- Composed of 3 Novels: Cryptum, Primordium, and Silentium.
- Released between 2011 and 2013
- Set approximately 100,000 years before the events of Halo
The name Greg Bear looms large over the science fiction landscape. Prior to his death at the end of last year (2022), Bear wrote dozens of books across a number of genres. He’s probably most famous for his work in the field of Hard SF, with books like Blood Music and Eon. Proper, crunchy science fiction. The sort with ideas the size of galaxies. Books that won everything from the Nebula to the Hugo. My own experience with him comes from just two books. Foundation and Chaos, an authorised Asimov sequel, and Rogue Planet, a part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The former was a good read, while I’ve forgotten almost everything about the latter. Rogue Planet is, however, a significant book. Here is an award-winning author of science fiction, writing a tie-in novel. Yes, a tie-in. That little corner of genre fiction that even sci-fi readers often turn their nose up at. Clearly, Greg Bear was fully aware that tie-in novels can be just as bold and imaginative as original works. Which is likely why he accepted the contract leading to the creation of The Forerunner Saga.
The Forerunner Saga is essentially the origin story of the Halo universe. It’s set so far in the past that it has only the odd direct connection to the original games, but at the same time it is so reliant on being invested in the lore of the setting that I can’t see it making any sense if you haven’t played the games beforehand. Despite pulling in a household name to write the things, I honestly don’t see an audience for these book beyond those existing fans of the series. That’s not quite the criticism it sounds, I should stress. It is absolutely fine to create a thing specifically for fans of the thing. But if you’re unfamiliar with Halo and looking for a place to start with Greg Bear’s writing, this is not the series you should be looking at.
Even for someone who has played the games (such as myself) The Forerunner Saga hits like a wave of information. We start off with confirmation that, yes, humans used to travel the stars. Then there was a war with the Forerunners. There was also another species called the Precursors. Great figures such as the Librarian, the Didact, and the Juridicials came to prominence. Halos were built. The Flood threatened everyone. There was a great debate over what the Mantle was, and how it should be used.
If you think that’s a lot of Proper Nouns, you’d be right. And I’ve barely even scratched the surface. Every word has significance in some way, and I understood about half of it. The only human characters are prehistoric figures (including one from a now-extinct Hobbit species ripped straight from our own weird history), with just about everyone else being a Forerunner of some shape and form. It can be hard to put the pieces together at times, as this prequel series doesn’t simply explain the history of the universe, it expands it at just about every opportunity. Particularly during the second novel Primordium, I was absolutely lost as to what was happening, let alone why it was happening. These are slim books, but there is an awful lot packed into them. So much that it spills at the edges.
What I have no qualms about is Bear’s writing. Like all the best Hard SF authors, he has a gift for communication. The sentences just flow by. Even when I can’t picture anything that’s happening, the prose is never the problem. It is an absolute joy to read. The structuring of these books is also remarkable. Silentium is told as a series of reconstructed flashbacks from a number of viewpoints, but it’s always clear who is speaking. No mean feat when there are that many characters across a large period of time. Obviously, some of the worldbuilding I struggled with was also Bear’s innovation, but I will not quibble with his actual writing. Simple when it needs to be, rich when it should be, and always clear and to the point.
I don’t expect the rest of the Halo universe to be in the same vein as these books. indeed, I’m hoping it takes a more military SF approach once we start seeing more familiar faces, but as introductions go, The Forerunner Saga is certainly something to remember. It’s very much a case of being thrown in at the deep end, but I know I’ll be continuing with the Halo universe and Greg bear’s original works with equal enthusiasm.
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