Literature / Halo: The Fall of Reach

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"The four Spartans that composed Blue Team covered his back, standing absolutely silent and immobile in their MJOLNIR combat armor. Someone had once commented that they looked like Greek war gods in the armor....but his Spartans were far more effective and ruthless than Homer's gods had ever been."

Halo: The Fall of Reach is the first novel in the Halo series, and sets up the backbone of the franchise’s lore. It was written by Eric Nylund in 2001. Beginning several decades before Halo: Combat Evolved, the book explores the history of Spartan John-117 – later to become the Master Chief – and his rise through the ranks of the United Nations Space Command's (UNSC) Spartan-II program, who were originally developed as an elite strike team to counter human insurrectionists, but are transformed by First Contact and the subsequent war with the Covenant into humanity's greatest heroes, as they are the only group the UNSC can consistently rely on to get results in the war. The book follows John through a childhood immersed in military training, his struggles adjusting to his enhancements, the battles he fought on behalf of humanity, and his eventual acquisition of the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor.

It is notable that the book went from initial concept to final publication in the space of four months, with Nylund writing the final draft within six weeks of beginning the project. It has been suggested by many fans that the book is a good starting point for a movie adaptation – indeed, Stuart Beattie submitted a draft script and concept art based on the book once Peter Jackson’s project fell through. While a live-action version hasn't happened (yet), the novel has been adapted into both a comic series published by Marvel Comics and an animated series created by Sequence (the same studio behind the Halo 2: Anniversary and Halo 4 terminals).

The broad story details of this book have been adopted into the main Halo canon, with references popping up as early as Halo 2; the game Halo: Reach even takes place entirely on the titular planet. While Halo canon has evolved significantly since the original writing (not only has the actual Fall of Reach been elaborated upon far more by later media, but the novel itself was slightly rewritten in its 2010 and 2011 editions to make it mesh better with later canon), the core elements of the Spartan program and the characters depicted here are still vital to the mythology.

Tropes featured:

  • Abnormal Ammo: The fougasses used in the prologue to take down a wing of Banshees when they fly too low to the ground.
  • Action Girl: Any of the female Spartans, particularly Linda and Kelly.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: The Covenant, who are also Scary Dogmatic Aliens.
  • All There in the Manual: The book is effectively the Origins Episode of how Master Chief became Master Chief, and establishes him as something other than a heartless Space Marine.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Those who wash out of the Spartan program, many of whom are too mangled to stand or even move.
    • James's death is considered to be this for the Spartans, as he gets blasted out into space, left to drift until he runs out of air.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape:
    • Averted. At the beginning of the book, humanity is knee-deep in a civil war with the Insurrectionists. This conflict continues to go on throughout the series.
    • Also averted within the Covenant, who have a strict caste system determined by species. Species of a higher caste rarely demonstrate anything but contempt for the Cannon Fodder Jackals and Grunts (e.g. the Hunter who tramples a Jackal because it was in the way and the Hunter couldn't be bothered to slow down or step aside).
  • Arc Number: 117, Master Chief's service tag.
  • Artificial Limbs: James gets a replacement after his upper arm got vaporized by a Hunter's assault canon.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority:
    • Chief Mendez and the trainers who put the young Spartans through their paces.
    • Also Jacob Keyes, whose "Keyes Loop" during the Battle of Sigma Octanus got him promoted to Captain.
  • Badass Crew: The Spartans.
  • Badass Normal: Mendez.
  • Bash Brothers: Every Spartan learned to trust the rest of their unit completely, and because each member received the same training they don't have to worry about any weak spots. Every time Master Chief comes across a random team of marines he worries that they wouldn't be able to keep up with the Spartans, since normal combat for Spartans tends to be far too much for regular soldiers.
  • Berserk Button: John accidentally sets off an ODST's one in the gym. It doesn’t end well for the latter. It latter turns out that the ODSTs were ordered to pick a fight with John in order to test his augmentations.
  • BFG: The Super MAC platforms, which fire magnetically accelerated projectiles at almost a fraction of the speed of light. The ship-mounted MACs can only badly damage Covenant shields. The Super MACs go through the shield, through the ship, out the other side, and possibly into another ship unlucky to have been in the way.
