While Taylor Swift’s influence may be far-reaching and pervasive, in my new interview with science fiction writer Matt Forbeck, he explains that his new sci-fi space opera Halo: Bad Blood (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) — the latest novel in the Halo video game saga — is absolutely, positively not influenced by Ms. Swift or her song, “Bad Blood.” Well, maybe a little.
To begin, what is Halo: Bad Blood about?
Halo: Bad Blood is a direct sequel to Halo 5 and my novel, Halo: New Blood. It picks up straight after Halo 5, from the point of view of Spartan Eddie Buck, who’s performed by Nathan Fillion in the games. Once Buck and the rest of the Spartans from the end of Halo 5 get themselves situated, Buck is given an assignment that requires him to reassemble his old team from Halo 3: ODST, which I handily disassembled in New Blood. This book’s about how he manages that and what it means to him both professionally and personally to pull it off. [Click here to read my 2016 interview with Matt about Halo: New Blood.]
Where did you get the idea for the plot of Halo: Bad Blood?
I had such a great time writing New Blood that I was itching to get back to writing another story about those characters. My editor, Ed Schlesinger, suggested it to 343 Industries, and they gave us the go-head nod. They also suggested that perhaps Buck had to get the old team back together for a desperate mission to help the UNSC after the ending of Halo 5, and I chewed into that like a dog with his favorite bone.
How did this idea evolve and what impact did the 343 Industries team have on it?
We had a lot of back and forth on the basic plot. The trouble with writing something set after Halo 5is that the next Halo game is still in the works. That means that I can’t do anything in my book that’s going to box in the team working on the next game. I have to be careful not to contradict anything they might want to do while they develop that game.
Part of the process involved us figuring out where the boundaries for the story stood. Once we got that all hammered out, I came up with an outline for the plot and got that approved before I set in on the actual writing.
So what was the biggest contribution that 343 made to Halo: Bad Blood?
Jeremy Patenaude and Tiffany O’Brien at 343 kept me on task and away from no-go spots in the Halo universe. They’re my main contacts with a wonderful team of people who help me keep to the canon, and they do a fantastic job at it. Every time I would stub my narrative toe on something, they’d shine a light onto whatever I’d hit and then show me a smooth and easy way around it.
Obviously, Halo: Bad Blood isn’t a retelling of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” as a sci-fi story, but given the title, did you slip in any Swift references? Like does Cortana tell Master Chief to shake it off, shake it off?
Sadly, no. I did listen to the tune several times while writing the book, but I didn’t consciously make any references to it. Subconsciously? Maybe.
Aside from Taylor Swift, are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Halo: Bad Blood but not on your other Halo books?
Not really. Bad Blood owes so much to the groundwork that New Blood laid, that you can’t really get away from that. They’re both based on Halo 3: ODST, of course, with a heaping helping of Halo 5.
How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or other, non-Halo games? Did any of them have a particularly big impact on Halo: Bad Blood?
The Blues Brothers is one of my favorite films, and it features the timeless quote, “We’re putting the band back together.” It’s also a story about reassembling a team to pull off an impossible job. I may have leaned on that a little.
And this is my last question about influences: Along with writing novels, you’ve also worked for such video game companies as Activision, High Voltage Software, and Human Head. How, if at all, did your previous work on video games impact what you wrote in Halo: Bad Blood or how you wrote it?
I don’t think that influenced the story directly, but having written a number of video games, I have a ton of respect for video game developers and all the trials they have to go through to produce a game. It’s almost miraculous that any game ever ships, but really it’s down to the hard work and determination of the teams behind them.
I suppose having worked on video games helps me spot the places in a game where the narrative is necessarily glossed over in a game, giving me room to explore and deepen things in a novel. They’re such different media, and novels really allow you to get into a character’s head in a way that’s hard to pull off in a game.
I also have to ask the obvious question: Do you think the events of Halo: Bad Blood would work in the context of a Halo game?
Actually, I think they would. Without spoiling anything, there are some cinematic scenes in Bad Blood that would make wonderful set pieces for a video game. That’s intentional. I’m writing a book based on a video game, after all, so it makes sense to tap into the things we all love about that game.
So do you know what’s next for you, Halo-wise? Halo Bloody Halo? Halo: Blood Bowl?
That’s up to 343. I’d be honored to write more Halo stories. I’ve been a fan of the universe since before the first game came out, and I love being along for the ride.
Finally, if someone really enjoys Halo: Bad Blood, which of your original novels would you suggest they read next and why?
Amortals is probably the first place to go. It’s out of print at the moment, but I’m planning to bring it back later this year. It’s a near-future science fiction story about a Secret Service agent who wakes up in a clone body and discovers that he’s been murdered.