Halo as a series has almost unlimited potential for compelling and interesting stories, but one of the areas most ripe with potential has largely been un-elaborated on. The wondrous Forerunners and their mythological legacy has always been one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of Halo. Up until now, the most we really got in terms of explaining what exactly happened to them was in the games' stories (the details of which were cryptic and mysterious at best), and in the form of obscure (but cool nonetheless) terminals in the games that added some detail to their demise. This book, Cryptum, is the first of a trilogy meant to finally explain what happened 100 millennia ago that lead to their disappearance. Great idea!
The book is written from the perspective of a young and rebellious Manipular (think Forerunner teenager) named Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting, who runs off to search for ancient artifacts from an even MORE ancient, powerful, and seemingly extinct race, the Precursors. Along with some human companions he has made the journey, they uncover and awaken a powerful, legendary Promethean (think super powerful Forerunner warrior) general named the Didact (recognize that name from the terminals of Halo 3 and Halo Anniversary?) who has spent the last thousand years in exile-by-slumber in a Cryptum. Needless to say, times are pretty tough for the Forerunners, who are now rumored to be struggling against the hideous flood in their border worlds. How fortunate, that they would find this legendary general at such a time! It's the start of a compelling and exciting journey, to be sure. This is merely a glimpse of the premise of the story, and obviously the book has many more interesting details to uncover.
Greg Bear is a fairly famous science fiction writer with a rather impressive resume and pedigree. It's easy to see why he has this reputation when reading Cryptum. His diction is undeniably compelling and elegant, and the flow of his writing has a major feeling of eloquence to it. Bear's writings from Bornstellar's perspective perfectly reflects the kind of elegance and higher-thinking you'd expect of the brilliantly advanced and enlightened Forerunners, as well as the kind of arrogance you may expect of a teen (but he grows up quite a bit throughout the story in ways both conventional and not). The story itself is fairly compelling and fast moving. It was very easy to just keep reading and reading and reading, 100 pages flash by in what seems like a few minutes. It's super engrossing. The characters are, for the most part, well written and the story surrounding them progresses quite naturally. It's very compelling.
Bear's intriguing word choice and flow also complements the overall Forerunner culture. Even after reading this book, the Forerunners still feel mysterious and details of their existence are still quite open to interpretation and speculation. Even the physical description they are given leaves some room for interpretation, and their technology still feels like magic. How does their personal armor/suits allow them to go without sleeping? How does it extend the lifespan so many thousands of years? Writing from the perspective of a Forerunner is pretty clever, as he describes the technology like it's common and the inner-workings and functions of it all is already understood, so no attempt to explain that stuff is made. So while we may read that a ship that assembled itself from a mechanical seed activating under a mountain, converting said mountain into raw materials and then into a massive monolith of a ship, we have no clue how it does so, keeping the sense of mystery and wonder at the Forerunners' ingenuity intact. Great job with that!
The only complaint I would make about this book is that, at times, it feels as if Bear was instructed not to say *too* much with regards to important details. This trilogy is being coordinated by 343 Industries, the company in charge of Halo's development, and as such, they have a large degree of control over what details go into each book. They have expressed that this trilogy of books will majorly resonate with the upcoming Halo 4 and the rest of the new Reclaimer Trilogy. Because of this, the book sometimes feels like major details are kept hush-hush and skimped over, and more minute, inconsequential details are fluffed up and stretched out more to fill-out the book, all in the name of keeping Halo 4's surprises, well, surprising. In fact, some "big moments" are so small in comparison to the build-ups of them, you'll be left wondering, "Wait, what just happened? Did I miss something?" As such, there are times when this book feels a bit like a tease, a dangling carrot on a stick that doesn't quite get the pay-offs or explanations you'd hope for after all the build up in the book. Again, I understand the information and details have to be rationed out because of 343i's agenda. Even so, these complaints are pretty small in comparison to the strengths of the book. Don't let it dissuade you from picking Cryptum up. It is, after all, the first in a trilogy and the future installments will undoubtedly answer questions this book doesn't.
Overall, this is a definitely solid start to a great idea for a Halo book trilogy. A lot of details that have been revealed in this book may upset a lot of people who thought they figured everything out about the Forerunner history. I was kind of shocked at some of the details this book revealed about not only Forerunner history, but also the history of ancient Humans, San 'Shyuum (also known as the "prophets" of the covenant), and the flood. Despite the "carrot on a stickery" at times, this book has *a lot* of relevatory details to enjoy. As one who loves the Halo series mostly for its awesome story, this is a fairly easy recommendation. Just don't go in with preconceived notions of what the story should be, and you'll be much rewarded with a well-written, fascinating look at the beginning of the end for the Forerunners.