  • Body Horror: Some of the Spartans who "wash out" gain physical deformities that turn them into this.
  • Bullet Proof Vest: The MJOLNIR armour takes this to its logical extreme. Doesn’t stop sustained plasma fire, though.
  • Bullying a Dragon: John-117 at age fourteen accidentally angered a quartet of arrogant Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (he removed a pin from a weight set to test the varying gravity section in the gym). John easily wins the fight, which ends with him (accidentally) killing two of the ODSTs and severely injuring the others. In the aftermath, the ODSTs' CO encounters Mendez and realizes John was one of "them". It's later revealed that this trope was deliberately invoked; the whole fight was set up to test John's augmentations. In that respect, it was a total success.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Averted and played with. How much a civilization can play this trope straight is a major indicator of their general "technology level"; up until the end of the war, human slipspace travel is somewhat inconsistent, unpredictable, and crude (travel times for the same journey can vary by days, sometimes even weeks). A major advantage the Covenant have is their far faster, more accurate, and efficient slipspace travel capability.
  • Child Soldiers: The Spartans, who undertake their first mission at age 14.
  • The Chosen One: Sort of inverted, as Master Chief is, by the selection standards, completely mundane. Halsey only picks him after noticing he fights the hardest to stay on top during a game of King of the Hill and after a coin toss. Eventually, he proves himself to be the most gifted Spartan overall. This leads him to be chosen as leader of the Spartans, and is also why he's later chosen by Cortana to receive the fully AI-compatible MJOLNIR armor.
  • Cold Sniper: Linda.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The pipe that Keyes has in the first Halo game is never lit. It’s explained why at the start of the book.
    • Within the book, there's Fhajad, one of the Spartan trainees. We don't directly see him again after he washes out, but he eventually writes a paper that then-Commander Keyes reads before the Battle of Sigma Octanus IV.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: There's a variation of this with how John, Kelly and Sam first became friends. Specifically, it was them coming in last place in the first exercise which ended up bringing them closer together.
  • Determinator: Well, he is the Master Chief after all...
  • Doomed Hometown: Reach. It’s in the title of the book.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • Dr. Halsey shoots down John's assumption that killing a Prophet would end the war or at least demoralize the Covenant, instead pointing out that such a thing would enrage the Covenant enough to make them fight harder. As early as Halo 2, this line of thinking is dropped, with Cortana (who is born from Dr. Halsey's mind) recommending killing the Prophet of Regret to destabilize The Covenant, which it does.
    • The original 2001 print claimed that until the titular Fall of Reach, no one in the UNSC, not even the Chief, ever encountered Elites or Hunters, while all subsequent media show the UNSC encountering plenty from the very first year of the war onward.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The final arc of the book is about how the planet Reach falls to the Covenant. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • Expanded Universe: The beginning of Halo'=s EU is here, as the book was written concurrently with the first game's development. It was actually a brilliant piece of preparation, as Halo: Combat Evolved purposefully began In Medias Res. This book gave you the details of everything not mentioned in the game.
  • Fearless Fool: Averted, as the Spartans actually feel fear; they've just been trained to acknowledge its existence and put it aside. When John-117 sees the Hunters for the first time, he has to expend a little more effort than usually in putting aside his fear.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Some of the Spartans who "wash out" qualify. Also, the Master Chief actually believes death would preferable to living without his teammates.
  • Fictional Document: The 2010 rerelease to celebrate the launch of Halo: Reach includes a series of documents and transcriptions of various other encounters.
  • Five-Man Band: The original Blue Team:
    • The Hero: John-117: Team leader, perennial badass, and protagonist of the games.
    • The Lancer: Samuel-034: John's best friend and fiercely loyal supporter right up until his death.
    • The Big Girl: Linda-058: The quietest, most intimidating, and in John's opinion, the "strongest" Spartan.
    • The Smart Guy: Frederic-104: The everyman (at least by Spartan standards) and the most rational of the group.
    • The Chick: Kelly-087: John's other best friend, one of the more emotional Spartans, the glue that sticks the team together, and one of the only Spartans with a fairly active sense of humor.
  • Hot Scientist: Halsey during her youth, whom Keyes notes to be a "lovely"-looking woman.
