Halo: Contact Harvest is one of my favorites out of all the Halo novels. As much as I do appreciate the history of the Halo universe we get from Eric Nylund’s books, Joseph Staten’s writing style makes this story seem a lot more realistic to me than the Nylund stories.
Also, Nylund does something that really gets on my nerves. He constantly over uses military nomenclatures. For example, he never just says, “Master Chief picked up his rifle and climbed into the Scorpion.”. He seems to always have to say, “The Master Chief picked up his MA5B assault rifle and climbed into the M808 Scorpion Main Battle Tank.”. That got really tiresome to me by the time I got to the end of The Ghosts of Onyx.
I realize that when he wrote The Fall of Reach that we didn’t all know the different nomenclatures for all of the weapons and vehicles in the Halo universe but I think it would’ve been fine if he had mentioned them here and there throughout the books and we could’ve all still picked up on them.
If memory serves, this was the fourth Halo novel that I read. I believe that I read all of the Nylund novels and Halo: The Flood by William Dietz and then came back to Contact Harvest. I wish I had started with Contact Harvest. This story really grounds you in the Halo universe more than any of the others. All of the Halo novels I have read, I have read since Halo 4 was released. So my knowledge of the extended universe was very limited. I only knew the story of Halo through the games and while it is a good story there is so much more to it and the novels make the games much more meaningful. Contact Harvest really sets the stage for everything that takes place in the games and in the other novels.
If you are thinking about getting into the novels and the extended canon of Halo, I recommend starting with Contact Harvest.
Contact Harvest is the first book in the timeline of what I call modern Halo history. The Forerunner trilogy I consider to be ancient Halo history. This novel tells us about humanity’s first contact with the alien alliance that we know as the Covenant. It gives us great insight into the Covenant, how it formed, the different species that make up the Covenant and why the Covenant declared war on humanity
These are things I didn’t pick up on as much from the games or from the other novels. In those places the Covenant are just there trying to kill us and we have to stop them. I know that there is a bit more to it than that in the games and the fiction but Contact Harvest sheds so much more light on why everything is happening the way it is in all of the games and the fiction.
There are several major plot lines through the story of Contact Harvest.
The first and most important being humanity being introduced to the Covenant. Obviously, without that the story of Halo would be very different and much less exciting. The Covenant aren’t necessarily bad. They are just doing what they do because they believe it is the right thing to do. The legitimately believe that they are following the will of their gods, the Forerunners. Any group of people, or aliens apparently, will fight for what they believe is right whether it is or not. The Covenant are only “bad” to humanity because they are trying to kill us. The Covenant are just following the orders of their leaders and what is right according to their religion. Humanity just happens to get in their way.
Later on in the story we see that the leaders of the Covenant do find out the truth but they are unwilling to accept that truth because it would mean that they would lose their power. To me, they are the real bad guys in the Halo story. They were unwilling to change even when it was beyond question that they were wrong.
That is a problem with big religion even in today’s culture. The people at the top are unwilling to admit when they are wrong because it would make them look foolish or cost them position, power and the influence that they have over peoples’ lives. So instead of changing they continue to exercise their power and influence over people and lead them down a path of destruction.
We meet a lot of characters in Contact Harvest that end up playing big roles throughout the history of Halo, both in the games and also in the extended fiction.
On the Covenant side of things, the most important characters are the three prophets that we know from Halo 2 and 3. They are the prohets of Truth, Regret and Mercy. They are the driving force behind all that the Covenant does in the games.
In Halo: Contact Harvest we get to see their rise to power.
When we meet them for the first time they are all already in positions of varying degrees of importance. The Prophet of Truth holds the position of Minister of Fortitude, the Prophet of Regret holds the position of Vice Minister of Tranquility and the Prophet of Mercy is a philologist in charge of a group of ascetic priests whose job it is to study the Forerunner technology contained in the dreadnaught, a Forerunner ship around which the Covenant home world of High Charity is built.
In the coarse of doing thier normal duties, these three would be Hierarchs learn a secret that if know would tear the Covenant apart. Obviously, they do not want this secret to be revealed. They then make a pact never to divuldge this information to anyone and devise a succesful plan to usurp the power of the current hiearchs and place themselves in the position of ultimate power over the Covenant. These are the positions they hold when we meet them in game for the first time at the beginning of Halo 2.
