Updated: Jan 24
This article was originally created for Exclusively Games. Unfortunately, the site went on hiatus before it could be published, therefore I am publishing it here on Nomad’s Reviews.
To the best of my knowledge, the article was correct at the time of writing - pre-May 2020 - however, additional Halo-themed books may have been written since then. I have elected not to rewrite the article at this time, since I feel 29 books is more than enough for a single article already. (I didn’t realise there was this many Halo books when I started researching the article - oops! #hindsightisalwaystwentytwenty.)
Books Based on Games?
In a pair of recent articles, Top 5 Games Based on Books and its follow up Nine MORE Games Based on Books – as Chosen by the Community, we looked at games based on books. We saw that there are a surprisingly large number of them, especially if you count the unofficial games which were *ahem* ‘inspired’ by certain books. Some of these games are amongst the finest video games created to date.
But is the reverse true? Are there books based on games? If so, are they any good? Since I have been a bookworm and a gamer in equal measure for about 35* years I feel I’m well placed to answer both of these questions;
1) Are there books based on games?
Yes, lots of them.
2) Are they any good?
Some of them are, some less so. Personal preference plays a large part in this.
I should clarify what I am referring to as a ‘book’. In this instance, I am referring only to novels, novellas, and short stories. Game manuals, strategy guides, and ‘the making of’ books, such as The Art of Halo: Creating a Virtual Masterpiece or Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar are not included here - they can be investigated separately in a future article. The same goes for comic books, graphic novels, audiobooks and radio dramas - these too deserve articles all their own.
I am also excluding fan-fiction stories since there are simply too many of them to cover. To give you an idea of the numbers involved there are over 100,000 fan fiction stories about video games on fanfiction.net alone - 98,400 of which appear to be about Pokémon?!?
I’m guessing you would like some examples of official story books/novels to back up my answers? No problem, we will investigate many of the most notable examples in this and subsequent articles. Note that some of these examples will be one-off books, whilst some are examples of an entire book series, whilst one franchise has spawned multiple series of books. And that prolific book spawning franchise is…
The Halo franchise has always been known for its superb storytelling. It is not surprising then that it has spawned an entire multi-media franchise, with multiple games in multiple genres, animated shorts, live-action films, soundtracks, comic books, and multiple series of novels.
According to the font of all wisdom - i.e. Wikipedia - there are twenty-nine (29?!?) Halo novels. They can be broadly broken down into three series or ‘eras’ and an assortment of standalone stories.
The Bungie Era
The first released books depict the events immediately before those in the game Halo Combat Evolved. Halo: Fall of Reach shows the clandestine origins of the SPARTAN-II program, then the Spartan’s training as children, their early exploits against human insurrectionists, their first missions against the Covenant and ultimately their actions during the Covenant’s attack on the UNSC’s base world – Reach. It also shows that the Pillar of Autumn exiting from hyperspace right next to the first discovered Halo ring was no mere coincidence.
Halo: Fall of Reach
Halo: The Flood
Halo: First Strike
Halo: Ghosts of Onyx introduces the SPARTAN III project. The SPARTAN IIIs will later appear prominently in the game Halo: Reach.
Halo: Ghosts of Onyx
Halo: Contact Harvest steps back in time to show the first contact between humans and The Covenant from the perspectives of both sides.
Halo: Contact Harvest
This was followed by Halo: The Cole Protocol, which sees Navy Lieutenant Jacob Keys sent on a clandestine mission behind enemy lines to erase navigational data which could lead the Covenant to Earth.
Halo: The Cole Protocol
This was followed by the short story collection Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe
Collectively these books and the games Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, and Halo Wars (plus some of the other multimedia entries) can be broadly categorized as ‘The Bungie Era’. These novels were well received and many became best sellers.
They did not add to or alter the established canon of the games to any great extent. What they did - and did quite well - was bridge the gap between some of the games, or expand upon events that in-game were merely mentioned or implied.
My two cents: I have read most of these and quite enjoyed them. Like many novelizations - be they of games, films, or TV shows - they were relatively simplistic - and thus accessible - in their writing style and the language used. You will find no ‘purple prose’ in these novels.
These novels were never going to win any literary awards, but they were entertaining light reading. They are a good starting place for gamers - Halo fans especially - who are not yet avid readers but wish to pick up the reading habit.
The Forerunner Saga
The next series of Halo books were created after 343 Industries took over the Halo franchise. These three stories by Hugo and Nebula award-winning sci-fi author Greg Bear, Halo: Cryptum, Halo: Primordium, and Halo: Silentium are collectively known as the ‘Forerunner Saga’. The saga is set approximately 100,000 years before Halo: Combat Evolved and depicts the Forerunner empire, the Forerunner’s relation to the Precursors, Ancient Humanity and the Flood, and the catastrophic events of the Forerunner-Flood war.
