Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 3 Novels of the Year, 2012

With 2012 wrapping up, time for me to start posting my Top of the Year awards, starting with novels.

I actually read a lot less this year than any year prior, as I picked up a PlayStation Vita to occupy my commute time.  Jack Whyte's latest historical fiction was released, his second novel in the Guardians series entitled "The Renegade," but in hardcover only and I'm waiting for the mass market paperbound coming in July of 2013.

Thus, I only have four novels to choose from this year.  And so, my top three are:

3) Dead Space: CatalystDead Space is a great sci-fi horror game franchise, one that surprised and terrified me and of which I'm anxiously awaiting the third installment.  The second novel for the franchise released this past year, entitled Dead Space: Catalyst, and follows two brothers, the troubled Istvan and his younger brother Jensi.

Istvan is psychologically disturbed and constantly hears voices and sees odd shapes in the world that no other can see, and when the time comes for the boys to be put in foster care Istvan flees.  Ultimately getting involved with some shady characters, Istvan ends up in a grander scheme that leads him to a penal colony and a Marker.  Jensi constantly tries to protect his other brother, but is powerless against the secret factions and EarthGov agents blocking him at every turn, and when the Marker unleashes hell on the penal colony Jensi begins a fight for shear survival.

I found the relationship between the two brothers touching and well written, and the novel boosted some great Dead Space flare while being set apart from the main storyline of the games.  The only shame of it was how rushed and incomplete the ending felt, but overall, it was an enjoyable read that fans of the franchise will like.

2) Halo: The Thursday War.  There's no denying the power and entertainment value of the Halo franchise.  Grand in scope and longevity, Halo has been a video game staple for well over ten years now and a driving force behind the Xbox brand.  The novels for the franchise are generally top notch and excellent military sci-fi in their own right, however the first novel in the Kilo-Five trilogy, Halo: Glasslands, was such a disappointment that I was very concerned for the quality of the sequel.

Much to my surprise Traviss began fixing many of the canonical issues through Halo: The Thursday War that were introduced with Halo: Glasslands, and this was such a flood of relief.  Simply put, Halo: The Thursday War feels much more like a proper Halo novel with compelling characters and conflict bridging the gap between Halo 3 and Halo 4, but with the strong character development that Traviss is known for.

The civil war on Sanghelios that ONI was hoping to ferment has begun in earnest, and Kilo-Five needs to race to the world to rescue a stranded agent there.  Meanwhile, ONI and Fleetcom launch the newly built UNSC Infinity, the largest UNSC vessel ever built, to make sure this cival war goes according to plan, officially supporting the Arbiter but also secretly assisting the Sangheli rebels to further destabilize things.  Finally, an Elite prisoner on the former Forerunner shield world of Onyx realizes humanity's grim intentions for his kind and breaks free to form the Storm Covenant, a critical faction in the recently released Halo 4.

Halo: The Thursday War entertains wonderfully and is a great read for any Halo fan.

1) Halo: Primordium. Halo fans have long since heard about the war between the Forerunners and the Flood, a war the Forerunners won but which resulted in the sacrifice of their species.  With Halo: Cryptum, we finally got to witness the beginning of that conflict and to experience Forerunner culture at its apex, and its dissolution as the Forerunners are engulfed in civil war.

The second novel continues the tale, but from a different perspective.  Halo: Primordium looks at things from the human perspective, following the continued tale of Chakas as he's stranded on a Halo installation.  This ring is under the control of the now corrupt Mendicant Bias, and Chakas begins to see first hand the true horror the Flood can bring to the galaxy.

Halo: Primorodium, like its predecessor, is unlike any other Halo tale told to date.  Greg Bear takes great liberty in creating a truly fantastic universe for readers to experience with some great character moments and epic conflicts that have far reaching repercussions for the entire galaxy.  We also begin to really see the begins of some of the first themes further developed in Halo 4, particularly with the Didact himself.

It's that originality, consistency, and imagination that so captivated me with the book, and why I'm calling Halo: Primordium my Novel of the Year for 2012.

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