The next character of lasting importance we meet is Tartarus. He is a young, ambitious Jiralhanae (Brute) captain who is serving under his uncle Maccabeus on the Covenant ship Rapid Coversion.
Tartarus eventually becomes Chieftain of the Jiralhanae by challenging and killing Maccabeus.
During the Great Schism that is the ultimate downfall of the Covenant, Tartarus becomes the “right hand” of the hierarchs, essentially becoming commander of the Covenant’s military forces.
The most important character we meet on the human side of things is Staff Seargent (SSG) Avery Johnson.
Even if you’ve onle played the games and never read any of the extended fiction, you know what a huge role SSG Johnson plays in Halo.
It is very good to get to see his background and learn more about him through this book.
We know he is a Marine. We know he is hardcore. We know he “knows what the ladies like”. His gung ho bravado, no fear attitude is for real. When it comes to combat he has “been there, done that”. I knew guys during my time in the Army who had that kind of attitude during training but when the bullets and grenades and rockets started flying for real, they were hiding in the back of the Humvee wetting their pants. Not SSG Johnson though. He is the real deal.
We learn that he is originally from earth and that he grew up near what is present day Chicago.
That is another thing that makes this book seem more realistic to me, the characters are more relatable. They aren’t all from some fictional planet out in the galaxy some where. One of the main characters is from Chicago. I could get in my truck, start driving and in about 15 hours be in SSG Johnson’s home town. That is really cool to me.
SSG Johnson is also the first Marine to engage the Covenant in combat. He isn’t the first human to make contact with the Covenant but he is the one that draws first blood.
As we go through the book we get to learn a lot about the kind of man Johnson is. We see him not only in a combat role but also in the role of a mentor and a trainer and in some ways the role of a father. He is instrumental in the defense of Harvest. Had it not been for the efforts of Johnson and his men their might not have been any survivors from the Covenant assault on Harvest.
I think that is enough about Johnson for now. There will be plenty more to talk about with him as we go through this story.
The next big human character we get from Contact Harvest is private (PVT) Wallace Jenkins.
Now if you’re not a big fiction-head you might ask, “Private who?”. As far as the games go, Jenkins was only in one cut scene in Combat Evolved but what a cut scene it is.
Jenkins is the owner of the helmet cam that Master Chief finds just before the flood show up for the first time. In the footage from the helmet cam we see Jenkins on a mission with SSG Johnson and several other marines. Then we see the entire squad being overcome by the flood. This scene is pivital because from that point on Halo becomes something very different to what it had been. It was no longer just trying to stop a bunch of aliens bent on exterminating the human race. After that cut scene it became a fight to stop a biological terror that could wipe out all life in the galaxy.
In CE we only get to see the end of PVT Jenkins but in Contact Harvest we get to see his beginning. Jenkins’ story reminds me a little of Luke Skywalker from episode 4 of Star Wars.
Jenkins is on a planet that is very isolated and is an agricultural center. His family are farmers but he doesn’t want to be a farmer and he thinks the military will be his ticket to freedom and adventure.
Ahhh….Silly kids who join the military for freedom and to get away from their parents rules…..that makes me laugh.
While Jenkins doesn’t go on to be the big galaxy saving hero, he does feature quite a lot in this story as well as in the story of Halo: The Fall of Reach and Halo: The Flood.
I like Jenkins. He is a fighter. He is brave and he is loyal to the end.
That covers all of the big characters that go on to other things after the story of Harvest. There are plenty of very interesting characters that are specific to this part of the Halo universe but we’ll cover them when we get to them.
Contact Harvest introduces us to a lot of things that change the landscape of the galaxy from now on. Once humanity meets the Covenant and realizes that we aren’t the only intelligent life in the universe, there’s no going back from that. It is like one of those events we all have in life like getting married or having a child where there is everything that happened before that event and then everything that has happened since that event. Nothing will ever be the same.
While there are many big plot points that carry on throughout all of Halo, Contact Harvest is really about the citizens of Harvest and how they deal with this new and unfortunately hostile group of aliens that turn up.
For most of the people of Harvest their answer to their problem is simple, run like hell and don’t look back. But those in charge on Harvest know it won’t be the easy. If they simply try to run they will be destroyed before they can get away from the planet. That is where SSG, two other battle hardened marines and a group of Colonial Militia troops come in. They must hold off the Covenant attack long enough for the people of Harvest to escape.