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Contact Harvest: Halo    by Joseph Staten order for
Contact Harvest
by Joseph Staten
Order:  USA  Can
Macmillan, 2008 (2007)
Softcover, CD
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I have to admit that I've never played Halo, though both my teen sons have enjoyed the videogame. They summarized its universe for me - one in which humanity is struggling for survival in a war with a Covenant of alien races, who follow a faith that requires them to seek and collect Forerunner technology. This Contact Harvest audiobook - narrated by actor Holter Graham and by Jen Taylor (Cortana's voice in the Halo videogames) - tells the story of mankind's first contact with the Covenant in the year 2524.

We meet United Nations Space Command Marine Staff Sergeant Avery Johnson as a jaded veteran fighting colonial Insurrectionists and clearly unhappy about killing other humans. After he returns to Earth and goes on a drinking binge on discovering his beloved aunt's death there, Johnson is sent to help train a new militia on Harvest, a prosperous agricultural colony that exports food. Helping run the colony are two of the characters I enjoyed most in the audiobook - AI's Sif and Mack/Loki (Mack's constant attempts to flirt with the aloof, aristocratic Sif are great fun and these AI's show more personality than many of the humans and aliens in this universe).

After alien ship Minor Transgression encounters and destroys human freighters, the Office of Naval Intelligence assumes it's Insurrectionist terrorism and sends a high ranking intelligence officer to Harvest, where she enlists Staff Sergeants Johnson and Byrne in a special op to set a trap for the next attacker. Waiting on the freighter, they're shocked to be boarded by aliens instead of Insurrectionists. After this first conflict, the human colony requests peace talks (on Harvest) with the Jiralhanae invaders, who open fire, leading to war on Harvest between the aliens and the small, barely trained militia force.

Though I enjoyed the AI interactions and the action sequences - which come across extremely well in audio format - the story bogged down a bit for me in some of its technical detail, but especially in the introduction of a confusing variety of aliens, with varying agendas and politics (including the development of a coup to replace the Prophet Hierarchs currently leading the Covenant). Amongst the aliens, I particularly appreciated Unggoy Deacon Dadab's unlikely friendship with his small, versatile engineer companion Lighter than Some, their loyalty to each other, and the strong principles that led Lighter than Some to work with AI Loki against his own forces.

The audiobook ends after a coup on the Covenant holy city of High Charity against the three Prophet Hierarchs and the new leaders' suppression of the discovery of living Forerunners and Oracles. Lighter than Some's acts, the militia's and Marine's courage and fighting skilles, and Loki's planning set the stage for the evacuation of human refugees on Harvest on hundreds of freighters. A new age has begun for the Covenant - as has the Human-Covenant War. Halo: Contact Harvest is not only for the myriad of Halo game fans; it's also surprisingly (at least to me) entertaining and well executed military SF.

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