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Literature / Halo: Glasslands

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Halo: Glasslands is a 2011 novel by Karen Traviss set in the Halo Expanded Universe. It is the first part of the "Kilo-Five trilogy" set in the months after the events of Halo: Ghosts of Onyx and Halo 3, in which Humanity and the Sangheili, no longer at war, are picking up the pieces from the Great Schism. It revolves around the continued adventures of: Dr. Halsey, CPO Mendez, and the Spartans in the Onyx Shield World; ONI agent Serin Osman, a team of ODSTs, and SPARTAN-II Naomi, who find themselves on a mission to destabilize the fragile government on Sanghelios; and a group of Sangheili hoping to overthrow the Arbiter and eventually continue their war with humanity.

A sequel and the second book in the Kilo-Five trilogy, titled Halo: The Thursday War, was released on October 2, 2012.

Glasslands contains examples of:

  • Author Filibuster: Throughout the book, a number of characters deliver condescending speeches and remarks about Dr. Halsey and the SPARTAN-II project. Unsurprisingly, the views presented in these correlate with the author's, as seen in several interviews with her (e.g. Traviss compares Dr. Halsey to Dr. Mengele, and then a character in the novel does the same). While Halsey does rebut most of the arguments against her, the other characters all ignore her reasoning despite her points very often being right.
  • Break the Cutie: Oh Naomi. She gets told that Halsey is dead and then it turns out she isn't, then she finds out how Halsey left her family after kidnapping Naomi. Lucy too, to the point that she stops speaking out of survivor's guilt.
  • Big "NO!": Lucy's first words, ending her mute condition. When Halsey harasses Prone to Drift enough, Lucy punches her while screaming "No, no, no, no!"
  • Cliffhanger: An explosion of...something bright on Sanghelios destroys Philips' camera and causes the squad to head back there.
  • Conflict Ball: Nearly everyone is suddenly inclined to hate Dr. Halsey to get the conflict ball rolling. Most noticeable of these is probably CPO Mendez, whose excuse to start hating on her seems to have come out of nowhere, and comes across as hypocritical.
    • The Elites, who were previously pretty much united in their campaign against the Brutes, are now locked in a massive feud amongst themselves over their beliefs regarding the Forerunners.
    • ONI's plan to protect Earth: arm a Sangheili splinter faction of zealots who want to assassinate the Arbiter in the hopes that this will destabilize the Elites enough to prevent them from attacking Humanity. Note that A. The Arbiter is the most influential Elite in favor of making peace with the humans, and B. A good portion of the rebel Elites want to continue their war with humanity.
      • Basically, the belief is that peace with the Elites is impossible; so the idea is to weaken the Elites as much as possible to buy humanity enough time to rebuild their power. Then the humans will be in the position to dictate terms.
  • Continuity Drift: It's not exactly clear whether it's author infighting or simply the result of a different interpretation, but Eric Nylund's depiction of the setting and characters seems to be taking a lot of flak in Glasslands; to name a couple of examples, the formerly formidable and intelligent Dr. Halsey is degraded, and the sentimental portrayal of the Spartans is bordering on being a Deconstruction of their earlier, more stoic (and chemically induced) depiction. Namely, the revisionism appears to target the ends-justify-the-means morality shown in Nylund's work. Halsey is also one of Nylund's favorite characters, and he's even stated that he and Halsey think very much alike. This might easily lead to the conclusion that there might be more to the sudden anti-Halsey sentiment than just a different author's view of the universe.
    • Glasslands also introduces the idea that Halsey somehow covered up the entire SPARTAN-II flash-cloning program from the brass, although no piece of earlier fiction has given any indication of such, and in fact implied that said brass had actually enabled the program.
      • It also strikes as odd that Admiral Parangosky, a woman who authorized sending 12 year old child soldiers on suicide missions, among other things, would be bothered by flash-cloning.
    • Additionally, no one ever pretended Halsey was a saint, but a number of traits seem to have been added to make her seem more sinister. For one, the Glasslands version of Halsey is shown to live by an ‹bermensch view of morality, considering herself as being Above Good and Evil, even noting a few times that she doesn't have a soul. That said, Traviss does depict Halsey to be emotionally devastated by her daughter's death as well as the apparent death of Master Chief.
  • Continuity Nod: There are several times when Dr. Halsey's journal, shipped with the Halo: Reach special editions, is referenced or directly quoted.
