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EXCLUSIVE: 'Halo' Novel Author Speaks

sjohnson
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Posted October 31, 2006 - By Stephen Johnson

Today's not just special because it's Halloween. It's also a red-letter day for gamers as the fourth Halo novel, Ghosts of Onyx, is in bookstores now.

I contacted the book's author, Eric Nylund and got the skinny on the novel, the series, the videogame and all things Halo. Among the interesting tidbits dropped in our interview: Nylund mentioned "Forerunner weapon systems of frightening lethality and flexibility" and, "a new smaller craft, the Black Cat sub-prowler."

Both make an appearance in the novel, but will they show up in Halo 3? We shall see.

TheFeed: How much of the material in your novels was given to you by Bungie?

In the beginning there was a rudimentary story bible (before the first HALO game was released). This contained the at-that-time people, places, and things in the Bungie universe (thanks to Boran, Trautmann, and Zartman for starting this).  There were huge blanks spots however that had to be filled in like John’s personality, where he came from and how he got trained, the missions he went on etc. Along the way I invented a few details about Captain Keyes career, several major battles with the Covenant, and the other Spartans (originally there was only supposed to be John left alive). 

Skipping ahead to GHOSTS OF ONYX, there is now an extensive story bible with about a billion facts and figures to all keep in your head as you’re writing.  The new SPARTAN-IIIs and their struggles, however, are all new.

TheFeed: Are there some aspects of the story where you have more or less leeway?

Bungie gives me a lot of leeway in the novels (rope to hang myself?)  In FALL OF REACH I only had one hard goal to hit: link the end of that story with the start of HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED. Similarly, for FIRST STRIKE I only had two hard story targets: connect the end of HALO 1 to HALO 2. For GHOSTS OF ONYX it’s an entirely different story. There are now the events of three games to consider, three novels, and a storyline that overlaps them all. Again, I had lots of creative leeway...as long as nothing was contradicted and everything synchs up. A stage magician was brought in at one point to help out. I think the fans will have long discussions about dates, and how all the character and places link together.


TheFeed: The literary allusions and storytelling in the Halo Universe are pretty highbrow for a videogame. It’s obvious a lot of care went into the story. Do you think the literary community gives you (and the other authors of the Halo mythology) the respect/credit you deserve? If not, why not?

This would be a great question for Joseph Staten to answer, but in lieu of his viewpoint, I’ll do my best or reply (this is just my personal option, not Bungie’s official stance, btw). I guess the short answer is I don’t care what the literary community thinks. They’re not who I write for. I write for the person who loves HALO, the Spartans, and a rousing epic adventure. If they get more than that from the novels, games, and other related intellectual properties—great! You’re correct in that much effort has been put into creating a deep meaning...but again, it’s for the fans to delve deeper into this aspect and appreciate at their leisure.

TheFeed: What are the biggest challenges to adapting a videogame to a novel?

Well, I’ve never adapted a video game to a novel. Bill Dietz did precisely that however in HALO: THE FLOOD. While Bill did a bang-up job, he faced a paradoxical challenge ( one that I refused to take on, so my hat’s off to him!). First, there is a vocal community of fans that demand slavish faithfulness to the game, and if you put anything different in, they cry: “Hey! That’s not in the game. It’s not canon. This story is bullcrap. I hate it.”  Then there is another vocal group of fans that want much more material than in the game, and if you give them a faithfully reproduced game experience translated directly into prose they cry: “Hey! This is exactly like the game!  What gives?! This story is bullcrap. I hate it.”  

TheFeed: How will the third book differ from the last two?

The timeline of GHOSTS covers events spanning all three previous novels and games, two generation of SPARTANS, and involves many major (living) characters in the HALO universe. It ends several of the story lines that were left dangling at the end of FIRST STRIKE (like what happened to Kelly and Dr. Halsey?), and then opens the door to an entirely new set of stories in the HALO-verse.

TheFeed: Will reading Ghosts of Onyx reveal anything about the plot of the upcoming Halo videogame?

Let me just say that if you read ANY of the HALO books (with the possible exception of THE FLOOD which is a novelization of the first HALO game) it will not spoil your game-playing experience. Bungie has taken great care to design the novels to ADD to the experience—not be mandatory to enjoy or understand what’s going on in the games.

TheFeed: What other authors would you recommend to fans of your Halo novels?
I love the classics. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Space Cadet, and The Moon is s a Harsh Mistress; from Haledman, The Forever War; and some guilty pleasures like  Saberhagen’s Berserker series, Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers, Zahn’s COBRA series, and a personal favorite—Steve Perry’s Matador (The Man Who Never Missed) Trilogy. ...And of course, *ahem* the upcoming novels from Nylund!

TheFeed: Weapons and vehicles are obviously a huge part of the Halo gameplay experience. Were you interested, and did you create any new vehicles or weapons for the story? Or conversely, are there new weapons and or new vehicles from Halo 3 referenced in the book?

I leave most of the game-level stuff to the minds at Bungie (Robert McLees has an amazing knowledge of guns, btw). But yes, there are new weapons and vehicles in GHOSTS: Forerunner weapon systems of frightening lethality and flexibility –and, off the top of my head, a new smaller craft, the Black Cat sub-prowler makes an appearance.

EXCLUSIVE: 'Halo' Novel Author Speaks
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