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Literature / Halo: First Strike

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Halo: First Strike is a 2003 Halo book by Eric Nylund bridging the events of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, and also serving as something of a sequel for Halo: The Fall of Reach. As Halo 2 hadn't yet been completed when the book was written, there are some inconsistencies between the two, some of which Tor rectified with an updated edition in 2010.

No relation to the Jackie Chan movie of the same name.

First Strike provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: A great deal of subplot mysteries in this book don't come up again in subsequent works:
    • The Ascendant Justice has numerous mysteries that go unresolved in the book, including its unusually small crew, its AI unlike any known Covenant one, and one of its passengers supposedly having been the "Guardian of the Luminous Key". The Combat Evolved: Anniversary terminals and the adjunct section of the 2010 Halo: The Flood reprint give (or at least imply) answers to a few of these questions, but not all of them.
    • Sergeant Johnson's immunity to the Flood has also never come up again, outside of a brief mention in The Halo Graphic Novel. In this case, it is intentional; Bungie stated that they chose to ignore it, and 343 Industries has followed suit.
    • The Forerunner crystal was this during the Bungie era; it's destroyed by Locklear at the encouragement of Halsey, but the Prophet of Truth recovers a few fragments that he thinks may be good for his own plans... which end up never being explored. However, after 343i took stewardship of the franchise, they began implying that the crystal was actually one of the few known surviving slipspace flakes (which were used by the Forerunners to power their slipspace drives), and finally confirmed it in Halo: Shadows of Reach, where the fragments actually make a reappearance.
  • Ace Pilot: Shiela Polaski, who's from the same Pelican squadron as Foehammer.
  • Back from the Dead: Linda, who was clinically dead from injuries sustained in The Fall of Reach, is revived by Dr. Halsey towards the end of the novel.
  • Badass Boast: Admiral Whitcomb's transmission to the Covenant fleet after crashing the Ascendant Justice into Unyielding Hierophant:
    "We're here in the middle of your fleet with your 'holy of holies'. Come and get it!"
  • Badass Crew: The mixture of Spartan, Navy, and Marine characters.
  • Badass Normal: Corporal Locklear, an ODST who acquits himself admirably fighting alongside Chief and Johnson.
  • BFG: At one point, Kelly briefly wields a detached Warthog chaingun to mow down Covenant.
  • Boarding Party: One of the first things Chief and friends do after escaping Halo is hijack the Covenant carrier Ascendant Justice. Later, the Spartans board a Covenant space station in order to blow it up.
  • Brandishment Bluff: One where both sides are pulling the bluff. When our heroes come across an Insurrectionist base, the Innies threaten them with nukes, which the UNSC responds to with the threat of the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice's seven plasma turrets. When the Covenant attack them both, it turns out the nukes were just unusable neutron radiation emitters and the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice actually only has one barely functioning plasma turret.
    • Governor Jiles notes that, under other circumstances, this would be amusing.
  • The Captain: While he's technically a vice admiral, Danforth Whitcomb fills this role to the letter for the survivors of Reach and Halo. Complete with a gruff personality, Texan accent and a mustache.
  • Combining Mecha: The captured Covenant carrier Ascendant Justice is combined with the UNSC frigate Gettysburg because the maneuver Cortana is planning to pull requires two reactors.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Locklear is explicitly noted to have been one of Major Silva's ODSTs.
    • The Insurrectionist asteroid base in the Eridanus system is the exact same one that the Chief's first mission took place in. It's implied that the guards there know this.
  • Disposable Pilot: Red Team's pilot gets a few throwaway lines before getting blown up in his cockpit, prompting Joshua to take over from inside the troop bay.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Given its status as an interquel, several characters and other things from Halo 2 first show up here:
    • The Prophet of Truth and Tartarus appear in the epilogue, where they briefly mention the very Elite who goes on to become the Arbiter.
    • Lord Hood is present at a UNSC council meeting discussing the Fall of Reach.
