I have to start this book review for Halo: Contact Harvest (science fiction 396 pages) by Joseph Staten with the disclaimer that I actually know nothing about the Halo games and nothing about the Halo storyline.
“This is how it began … It is the year 2524. Harvest is a peaceful, prosperous farming colony on the very edge of human-controlled space. But we have trespassed on holy ground – strayed into the path of an aggressive alien empire known as the Covenant. What begins as a chance encounter between an alien privateer and a human freighter catapults mankind into a struggle for its very existence. But humanity is also locked in a bitter civil war known as Insurrection. So the survival of Harvest’s citizens falls to a squad of battle-weary UNSC Marines and their inexperienced colonial militia trainees. In this unlikely group of heroes, one stands above the rest … a young Marine staff sergeant named Avery Johnson.”
I actually really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a great introduction into the Halo universe and gave a lot of details and information about the entire world of Halo. I think this book makes the assumption that whoever reads it is already a fan of the games and familiar with the world because the descriptions of some of the technology and some of the aliens didn’t really stick out with me. I’m positive that if I had played any of the games or watched other people playing the games that just the names of the aliens would register what the aliens looked like and maybe that will be the case if I actually watch people play the games in the future.
Avery Johnson is a very realistic, believable, and likeable character. He is the human hero you want to cheer for and who you want to see succeed. He’s given very limited resources and his background prepares him exceptionally well for the impossible mission set before him. He is combat-weary and haunted by the things he’s done but still tries to train the young recruits for the defense of a planet with minimal resources against technologically advanced aliens. He finds the right balance between being hard on them to push them towards what he knows they need and treating them with compassion.
Without knowing more about the games and the Halo universe in general, I still feel fairly confident in saying that this book might have brought up some universe spoilers for those who play the games. I don’t know how much of the story goes into the games, but the entire Covenant point of view was a huge draw for the story. The implication is made that humans created the advanced Artificial Intelligence platforms and that it’s those AIs who went beyond the travels of normal space and became what the Covenant calls the Forerunners. Also, seeing the internal conflicts of the aliens, the different societies, the different societal structures, and the different cultural development was a remarkably realistic representation of a complex and complicated interstellar mix. I appreciated seeing an intergalactic world-building system where things were not as clear-cut as aliens just bent on genocide and killing everything. It’s always refreshing to see the story from the perspective of the antagonists and not just from the point of view of the protagonists.
This book was well on its way to being a perfect book right up until the three pages at the very, very end where apparently, the story needed a random, gratuitous sex scene with the only named human woman in the entire book, Jilan al-Cygni, hooking up with Avery. Even the advanced Artificial Intelligences, Sif and Mack, somehow needed a romantic subplot? The book was doing such a fantastic job of all the characters being focused on what they should be focused on, which was saving the people of Harvest, and then romantic and/or sexual subplots. Why do so many books, movies, and stories in general constantly feel the need to add romantic or sexual subplots and storylines to characters and plots that don’t need them? Is being a sexual person really so much of a drug or addiction or whatever that people who experience sexual attraction absolutely MUST have sex in their lives?
Overall, I’d say this book is easily a high three on my rating scale and potentially even as high as a low four. The story was good and interesting, the characters were realistic, believable, and relatable, and the story as a whole left me eager to read the rest of the books in the series and become more informed about the Halo universe as a whole. I am glad I own this book, I’m interested in reading other books in the series, and I will likely read this book again in the future (and just skip pages 387-390).
Staten, Joseph. Halo: Contact Harvest. Tom Doherty Associates: New York, 2007.