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.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: A very minor example; after the Chief is wounded during his first combat mission, he is very proud of his Purple Heart and works hard to keep it shiny. However, news of Harvest's destruction at the hands of the Covenant makes him quickly realize just how little medals really matter.
  • 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 essentially the backstory for Halo: Combat Evolved, filling in many of the blanks that were at most only alluded to in the game itself, such as the origin of the Spartans, Keyes's past exploits (such as the "Keyes Loop" mentioned in CE's manual), Cortana's creation, and, of course, the titular Fall of Reach itself.
  • 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. a 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 IV got him promoted to Captain.
  • Badass Crew: The Spartans, who are firmly established as the most badass unit in the entire UNSC.
  • Badass Normal: Mendez, who can keep up his Spartans despite being an otherwise normal human who's significantly older than them.
  • 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.
  • Blind Jump: A key competent of the Cole Protocol is that any UNSC ship forced to retreat from the Covenant must make a blind jump away from human worlds. As established in Combat Evolved, the Pillar of Autumn makes a blind jump in order to escape Reach and arrive at Halo. However, it's revealed here that [[Cortana had secretly used untested coordinates from a Forerunner artifact instead]].
  • Body Horror: Some of the Spartans who "wash out" gain physical deformities that turn them into this.
  • Born Lucky: It's first established here that a main reason why John is the best of the Spartans is because of his extraordinary luck; it's even the reason why Halsey picks him as the first Spartan to try on MJOLNIR.
  • Bulletproof 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 angers 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.
  • Burial in Space: The bodies of the Spartan trainees who died during the augmentation process are launched out of the torpedo tubes of a ship, accompanied by an appropriate military funeral procession.
  • 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.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: Oddly, the books depicts the UNSC as needing to produce all their Artificial Gravity through rotating sections, even though Combat Evolved itself and subsequent media portray the UNSC as having at least some gravity generators.
  • Chess Motifs: After being activated, Cortana's first words are the Italian proverb "Quando il gioco è finito, il re e il pedone vanno nella stessa scatola."Translation 
  • Chest Full Of Medals: After the Chief becomes a galactic war hero and has been awarded almost every medal in the UNSC Navy, he's shown at one point walking in with a uniform coated with medals, but not caring at all how they look.
  • 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, the best shot among the Spartans, and rather unsociable even by their standards.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: At its core, the first part of the novel is about John literally growing up into a soldier and leader.
  • 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.
  • Curb-Stomp Cushion: The eponymous battle ends with the Covenant utterly annihilating Reach's defenses, including most of the remaining Spartan-IIs. However, the UNSC does not go down without a fight, inflicting severe casualties on the attacking Covenant fleet and preventing them from obtaining Earth's coordinates. And of course, the Autumn is able to escape with Chief and Cortana in tow.
  • Deadly Dodging: At Sigma Octanus IV, Keyes's ship is able to shake off homing plasma torpedoes by making a last minute course correction that leads to the torpedoes hitting a Covenant destroyer instead (though Keyes's own ship does receive some heavy damage anyways when it scrapes against said destroyer's shields during the dodge).
  • Death of a Child: What with the Child Soldiers. Sam is the first of the Spartan-IIs to die, at fourteen.
  • 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: The Chief's persistence against the odds is established as one of his most defining features, even as a pre-Spartan child.
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Allowing the augmentation surgery, John has a brief moment at the gym where he wonders if the artificial gravity has somehow been reduced. Shortly afterwards, he's forced into a spar against four veteran Helljumpers, with John accidentally killing two as a result of this trope.
  • Doomed Hometown: Reach, the very planet where the Spartans were raised and trained. 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.
    • As noted above, the UNSC is depicted as being wholly reliant on centrifugal gravity, unlike in later media.
  • Escort Mission: Played with. The Spartans are told they'll receive a hacking escort for their biggest mission yet; they immediately object on the grounds that, civilian or elite soldier, the escort couldn't possibly keep up with a Spartan. Cue Cortana, the Chief's trusty AI companion who's usually safe inside his armor.
  • 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.
