What was I thinking? A book based on a video game— and I thought it would be GOOD? Maybe I was swayed in my judgment by the reputation of the author— Greg Bear, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. Maybe I was merely intrigued by how sometimes the entertainment industry can collapse it all—movies, soundtracks, books, video games– into one billion dollar baby, a real spectacular spectacular.
Oh wait! I remember (and I’m not pulling some stunt here; I really just remembered): Greg Bear was the author of a short story I really enjoyed called Petra. It was about a gargoyle come to life, and something about a Christ Of Stone or something, but I remember really diggin’ it, and I still had Mister Bear’s name in mind when I recently came across this book of his called HALO: Cryptum.
I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about the video game. But as far as the book goes, I thought while I was reading it that it was about some Earth in the future where aliens had taken over and humankind had split and devolved back into some of our ancestor species. After I put the book down for the last time (not finishing it), I learned from the back cover that all this actually takes place in the distant past, and I suppose these creatures will later become us.
I’m not sure who this book is written for, perhaps for ten year old boys (that’s not a put-down; I just don’t know), but the style is so plain and choppy it makes Hemingway look like Henry James. It’s like what a cave painting would read like— but without the texture, mystery, durability, and multiple colors.
There are interesting objects in the book, but interesting objects that stay rather uninterestingly inanimate. As with many a work of science fiction or fantasy, the emphasis is put on gadgets and myth building, and character and story suffer. This doesn’t seem to bother a certain type of sci fi fan, perhaps the main type— the guy who honestly enjoys reading about physics and witnessing all the cool ideas the author has had about alternative realities or exotic technologies.
It’s very difficult for me to deconstruct a work of art as to why it doesn’t appeal to me. We all know after we’ve seen a movie whether we liked it or not (actually, there are a few exceptions; for example, after viewing Tree Of Life, I didn’t really know HOW I felt about it for days). But if someone presses us on what was wrong, precisely, with the movie, sometimes it’s hard to put it into words.
With Greg Bear’s book, I think the major problem is that none of the main characters could really be called a “protagonist.” Protagonists usually engage with the world in the some way. But these characters do and think so little, that it’s like watching an audience watch an audience watch a movie. And not even a good movie. There’s yawning and checking of phones.
Another problem may be that the main characters are manly men, tight-lipped and ultra confident, and they don’t seem too bothered by events— and brother, if your characters don’t care, then the reader’s not likely to care much either. Maybe it boils down to this: there is just no sense of peril in Halo: Cryptum, which is not good for what I suppose to be an adventure story.