  • Humans Are Bastards: This is the first of many times in Halo canon that the UNSC is hinted at being... not entirely heroic. The Spartan-II program involves kidnapping children to be used as test subjects in an experimental super-soldier program, subjecting them to a training regimen so grueling it qualifies as torture, and performing highly dangerous medical procedures on them that kill many of the subjects outright. And the kicker? When this was happening, the UNSC had no idea the Covenant existed. The original purpose of the Spartan-II program wasn't to save humanity from genocidal aliens, but to quell political dissenters, secessionists and rebels, of which there were very, very many.
  • I Like Those Odds: "'Four of us,' Blue-Two whispered over the link. 'And a thousand of them? Piss-poor odds for the little guys.'"
  • Limb-Sensation Fascination: Midway through the book, the Spartans all marvel at their new Powered Armor, Samuel in particular spouting "I think I'm in love." Averted earlier with their physical augmentation; there the Spartans' reactions are mostly dizziness and confusion post-surgeries.
  • Made of Iron: Invoked in that the Spartans' bones are reinforced with powerful metals that make them far different to stock-standard human bones. It's repeatedly mentioned that without that reinforcement they wouldn't survive using the MJOLNIR armor.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Played with, since one of the book's themes is about making one's sacrifice count for the greater good. This particularly comes into play with the Spartans themselves, since they were created by sacrificing the childhoods of 75 people (and the lives of almost half of those) in the hopes of saving many more lives.
  • Mythology Gag: When Halsey first sees John, he's playing a game of "King of the Hill". During the Spartans' training they play Capture the Flag. Both of these are gametypes in the Halo gamesnote .
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Cortana, in one of her bored moments, discovers that three supposedly civilian ships docked at an orbital station are actually ONI prowlers set to leave Reach for a routine intelligence gathering mission. In response to this security breach, the ONI operative in charge of the mission orders that one of the prowlers, the Circumference, have its computers isolated and registry scrambled to prevent it from being found out. So when the Covenant launch their attack less than a day later, the AI on Gamma Station cannot delete Circumference's navigation database, posing a serious risk that the Covenant capture it and find all remaining human worlds.
    It ultimately leads to a case of Nice Job Fixing It, Villain, as the Covenant's attempt to retrieve Circumference's database is what keeps John from participating in the disastrous ground defense of Reach with most of the other Spartans, instead putting him in position to board the Pillar of Autumn after stopping the Covenant in space, leading to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved.
  • No Social Skills: John knows only three ways to interact with people: as superiors (which he obeys), teammates (which he helps), or targets (which he neutralizes). Part of the trouble a 14-year-old John has with a belligerent ODST squad is that the latter could be any of those three. It's implied that the rest of the Spartans have similar problems.
  • One Steve Limit: Apparently there are no overlapping first names among the 75 Spartan trainees. Our John is the only John.
  • Powered Armor: So powerful that no normal human can use them without killing themselves; only the Spartans' unsurpassed physical conditioning and virtually unbreakable bones allow them to operate MJOLNIR safely. It's an interesting acknowledgement of the fact that any real life powered armor (or any piloted vehicle in general) has to stay within the boundaries of what the pilot/operator is physically capable of surviving. Halsey specifically tells John "You are the only ones who can use them, Petty Officer. Who else would we give them to?"
  • Pyrrhic Victory: A running theme.
    • The Spartans always won their confrontations, but almost every minor victory they accomplished was accompanied by some sort of greater defeat, either a destroyed city or a glassed planet. "A death worthwhile" is almost Arc Words.
    • Chief Mendez told John that it's acceptable to spend lives to insure the success of a mission, but not waste them. The Master Chief would continue to ask himself this before a mission.
    • The Battle of Sigma Octanus ends with millions of civilians and Marines dead and a large number of UNSC ships destroyed, along with a major city on the planet's surface being nuked. But hey, at least the Covenant didn't win.
    • The Fall of Reach itself, at least for the Covenant. Out of a fleet of 300 ships, over two thirds of them are destroyed, not to mention the ground casualties.
