Halo: Glasslands By Karen Traviss Paperback | Kindle Tor Release date: October 25, 2011
Glasslands is the first book of a trilogy in yet another Halo spin-off series written by New York Times bestselling sci-fi and fantasy author Karen Traviss. It takes place after the events of Halo 3; the Covenant has collapsed and the war is… over? Although the fighting has ceased for the moment, no peace deals have been brokered and all sides are tensely assessing the situation.
Full disclosure here: This was my first foray into the Halo universe, so please be kind in the comments section below. Thanks. Being an utter noob to such an elaborately crafted, highly developed saga such as this was more than a little intimidating for me. But I’m your Book Slave, dammit. I’m committed to reading every book that lands on my desk and so, I sought council from real life Halo fanatics to help get me up to speed. Oh boy, did I get an earful.
Glasslands follows three major storylines. Dr. Catherine Halsey, thought to have died in a bloody battle on Reach, is alive and stuck in a slipspace bubble within what was once the planet Onyx. Chief Mendez, once her right-hand man in the Spartan program who trained Halsey’s army of enhanced human warriors, is stuck there with her. When they aren’t giving each other the Hard Stare, they’re bickering savagely while the Spartans Halsey tried to save by hijacking the ship that brought them all to this mysterious place can only watch with conflicted feelings. Halsey is no saint, but she is more or less the only mother these Spartans have ever really known. And Chief Mendez might just be the closest they all have to a father figure.
As they try to figure out where and when they are, one of the Spartans gets lost in a Forerunner parking garage but is helped by the only inhabitants of the abandoned place – the Huragok, a species of floating benevolent squid-like engineers whose sole purpose is to fix stuff and maintain the super complex Forerunner technology. They were also known to be deployed by the Covenant as innocent martyrs with booby traps strapped to them. Dr. Halsey, being the single-minded scientist that she is, is so blown away by the discovery of the Forerunner technology that she browbeats a Huragok into explaining it all to her, which frightens the gentle creature. This earns her a black eye from the Spartan whom the Huragok helped.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, Admiral Pangosky, feared and ruthless leader of the Office of Naval Intelligence (government spooks), recruits Kilo-Five – a team of ODSTs (Marines), a mighty Spartan, a cheeky AI known as Black Box (BB for short), and a civilian anthropologist to mindscrew the Sangheili, an alien race responsible for much of the brutal slaughter of humans during the war. On Sanghelios, a civil war is brewing as their people are lost and divided on how best to pick up the pieces after the San’Shyuum, their prophets-turned-slave-masters, have fallen along with the Covenant. The Sangheili only know how to be warriors and nothing about the basics of keeping a society going, such as building, science or agriculture. Kilo-Five’s mission is to play both ends against the middle to ensure Senghelios implodes before it can wage another war against Earth and her colonies while also saving human face across the universe.
And lest we think the humans aren’t without their disgruntled numbers, Kilo-Five is also dispatched to deal with Venezia, a rogue colony just itching to attack Earth. Unfortunately, we’ll have to read more about the covert mission that put two of the crewmembers undercover there in the next book (hrrumph!) as Glasslands merely cracks the door open a smidge on another storyline involving the father of their Spartan teammate, who has just been discovered alive and shady as a maple in full bloom on Venezia.
As Captain of the Kilo-Five team and the heir to Pangosky’s ONI throne, Serin Osman certainly has her hands full between directives issued by the Admiral, clandestine arms deals, and the incidental prisoners Kilo-Five acquires along the way. But she handles it all with equal parts cool confidence and brutal honesty with her crew that forges the kind of bond that seals their fates together in every do or die situation as shocking truths are revealed – including ONI’s newest secret project: a massive warship called Infinity, which will benefit greatly from the Forerunner technology, specifically slipspace navigation, discovered by Halsey. This will probably save Halsey’s neck, as well, because the penalty for the crimes to which she’s admitted her guilt is usually death.
That all seemed pretty damn interesting to me. I mean, slipspace? Huragoks? Hello? Where can I slip in and take a nap and get my shit fixed? The comms I’ve picked up from long-time Halo fans is that Glasslands is quite a departure from the Halo books that came before it in that there’s no space fighting; it’s more character-centric than action oriented and that, quite frankly, pissed a lot of fans off. Another thing that didn’t go down so easy was seeing Dr. Halsey in a totally new light. Of course, I don’t know anything about that, but she’s a scientist and if they’re going to do anything huge, it’s only natural for them to punch a hole in acceptable moral boundaries and break new ethical ground.
The fist-shakers’ collective chatter boiled down to this: they were unprepared for the all the judgy-feely words and fully expected to see more combat. How can I really blame them? After all, this is a military sci-fi series, right? However, there are other aspects of warfare that are equally as important as collecting arms and gunning down the enemy. A little strategic friend-making and careful sizing up of your opponents, as in poker playing or team sports, goes a long way toward paving the road to victory and, eventually, peacetime. It’s just not as sexy to read about.
Glasslands is well written, no matter what some might feel about the content or the intent of the author. Remember, this is an off-shoot trilogy of the continuing Halo saga; three small parts of a much greater whole to be told by an author who lives for science fiction. I urge the naysayers to put down their pitchforks for the next two installments and give Karen Traviss a chance to give us access to the complex hearts and minds of the warriors in all the different lands within the Halo universe. It’ll only deepen your Halo experience.
Since this book ended in a cliffhanger after sufficiently sucking me into the Halo universe somewhat against my will, I need to know what’s going to happen in the next two Glasslands books. If you’re reading this review with your chin jutting out over crossed arms refusing to join in, that’s fine. Just come back here and I’ll give you the run down. I promise to make it as bloody as I can.
Karen Traviss is also the author of Evolutions, a Halo universe novella, as well as several Gears of War books and some eleven Star Wars books. Learn more at her website.