  • Genius Cripple: The SPARTAN-II candidates who washed out during the augmentation process may not have much in the way of physical capabilities anymore, but it's noted that they still have a role in the UNSC as strategists, analysts, and the like, as they were selected as much for their intelligence as their strength and thus were instructed in history, science, math, and tactics. Indeed, one of these washouts, Fhajad, writes a physics paper that proves vital in the UNSC's victory at Sigma Octanus IV.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: After Sam's suit is irreparably breached, he chooses to stay behind on the Covenant ship to cover his teammates' retreat and ensure that the warheads goes off, become the first Spartan-II to die in combat.
  • High-Speed Missile Dodge:
    • Part of the famed "Keyes Loop" maneuver involves dodging homing plasma torpedos and having them hit a Covenant ship instead.
    • The Chief does this on foot when when testing the new MJOLNIR Mark V armor, by slapping the missile aside just before it hits him. No, his armor and physical augmentations don't give him reflexes that ridiculous; Cortana handled the timing. He wasn't completely undamaged by the missile's explosion, though.
  • 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 Spartans vs. a thousand Grunts is described as such:
    Kelly: Four of us, and a thousand of them? Piss-poor odds for the little guys.
  • Little Miss Badass: The female Spartan-II trainees are all this, but in particular there's Kelly; at the age of seven, she not only outruns full grown Marines, but manages to knock one unconscious by side-arming a rock at his head.
  • In Media Res: The prologue starts right in the middle of the Human-Covenant War, with the Spartans in the middle of a mission. Then the book goes back to the very beginning of the SPARTAN-II Program, before the war has even started.
  • 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 powered armor, which is demonstrated by a video of a Marine in partial MJOLNIR moving his arm and immediately screaming in pain as his arm's bones are crushed.
  • Mathematician's Answer: During the final test of the MJOLNIR Mark V armor, a tester instructs the Master Chief to count to ten after he (the tester) leaves the room. During that time, Cortana senses the presence of an incoming squad of ODSTs, and asks the Master Chief what his plan is for dealing with them. He responds with "I'm going to finish counting to ten."
  • 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.
  • Origins Episode: The book is this for the Spartan-IIs in general. In particular, it's about how the Master Chief became the Master Chief, and establishing him as something other than a heartless Space Marine.
  • 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 even specifically tells John, "You are the only ones who can use them, Petty Officer. Who else would we give them to?"
  • Power Incontinence: It's shown that when a non-Spartan tries to utilize the MJOLNIR armor, they will literally break themselves due to their inability to control their new super-speed and super-strength.
  • 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 IV 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.
  • Ramming Always Works: At Sigma Octanus IV, Keyes has his ship ram a tiny Covenant stealth ship in response to it jamming his missiles' tracking capabilities. Though Keyes's crew "barely felt the bump", their ship did receive some hull damage in the process.
  • Retcon:
    • A number of things about the titular Fall of Reach were 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.
    • In Halo: CE, Cortana mentions before the Covenant manage to take the Autumn’s MAC cannon offline that she has scored four kills against the enemy ships, in addition to damaging several others. For a single human cruiser against a numerically and technologically superior force of Covenant vessels, this is practically unheard of.
  • 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.
  • Take a Third Option: When Keyes's ship is face-to-face with four Covenant ships (each one alone more than a match for it), he realizes that he's not going to be able to either directly outfight or outrun them, and quotes this very trope ("Yes... he did have a third option") when he comes up with a solution, which involves using some elaborate Deadly Dodging, a sneakily-deployed nuke, and a gravitational slingshot to destroy three of the four Covenant ships and make the fourth one retreat.
  • Taking the Bullet:
    • Sam for John. Unusually for this trope, he isn't that badly hurt; but it breaches 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 space 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: The first part of the book is about how the Spartan trainees were put through hell to become humanity's greatest soldiers.
  • 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.
  • Uriah Gambit: During a test for both Master Chief's new Mark V armor and his partnership with Cortana, Halsey's rival Colonel Ackerson takes over the test in hopes of getting the Spartan killed, attacking him with ODST squads, anti-tank mines, automated chain guns, and an airstrike. John and Cortana made it through ALL of them.
    • Cortana then attempts revenge by reassigning Ackerson to the front lines. However, Halo: First Strike reveals that he quickly slipped out of it.
  • 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.
  • Zerg Rush: Established here to be a favored tactic of the Covenant; in the prologue, John reminds himself that while Grunts can be cowardly, they tend to attack in such numbers that in several instances where the human defenders kept mowing them down wave after wave, the humans eventually ran out of bullets... at which time another wave of Grunts would step forward.
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