  • Retcon:
    • A number of things about the titular Fall of Reach was overwritten by Halo: Reach, though some of the conflicts were explained in Halsey's Journal, a booklet co-written by Nylund himself that came with the limited edition of Halo: Reach, and six "Data Drops" released by 343 Industries.
    • Additionally , a number of details were changed in the 2010 rerelease in order to make the book mesh better with later canon, as well as to simply fix internal inconsistencies; for one thing, Elites are no longer referred to as a newly encountered species when the Chief finally fights one. The very next year, Tor had to release yet another edition to change some inconsistencies that were missed by the 2010 edition.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Keyes gambled with a risky maneuver that involved dropping off a nuke to be used as basically a hidden mine while doing a high speed orbit of a planet in order to outrun Covenant plasma torpedos, and then using the nuke and a Wronski Feint to take out three Covenant cruisers. It paid off and came to be known as the "Keyes Loop". Keyes comments that if any of his students had proposed that plan to him he would have dismissed it as something approaching Hollywood Tactics; the fact it worked was a fluke.
  • Sacrificial Lion:
    • Samuel, who sacrifices himself to help deliver the UNSC's first decisive victory against the Covenant; he was also the first Spartan to be lost in combat.
    • Linda at the end. Though she gets better.
  • Satellite Character: Whilst it does focus on other characters at times, the book is pretty much Master Chief’s gig, with most of the rest of the cast circling around him.
  • Save Sat: The UNSC station Cradle, sacrificed with all its crew to absorb a Covenant barrage.
  • Straight for the Commander: After 27 years of losing the war against the Covenant, the UNSC plans an operation to kidnap a Covenant Prophet in hopes of forcing a truce. The operation is interrupted by the Fall of Reach. Fortunately in Halo 2, backstabbing politics within the Covenant end up killing off the Prophets for them.
  • Super Prototype: The Pillar Of Autumn was overhauled into probably the UNSC's most powerful cruiser. Deceptively old, and considering previously to have been obsolete. But when the rest of the book explains how long it takes to fire one MAC round, the Autumn was refitted to fire three consecutive shots from the same gun.
    • That's just the offensive combat abilities. The ship also includes three reactors with new technology that uses chilled ions to cool the waste heat, meaning that the more power they use, the more they cool the waste heat. And the Autumn can take one hell of a pounding.
  • Super Soldier: The majority of the book is about what is required to get the Spartans to be the ultimate soldiers. Only half passed the augmentations, with 2/3rds of those who didn't "graduate" dying and the others becoming horribly deformed. But out of those who passed and went on to become the ultimate soldiers, only a handful died during the nearly three decades of constant combat between the start of the war and the Fall of Reach.
  • Super Speed: Kelly is frequently noted as being the fastest in a group of superhumans.
  • Taking the Bullet:
    • Sam for John. Unusually for this trope, he isn't that badly hurt; but it breached his suit badly enough that he won't survive the trip back.
    • Taken Up to Eleven at the Battle of Sigma Octanus IV, where the Cradle (a drydock) takes a plasma salvo to save the fleet. Keyes describes the fleet's returning MAC salvo as "a 21-gun salute three times over."
  • Training from Hell: Most of the book.
  • True Companions: The Spartans act like surrogate siblings very early on, enabling them to frequently win on missions from the get-go. John himself learns the hard way (at age 6) that winning must include his entire team, so they stay close together.
  • Victory Is Boring: For John-117, his normal life was simply too easy; he did well in school and always dominated any physical or mental activity. Mendez and Halsey were the first people to really give him a challenge and he appreciated it.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: The book features Master Chief and Cortana's first experience working together. Cortana learns quickly that MC knows how to read a battlefield just fine, he just needs her to scout other options.
  • Wave Motion Gun: The MAC platforms, but more specifically the "Super" MAC orbital defense platforms. So powerful even the hundreds of Covenant capital ships attacking Reach stayed out of range. By the end of the battle, about 2/3rds of the several hundred Covenant ships in the Fleet of Particular Justice were destroyed, most of them by a mere twenty Orbital MAC platforms.
    • Note that the Super MAC guns are NOT Wave Motion Guns in the normal sense of an absurdly powerful energy weapon; rather, the guns are massively upscaled MAC guns that fire very large payloads at absurdly high velocity.
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