Halo: Cryptum, Halo: Primordium and Halo: Silentium
Allegedly, Bear was given a largely free reign in depicting this epoch of history, and this resulted in some quite drastic additions to the established canon. These revelations led to the events and enemies in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, such as the Ur-Didact and his Promethean Knights.
These revelations and additions to the canon were met with mixed feelings by the established fan-base. Some praised its expansive space-opera themes, whilst others felt the changes were too drastic making the willing suspension of disbelief a challenge.
My two cents: I have tried to read these books - or listen to the audiobook versions - several times. I say ‘tried’ as I have never been able to get into them. I have always ended up giving up and reading something else about a quarter of the way through Halo: Cryptum.
My tastes in sci-fi literature lean more towards hard sci-fi, which the early Halo games and books broadly fell into. Bear’s inclusion of God-like entities and ancient space-faring humans leans more towards science-fantasy. If you enjoy science fantasy you will probably enjoy the Forerunner trilogy, if you do not enjoy science-fantasy then you may not.
NB - I have not read any of the books from this point of the article onwards - largely due to my disinterest in the post-Bungie Halo franchise as a whole. Therefore, I am unable to offer 'my two cents' on any of the following books.
The Kilo-Five Trilogy
A later trilogy is Karen Traviss’ Kilo-Five Trilogy. These novels, Halo: Glasslands, Halo: The Thursday War and Halo: Mortal Dictata deal with the aftermath of the Human-Covenant war and the black ops team charged with maintaining the balance of power at any cost.
Halo: Glasslands, Halo: The Thursday War and Halo: Mortal Dictata
Halo: The Thursday War
Halo: Mortal Dictata
Traviss is an accomplished sci-fi writer in her own right, having created her own original IP novels. She has also penned many video game novelizations for other franchises which we will investigate later.
The Covenant’s Perspective
Halo: Broken Circle is an interesting novel in that it does not appear to feature any human characters. It describes the events of the Prophet-Elite war which ultimately lead to the formation of the Covenant many centuries before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved,
Halo: Broken Circle
The Blood Series
Halo: New Blood is set before Halo 5: Guardians and is told from a first-person, past tense perspective. The books take the form of a report for the ONI, in which the protagonist/narrator Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck recalls his past experiences with the ODST. A follow-up novel, Halo: Bad Blood follows a similar format and recounts the Gunnery Sergeant’s exploits during the events of Halo 5: Guardians.
Halo: New Blood
Halo: Bad Blood
Books by Kelly Gay
Halo: Smoke and Shadow
The Books by Troy Denning
Halo: Silent Storm
Halo also spawned two novels aimed at the Young Adult market, Halo: Battle Born and its sequel Halo: Meridian Divide. These stories differ from the rest of the books of Halo due to several main characters being teenagers, befitting its target demographic.
Halo: Battle Born
Halo: Meridian Divide
Short Story Anthologies and Standalone Novels
The remaining novels and short story collections are mostly standalone works telling of various events before, during, and after the Human-Covenant war. The complete list - at the time of writing - consists of; Halo: Hunters in the Dark, Halo: Saint's Testimony, Halo: Last Light, Halo: Shadow of Intent, Halo: Envoy, Halo: Retribution, and Halo: Legacy of Onyx.
I will be honest, before researching this article I had no idea that the Halo games had spawned these many books. I knew of the ‘Bungie era’ books and the ‘Forerunner trilogy’, but since I lost interest in the Halo franchise as a whole once 343 Industries took over, I hadn’t been keeping up to date with it.
NB - the Amazon hyperlinks are a carry over from this article's Exclusively Games origins. At the time of writing Nomad's Reviews is not an affiliate of Amazon, so I do not receive funding should you purchase anything via the links. I have left them there purely for convenience sake. If you can find them cheaper elsewhere, have at it - and perhaps share the info with the community so they can get cheap books too :-)
Having just done a quick count, it looks like there are more Halo books than the books from all the other franchises I plan to cover combined. Therefore, I will cover the remaining franchises in a follow-up article. Keep a lookout for ‘Top Books Based on Video Games that are not Halo’ soon.
*Yes, I am that old – and I have the middle-age spread and bald patch to prove it 😉
What are your thoughts on the books of Halo? Have you read any of them? If so, which ones? Which did you like, and which did you not? What are your thoughts on the 'Forerunner Trilogy' of books and the post-Bungie Halo franchise as a whole? Do you know of any other official Halo books? Feel free to write your answers, or indeed any other thoughts and comments you may have, in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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