Sure, Halo is best known as a series of videogames (and maybe, in the future, a movie...maybe) but the Halo novels are sitting on a shelf at your local bookstore right now, waiting for you to pick them up and read them. The four Halo best-sellers (Halo: The Fall of Reach, Halo: The Flood, Halo: First Strike, and Halo: Ghosts of Onyx) were joined yesterday by a fifth novel set in the Halo universe: Joseph Staten's Halo: Contact Harvest.
We know you can't stick a grenade on words, but the latest Halo novel is very, very cool and manages to capture the immediacy and excitement of Bungie's videogame saga in sentences, as well as providing a interesting subtext for the mayhem. Contact Harvest is set before the first Halo game, and tells the story of humanity's (and Avery Johnson's) first violent run-in with The Covenant.
TheFeed talked to Contact Harvest's author Joseph Staten about all things Halo, and the connection between videogames and Literature, with a capitol "L."
TheFeed: Without giving too much away, Contact Harvest details the first, bloody encounters between humans and The Covenant. We realize it wouldn't make a particularly entertaining videogame or novel, but maybe the two sides could have compromised in some way? Do you think a diplomatic solution could have been arrived at?
Joseph Staten: That's a great question, and I thought a lot about this very issue when I was writing. But unfortunately, no. At least not as far as the Covenant leadership is concerned. When folks read the book, they'll realize just how dangerous humanity's existence is from the Prophets' point-of-view. The beef the Covenant have with us isn't something that can be solved by diplomatic discussion.
TF: Obviously the Halo videogames influence the Halo novels, but has that influence ever gone the other way? Has anything in the novels later appeared in one of the games?
JS: Absolutely. To give one example, we all really liked the treatment of the "Helljumpers" in Eric Nylund's books, and a lot of their traits informed Halo 2's ODSTs.
TF: What details can you reveal about Halo 4? (sorry, had to ask.)
JS: Do you mean the game Bungie is working on with Peter Jackson? It's going great, and we'll reveal more info soon! (sorry, had to give the stock response).
TF: Is it frustrating to write for characters who most players view as inhuman killing machines?
JS: I don't think all our characters fit that description. But I'd say it's more challenging than frustrating. Writing for first person shooters is all about writing "between the bullets," if you know what I mean. You need to be efficient and clever to give players the story – the context – they need. But you don't want to push too hard or they'll reject it.
TF: Capturing the visceral excitement and adrenalin of the Halo videogames in words must be very challenging. How do you get yourself in the "mental space" to be able to write like that? Lots of games of slayer, maybe?
JS: It's funny, but I've found that writing action involves slowing everything down – beating out the moments of, say, a bullet's path to and through a target. My experience with playing Halo 3 (and Slayer games especially) is just how quickly everything goes. Admittedly, I'm old and have my look speed set to three.
TF: We were sort of surprised by some verbiage on the cover of your book reading "This novel is based on a Mature-rated game" Does the idea of warning people about the contents of books creep you out as much as it does us?
JS: Nah, it's the nature of the beast. It didn't affect my writing at all.
TF: The influences and storytelling in the Halo universe are pretty highbrow for a videogame. It's obvious a lot of care goes into the mythology and universe of Halo. Do you think the literary community gives you (and the other authors of the Halo mythology) the credit you deserve?
JS: Hey thanks! Bungie cares a great deal about story. But we're not perfect by any means. It's great to hear kind words about Halo's writing, but it really only serves to remind us just how much we can improve what we do.
TF: What other videogames novels would you like to see?
JS: I'd love to have Tim Schafer write a novel in one of his game's universes.
TF: Will you write a novel based on Portal? Just for us?
JS: Sure! As long as Valve lets me write it from the perspective of the Companion Cube.
TF: Storywise, what games (apart from Halo) do you like/recommend?
JS: Portal for one. It's a master-class in compelling, short-form game narrative. I really enjoyed Bioware's KOTR, and can't wait for Mass Effect. And both ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are excellent examples of contextual storytelling – of just how powerful a story you can weave without saying anything at all.
TF: What books would you recommend to fans of the Halo novels?
JS: Well, I can tell you some of the sci-fi novels I read while working on Halo for the last eight years: Ian Banks' "Culture" series, lots of Robert Heinlein including "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and "A Fire Upon the Deep" and "A Deepness in the Sky" by Vernor Vinge. Really you can't go wrong with any of these. But please read "Contact Harvest" first!