Halo: Contact Harvest
|Genre||Military science fiction|
|Published||October 30, 2007 (Tor)|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Halo: Ghosts of Onyx|
|Followed by||Halo: The Cole Protocol|
Halo: Contact Harvest is a military science fiction novel by Joseph Staten, based on the Halo series of video games. The book was released in October 2007 and is the fifth Halo novel, following 2006's Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, written by Eric Nylund. Staten is a longtime employee of Bungie, the developer of the Halo video game series; he directed the cut scenes in the video games and is a major contributor to Halo's storyline. He set out to write a novel that appealed to gamers, as well as those who had never read a Halo novel.
Set in 2525, twenty-seven years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, the novel tells the story of the United Nations Space Command's first encounter with the alien collective known as the Covenant on the colony world of Harvest, and the beginning of the long war that follows. The novel is an ensemble piece, with the action being narrated from both human and Covenant viewpoints. The protagonist is a young Marine, Staff Sergeant Avery Johnson, who also appears in the Halo video games. Upon release, the book was generally well received and became The New York Times bestseller in its first week. Critics pointed to the novel's success as a sign of the increasing importance of story in video games.
According to Staten, Tor Books asked Bungie if they had someone suited to writing the next novel; Staten, having written much of the Halo series canon, was the obvious choice. The author found that the book was the perfect way to elaborate on the Halo story without stripping it down for a video game: "I always felt we shortchanged [the player]. We don't have a lot of time to tell story while the bullets are flying." In addition, Staten said that the novel was the perfect way to do the character of Sergeant Johnson—who had appeared somewhat one-dimensional in the games—proper justice as a well-rounded character. Replying to G4TV's question about writing action, Staten replied that he felt that writing "involves slowing things down", in comparison to a game of Halo. The author also said that the work of his favorite science-fiction authors helped teach him the importance of honing a "strong, consistent voice".
Originally, the novel was due to ship before the September 25 release of Halo 3; Staten stated that due to his involvement with both projects, the novel slipped behind. He also emphasized that he hoped Contact Harvest was a good novel, not just a good Halo novel; "... someone who isn't a Halo fan – someone who hasn't read any of the previous novels – will be able to pick up Contact Harvest and enjoy the read".
This focus on accuracy was a challenge for Staten, as he believes his audience is highly intelligent, willing, and able to report flaws; fellow Bungie employees cross-referenced his drafts with the "Halo Story Bible" to ensure canonical agreement. One example of fans taking Staten to task over the novel occurred soon after the novel's cover was revealed in July 2007. The cover depicts the protagonist, Sergeant Avery Johnson holding a weapon known as the Battle Rifle. As the weapon was first introduced in the video game Halo 2 and the events of Contact Harvest take place decades before the game, fans were quick to say that Staten had made a mistake. Staten later pointed out he had good reasons for including the offending weapon in the book, and justified the inclusion by stating that the weapon is a prototypical form of the version players use in the game.
Setting and characters
Contact Harvest takes place in the year 2524 of the Halo universe, where faster-than-light technology has allowed humanity to spread across the galaxy, founding new colonies administrated by the United Nations Space Command, or UNSC. The wealthier "Inner" colonies are politically dominant over the more recently established outer colonies, although the older planets rely on the new worlds for raw materials. Tensions lead to unrest and outright rebellion, with radical members of the outer colonies known as "Insurrectionists" launching terrorist attacks on the UNSC in a bid for independence.
Contact Harvest features several characters seen previously in the video games as well as new characters. The protagonist is Avery Johnson, a Marine who is sent to the colony of Harvest to deal with suspected Insurrectionist activity; Johnson had previously appeared in the video game Halo: Combat Evolved and its sequels, as well as the novel Halo: First Strike. A side character is Wallace Jenkins, a hapless Marine who is assimilated by the parasitic Flood in Halo: Combat Evolved and plays an important role in the novelization of the game, Halo: The Flood. Contact Harvest also illuminates the origins of several alien Covenant characters who play important roles in the video games, such as the Brute Chieftain Tartarus and the three Prophet Hierarchs, Truth, Mercy, and Regret.
