Halo: Cryptum

Reviewer: James Penna

Author: Greg Bear

Published: 2011

Reviewed: 2011-10-01

Publisher: Tor Books

Halo Cryptum is a novel that is set in the universe of the wildly
popular video game series "Halo," and while that would cause some
readers to turn their noses up at it for that fact alone, you'd be
making a mistake. First off, the novel was written by science fiction
giant Greg Bear (Eon, Mariposa, Moving Mars, need I go on?) and as
such shows his writing skill off quite nicely. And the Halo universe
in and of itself is, at least I think, quite interesting and open to
exploration. It has all of the major elements that make for a good
background: power-armored space marines, an ancient extinct race that
left behind stellar megastructures, and culturally solid aliens. As a
fan of this video game series, I was quite eager to read this book and
pleased with it when I had finished. The fact that it is set in the
Halo universe doesn't make it inaccessible to people that haven't
played the games either---it take place hundreds of thousands of years
before the main video game series with new characters.

That being said, it is perhaps the fact that it is a Halo novel is one
of its biggest weaknesses. As compared to some of Bear's past work,
it is a bit simplistically written. The main character, Bornstellar,
is a Forerunner, the ancient builder race I mentioned earlier that
created the Halo rings: an array of superweapons designed to wipe out
intelligent life in the event a virulent interstellar plague, the
Flood, got out of control and overran the galaxy. That being said, it
feels as if his characterization is designed specifically to drive
this plot point---he is a stock character of the
"youth-longing-for-adventure" type, running away from his rich family
only to be caught up in an affair that leaves the fate of the galaxy
hanging in the balance. It's a fairly standard plot, and it certainly
feels as if Bear is underutilizing his talents so the book can cater
to a wide market. The protagonist does undergo an interesting change
half-way through the book, and it's interesting to see how his
perspective changed during the course, but in the style it is done (a
mutation that gives him part of a Forerunner warrior's consciousness)
is again unnecessarily simple and lacking depth.

The book does have those weaknesses, but all in all, it was a good
read. I thought that the Forerunner culture was well fleshed out, a
staircase of castes and classes depending on mutation and inheritance.
The story was pretty interesting, and though the twist was pretty
predictable, it was still good to have your suspicions confirmed at
the end of the story. The meshing of Bornstellar and his warrior
guide the Didact was interesting as well and lent the somewhat flat
characterization a bit of roundness that made the story continue on.
As a Halo fan, seeing the story of the Forerunner and ancient humanity
(SPOILER: humans once had an interstellar empire hundreds of thousands
of years ago but were de-evolved by the Forerunners as punishment
after a war, which was caused by the Flood in the first place, an
ironic twist considering the Flood are threatening the Forerunners)
finally told is a treat. I am eager for the next installment in the
trilogy to come out.

For the average science fiction fan, don't pass it up because of the
labeling, and for Halo fans, this book is a must.