While Halo: Infinite won't be out until some time next year, fans of the sci-fi first-person shooter series can still enjoy a new adventure with their favorite space soldier. In his new Halo novel, Halo: Shadows Of Reach (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Troy Denning — who's written four previous Halo novels — shows us what Master Chief and Blue Team are up to a year after the end of Halo 5: Guardians. Though how it also connects to Infinite, well...
To begin, what Halo: Shadows Of Reach about? I know it's set a year after the end of Halo 5: Guardians...
Shadows starts out as a simple mission to enter the ruins of CASTLE Base, to recover assets required by Dr. Halsey for a mission of vital importance. Things grow complicated when Blue Team discovers that the Banished have occupied the planet for reasons of their own — and are brutalizing a small colony of rehab pioneers who are just trying to reclaim their home world.
Aside from being about Master Chief, is there any other connections between Halo: Shadows Of Reach and your previous Halo novels?
There are narrative connections from all of my previous books in Shadows. First, of course, there's Blue Team, who have appeared in every story I've written so far (albeit, without John in two of them). And I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Castor, who has appeared in every story except Oblivion, plays a big part in this story. But there are some subtle — and unexpected, I hope — surprises in store for people who enjoyed my books set earlier in the Halo timeline.
And is there any connection to Eric Nylund's novel, Halo: The Fall Of Reach, and thus to the game Halo: Reach that was based on that book?
How could there not be? I don't want to get into spoiler territory but, obviously, Reach's current condition is a direct result of those events, and Shadows is an exploration of what happens to a glassed world. Plus, the mission objection is to enter CASTLE Base.
Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Halo: Shadows Of Reach but not on any of your previous novels, Halo or otherwise?
Ken Follett is always a major influence when I'm writing a war story. I haven't seen him tackle big battle scenes in quite the scope that's necessary in Halo, but nobody does a better job of establishing character and creating suspense in a war setting. I've read all of his books several times, and I've never failed to learn something new.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or games — other than the Halo ones, of course — that had a big influence on Halo: Shadows Of Reach?
The first movies that come to mind are Saving Private Ryan and Hamburger Hill, which portray the horror and scale of modern combat. But a larger influence was probably the news coverage of Operation: Desert Storm. When I was writing some of the battle scenes in Shadows, I would think back to scenes and descriptions from that war to make sure I wasn't underselling the situation. The destructive capacity of modern weaponry is almost unimaginable, and that's where a lot of the stuff described in Halo starts.
Shadows Of Reach was overseen by the good people at 343 Industries, makers of fine Halo products since 2007. Is there any aspect of Shadows that they had a particularly big impact on?
Well, they were the ones who said, "we want to take Blue Team back to Reach."
One of the strange things about being a tie-in writer is that you're often being called on to fill a slot in a larger production program, so it's pretty rare to find yourself working on a concept you've generated from scratch. I've been involved in tie-in work for longer than John spent fighting the Covenant, and I can count on my fingers the number of times I've seen that happen. It's far more common to be approached with a concept, and, then asked to develop a story that fits their parameters. 343 is exceptional in that they are careful to make those parameters as broad as possible (for example, the parameters on Last Light were something like "a story set in 2552"), but they still exist.
As you were writing Halo: Shadows Of Reach, did anyone from 343 say, "We need you to change this in your story...and we can't tell you why?"
Probably the biggest example would be Castor's fate. We had something else in mind for him, but there were elements of it that didn't quite fit his character. I was still trying to work that out when 343 suggested what we finally went with, which worked better for them for a variety of reasons, and I think Castor's fans are going to be very excited about it.
Halo: Shadows Of Reach is your fifth Halo novel. What is it about Halo that you just like writing about so much? Are you a big fan of the games, is it the freedom within the space that 343 give you...?
I enjoy a lot of things about writing Halo. You're right about the freedom 343 gives its authors. Halo novels are diverse in a way that most tie-in properties aren't. By placing such a premium on letting authors write the stories they want to, 343 has created the room for a lot of different voices and story styles. That makes the entire line richer. Not only can I write both military fiction and detective / suspense thrillers in the same universe, I can read stories about space salvagers and aliens coming of age. It gives you the feeling that anything is possible in the Halo universe — and possibility is the key to keeping stories fresh, for both writers and readers.
So, do you think the story you're telling in Halo: Shadows Of Reach could work as a Halo game?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It would make a fantastic first-person shooter and / or strategy game. It's probably the most game-friendly story I've written for Halo.
Finally, if someone enjoys Halo: Shadows Of Reach, which of your other Halo novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
I think the natural books to read would be Silent Storm and Oblivion, particularly if they enjoyed John's portrayal. The stories occur thirty-odd years before Shadows, but one of things I really enjoyed about them was extrapolating backward to who the Master Chief was before he became the Master Chief. Though for Castor fans, they should obviously read Last Light and Retribution, which introduced him and lay the foundations of his character..
Paul Semel has been writing about books (and video games, and music, and movies...) for more than twenty-five years. For more of his author interviews, visit his website, paulsemel.com.
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