing a tie-in novel for the HALO video game series. The book jumped up onto the New York Times Bestseller Lists. I haven't asked Toby--it's probably none of my business--if he gets royalties for that. The reason I would ask is because in many cases involving tie-ins, the writer gets a flat fee and no royalties, which would sort of suck if you got $10,000 to write the book and it sold a million copies.

Anyway, my son bought me the book for my birthday (I had expressed an interest). Had Toby not written it I doubt if I would have had any interest in the book. I was aware of HALO 3 (though not the earlier game versions), but the game systems in our house are Playstation 2 and Wii, not XBox. My sons had a chance to play the game with my nephew so they were fairly familiar with the HALO world.

Just a note about tie-ins and my own biases. I'm slowly accepting that TV, film and videogame (as well as other) tie-ins are improving significantly as very good writers are getting chosen to write them and the publishers seem to be giving the writer's the option of deepening the stories. In the past, so many tie-ins seemed anemic because the writers had to stick to the script so closely. Also, as those of us with children have noted, many of the books for children based on TV shows or movies (Disney is awful about this) just plain suck. They seem like they were written by a high school intern in the marketing department over the weekend. That said, I think that's changed a lot.

So, did I like the book? Yes. It's hard military sci-fi. The Cole Protocol refers to a military order that requires all ships that are under attack by the bad guys (The Covenant) to destroy all navigation data that might lead The Covenant back to Earth. The UNSC (space command, essentially) has also sent out a Spartan Gray Team and a bunch of marines to track down any errant navigation data and destroy it.

Meanwhile, there are plots and subplots. There are bad guys, the Sangheili (or Elites) which are sort of like the aliens from Alien if they were Klingons (boy, is that confusing, huh?). That is to say, they're sort of lizard/insect-like, but they have this warrior culture. There are Kig-yar, which are also part of The Covenant...

Frankly, I'm not even going to try to explain the plot if you're not familiar with HALO. Let's just say it's politically and culturally complex, filled with action and fairly thought-provoking ideas. I thought there was a decent amount of characterization and the politics was very complicated. Even the Spartans, the genetically-enhanced super special forces were given backstory that was interesting, each with differing personalities. The main character is Lieutenant Jacob Keyes, who is a Naval commander back from teaching at the academy, who is given command of a stealth frigate to go out to find out what's going on at an colony that was destroyed by The Covenant. They discover that the survivors have turned an asteroid field into a series of connected habitats dubbed The Rubble and...

My only real complaint comes from my lack of familiarity with the HALO universe. There were a lot of characters and to confuse the issue, we know them by their own species' names like Sangheilli, Kig-Yar, etc., but also what the good guys call them--Jackals, Elites, etc. Sometimes I felt I needed a scorecard to keep everybody straight.

Anyway, I enjoyed it.

Mark Terry


Blogger Tobias S. Buckell said...

Thanks for the review, Mark! Glad you enjoyed.

12:10 PM  
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