Sunday, 12 February 2012

Halo: Primordium (Book Review)

Before you even begin to start on Primordium there’s a question you need to ask yourself. That question is “Have I read Halo: Cryptum?” If your answer is no, then go read it. Don’t even bother trying to start with Primordium, you’ll just end up very lost.
Whereas other series might give a few pages, perhaps even a chapter, calling back to the events of the previous series to ease any new readers in, this book only gives a couple of lines. You’ll get more information from the description on the book’s spine about what is going on than you end up getting in the first chapter.
It’s certainly not helped by the incredibly abrupt beginning which takes place part way through the previous instalment of the Forerunner Saga. And the fact its told in two different periods of time just confuses things more.
The story of this book covers what happened to two of the human characters in Cryptum, Chakas and Riser. It reveals they disappeared during the major battle of the previous book when the ship carrying them was shot down on a heavily damaged Halo installation which has become battleground between the Forerunners and an enemy which is beating them at every turn. While this tale took place in the days of the Forerunners, it is being told to a group of ONI affiliated humans by a Forerunner monitor who has recorded the experiences of Chakas.
This decision is probably the book’s first stumbling point - telling everything from the first person perspective of Chakas. While Cryptum was told from the perspective of Bornstellar, in that book it was interesting. It was good because the writing style suggested an alien mind, that when he talked about things it felt like it was from a different culture which was advanced from us. Chakas’ tale is told in the exact same way and he’s a borderline caveman, unable to understand almost all of what he sees and it becomes both boring and repetitive to have him constantly fumbling with his surroundings – barely knowing what is going on.
Because it’s written in the same way as Bornstellar’s book it doesn’t make him feel like he’s someone out of his depth, caught up in bigger events and from a less developed society – it just makes him look like a frigging moron. To make matters worse, when you read the book you start to get the feeling Chakas was intended to be a mirror of Bornstellar – he was rebellious, youthful, sometimes naïve and his eventual fate has direct parallels to what happens to the forerunner.
The problem is Chackas isn’t interesting, he both feels like he’s just a poor man’s version of the previous protagonist and an underdeveloped one at that. Someone with little to no characteristics or notable traits which ever come up in the book. When compared with Cryptum where we got a well-rounded and interesting protagonist, this is a definite let-down which is only made worse with most of the book surrounding him with other dull, very primitive characters. The only time some truly good ones turn up is right at the end save for the Lord of Admirals who is primarily used as exposition during the book’s first half.
But to be honest with you, even if they had surrounded him with an incredibly fleshed out cast it would not have helped due to the setting.
Many of the chapters are very bland and uneventful. Just depicting lots of travelling and talking, almost all of which is hard going but doesn’t really give anything of interest to the reader. If you keep reading it’ll be due to signs of progress towards something big, but these are few and far between. Though the payoffs to these hints are always good there’s a good chance you’ll end up missing a few due to Chakas’ vague descriptions. To make matters worse, the same vague, spartan and confusing descriptions really hamper the book’s use of its location. It’s set on a battle damaged Halo device but from what little information we’re given, it could be on practically any Forerunner planet. On only one occasion does Chakas actually note about the planet’s state and unusual state and then it’s ignored until the very end.
There’s also no action what so ever, while Cryptum was mainly talking and explanations there were at least a few space battles and engagements to keep things interesting. But in this – nada. You certainly see plenty of signs of action and the aftermath of fights but there’s no actual engagements depicted in any scenes. It’s like Greg Bear set out to intentionally have the book dodge any heart-pounding or fast paced action in favour of long repetitive travelling. But to be completely honest with you, even with these flaws the book is still worth getting for the ending.
There are some earth-shattering bombshells dropped in the last few pages which change all of what we know in Halo, right from the Forerunner era to the Covenant War. The sorts of things which will likely turn up in Halo 4. But even without that the book does still have the quality of writing as the first book of the Forerunner saga, it was just severely hampered by its protagonist. If they had just found a way to make Chakas more interesting and given some better narrative to the book it would have been a much easier read.
It’s undeniably harder to get through than Cryptum. It is frustrating at times and there are many scenes of dead air but when it delivers good plot developments they more than make up for its flaws. Get it if you enjoyed the previous book, just be very patient with this one and be ready to have to go through this one at a slow pace.


Halo and all related characters and media are owned by Microsoft.

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