Thursday, August 13, 2009

If you like Halo...

The following was written for Halopedia:

Halo
is a big part of my life. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows how long I’ve been here. It’s not the only part of my life, though, and there are many works of fiction I like besides Halo. At places like Amazon, they have sections that are like “if you like this product, you may like this one”. So, this is my recommendation list. Stuff I enjoy that you might enjoy. If you like Halo, you may like…

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game is a science-fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. Its plot involves genius kids being recruited by the military and put in a special school that will allegedly give them the abilities to take on aliens (insectoid beings called Buggers) that have previously attacked humanity and have since retreated. The kids are given a series of games to build their skill, the games ranging from sport to mind-games.

Ender’s Game is something like what Spartan training would be like if John was smarter and hadn’t succumbed to Stockholm syndrome quite as quickly. Halo: The Fall of Reach doesn’t portray the UNSC as morally ambiguous as I would like it to have done. Dr. Halsey does express her regret at putting the kids through hell, but justifies it by saying it must be done for the good of the UNSC. Ender’s Game has similar characters who justify their Battle School program, but they are portrayed as antagonists. So, I think Ender’s Game is a little more ethically sound than Halo.

Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers is a science-fiction novel by Robert Heinlein. Note that the recommendation specifically refers to the book, which is hard military, not the movie, which is a silly satire. The book is classic science-fiction and I think Halo owes some inspiration to it, with elements such as powered armor and orbital insertion pods.

The plot involves a guy signing up to join the military on a whim. While away on tour of duty, Earth is struck with a meteor sent by their alien enemies. With no home to return to, he commits to fighting the war against the aliens – giant spider-like beings.

The novel is very focused on the military, a futuristic version of the U.S. military. The novel is pretty much just a vehicle for presenting the author’s own political views, which can be called fascist. I don’t much care for that, but it is an entertaining read. I think someone who enjoys the UNSC segments of the Halo novels would enjoy this. If you can’t stomach the political message, then I would recommend the movie because it pretty much just makes fun of the book’s message.

Aliens

Aliens is the sequel to the science-fiction horror film Alien. While my recommendation refers specifically to Aliens, I don’t have any real objection to seeing the other films in the series. Aliens is more relevant to Halo, though.

When contact is lost with a human colony known to be host to a ship holding the eggs of alien monsters (referred to by the general term Xenomorph), a group of marines are sent to eliminate the problem. You can imagine how well that works. The marines are too cocky, and the Xenomorphs completely overwhelm them.

The Xenomorphs have a complex biology, one which likely inspired the Flood. From the egg they emerge as Facehuggers, crab-like beings that clamp onto the face of their prey and insert its young down the host’s throat, before retracting and dying. Then the young matures into a Chestburster, which does as its name suggests and then grows into a Drone or a Queen.

The Halo series did derive much inspiration from the Alien series. The design of the Pillar of Autumn is based on the Nostromo from Alien. The Pelican is based on the dropship in Aliens. Sergeant Johnson is based on Sergeant Apone of Aliens. The list goes on and on.

Slither

"What the fuck was that?!"
—Sheriff Bill Pardy

Slither is a quirky science-fiction horror movie made in 2006, about an invasion of parasitic aliens targeting a small hick town in the style of old B-movies. The movie is based primarily on shocking gore and rape imagery alongside humorous anti-clichés. While clearly quite different, I find many aspects of Slither comparable to Halo.

Nathan Fillion (Reynolds in Halo 3; Edward Buck in Halo 3: ODST) stars as small-town sheriff Bill Pardy, who has mundane troubles like romancing the woman he likes and getting over his embarrassing fear of deer. Then a mysterious meteoroid releases an alien parasite that takes over the body of Grant, the richest man in town. The alien gets to work preparing for its hunt, and soon enough the whole town’s in danger.

The aliens of Slither share several similarities with the Flood. First of all, both species are parasites that take over people’s bodies. But while the Flood are nautilus-like in their natural form, most of the Slither aliens are slug-like and dark red and remind me of the peppers that come in my kung-pao chicken. The slugs enter human hosts through the mouth, evoking the same image of oral rape as in the Alien series, and turn their hosts into zombie puppets. Meanwhile, the stinger-looking alien in Grant is some kind of master intelligence overmind that turns Grant into a Gravemind-like creature with tentacles and zombies adding their biomass to his form.

It’s an entertaining movie in my opinion, but not for the faint of heart. There are scenes of extreme gore and vulgarity is thrown around all willy-nilly. There are a lot of elements similar to Halo that are hard to miss and some subversive humor to mix hilarity into abject horror. I recommend it, but will give warning.

Ringworld

Ringworld is a science-fiction novel by Larry Niven. I consider this one required reading for Halo fans, as it inspired one of its most central concepts: the Halo. Ringworld is about a collection of various people of various species who go on a mission of scientific exploration to the Ringworld: an ancient megastructure erected by unknown architects around a star that hosts its own atmosphere, continents, and ecosystem. Sound familiar?

Granted, there are many differences between the Ringworld and the Halo. I suppose it wouldn’t be quite so interesting if Halo ripped-off everything, though. The novel additionally features the concept of luck as a scientifically determinable characteristic, which may have inspired the Halo plotline in which Halsey and Cortana believe John to be lucky.

In any case, Ringworld is certainly worth a read. Claude Errera, webmaster of Halo fansite Halo.Bungie.Org, goes by the username “Louis Wu” after Ringworld’s main protagonist. I for one found it nice to learn what kind of character he references.

Firefly

Firefly is a science-fiction TV show that came out in 2002 and was cancelled by Fox halfway through its first season (but I’m not bitter). It has become a cult favorite and a movie came out in 2005. While not that similar to Halo, it does have three actors who later went on to be in Halo. In addition, it has some similarities to the storyline of I Love Bees.

The show’s name comes from the ship central to the story: the Firefly-class Serenity, which has some aesthetic similarity to a firefly bug. She’s captained by Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion (who plays Reynolds in Halo 3, remember). The pilot, Wash, is played by Alan Tudyk (who plays a nameless marine in Halo 3, and Michael Crespo in Halo 3: ODST). There’s a male mercenary named Jayne Cobb, played by Adam Baldwin (who plays a nameless marine in Halo 3, and Taylor Miles in Halo 3: ODST). Several of the lines said by their marine characters in Halo 3 will reference their roles in Firefly.

The similarities it has with ILB are in the backstories of River and Simon Tam, similar to the characters Yasmine and Kamal Zaman respectively. Both River and Simon are child prodigies, but River far outclasses her brother – the same with Yasmine and Kamal. A corrupt government program takes control of her (River/Yasmine), eventually her brother (Simon/Kamal) becomes aware and tries to dig out the conspiracy. She, meanwhile, is brainwashed and trained to become a killing machine. There are indeed many similarities in their stories and I find them entertaining for the same reasons.

And that’s the end of my list.

The end.

The end.

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