With Halo: Shadows Of Reach (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), author Troy Denning continues to be the writer with the most stories set in the universe of Master Chief, The Covenant, and the other denizens of this sci-fi first-person shooter series. In the following email interview, Denning discusses how this military science fiction story connects to the games and the other Halo novels, his and others, as well as why he enjoys visiting this turbulent universe of someone else’s creation so much.
For starters, what Halo: Shadows Of Reach about?
Shadows starts out as a simple mission to enter the ruins of CASTLE Base and recover assets required by Dr. Halsey for a mission of vital importance. Things grow complicated when Blue Team discovers that the Banished have occupied the planet for reasons of their own — and are brutalizing a small colony of rehab pioneers who are just trying to reclaim their home world.
I’m not allowed to say.
I figured. So, aside from being about Master Chief, are there any narrative connections between Halo: Shadows Of Reach and your previous Halo novels: Last Light, Retribution, Silent Storm, or Oblivion?
There are narrative connections from all of my previous books in Shadows. First, of course, there’s Blue Team, who have appeared in every story I’ve written so far (albeit, without John in two of them). And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Castor, who has appeared in every story except Oblivion, plays a big part in this story. But there are some subtle — and unexpected, I hope — surprises in store for people who enjoyed my books set earlier in the Halo timeline.
How could there not be? I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, which would be easy to do if I started to say too much on the subject. But, obviously, Reach’s current condition is a direct result of those events, and Shadows is an exploration of what happens to a glassed world. Plus, the mission objective is to enter CASTLE Base.
As with all things Halo, Shadows Of Reach is a sci-fi space opera story. But are there any other genres at work in this novel as well?
I would say that, more precisely, it’s a space-marine sci-fi novel, which is in itself a combination of war story and science fiction. But there’s not really another genre hidden beneath the veneer on this one. There didn’t need to be. The story of Blue Team returning to an annihilated Reach carries plenty of emotional impact. It would have been too much to layer in another level of story fabric.
Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Halo: Shadows Of Reach but not on any of your previous novels, Halo or otherwise?
Ken Follett is always a major influence when I’m writing a war story. I haven’t seen him tackle big battle scenes in quite the scope that’s necessary in Halo, but nobody does a better job of establishing character and creating suspense in a war setting. I’ve read all of his books several times, and I’ve never fail to learn something new in any read.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or games — other than the Halo ones, of course — that had a big influence on Halo: Shadows Of Reach?
The first movies that come to mind are Saving Private Ryan and Hamburger Hill, which portray the horror and scale of modern combat. But a larger influence was probably the news coverage of Operation: Desert Storm. When I was writing some of the battle scenes in Shadows, I would think back to scenes and descriptions from that war to make sure I wasn’t underselling the situation. The destructive capacity of modern weaponry is almost unimaginable, and that’s where a lot of the stuff described in Halo starts.
Like all things Halo, Shadows Of Reach was overseen by the good people at 343 Industries. When you were writing Shadows, did anyone from 343 say, “We need you to change this in your story…and we can’t tell you why?”
Probably the biggest example would be Castor’s fate. We had something else in mind for him, but there were elements of it that didn’t quite fit his character. I was still trying to work that out when 343 suggested what we finally went with, which worked better for them for a variety of reasons, and I think Castor’s fans are going to be very excited about it.
Did they make any other big contributions to the story?
Well, they were the ones who said, “We want to take Blue Team back to Reach.”
That’s big alright. Anyway, Halo: Shadows Of Reach is your fifth Halo novel. What is it about Halo that you just like writing about so much? Are you a big fan of the games, is it the freedom within the space that 343 give you, does it just have a rich sci-fi world in which to play…what?
I enjoy a lot of things about writing Halo. One of the major attractions is the people. Ed Schlesinger is a great editor for me. He has a way of spotting passages I could mine just a little bit more, and his notes are often what elevate the characters to the next level. That goes triple for the endings; I don’t think I’ve written a book yet where Ed doesn’t spot something that needs to be explored in more detail. Every one of the books we’ve done together has ended far more strongly because of that knack.
But you’re right about the freedom 343 gives its authors. Halo novels are diverse in a way that most tie-in properties aren’t. By placing such a premium on letting authors write the stories they want to, 343 has created the room for a lot of different voices and story styles. That makes the entire line richer. Not only can I write both military fiction and detective / suspense thrillers in the same universe, I can read stories about space salvagers and aliens coming of age. It gives you the feeling that anything is possible in the Halo universe — and possibility is the key to keeping stories fresh, for both writers and readers.
In the previous interview we did about Halo: Oblivion [which you can read by clicking here], you said there had been some talk of doing a third novel to go along with Last Light and Retribution, and a third novel to follow Silent Storm and Oblivion. Are you and 343 Industries still talking about that, or…you can’t say, can you?
So, do you think the story you’re telling in Halo: Shadows Of Reach could work as a Halo game?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It would make a fantastic first-person shooter and / or strategy video game. It’s probably the most game-friendly story I’ve written for Halo.
Finally, if someone enjoys Halo: Shadows Of Reach, and they’ve read all of your other Halo novels, what sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out?
First, I’d recommend John Steakley’s Armor. This was the first action-centered space marine book I read, and it’s still one of my favorites.
Next, I’d recommend the classic, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It’s not as action-packed as Armor, but it lays the foundations of space marine stories. If you haven’t read it (and I don’t mean watched the movie), you don’t really have the grounding to appreciate space marine fiction.
Finally, I’d recommend David Weber’s On Basilisk Station. This is more of a space navy than a space marine story, but it does a fantastic job of postulating what the command of an interstellar warship might be like. Plus, if you enjoy it, a whole series follows.