As we all know The Fall of Reach is a widely adored piece of Halo fiction. If were honest it probably kickstarted most of our journeys into the foray that is the Halo expanded universe. Like most of you, I have read this particular novel several times. It just has so much to love. This was a time when Halo was new and didn’t have any of the baggage that it now carries. I love the work it puts into characterizing and establishing both characters we know from Combat Evolved as well as the ones we didn’t. These characters played a monumental role in the events leading up to the first game. I just finished my reread of the novel and I have to say while the book is as strong as I remembered it, there were a few things I’d like to explore a little deeper.
Back when the marketing for Halo 5: Guardians was really starting to get into the swing of things, 343 dropped the bombshell that Blue Team was going to be appearing in the game. This was what I assume to be a collective “hell yeah” from the community and fans of the expanded fiction. I know it was for my friends and I. You see, we had grown to love these characters from the extended material and I think a part of us felt special that we had knowledge of important characters outside of the video games narrative. I think is one particular aspect (among many) of Halo 5’s story that fell apart I am able to see much clearer. Was Blue Team ever really that interesting?
I have many glowing things to say about The Fall of Reach. It gave us exactly the kind of origin story anyone could hope for. It not only provided a background for the story of the Master Chief but added intrigue to the moral and political reasonings behind his creation as a character while simultaneously humanizing him. By the time we get to the events of Combat Evolved much of the emotion of John’s character is long gone, but our sympathy definitely is not. John was ripped away from his parents and forced in to a rough life of militaristic service with nothing more than a team of other kidnapped children to bond with. This bond is what resonates with us, we love the Master Chief so by that account we love Blue Team. The thing is, the members of Blue Team aren’t really that interesting of characters to begin with. We know Fred’s a leader, Linda is good with the sniper and Kelly is really fast but do character traits get more generic than that? Don’t get me wrong. I love these characters, but not for the reasons I had always thought. It wasn’t because they were compelling characters in their own right. By the time they were introduced into the fifth main installment in the Halo series it proved to be quite uneventful.
There’s not much debate, Team Osiris didn’t have a cast of interesting characters either but I think it’s saying something that even they were more interesting than Blue Team. Blue Team was comprised of three faceless Spartans with hardly anything fleshed out in the game narrative for us to connect to. It’s no wonder this group of characters combined with the terribly written narrative led to the disaster that was Halo 5: Guardians campaign. Having made my criticisms about the interest of Blue Team clear I will say they serviced the story of The Fall of Reach perfectly, supporting characters that build up the character of the protagonist. I love what this story did for the characters of Jacob Keyes and Dr. Halsey, the latter didn’t even exist in the games till Reach and the former benefited greatly for his immediate appearance in Combat Evolved. The book does a fabulous job showing Keyes as a collected, inspiring and admirable war hero who will do what is best for the UNSC and his crew. Honestly, his character was likeable enough in the game without the context of the book but boy does it enhance it. The “Keyes Loop” anyone? Reminds me of the Kessel Run…
Dr. Halsey has been an interesting character since the moment she was introduced. She’s the opposite of Blue Team, full of character with a moral compass completely out of whack. How can a character so admirable and maternal to the Spartans as well as the reader be so awful? She literally abducts children, forces them into military service and leaves their families with dead clone versions of the very children she abducted. I can’t think of many other pieces of media that has gotten away with introducing a character who STEALS children and still has the fanbase love and root for her. I love how the Halsey Journal (included with the Halo: Reach Legendary Edition) eventually delves a little deeper into the romantic relationship between her and Keyes while also heavily alluding to what we all knew, Miranda Keyes is the daughter of Dr. Halsey. The characterization of these two characters did wonders for kickstarting the expanded lore.
“Last time, you asked me, if it was my choice, would I do it? Having had considerable time to ponder your query, my answer has not changed. There is no choice. We must activate the ring.”
I’d like to finish my thoughts by stating how much influence this novel actually had on what made us fall in love with Halo. Some of you deeper Halo lore fanatics may already know this but it was actually the writer of The Fall of Reach’s editor that played a monumental role in the writing and dialog of the first Halo game. Eric Trautmann, the editor in question made a deal with Microsoft to make sure The Fall of Reach got published because Bungie was not fond of the idea of Master Chief having an origin story. The deal stated that the novel would still be produced provided Eric Trautmann as well as others would contribute to the writing for Halo: Combat Evolved. Many of the scenes we love and things we remember from the story of the first Halo came from the very people who were working on the expanded fiction. Lines of dialog like “This cave is not a natural formation” all the way down to 343 Guilty Spark saying “Last time, you asked me, if it was my choice, would I do it? Having had considerable time to ponder your query, my answer has not changed. There is no choice. We must activate the ring.” It’s clear that The Fall of Reach did wonders for not just the expanded fiction but for the future of Halo as we know it today.
The last thing I’d like to say before closing out my thoughts was that it’s really interesting how Bungie went about telling their own version of Reach. They went through the trouble of getting with Eric Nylund (The Fall of Reach writer) to craft Halsey’s Journal which tries to reconcile the differences between the game and the book. Things like Cortana being with Noble 6 instead of Chief, Halsey not being aware of Spartan-III’s and the fact that the Pillar of Autumn was already in the air when the Covenant attacked reach as opposed to the ship being grounded like it is in the final mission of the game. Despite their effort they purposely did things they knew would not line up with the book. It seems like an odd decision and it upset the community, but Bungie was always more about telling their own stories than sharing the playing field with others. Personally I don’t blame them. The fans really did benefit the most because we now live in a time where the events of The Fall of Reach, the awesome additions of Noble Team and other events all exist together. I’ll also say I loved how Halsey was handled in Reach as it’s exactly how I pictured her from the book.
That pretty much sums up my thoughts on this read of The Fall of Reach. It’s one of my favorite books of all time and I definitely plan to continue reading it as time goes on. The book enriches the universe, sets the stage and inspired the writers that came after it to write their own stories. I’d say it was a success.