    • Several weapons introduced in 2, such as the BR-55 "Battle Rifle", also show up early on.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • When the Chief and Blue Team encounter Brutes, it's implied that this is the first time that the UNSC has encountered the species. Later, Halo: Contact Harvest would show that the Brutes were one of the first Covenant races encountered by humanity, managing to appear even before the Elites, a retcon that would be further solidified by both their appearance in Halo: Reach and the 2010 reprint of this very novel.
    • Reach is referred to as an Outer Colony, despite the Epsilon Eridani system being right next door to Sol, and the world has been since explicitly established as one of the most populous and heavily developed planets in the UNSC before the Covenant attacked it.
    • This book gives a considerably different description of the San’Shyuum and the Prophet of Truth's appearance than would be made standard in later games, with both unrecognisable physical features and the use of gender-neutral pronouns. Strangely, this passage receives no edits in later revisions of the book:
      Its body was barely discernible, covered as it was with a wide red cloak, and upon its head sat a glowing headpiece with sensor and respiratory apparatus that extended like insect antennae. Only its snout and dark eyes protruded… as did tiny claws from the sleeve of its gold underrobes.
    • Following the lead of Halo: The Fall of Reach, the Spartan-II's are all depicted as wearing identical MJOLNIR armor, and this fact is brought up as a facet of Halsey's character, as she demonstrates her ability to identify specific Spartans by subtle body language. The series would later depict MJOLNIR as extremely customisable both in-game and in-story, including in some stories set prior to The Fall of Reach and First Strike.
  • A Father to His Men: Admiral Whitcomb deeply cares about the well-being of the people under his command, to the point where he has to constantly take special care to ensure that his feelings don't interfere with his ability to be a rational commander.
    Admiral Whitcomb sighed. He felt for [the critically injured Kelly-087, who he's just had removed from Ascendant Justice's bridge] ... felt too much - which was the problem. He couldn't concentrate with her so close. He'd want constant status reports on her condition. Hell, he would have gone over, knelt next to her, and held her hand if that would've helped. He loved the men and women under his command as if they were his own sons and daughters. It was the old axiom of command: To be a good leader, you had to love the service. To be a great commander, you had to be willing to destroy that which you loved.
  • Fictional Document: The 2010 rerelease to celebrate the launch of Halo: Reach includes a few transcripts and documents further expanding on the EU.
  • Fold the Page, Fold the Space: Slipspace is described by marking two points in a sheet of paper and scrunching it into a ball to shorten the distance.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The book was originally released right in the middle of the Halo 2 hype campaign, so readers back then already knew that Chief, Cortana, and Johnson would all make it back.
  • Four-Star Badass: Vice Admiral Danforth Whitcomb (although as a Vice-Admiral, he would only have three stars).
  • He Knows Too Much: Lt. Haverson executes a Covenant Engineer minutes after it finished fixing the Master Chief's damaged Mjolnir armor. He doesn't like it, but points out that they can't risk the Engineer falling back into Covenant hands, and sharing the technical details of the Spartan's shield generator technology.
  • Helpful Mook: The Engineers on the Ascendant Justice, who are just as willing to help the Humans as they are the Covenant.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Whitcomb and Haverson use themselves as bait to lure in a 500-strong Covenant fleet towards a just-about-to-explode space station; they succeed in wiping out nearly the entire fleet.
    • Played with by Locklear's death. He destroys the Forerunner crystal in order to prevent it from causing more trouble, but he probably wasn't planning to die in the resulting explosion.
  • I Can Still Fight!: Dr. Halsey would have insisted that Linda get at least a month of bed rest after being brought back from the dead, but she will have none of that and insists on going on the mission to take out the Unyielding Hierophant.
    Linda: I'm squared away, Chief. I still have this (easily shoulders sniper rifle) and I still have this (pats her helmet). Even if the Covenant did their best to shoot it off last time. I can take care of myself. And I can take care of the team's back. I've never let you down, sir. I don't plan on doing so now.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Haverson kills an Engineer who just repaired John's armor in order to keep the Covenant from getting any data on it. He finds the act just as despicable as Cortana does, but stands by his decision. Also, when Whitcomb orders the Gettysburg-Ascendent Justice to bail out while the Covenant come in and start killing all the Eridanus Secundus Insurrectionists:
    Whitcomb: Duty be damned. I am still going to Hell for this.
