Friday, March 29, 2013

Halo: Silentium Review

With the release of Halo 4 last Fall, we saw the return of Master Chief John-117 as he battles an awakened, ancient enemy: The Didact.  First appearing in the Halo 3 terminals, the Didact was the military leader of the Forerunners who ultimately fired the Halo Array as a last means of stopping the Flood, an intergalactic parasite that infects and devours all life.  By firing the Array, the Didact sacrificed his wife, the Librarian, who was stranded on Earth protecting ancient humans.

The Halo games have predominately  focused on humanity's war with the Covenant and ultimately the release and resurgence of the Flood, and the Forerunners and their great conflict against the parasite was nothing more than a legend.  No Forerunners were ever present as it appeared they all died fighting the Flood 100,000 years ago.  In 2011, however, Greg Bear's Halo: Cryptum, was published, thus beginning the Forerunner Saga of novels which finally tell us of this ancient race and their desperate and fatal war against the parasite.

Through the first two novels of Bear's trilogy, we learn some rather fantastic things about humanity and our own ancient, space-faring empire that lost a war to the Forerunners and were subsequently devolved, kept alive because we had already fought and defeated the Flood, supposedly holding a cure the Forerunners hoped to learn should the parasite return.  We learned Forerunner society had different classes and its own petty power struggles, and the Didact was ultimately exiled for disagreeing with the Master Builder, chief of the highest Forerunner class, and the Council, on how to go about fighting the Flood.

In Halo: Cryptum, a young Forerunner named Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting releases the Didact from exile, and the Didact ultimately imprints his memories and physical nature on Bornstellar, essentially making a copy of himself.  When both are captured by the Master Builder, Bornstellar is returned to his family while the Didact is seemingly executed.

After the destruction of the Forerunner capitol by the rogue AI Mendicant Bias, Bornstellar takes on the mantle of the Didact, leading the Forerunner war against the Flood.  While the original Didact, known as the Ur-Didact, had no love of humanity, Bornstellar, now called the IsoDidact, had no qualm with them.  Thus Halo 4 surprised me with the Didact being an aggressor against humanity.  Thankfully all is answered Bear's final novel, Halo: Silentium.

Halo: Silentium introduces a new class of Forerunners, the Juridicals.  Essentially investigators and keepers of justice, the Juridicals gather and judge testimony through agents called Catalog.  Halo: Silentium, generally speaking, is one large collection of testimony, as Catalogue interviews and records the accounts of the Librarian, the IsoDidact, the Master Builder, and, surprisingly, the Ur-Didact.

Bear continues with the style and tone set by the previous two novels in the saga, and like them, Halo: Silentium is a very un-Halo Halo novel.  Don't take that as a negative, however, as the novel is an extreme page-turner, very engaging and far more fantastical than militaristic.

The novel opens sometime after Halo: Primoridum concludes, and the Flood has made great in-roads into the heart of Forerunner society; the war continues and the Forerunners are loosing.  Through the accounts Catalog collects, we learn the true origin of the Flood, the horrible crime Forerunners committed long ago, and the reason the Flood seeks to consume all life.  We know how the novel and the war ends, of course, as the Array is fired, but the details leading up to that point is one of desperate struggle, hope, and ultimately love. 

Believing the Ur-Didact to be dead, the Librarian has taken the IsoDidact as her husband and supports him in the war effort.  Yet the Ur-Didact was not executed by the Master Builder after all, and he returns to aide his people in their time of greatest need, yet something has changed about him, some dark taint lies over him that may undo all the Forerunner's plans, and the Librarian's specifically.  She is ultimately forced to confine her original husband as seen in the Halo 4 terminals, setting the stage for that game, and leaving the IsoDidact to do what must be done.

Halo: Silentium is a grand conclusion to Bear's masterful trilogy, filled with the sadness and regret of a once great species that ruled the galaxy.  It demonstrates both the genius and tragedy of the Forerunners, their empire, and the technology they left behind to influence the galaxy after they were gone.  Most importantly, it provides essential backstory to Halo 4 itself, helping players gain even more insight into the Halo universe.  For fans of the franchise, the Forerunner Saga should not be missed.

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