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Halo: Fractures (An Initial Review)
Date: 9/20/16 1:44 pm

So iTunes helpfully informed me that my preordered digital copy of Fractures was dropped around 10pm last night, and I got a bit into it before finishing it off this morning. While my opinions might change a bit when I come back to it, overall I think it was quite positive, and like Evolutions seems likely to be a favorite Halo book I'll come back to. Like I did with Evolutions, what seems like a lifetime ago (and internet rot would agree with me), I'd like to break it down by story.

While there are weaknesses to the collection, mainly around stories I don't think quite fit in their compressed format, I think the biggest point I can say in the collection's favor is it is cohesive in a thematic sense. The original Evolutions was very much an old Halo book in its spirit; it was human versus Covenant, in several variations. Very few of the stories dramatically expanded on that core conflict, save for small details like the brief element of civilian life in Stomping on the Heels of a Fuss and the vignettes of the Forerunner and Covenant perspectives added in the reissues.

In that sense, Fractures is 343's Halo, but I don't think that should have any negative response from someone even if they prefer Bungie's work on the franchise. Fractures feels like we finally are seeing the Halo universe whereas before it was from a few limited perspectives. Spanning the end of Halo 3 to just after the events of Halo 5, the collection offers a lot for everyone; there's continuations of beloved characters, even if it's just a check-in here and there; sneak peeks into corners of the universe that we'd never see otherwise, small personal stories amid giant galaxy-spanning ones. But the core of the collection really is conflict, and what lies on the other side of it. So many of these stories are about how the characters grapple with an uncertain future and their own natures, and I don't think there could be a better lead-in to the possibilities I hope 343 can take with the future video games than this series (let alone a Fractures 2: Electric Boogaloo down the road.)

So, now that I've given glittering generalities, and suggest to anyone that if they haven't bought it, they consider doing so, here's some brief thoughts on what's included:

Lessons Learned (Matt Forbeck)
Serving as a sorta-sequel to Ghosts of Onyx as well as a brief recap of New Blood from a different vantage point, the biggest lore info drop is the fate of the Big Ass Forerunner Structure Trevelyan, as well as some answers to the niggling questions fans had about it (what the hell happened to the planets?) This story suffers from the most common flaw I think in the collection in that there's a lot of ungainly exposition just because so much has to be crammed into a short story, but we get to check in with Mendez, Lucy, and Tom.

What Remains (Morgan Lockhart)
Hands-down the best addition 343 has made to the Halo campaigns was Halo 5's inclusion of mission intel. Like the audio logs of ODST or BioShock, they added a flavor and story that helped ground the events and give us a taste of life outside the confines of the Spartan program. "What Remains" picks up on the final doomed distress call from one of Meridian's hapless workers, but it feels like it lacks an ending. It's more a tone piece or a few scenes strung together than what I'd consider a fully-fleshed story, although I appreciated learning that the poor Meridian workers didn't all bite it.

Breaking Strain (James Swallow)
Giving a bit of an insight into human-Sangheili relations outside of the Arbiter's civil war and ONI's skullduggery with Kilo-5, as well as a less interplanetary politics angle to the UEG-separatist conflict, "Breaking Strain" has a UNSC crew stranded with a ship that'll never fly again against an increasingly hostile human population. Like the earlier stories this one could have used more room to breathe, but it ties itself up nicely (if maybe too neatly) at the end. We also get to see a new Spartan-III—Kevin A282—and though they never quite clarify his background the description makes me think he's one of the guys who got off Reach while his fellows all died the same place Noble Six did in "Lone Wolf".

Promises to Keep (Christie Golden)
So the Domain wasn't completely destroyed by the Halo blast, and the last Forerunners fixed it, sort of, before leaving. That's the lore meat of the piece, but "Promises to Keep" is far more interesting as a look at the Iso Didact and the last Forerunners after the pomp and circumstance of the Halo Array was dispensed with. We also get the origins of "Tragic Solitude", which I don't know entirely line up with what we get in Hunters in the Dark, but then again the 343GS-Chakas connection never totally washed without some handwaving anyhow. Mostly I just like the exploration of the Forerunners trying to carry on the wishes of those who died and being forced to relive the ignominious end of their race and their survivors' guilt, as well as more exploration into Bornstellar/IsoDidact and how he is a distinct individual.

