In 2017, science fiction writer Nancy Kress decided her novella Yesterday’s Kin needed to be expanded into trilogy of novels Tomorrow’s Kin, If Tomorrow Comes, and the upcoming Terran Tomorrow. But while fellow sci-fi writer Kelly Gay took a similar path with her novella Halo Smoke And Shadow, which started life as the short story “Into The Fire,” she says that this tale inspired by the Halo video games — which is now available in paperback after more than a year of being digital only — was originally conceived as the longer version.
For those who didn’t read the digital version when it came out, what is Halo Smoke And Shadow about, and how does it connect both narratively and chronologically to the games, the other books, and the comics?
Smoke And Shadow introduces Rion Forge, the grown daughter of marine Sergeant John Forge, a character in the first Halo Wars game. The story is set in the Post War era of the Halo universe, in the beginning of 2557, before the events of Halo 4, and follows Rion and her crew as they salvage military goods left over from the war while hunting for her father’s lost ship, the Spirit Of Fire.
Aside from the Halo games, what were the biggest influences on Halo Smoke And Shadow?
I’ve always been a huge fan of sci-fi TV. Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, and the like. When I was half way through Smoke And Shadow I realized the story had a very Firefly-esque vibe. Which, first, is awesome; and second, is pretty standard for me in terms of writing style: rag-tag group of characters facing danger, action, humor, grief… Those elements are in all of my works from my urban fantasy series to my young adult novels. I really enjoy throwing characters together, those who walk the line between lawful and unlawful, and exploring the relationships that unfold.
The first two chapters of Halo Smoke And Shadow were originally published as the short story “Into The Fire” in the collection Halo: Fractures. How did that story come to be expanded into this novella?
The story events in the novella were originally part of the proposal for Fractures. It was clear to me and my editor that the scope of Rion Forge’s story was bigger than the word count limitations for the anthology, so we proposed a split into a short story and the novella.
What was the reaction from 343 Industries [the division of Microsoft that oversees all things Halo]?
When I was approached to write the short story for Fractures, I was given a time period range and asked to come up with a few ideas. I knew almost immediately what I wanted to write about. What happened to the lost ship, Spirit Of Fire, had been a long-standing mystery, and the sacrifice John Forge made in Halo Wars has always been very emotionally compelling to me. So I wanted to bring that forward in time. Thus, his daughter was born, a salvager by trade who discovers the first real clue on the Spirit Of Fire’s whereabouts. What better way to look for her father than to be out there in the universe tracking down old ships and salvage. Unbeknownst to me at the time — this was years ago before details emerged — 343 had planned to bring the ship back for Halo Wars 2, so it was a nice coincidence that worked for everyone.
Was part of your original plan that “Into The Fire” would become the two chapters of Halo Smoke And Shadow, or did it just work out that way?
It just worked out that way. Those first chapters were a good fit for the anthology and its word count parameters. And the chapter ended on a nice little cliff hanger, which worked out well, too.
Was it difficult to expand “Into The Fire” into Halo Smoke And Shadow?
No. Since it was already in outline form from the initial proposal, it was just a matter of writing it. 343 were a big help in this regard, in terms of brainstorming new possibilities as well as steering me around existing and future storylines.
So is your plan to next expand it into a novel, maybe called Halo: What The Blazes!?!
Ha! I’ll put that one on the list.
Seriously, though, there been any talk or thought on your part of writing another Halo story?
Well, the thought part is definitely there for me. The characters seemed to fit rather seamlessly into the Halo universe, and there is weight and substance there to keep exploring. They have a lot more to do and a ship to find, whether that’s in my head or eventually on paper. I think if the novella continues to do well and people enjoy it there might be talk to keep going. But, Halo is always evolving, and what might work now, might not work for 343’s main storylines and future goals. So, we’ll have to wait and see.
What about writing a Halo game? Have you asked 343 about that at all?
No, I’ve not asked. But I’d be open for sure. The thing that draws me to games is story. I’m a true story mode player, so I’ve always been interested in the writing element.
Do you think Halo Smoke And Shadow would work as a Halo game?
I think there are a lot of connections from the story to the larger universe that might lend well to a game. The thing about stories set in the Halo universe is that they all have that kind of potential because the world is so vast and realized and connected, so really anything is possible.
Halo Smoke And Shadow was originally published digitally at the end of 2016. Is there any difference between that version and this printed edition?
There’s no major difference. I believe we did a few small corrections here and there, but those did not have anything to do with the story, just minor editorial changes.
Finally, if someone enjoys Halo Smoke And Shadow, what sci-fi novella would you suggest they read next and why that one?
If the reader wanted to stick to Halo, I would suggest the Forerunner Saga by Greg Bear [Halo: Cryptum, Halo: Primordium, and Halo: Silentium]. They’re full novels, but they give the reader terrific insight and understanding into the origins of the halos, The Forerunners, and The Flood.