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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Those Who Should Know Better

We've all been in this position before. A book or movie you've been waiting for and looking forward to for a long time has finally come out. Or maybe you haven't really been looking forward to it, but you see it being advertised or stumble across it in the bookstore, and the cover is amazing, and you're familiar with other books in the same series or setting. And you're thinking, "Wow, this ought to be so cool." Then you sit down and read it or--in the case of movies--watch it. You get to about the halfway point, and it starts to sink in: it's not that great, and it's probably not going to get any better.

That's a real downer. Unfortunately, that's the position I've found myself in over the past few weeks while reading one of the newer books in the Halo series. Yes, that Halo, the X-Box game that is both famous and infamous the world 'round. Whether or not you're a fan of the games themselves, I'm personally a huge fan of the story behind the games. I've read all of the books, and while they weren't of the most amazing quality (few books based on video games are), they were generally well-written and entertaining, with one or two exceptions. Unfortunately, Halo: Evolutions set the bar for low quality in the series.

Evolutions is actually a collection of short stories set in the "Haloverse" by a variety of authors. Most I've never heard of before, but there are a couple of more well-known authors from the military sci-fi genre, including Karen Traviss and Eric Nylund, to name a few. Both Ms. Traviss' and Mr. Nylund's shorts were fairly good, but the majority of the other authors left me with one burning question: What criteria did they have to meet in order to get published in this book? It certainly wasn't quality of writing.

Now, I could spend an entire day going through the book and pulling out specific quotes to back up my claim, but I'm not going to do that. Also, to be perfectly honest, some of my gripes are purely subjective. My main complaint was that these authors made it painfully clear they had very little, if any, idea how professional soldiers behave on the battlefield. Sure, each soldier is different, each organization has a different level of quality. But when a pair of Spartan-IIs are bantering back and forth like a pair of 12-year-old wanna-be tough guys, it rather detracts from the business at hand, namely, slaughtering Covenant forces and protecting humanity from certain annihilation. There was also a lot of behavior that seemed very contrived, whether it was to force a plot point or a shabby attempt at characterization. One example: the Office of Naval Intelligence is always deceiving people on their own side, and always has an ulterior motive. Like the whole of ONI is comprised of nothing but scumbags.

Another distressing trend I discovered is that all the short stories ended just when it seemed things were finally starting to happen. Most often, it ended with the main character(s) getting abruptly shot in the head, stabbed in the back, or blown out of orbit. I got the impression that the authors had a good idea for their stories, but couldn't figure out how to develop it, and just when they seemed to pick up the thread and get it rolling, they realized they'd exceeded their word limit and they had to cut it off. And here's a purely subjective point for you: I get kind of depressed when 60% of the short stories end with the main character being killed or most likely killed. I understand that survival is no certain thing, especially not in the Haloverse, but I'd like to think that someone other than the Master Chief is capable of taking on the Covenant and living for at least a little while.

So, what's the whole point of this rant? I guess it boils down to poor research, lack of realistic characterization, and some poor plotting. I really expected more, especially from a franchise where the consumers are used to high quality. In today's publishing world, where it's becoming nearly impossible to get published, quality is a must. We can't afford to have shoddily written books flooding the market, when there are plenty of quality writers out there who can't get published because the numbers are against them.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

In other news, Kricket continues to progress well. I'm about two-thirds of the way done with the rough draft. I've gotten into a sort of unofficial contest with another writer from the Absolute Write Water Cooler (see links on right) to see who can finish our manuscripts first. The deadline is January 1st of next year. If I keep writing like this, I should be able to get it done by then. Here's hoping!

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