Star Wars. The Forever War. The Golden Age. Starship Troopers. Halo: The Fall of Reach.
What do these have in common? They are among the SF stories (or franchises) that have had the greatest impact on me. And I can say with certainty that Nylund's "Fall of Reach" was at the top of my list. Until Halo: First Strike.
I borrowed FoR from a friend. I read it 6 times before he made me give it back and buy my own copy (a decision I have not regretted yet). I then read it at least a dozen more times. It is the reason I am a Halo fan. It was that good.
When The Flood came out, I was both excited and dismayed- excited because there was more Halo for my insatiable mind to absorb, but disappointed because Nylund was not the author. (I have nothing against Dietz, but he needs to stick to books in universes of his own creation. He's too by-the-book for Halo, especially for a pre-established plot.) I read it and was inevitably disappointed- it was good, but by no means did it live up to FoR's legacy.
I was among the first to find out about the release of First Strike, and I was excited to hear that Nylund was writing it. I was also happy to hear that it would not take place as part of the plot of either game, but as its own unique story, which is part of what made FoR really shine. I had high hopes for this book.
I was not disappointed.
Halo: First Strike surpasses FoR in every conceivable way. The characterization is incredible, the action is mind-blowing, the plot twists stunning. It will answer questions about Halo you have not even thought of. It takes place between Halo and Halo 2, but goes deeper than even I could have imagined. And over it all, there are subtle hints that something bigger is going on. It is the same mysterious sense of majesty that made Halo so incredible. The atmosphere, the mood, the wonder of it-this is a book every Halo fan should read. But First Strike, like FoR, is not just for fanboys. It is not just the best of the three Halo books, but it is among the best SF I have ever read. And I've read a whole freaking lot.
First Strike was satisfying in the same way FoR was: when I turned the last page, the only thing on my mind was "Wow." Immediately followed by "I gotta read that again." The only disappointing thing is that like its predecessor, it will be vastly under-publicized. As a serial paperback, it will receive no media attention, no appreciative comments by fellow authors printed on the back, no chance of becoming a hardcover. Just the fact that it is a video-game novel will prevent most people I know from picking it up. But none of that prevents First Strike from being one incredible piece of work. Even flawless. Nylund has an incredible gift, and I am truly inspired.
After I finish this review, and after finishing my third read, I'm going to go shove this book in the faces of everyone I know and scream "READ THIS!!!" Then I'm going to sit down and finish my own SF classic, which I will dedicate to Eric Nylund. And then... I'll read it a couple dozen more times.
It's just that good.