  • I Like Those Odds: Averted when Fred leads a 3-man Spartan team to destroy a Covenant cruiser:
    Kelly: I'm all for a good fight, Fred, but those odds are a little lopsided even for ten thousand to one.
    • Fortunately, Fred has a plan to destroy the entire task force.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Cpl. Locklear initially objects to taking orders from the Master Chief, a naval NCO. However, the Chief speculates it may have more to do with Locklear picking up some of Major Silva's prejudices against Spartans, than a dislike of the navy.
  • It's Probably Nothing: A Grunt notices a flight of Banshees that aren't on his flight schedule, but can't figure out whether they're Elites on a secret mission or not, and ultimately decides to not report them in because he fears being punished for interrupting said mission. It turns out that the Banshees are actually carrying Spartans who end up killing him and every other Covenant in the valley. (On a side note, Blue Team did end up encountering a lot of anti-air fire once another guard realized they weren't Covenant, so if the Grunt did report them...).
  • Jerkass: Colonel Ackerson, who's present at the UNSC council meeting discussing the fall of Reach, not only celebrates the (apparent) deaths of all the Spartan-IIs, but also bullies the ONI officer who escaped the battle to report. Fortunately, Lord Hood is there to put him in his place.
    Ackerson: Everyone on Reach is dead, Lieutenant. Dead dead dead!
  • Killing for a Tissue Sample: Sergeant Johnson turns out to be immune to the Flood. Halsey gives John the choice of giving the Office of the Naval Intelligence one of two data crystals. One directly mentions Johnson by name and and outlines how his nerve condition makes him immune, the other has the same information but omits his name and DNA. She warns John that giving ONI the former will likely cause them to dissect Johnson in hopes of figuring out the cure. John struggles with which crystal is better to give, but ultimately chooses the one that won't kill Johnson.
    • Later media revealed that this dilemma was all for nothing; as it turns out, Sergeant Johnson is not immune to the Flood, he just outfought them and escaped on his own merits. The irregularity in his nervous system is due to him being an ORION/Spartan-I, an earlier super-soldier program that predates even the Spartan-IIs.
  • The Last Dance: When Whitcomb and Haverson crash the Ascendant Justice into Unyielding Hierophant and lure the nearby Covenant fleet in, destroying most of the ships when the station blows up.
  • MacGuffin: The Forerunner crystal seems to serve no purpose other than getting the survivors from Halo to Reach in time, allowing them to escape the besieged Reach and creating an exotic setting for a space battle. While Truth mentions its remnants may be "enough for their purposes" in the end, it wouldn't be referenced against until the 2020 novel Shadows of Reach.
  • Mauve Shirt: Most of the Spartan-IIs who initially survive the Fall of Reach.
  • Morton's Fork: The reason Admiral Whitcomb stayed behind on Covenant-occupied Reach was to set one up with his prototype planet-killing NOVA bombs.
    Whitcomb: Either the Covenant pack those bombs up and take them home for study, a possibility that I hope to God happens. A bomb like that could crack their homeworld in two. Or, the bombs stay here and they'll stop the Covenant on Reach.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Cortana discovers that the Covenant's ships, with their better technology than the UNSC's, are capable of jumping within a gravity well easily. The Covenant AI of the ship she's on leaks the info to nearby Covenant ships, and this very technique is used by the Prophet of Regret's flagship in Halo 2; the jump causes a shockwave that destroys much of the city of New Mombasa and prevents the squad in Halo 3: ODST from landing correctly.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: While the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice is staying at an Insurrectionist asteroid base, the bridge crew and Spartans are invited to refreshments by the base's governor, Jacob Jiles, while they discuss receiving repairs for their vessel. Jiles even begins to talk about the asteroid's hydroponic gardens before Whitcomb tells him to get back on topic.
