Tag Archives: goodreads

Review: Halo: New Blood

Halo: New Blood
Halo: New Blood by Matt Forbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best Halo novels I’ve read in a long time; maybe even my very favorite. It helps that it’s a story about one of Halo’s most likeable side characters: Sergeant Buck, originally from ODST, and now a squadmate in Halo 5. Buck is voiced and modeled by Nathan Fillion, an iconic figure to geeks everywhere and his character is basically a pitch-perfect translation of Malcolm Reynolds moved into the Halo universe. And it works perfectly.

Author Matt Forbeck either has the uncanny ability to mimic those around him, or he binged on Firefly episodes and Fillion’s other work while writing this book. You can hear Fillion’s voice in these pages and it’s excellent. The story itself is very human and focuses on the themes that make the Halo universe the most compelling: duty, identity, loyalty.

The story is told out of sequence, which is interesting as it creates a strong sense for how Buck (the main character and narrator of the story) thinks. We get a quick recap of the plotline of ODST, which is interesting, check in with some old comrades (which is interesting and also heartbreaking), and see how exactly Buck transitioned from ODST to Spartan-IV.

The best aspect of this story, however, is that it succeeds where almost all franchise tie-in novels fail: you don’t have to be a Halo fan to enjoy this book. It stands on its own; if you’ve never played a Halo game, you can still enjoy this story. It doesn’t rely on the reader having a degree in its own lore; if you’ve never played a Halo game, you’ll understand the difference between ODSTs (elite, but thoroughly human) and Spartans (human supersoldiers) and even the different classes of Spartans.

Most of all, it’s a human, character driven story. The ending, which I won’t spoil here, really did catch me off guard and caught me right in the feels. That’s a rare achievement for most books focused on space wars and future soldiers, let alone a video game novel.

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The Trouble With Long Books

I read for a lot of reasons. One of the stranger reasons I read is because of how much I like entering my reading into my Goodreads profile. You enter the books you’ve read, when you’ve read them, give them a rating and a review (if you want). Basic social media stuff, but that’s now why I love it; I love it because of what Goodreads does with all that data after you enter it.

I love how the data get arrayed out into neat bars and stats based on how many books you’ve read in a year, how many pages, when you’ve read the book versus when it was published, and what the longest book was that you read for that year. Basically, these are stats for a nerd, the way a baseball player might be concerned with improving his batting average or a runner might want to improve her best times. Suddenly, I want to read so I can fill my bars and I want to read a lot, all the time, even if I don’t really feel like it because I have to keep filling those bars. This is also the neurotic motivation I have for gathering Achievements for my Xbox Live gamertag, incidentally.

And hey, as long as it all motivates one to read more books, what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that when you set a reading goal for the year, and if you really focus on hitting it, you very quickly turn into a mercenary about what you’re reading. Sure, you could be reading Infinite Jest right now (which I am) and it could strike you was one of the best books ever written (which, thus far, it does) but it still only counts for one book. It’s over a thousand pages long yet it only moves my “books read” bar up by one tick. It’s over a thousand goddamn pages. I could read three average novels in the same time period!

There was one month (May 2013, according to Goodreads) where I did nothing but read Shogun by James Clavell for almost the entire month! And sure, it was one of the finest books I’ve ever read in my life and absolutely compelling, but an entire month was spent on one book! What about my bars? I have bars to fill.

Sure, there’s the fact that the graph also tracks the longest book that you’ve read, but that also has a flaw: what’s the point of reading a thousand page book if you’ve already got a 1100 pager on that graph? I have Neal Stephenson’s Anathem sitting patiently in my “to read” stack, but what’s the point? That shit only clocks in at a mere 937 pages, which makes it too long for me to stay on track with my monthly book goal, but too short to make “longest book of the year that I read.”

So, what, I’m left with the joy of reading? Maybe I want to marvel at a masterpiece of speculative fiction from a writer who cosistently delivers interesting and intelligent work that always impresses me? Maybe I just want to read something great for the joy of reading?

Fuck that, man. I got bars that need fillin’.

Finishing Books After I’ve Decided I Dislike Them

If you take a look at my Goodreads page, you’ll notice that I’ve had a book on my “currently reading” list that I started in December. It’s not a particularly long book, so it really shouldn’t have taken me this long to finish it. Except that it’s not very good and I’m not really enjoying myself. I’ll save the particular reasons for my review; that’s a thing I’ve started doing since several people informed me that they were actually interested in what I thought about particular books, instead of just the star rating. Imagine that! To be honest, I’m still trying to get used to the idea that people pay attention to the things I do here. I know I’m posting in a public space, but for the most part, I still tend to assume that I’m talking to myself.

Anyway, back to the books.

I try not to abandon a book once I’ve started reading it, even if it’s bad. Of course, I don’t always hold myself to this ideal and there are several books that I’ve abandoned over the years. But they are decidedly in the minority and even if a book isn’t very good or even just overwhelmingly mediocre, once I start, I feel compelled to finish. I’m not sure why this is. Is it due to some sort of feeling of professional responsibility to other authors? “You wrote this thing, so the least I can do is give you the courtesy of reading it all the way through before I render my judgement?”

Maybe it’s just stubbornness? Or some sort of weird OCD compulsion that only manifests in reading tendencies? I’m certainly not OCD in any other aspect of my life. The current state of my apartment can attest to that.

Regardless, I’ve books on my reading stack that I really want to get to, but I feel compelled to finish the ones that I began first. Even if I put them off for several months in the process, it seems. I wonder if anybody else does this?