Shadow of Intent (Joseph Staten)
Definitely the most "classic" feeling of all the entries, accounting to Staten's work on the original series plus the Nylundian space combat, "Shadow of Intent" still holds up as the richest story in the compendium, mostly due to its novella length. Nice to have this in physical form, if that's what interests you, but I also hope some of its characters (and Half-Jaw) make it to the games some day.

The Ballad of Hamish Beamish (Frankie)
This is without a doubt the weirdest bit of Halo lore we have or ever will get. But leave it to Frankie to turn a weird cameo with an on-the-fly response to fan questions into a tale of suffering and tragic-comedic woe.

Defender of the Storm (John Jackson Miller)
I think this is tied as my favorite story of the collection. I can imagine if I was John Miller pitching it to 343, I'd have said, "This is like the Forerunner version of 'Lower Decks'." For once, we see the Forerunners at their most "human"—a bored, terribly average guy who isn't even worth shipping off to fight the Flood, but who ends up with a strange sort of "Time Enough at Last" ending with his ancilla. It's different from anything we've gotten before, it has the Flood doing their Flood thing, and it's got Forerunner hazing.

A Necessary Truth (Troy Denning)
I think Halo: Last Light was better in its parts than its whole, but the return of Veta and her adopted Spartan-IIIs is a breezy read with the same blend of action, mystery, and character interplay. I also appreciate the characterization of Spartan Mark as a hero who is still only a stone's throw away from probably being a sociopath. Also: further confirmation the Spartans will never be social butterflies.

Into the Fire (Kelly Gay)
Halopedia tells me this will have connections to an upcoming novel, which presumably has connections to Halo Wars 2, and so it's harder to judge this on its own. We get a return to Venezia, where we see a slight hint of the effects of Mortal Dictata on those enterprising Jackals, and a look into the thriving world of salvage after a destabilizing war. Once again the short story's length makes a key revelation seem too effortless to uncover and convenient, but it gives the main character much more of a charged motivation than most in these collections, who are usually preoccupied with sheer survival.

Saint's Testimony (Frank O'Connor)
Still the most important piece of work in the universe in the lead-up to Halo 5, this is still a marvelous little story. Stakes, characters, and only a battle of words to decide the fate of a life. Halo doesn't have to be always guns blazing.

Rossbach's World (Brian Reed)
To rile up the HaloStory reddit, I'll probably say this is the best entry in the collection (or at least new entry, to not include "Saint's Testimony" and "Shadow of Intent".) What could be the start of "Serin Osman & Terrence Hood: The Odd Couple" ends on a pretty big cliffhanger, but it's a short and sweet story that gets some important characters into a new spot for (possibly?) Halo 6, as well as a personal examination of Osman wrestling with the weight of decisions and the universe post-Halo 5.

Oasis (Tobias Buckell)
To me Buckell wrote the weakest Halo novel to date, Cole Protocol, and while "Dirt" was better I still wasn't all that enamored with it. "Oasis" wins points though for stripping out all the cosmic implications of the human versus Covenant war and telling a simple story about people trying to make a home for themselves and survive in a universe they now have to share with Elites. Like Gay's story this apparently ties into an upcoming novel so I assume we'll see main character Dahlia again, or at least the conflict that underpins the story.

Anarosa (Kevin Grace)
A vignette into the lives of two individuals who try to persuade the grieving to part with their recently-deceased loved ones so their brains can be used for smart AIs. The meat of the story is just a single conversation between an AI and the grieving brother of a candidate, and it does more with its limited runtime than probably any other story in the collection. Simple, quiet, and still affecting.

Finally, there's a curiously untitled and uncredited vignette that gives us what I think might be the last word on two characters.

Overall, I recommend people pick this up. It definitely delivers a lot of different stories, and it definitely seems like a lot of the threads examined are going to be relevant going forward.

Messages In This Thread

Halo: Fractures (An Initial Review)davidfuchs9/20/16 1:44 pm
     Re: Halo: Fractures (An Initial Review)Quirel9/21/16 2:43 am
           Re: Halo: Fractures (An Initial Review)davidfuchs9/21/16 1:10 pm

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