  • Noodle Incident: As the Chief and his team gear up for a Zero-G op, they reminisce about a training mission they had:
    Fred: This reminds me of the underwater mission Chief Mendez sent us on at Emerald Cove. When he sabotaged half our air tanks? And we ended up stealing his?
    Anton: (laughing) And after, we ditched him and camped on that island. It was a week of nothing to do but light bonfires, bake clams, and surf.
    Grace: Mmmmm, calamari.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Haverson, despite outranking the Master Chief, willingly concedes command of the mission to the Spartan. Later when the mission changes and Haverson retakes command, he still agrees to take the group back to Reach even though he knows that Master Chief really only wants to go there to check for surviving Spartans.
    • Whitcomb, who is very much willing to put his trust in the Spartans.
  • Retcon: The 2010 rerelease changes a number of details to make the book mesh better with later canon, as well as to simply fix internal inconsistencies. For one thing, Brutes are no longer referred to as a newly encountered species when the Spartans fight them.
  • Sacrificial Lion: All of the surviving Spartans in the book are killed before they can get back to Earth, with the exceptions of John, Fred, Will, Linda, and Kelly.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Master Chief and co. crash landed into the Ascendant Justice's hanger bay at 300 meters per second, or 671.1 miles per hour, and then get right back up. Sure, Master Chief has his armor, and the ship may be made of some kind of future metal that doesn't disintegrate upon crashing at Mach 0.9, but, c'mon, Sergeant Johnson wasn't even wearing a seat belt. (On the other hand, it's Sergeant Johnson; the man is legitimately badass).
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Dr. Halsey, having lost all hope that humanity can win the war, deserts the group, taking a sedated Kelly with her. That said, she does all this as part of her plan to lure all the surviving Spartans to a safe haven where they don't have to fight anymore.
  • Space Station: The Unyielding Hierophant, a Covenant battlestation 30-km long and over 10-km in circumference; Johnson describes it as looking like "two squids kissing".
  • Tempting Fate: Mixed a little with Underestimating Badassery; while on the Unyielding Hierophant, a Cortana clone finds out what the Chief and the rest of the Spartans would be encountering shortly and states this little gem.
    "Also be advised, Chief, that there are ceremonial guards in this temple — a race we have not encountered before. Roughly translated from Covenant dialects, they are called 'Brutes'. They shouldn't be a significant threat or they would have been used in previous military situations."
  • There Is Another: As it turns out, John is not the last Spartan. In fact, four other Spartans survive through the entirety of the book.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Check the dates in the story. The Chief escaped Halo on September 22. The book ends on September 13. That Forerunner crystal was warping time.
  • Title Drop: "We're going to take this fight to the Covenant. We're going to launch a first strike."
    • And the attack itself is codenamed Operation: FIRST STRIKE.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Dr. Halsey gives the Master Chief a lesson in morality versus expediency by allowing him to decide the fate of Sergeant Johnson after his escape from the Flood on Halo, providing John with two datachips after she runs medical tests on him:
  • Try Not to Die: When the Chief and the other Spartans leave to fix their ship:
    Whitcomb: Chief, make sure you come back alive. That's an order, son.
  • Underside Ride: In a flashback, it's revealed that John and his squad did this to infiltrate an enemy base during a training exercise. The soldiers they were up against suspected this, and ran mirrors along the bottom of the truck to check for them. However, the Spartans knew they would do that, and brought along their own mirrors so they could reflect an unoccupied portion of the underside back at the guards. The Spartans did this when they were only twelve.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Engineers that help the humans after they hijack the Ascendant Justice. Despite making up a fair number of the ship's crew, they go completely unmentioned after they merge the ship with the Gettysburg until the end of the novel. Especially notable since they're known for fixing things on a ship that's in a bad condition.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer…: Cortana needs to disrupt the mainframe on the Covenant space station they're invading. Her answer? Clone herself about a gajillion times, resulting in a DDoS attack that is so effective that Cortana herself starts having trouble communicating with John.