Sunday, December 07, 2008
Halo: The Cole Protocol Review
Love it or hate it, no one can deny the success of the Halo franchise. It is Microsoft's flagship Xbox title, has set numerous sales and Xbox LIVE records, and as far as I know, is still the best selling Xbox 360 title to-date.
But of course, the Halo franchise isn't just about the games themselves, or even the Master Chief and Cortana. There is a huge universe to explore, and a long period to do it in. The Halo trilogy focused on the end of the Human-Covenant war, a war that lasted about 27 years, so there's lots of prequel ground to cover. Not only are we getting closer to the release of Halo Wars, but the Halo series of novels has also begun turning to the past to explore that which we've never seen before.
Such as the recently released novel, Halo: The Cole Protocol. Any Halo fan knows where the title derives from, but for those who don't, the Cole Protocol was passed early on in the Human-Covenent War to prevent the Covenant from locating Earth. At the first sign of Covenant contact, any UNSC vessel must immediately purge it's navigational data, and all ship's must selfdestruct if capture appears imminent. Also, all vessels must make a random jumps into Slipspace at the beginning of any journey instead of setting course for Earth or an Inner Colony directly.
Halo: The Cole Protocol is the first Halo novel that doesn't specify exactly what date it takes place in, but it's early in the Human-Covenant War. Apparently Admiral Cole and his fleet just took Harvest back from the Covenant, so it's likely during or shortly after the events of Halo Wars.
The Covenant is continuing its war against humanity, glassing world after world, and thus came the Rubble into being. In the asteroid field surrounding the gas giant Hesiod, the survivors of a glassed Outer Colony world, some with Insurrectionist ties, have made a home for themselves in this most unlikely of habitats. What's even more surprising is that they didn't do it alone. Somehow, these survivors have reached an agreement with a group of Jackals who not only helped them construct the Rubble, but are also freely trading with these humans. Such human-Covenant cooperation has never been heard of before, and it's a clear mystery to Grey Team, a three-man team of Spartans sent out on long range missions deep behind enemy lines. Their present mission, to remove all navigational data leading to Earth on non-UNSC controlled ships and worlds.
Recently returning to the front is Lieutenant Jacob Keyes, who's called in to help the Office of Naval Intelligence, ONI, enforce the newly enacted Cole Protocol on commercial vessels. Along for the ride are a seasoned group of ODSTs jonesing for some action, and ready to tackle any hostile situation.
Despite their resistance and the newly enacted Cole Protocol, the Hierarchs of the Covenant are determined to wipe out humanity at all costs, and a group of Elites is set about on a holy mission. Led by Thel 'Vadamee, an ambitious Shipmaster, these Elites will stop at nothing to fulfill their duty.
Thus is the plot and inevitable conflict set for Halo: The Cole Protocol. I've never read any of Tobias S. Buckell's past works before and admittedly I found this novel a little difficult to get into. The Halo series of novels have been around since shortly after Halo: Combat Evolved launched on the original Xbox, and they all have a very well established tone and are excellent examples of finely written military sci-fi. Like any new author to a series, Buckell has his own style that he brings to the work, and there's always an adjustment for the reader, but once I got through the first few chapters, Halo: The Cole Protocol became a real page-turner.
Grey Team itself is not the focus of the story, these Spartan-II's take a supporting role in the narrative, but rather the people of the Rubble, particularily one Ignatio Delgado, Lt. Keyes, and Shipmaster 'Vadamee take centre-stage. What makes the novel ultimately so fascinating is how well it expands on the politics of the Covenant. We really learn a lot about both Elites and Jackals from this book, details about their culture we simply have never learned before, and it's fascinating! It's also interesting to read about a younger Jacob Keyes, to see what he was like before he became the Captain we all know.
While I wouldn't call Halo: The Cole Protocol the best of the Halo novel series, it is a well written book and worth a read for any fan of the franchise looking to expand his or her knowledge of this well crafted universe.