Humanity has spread across the galaxy, and the outer colony "Harvest" is one of the most remote. Although Harvest itself is only one-third the size of Earth, its fertile surface serves as the breadbasket for the other colonies. The United Nations Space Command Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) notices strange disappearances of human ships around Harvest, and assumes that Insurrectionists are attacking the vessels. ONI pulls Staff Sergeants Avery Johnson and Nolan Byrne from the frontlines of the civil war to raise a militia to protect Harvest. The disappearances are revealed to be alien Kig-Yar vessels intercepting the ships in their search for relics left by the Forerunners, an ancient race sacred to the Kig-Yar and other members of the Covenant. Members of the vessel are shocked to discover that their instruments indicates hundreds of thousands of Forerunner relics on the planet of Harvest. A Covenant Unggoy Deacon named Dadab is alarmed when he realizes the Kig-Yar shipmistress intends to steal a portion of the relics for herself, starting with relics leaving the planet on a human cargo ship. The ship is actually a trap set by the humans, with Johnson and Byrne on board. Johnson and Byrne kill several of the Covenant boarding party when they enter the cargo ship, which is later destroyed by a methane explosion. Dadab and his Huragok friend, Lighter than Some, escape the blast and are picked up by a Covenant ship crewed by Jiralhanae. These agents, led by their chieftain Maccabeus, have been ordered to confirm the presence of the relics; despite the reservations of his nephew, Tartarus, Maccabeus agrees to parley with the humans on Harvest. In the midst of the meeting in Harvest's gardens, the Covenant begin a firefight and the peace talks are shattered.
On the Covenant holy city of High Charity, two San 'Shyuum, the Minister of Fortitude and the Vice-Minister of Tranquility, plot to take the place of the three Prophet Hierarchs currently leading the Covenant. They visit the old, supposedly senile Philologist for blessings and advice, seeking a third San 'Shyuum to help them usurp the throne. As Tranquility and Fortitude are meeting with the Philologist, the "Oracle", a Forerunner A.I. named Mendicant Bias, suddenly awakens from eons of dormancy. Mendicant Bias informs the San 'Shyuum that the "Forerunner artifacts" found at Harvest are actually the A.I.'s "makers", living Forerunners—meaning that the humans themselves are the descendants of the Covenant's gods, and that all the Covenant's writings are false. The Minister of Fortitude realizes that the truth must never be revealed, as this revelation would tear the Covenant apart. Instead, Fortitude, Tranquility, and the Philologist plot to quickly take the throne so they can exterminate the "reclaimers".
Back on Harvest, Johnson and his squad of militia are heavily out-manned and out-gunned. Maccabeus is ordered to "glass" the planet from space, but disobeys and launches a ground assault in an effort to recover the "relics". The human militia tries to keep the aliens busy while evacuating the civilians from the planet; this requires Johnson and his team to board an orbital platform controlled by Dadab and his troops. Tartarus challenges Maccabeus for control of the Jiralhanae pack, killing his uncle and becoming the next leader. Lighter than Some is killed by Tartarus' troops, and Dadab goes off to kill those he believes are responsible. As his weapon only has one more shot left, Dadab searches for Tartarus, who is fighting Johnson. Dadab destroys Tartarus' shield, and the enraged Brute kills the deacon. Wallace Jenkins, a young militia member that had lost his family in the battle, attempts to finish Tartarus off, but the alien escapes. The human civilians and survivors of Harvest successfully evacuate the planet on hundreds of freighters, while on High Charity, the Minister of Fortitude, Tranquility, and The Philologist become the new Prophet Hierarchs. They take the names Truth, Regret, and Mercy, declaring a new age for the Covenant has begun, and that the humans must be annihilated for their crimes.
Upon release, Contact Harvest debuted at #7 on The New York Times Best Sellers list; it remained on the list for four more weeks. The novel also appeared on the USA Today bestseller's list at the same time. Reviewers noted that despite being an unproven writer, Staten had succeeded in crafting an excellent novel; complaints included the perceived overly descriptive prose and use of military jargon. In response to the success of the novel, Will Tuttel of Gamespy.com said that "it makes sense" because videogames are increasingly about the story. A ten-CD audiobook was later released, featuring the voices of Holter Graham and Jen Taylor; Publishers Weekly enjoyed Graham's performance, but felt Taylor's over-emphasis and [sic]cheesy dialects detracted from the tension of the novel.
Contact Harvest's success was surprising to some. On January 8, 2008, National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" segment ran a story in which the Chana Joffe asked Staten if gamers read and acting surprised that Halo had a story. Several writers covering the story believed that the "All Things Considered" piece was biased against gamers and insulting. Scott Siegel of Joystiq, in particular, railed against interviewer Chana Joffe, saying that she "takes unfair jabs at video game fans".
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