  • Cutting the Knot: When a group of anti-Arbiter Sangheili conspirators decide that they need to steal a vessel, Jul 'Mdama suggests that they just go up to the shipyards and take it, since its former Shipmaster is one of the conspirators and no Sangheili would ever think to stop a Shipmaster from just inspecting his vessel. Jul then realizes that he's going to need to teach other Sangheili to be vigilant against these types of tricks if they are going to survive in the post-war era.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Raia, Jul's wife.
    "Let me know when you've done something decisive and manly."
    • Black-Box
    • Nearly everyone, including Kilo-Five and some of the Spartans, deliver similar sarcastic banter at one point or the other.
  • Defusing the Tyke-Bomb: Spending time with Kilo-Five soon melts off Naomi's hardened exterior, showing she's really a scarred, delicate flower in need of some genuine care. Naomi also starts to comes around to Osman's point of view regarding Halsey when the latter (with the help of BB) uses a combination of Halsey's journal, knowledge of the fate of Naomi's family (her mother committed suicide after her flash clone's death and her father turned against the UNSC), and questioning her professionalism to turn her against Halsey.
  • Didn't See That Coming: When Jul and Forze go to meet the Servants of the Abiding Truth, Jul is expecting some old monks in robes. He's surprised to see that not only are they lead by a fully armed and armored Field Master, but that they've turn their temple into a fortified bunker and fully stocked armory, with dozens of young and old Elites ready to use those weapons.
    'Telcam: I am Avu Med 'Telcam. And I have many brothers.
  • Dirty Business: Dr. Halsey, Chief Mendez, and Admiral Parangosky, though the tone of the novel seems to be more forgiving toward the latter two while focusing on Halsey's deeds.
  • Don't Create a Martyr: 'Telcam knows that killing the Arbiter would just create a martyr, realizing that he needs to discredit him and his ideas first before killing him. However, the events of the sequel force 'Telcam to directly attack the Arbiter long before this part of his plan can get underway.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The SPARTAN-I Vs and Infinity, which are major plot elements of the games from Halo 4 onward, receive their first mention in the story's epilogue.
  • Foreshadowing: The reason the members of Kilo-Five were chosen was the fact that they had no family — no ties to worry about if they went missing for months at a time. Toward the end, it's discovered that Naomi's father is alive.
  • Elective Mute: Lucy stops speaking due to her survivor's guilt.
  • Hard Head: Halsey is punched in the face by a SPARTAN-III supersoldier, yet does not sustain the massive injuries that one would expect from such a blow. SPARTAN-IIIs are described in Ghosts of Onyx as being of equal strength to Elites, snapping necks and ribs with ease.
  • Humiliation Conga/Break the Haughty: The whole novel is this for Dr. Halsey. Her former allies and coworkers turn against her, her Spartans turn against her, all of her secrets are exposed, she's detained in the middle of nowhere and officially declared dead.
  • Hypocrite: Chief Mendez repeatedly lays into Halsey for her actions, which she responds to by noting that Mendez himself is being despicable and cowardly since he not only went along with the SPARTAN-II project, but repeated his actions with the SPARTAN-III program.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: This is generally Halsey's justification for her past actions. Same for Mendez and Parangosky, though they get called out for it far less than Halsey.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: The ODSTs, particularly Vaz, are portrayed as being just about the only morally "pure" characters around (as stated by the author in an interview), though Vaz's depiction as a moral compass does become questionable when he's perfectly okay with murdering an unarmed and defenseless Halsey in cold blood without a second thought, before BB talks him out of it. Or for that matter, they don't have any qualms about betraying humanity's allies by arming the Abiding Truth, and in doing so conspiring against Lord Hood and the UNSC's proper leadership, which is unaware of Parangosky's plans.
  • Insane Admiral: Parangosky. There's really no good reason for her to willfully override the lawful leadership of the UNSC to destabilize humanity's biggest potential allies and derail a large-scale peace process after the bloodiest war in (recorded) human history. She's paranoid, viciously vengeful, devoid of morals and utterly self-interested — what's not to like?
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: When looking through images of Venezia's Insurrectionist leaders, Vaz discovers that one of them is Naomi's long-lost father.
  • Moral Myopia: The entirety of ONI seems to suffer from this as they ignore their own crimes and role in the SPARTAN programs to come down on Halsey for it. Justified in the case of Osman as she was adopted by the anti-Halsey Parangosky.
