Me on Halo as Literature
Posted on February 6, 2008 Posted by John Scalzi 14 Comments
io9’s Charlie Jane Anders wrote me over the weekend to get my thoughts on the sub-genre of military science fiction (prompted by some comments on the topic by David Drake), and I responded and suggested that the most popular milSF books out there right now are the Halo books, which are based on the video games of the same name. If you want to see what blatheration I have on the subject, it’s here.
I’m a fair-to-middling military SF fan – love Weber’s Honor Harrington books (even if it looks like there’s never going to be an end to the series, a milSF version of the WoT), have found some of Drake’s work to be amusing, and of course am a fan of the OMW universe – but I’ve never really been tempted by the sub-sub-genre books. What I mean by that is the tie-in books – Halo, Warhammer 40k, etc. I’ve tried to read a few of the 40k books, and found the quality to be.. *meh*. And I don’t have an XBox, so I don’t play Halo, thus have never felt the need to further explore a universe I barely know (and, honestly, is probably better covered by Weber and White’s Starfire books).
That being said: if the Halo books bring in scores of new readers who, upon exhausting the Halo titles, decide to try something *like* the Halo books but outside the sub-sub-genre, then I’m all for it. And, hell, if the milSF sub-genre can further act as kind of a “gateway drug” to the SF genre as a whole… well, ain’t nothing wrong with that.
My eyes initially kept scanning “milSF” as “milfSF.” Which I’m kinda thinking would be a totally awesome subgenre.
Sorry, I didn’t really have anything else to add to the conversation, but I thought my misread was sort of funny. I’ll go away now.
An Eric @2:
Speaking of which, I often wonder if there’s any way to tell at what point the Philippine Moro Islamic Liberation Front fell off the first page of Google’s search results when searching for that acronym? Talk about being overrun by American Culture.
Back ON TOPIC: Are the HALO books any good? I only made it thru about five Star Wars tie-in books, so I may not be fan-boyish enough. (Wow, it shames me to write that. Though whether its because I fall into the fan-boy category at all, or because I’m the Coke Zero of fan-boys, I can’t tell.)
I do love the mil stuff, though I have found the quality is still erratic. I don’t want to name names, but I’ve read some stuff recently where the author had decent credentials on the military side, but the writing was pretty poor.
I found the fact that fantasy outdoes SF interesting. I’ve always used fantasy as a way to take little mental breaks between SF books. So I would have guessed that things were the other way ’round.
Paging Mr Ringo, paging Mr John Ringo
Tie in books are the gateway drug to life long reading. I doubt that there is a poster or lurker here that did not read only one book from some sort of series, from Nancy Drew all the way to the current crop like Halo.
I’ve read the three core halo books and for any fan of the games and the game story line they are a pretty decent set of books. These are by no means my entry into SciFi. I’ve been reading that for a long time before this.
The newer ones go a different direction a bit and they’ve brought in a different writer this time so. Haven’t digested the most recent two yet.
For years I read Star Trek and Star Wars books (some of which are actually quite good). Then I think I reached the point where I had read all the ST and SW books at the local library. It wasn’t a big library, so there were only about 3 skinny shelves of science fiction. 2 of those shelves were ST and SW. The first book I checked out that started me on to reading more general science fiction was Robert J. Sawyer’s End of an Era. That led to reading other books by him and when I ran out of those I started into other authors (including John Scalzi and some milSF). Now my bookshelves have two rows of books per shelf and other books stacked on top of those books. So tie-in books can definitely work as a gateway.
I love reading milSF, I happily read most anything along those lines by Weber, Drake, Ringo, etc, but they don’t hit the ‘must be bought and read immediately’ list to me. As soon as feasible, yes, but they’re not the kinda books I’d skip a meal to buy. Mr Sclazi’s stuff, is, along with a select few other authors.
The thing to remember with media tie-ins, be they Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Halo, etc, etc, ad nauseam, is that Sturgeon’s law applies. I’ve found, over the years, that there tend to be a few good to very good writers in any given series, and a lot of not so good to downright awful.
The Halo books I hadn’t read, but I think I’ll keep an eye out for them given the positive reports I’m hearing.
As for tie-ins being the gateway drug to SF, hell, yes. As a young-un, I used to devour Star Wars and Dr Who books, and I definitely moved on to other SF (and F) from there. Today I’m a total bibliophile, and it’s exceedingly rare that I’m not reading at least one book at any given time.
In general I don’t go for the ‘series’ type milSF. I think that besides OMW my favorites are John Steakley’s “Armor” as well as Richard Morgan’s “Broken Angels” and “Woken Furies” (Morgan’s first and probably best novel to date, “Altered Carbon” wouldn’t fall into the milSF sub-genre, but rather an even more favored genre of mine, SF-noir.)
Still, I usually have a weakness for armored or enhanced-in-some-way protagonists, which is why I found OMW so appealing in the first place. But like OMW and the other titles I just mentioned, good characters and good stories are what I’m looking for first, and if they happen to have cool armor or enhancements, then, score! That’s a bonus.
Oh, and Peter Hamilton’s “Fallen Dragon” was a good one.
I may have to try a Halo book, just to see, since as far as I know there aren’t any other exceptional milSF books on the horizon. Who knows?
At first glance I thought this entry was going to be about the storytelling in the Halo games, but it’s not surprising the franchise exploded into print.
My curiosity is piqued… played the first two games and part of the third, and Halo’s got a couple interesting characters and scraps of plot crammed in between the non-stop zombie-fungus-alien shooting. (And how can you not love mission stages with names like And the Horse You Rode In On?)
Gateway books–just say yes!
I tried reading a Halo book. I’m still trying to wash the taste of that writing out of my mouth. Luckily, there’s a new Lt. Leary book coming out by Drake, so maybe that will do it. In the meantime, I’m working my way through the O’Brian tales again (not SF, but dang good writing).
“The Lost Fleet” books by Jack Campbell are very good military SciFi books, at least in my opinion.
@13: +1 on “The Lost Fleet” series. They remind me in many ways of RAH’s juveniles, in that they are clearly plotted and use character actions, rather than magic technology, to advance the story. I also appreciate the fact that there’s nothing in the books that I would mind my young sons reading.
A little surprised to not see Elizabeth Moon’s excellent “Vatta’s War” series mentioned in this context. She is teh awesome. I’m convinced that my 13-year-old son is in love with Kylara Vatta.
As for Halo: I read one Eric Nylund book several years ago, and that was enough to sour me on the Halo series. Too bad; the games are great.