- A Master Chief Novel (#1)
- Takes place in March 2526
- Published by Titan
- First published in 2018
- Military SF
- 392 pages
Humanity is under assault. An alien aggressor known only as the Covenant sweeps across space, killing all who stand in their way. In desperation, humanity unleashes a new kind of soldier. The Spartan . . .
When I decided to get into the murky world of Halo novels, this is exactly the sort of book I expected to find. Competently told military SF with a hint or two of something grander occurring at the fringes. After the somewhat overwhelming experience of reading Greg bear’s Forerunner Saga, it’s comforting to be back on more familiar ground. Names and concepts I recognise from the game, as well as a name I recognise from elsewhere.
Troy Denning is a big name in the world of tie-in fiction. As a Dungeons & Dragons player, I know him best as the author of The Prism Pentad, a five-part series that introduced readers to the brutal and savage world of Athas and its Dark Sun. But he’s even more well-known for his work in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. From the New Jedi order onwards, Denning was a driving force of a canon that became ever more interconnected, and dealt with darker plots. The Dark Nest trilogy is a classic example of this. So perhaps it’s no surprise to find that so many Halo novels bear his name. He knows how to write within the constraints of an existing universe. He knows how to write action. He isn’t afraid to kill off a character or two. In other words, he’s the perfect choice to commence a military SF saga.
As the name of the series suggests, this book serves as an introduction to the character of Master Chief. Or, as he is known from here on out, John-117. We follow some of his earlier missions, fresh from the Spartan training problem. What I particularly like about Silent Storm is that it acknowledges the moral issues of the Spartans in a way that a first-person shooter was never equipped to do. As is pointed out, Spartans are child soldiers. Yes, they have been engineered to be better soldiers, but experimenting on children hardly makes it right to turn them into killers. Denning doesn’t shy away from that ethical snarl, though in times of war some moral lines must be crossed. There are a fair few meetings in this book where that exact discussion is had, and the novel is the stronger for it.
Most of what we get though, is a hefty does of action. This is military SF, after all. Denning does a great job of turning the frantic shootouts of the game into good literature, with well-written action scenes and excellently-paced military engagements. It’s not just a shoot-’em-up, however. There’s intrigue too. Silent Storm takes place a short time into the war between humanity and the Covenant, and here we get to see the fractures showing on both sides. There are human enemies for the first time, and the infighting amongst the Covenant foreshadows the main series of games. One of the best plotline sin the whole book is John and the team trying to uncover the identity of a human traitor. Nuance that wasn’t always there in the games. A lot of this is laying the foundations for the rest of the series, but it’s off to an impressively steady start.
Honestly, if this is the benchmark for the Halo universe, I’m in for a grand few months of reading.
Deeper Dive: The Man Behind the Mask
Like a lot of first-person shooters, Halo is light on characterisation for its lead. Master Chief essentially exists as a pair of hands to hold your guns as you blast through alien hordes. He has very little dialogue beyond standard tough-guy assertions that he’ll get the job done. Famously, his face is never seen in the games.
This essentially leaves John-117 as a blank slate for Denning to fill in. In this early stage of his life, he’s far less certain of himself, but is still the archetypally strong and silent type. The dialogue feels genuine, and I have no problem believing this is the same man I spent a dozen hours controlling with a mouse and keyboard. Master Chief is the monkey’s paw of tie-in characters. Complete carte blanche of characterisation, but with the knowledge that everyone likely has their own idea of what master Chief is like as a man, likely imposing their own thoughts and assumptions onto the game avatar. I think Denning handles it well, deepening the character, and never cheapening them. Cleverly, though, he never does describe what John-117 looks like.
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