  • Planet of Hats: The Elites have to get over this or they'll be in trouble.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: This trope is very much at play in Glasslands. The protagonists are shown as being morally righteous not just from their own perspective, but the entire fictional reality seems to bend to their moral views. Whenever they do something less moral (which is every so often), it's not that big a deal or it's justified as being for The Needs of the Many (or just not acknowledged at all). Meanwhile, the opposing side (Dr. Halsey) doesn't get much to say in her defense and the entire universe seems to be against her on a fundamental level.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Admiral Parangosky gives one to Catherine Halsey at the end of the book over her use of flash-cloning the SPARTAN-IIs and forcing their parents to watch them die. Although even Halsey's supporters would agree that she needed calling out, the fact that Parangosky has authorized just as horrible, if not worse, things makes it a particularly twisted form of Even Evil Has Standards at best to outright hypocritical at worst, a fact she fully acknowledges.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Servants of Abiding Truth, even by Covenant standards. Blow up an ancient, broken Forerunner spire as revenge for "abandoning" the Sangheili? We'll bomb your keep and nail you to some scaffolding.
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • It's noted that Dr. Halsey doesn't have an AI with her in the Shield World, though she had her personal AI, Jerrod, in her laptop back in Ghosts of Onyx.
    • The billions of Sentinels that were left guarding the Shield World when Onyx disintegrated at the end of Ghosts of Onyx appear to have mysteriously disappeared, as they are not brought up at any point and UNSC ships can freely move around in the debris field.
    • Admiral Parangosky mentions that the Master Chief and Cortana disappeared five months earlier, though only about two or three months had passed at that point.
    • According to Osman, the UNSC had only captured a Covenant Engineer "a couple of years back." However, the UNSC captures several Engineers in Halo: First Strike and one defects in Halo 3: ODST; both of these take place only a few months before the events of Glasslands.
    • The MJOLNIR armor is said to have "servos". However, all earlier fiction has made a point about how the lack of servo motors and their replacement with a layer of electroactive crystalline polymer is the MJOLNIR's most significant advantage over previous exoskeleton systems.
    • Halsey and Mendez get into an argument about the genetic screening involved in choosing Spartans. While Halsey was very strict when it came to genetic profiles for the SPARTAN-IIs, SPARTAN-IIIs had comparatively more lax screening thanks to improved augmentations. Mendez goes on as though the IIIs had no genetic tests, while Onyx makes note that they actually had to cut down Beta Company from 1000 to 300 because they couldn't do the genetic tests necessary to bolster the numbers. Furthermore, it also outright states that having the correct genetic markers has a direct correlation with the bioaugmentation survival rates. Mendez was in fact present at the meeting where both of the above facts were discussed.
    • When Paragonsky is interrogating Halsey about the use of flash clones, she asks why she did it instead of just making the kids disappear. Halsey claims she didn't know they would die, but Halo: The Fall of Reach had explicitly stated that she had known from the start that flash clones of full human beings were genetically unstable and would die within a few years of their creation. Supplemental media such as Halo Legends and Halsey's journal shows that Halsey was actually surprised that some of the clones lasted for more than a few years.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Several plot threads seem to have been dropped without resolution:
    • What happened to the SPARTAN-III Gamma Company which had been deployed before the attack on Onyx?
    • The Elites have their grudges with humanity, but none of them see it necessary to mention how Admiral Whitcomb's NOVA bomb devastated one of their base worlds, killed their highest-ranking military officials and annihilated a significant portion of their fleet only a couple of months earlier, back in Ghosts of Onyx.
    • The much-touted feud between the Elites and Brutes no longer seems to matter that much, as the entire Great Schism plot seems to have been diminished into a minor scuffle that is mostly over by the time the novel is set. A lot of Brutes even serve the Elites, with several living on Sanghelios itself. This is unlike its prior depictions in works such as The Return in Halo: Evolutions. Later explained when The Thursday War reveals that the Brutes on Sanghelios were biding their time to plan their own uprising against the Elites.
  • Writer on Board/Depending on the Writer: The change in writer is definitely reflected in the story. Unlike just a few months earlier in-universe, the entire UNSC seems to be against Halsey now. Additionally, characters like Mendez and Halsey have been radically altered from their previous portrayals, the Spartans seem to have forgotten their professional stoic mannerisms, and so on. It's also fairly obvious from the amount of dropped plots and the change in tone.