Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Primordium: These matrices are highly unstable...

I'm going to warn you right now that i'm not going to be sparing any spoilers or other details from you, continue reading at your own risk. See how I love you? :) Note that I really haven't had time to completely and fully digest this, so please mind that I will seem brash and overly forthcoming. Note that this article will both contain a review on Primordium's narration and an analysis of its story, particularly in relation to Halo 4. Now for some formalities:

Halo: Primordium, written by Greg Bear, is the second book in The Forerunner Saga, a prequel trilogy set 100,000 years prior to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved and much of the Halo franchise. Released on January 3rd, 2011, Primordium follows a Human protagonist from the first book, Chakas, across a broken and deadly Halo ring that escaped the slaughter at the Battle of the Capital. Along with this returning character is his small Florian companion Riser; the two Erde-Tyrenes are joined by two "transplated" Humans: an elderly man cast out by his people and his dominating and ambitious granddaughter. Despite their relatively small stature within the galaxy stage, these four will nonetheless change the fate of the Mantle from crumbling at the feet of corruption, tyranny, and assimilation.

I'll start off my opinion of the book from a narration/storytelling standpoint, as that is what concerned me the most. Even just a third of the way into the book (379 pages in total), Primordium felt very much like just another chapter. The contents of this novel in no way needed to be explained in great detail for as long as it did, more often than not, throughout much of the heart of the story, I found myself bored and only motivated to continue reading for the juicier bits. Those of which were only becoming more frequent towards the end. Otherwise, this novel may even challenge Lord of the Rings for Best Walking Adventure of the 21st century. Don't get me wrong, I love a character-focused story, which is why I loved Cryptum and Glasslands so darn much. But when you have multiple chapters only concerning extremely dull and boring walking, "investigating," and hunting, that's when you'll start not caring if Mendicant Bias releases the life support safeties and sends all biomass into vacuum.

I'm also probably not alone when I say how confused I get at some of the Forerunner action scenes he brings a narration to, even through the simple, un-technobabbly corrupted mind of Chakas or later, Riser. For the past ten years, the most advanced Forerunner tech we encountered would have to be Hard Light (the blue energy bridges, etc.) and the like. Otherwise, all we saw were stoic heavy-metals of lifeless facilities. The elevator/tram/transport scene was a great example of this where I had absolutely no frakkin' idea what was going on.

We honestly have no more of an idea of how these things work than our dear protagonists, yet we're bombarded with details that only the Master Builder could truly comprehend. We got a little of this at the end of Cryptum after some rudimentary technological explanations given by Bornstellar and Didact to the two Humans. Yet, unlike Cryptum, our appreciation of the story or enjoyment of the narrative wasn't aided by these new technologies introduced to the universe, as inanimate (relatively speaking) objects should always do for characters. All I felt it did in Primordium was act as filler for the setting. The imagery provided to the reader by Mr. Bear didn't give us much understanding to what our protagonists were witnessing, so using the most basic equivalents we have on Earth today or at least from what we've visually seen throughout the series served as placeholders. During the aforementioned elevator scene, i'm not afraid to admit that all I imagined was an ancient advanced version of a monorail seen in our cities. More or less, the descriptions we received don't do too great of justice to the brilliance of the Builder class of the Ecumene.

Not everything about the foundation of Primordium wasn't spoiled by filler or incomprehensible detail, a lot of it was great. Content aside, the dialogue was absolutely fantastic and breathed much needed life into the writing. This was especially compounded by the introduction of the "spirits" coded deep within our Human protagonists, ancestral memories implanted by the Librarian into a select number of those from Erde-Tyrene. The concept of a "geas" shines throughout this brand new element of our universe, providing incredibly thought provoking and engaging conversations between the "spirit hosts" (Chakas, etc.) and the spirits themselves, which i'll get to later. Apart from that, even the simple talk between Chakas, Vinnevra, and Gamelpar is interesting, given the three's unique backgrounds as the latter two have no recollection of our "homeworld" and their own life experience. Though the incredibly dull walking scenes could have been saved if they had shared more about themselves at times.

Not playing around now, i'm going to spoil most things for you now...

Halo 4 circle logo small

More important for Halo 4 than anything else was the inclusion of transmission logs now commonplace within the franchise spread throughout the story. A data retrieval/interrogation between an ONI team of intel., science, political, and "strategy" officers and a "composed" Chakas, who would later be revealed as the batshit insane personality behind the waste of a good Spartan Laser, 343 Guilty Spark. I don't believe i've ever had such an "oh shit" reaction from anything in my 9 years of loving this franchise like I did just a few hours ago. Imagine the reaction Luke Skywalker had upon learning that Darth Vader was his father, and you'll understand where i'm coming from. But oh no! I think this is quite a good thing to be honest. Sure, I was hesitant at first to properly accept these words as published information, but I ultimately came to completely love this notion that Guilty Spark is in league with Naval Intelligence.

While i'll get to the implications of this later, i'd just like to thank Greg Bear and 343i for giving this little hint towards Halo 4 in here; one hell of a great surprise. I don't particularly know just how the hell you guys are going to make this work, but i'm nonetheless excited to see how you play with this in the upcoming Reclaimer Trilogy.

Also revealed by 343 Guilty Spark in teasing detail is the revelation that two prominent Forerunners are still very much alive in this universe, maybe even in this same galaxy we're in today. First noted by Guilty Spark in the tenth and final terminal on The Maw in Halo: Anniversary:
"But what I would not give to have earned a single company of Prometheans here right now. They would most certainly restore order with their trademark lethality, although, that would mean he would have to be here, too. And without the Librarian around to temper his rage, well, these Reclaimers might almost prefer the Flood."
- 343 Guilty Spark, September 2552, Installation 04
Shortly after this, a glyph (symbol/mark) depicting the Didact, the Supreme Commander of the Ecumene Fleet and the authority behind the activation of the Halo Array, flashed on screen. Though this doesn't necessarily prove or hint towards his inclusion in the upcoming Halo 4, this may:
"You and I are brothers in many ways...not least in that we faced the Didact before, and face him now, and perhaps ever after."
- 343 Guilty Spark, c. 2553(?), unidentified UNSC Navy vessel
And what would the "Promethean of Prometheans" do without his beautifully gifted wife, The Librarian (also known as the Lady, Lifeshaper, etc. - meh, not surprised that God is a woman). Spoken both highly of in great admiration and with great blasphemy or angst by even some of the same characters, her actions mentioned throughout Primordium seemed even antagonistic in nature just as much as the Primordial or the Master Builder. But in the end, they proved vital to the main character's victory over the tyrannical behavior of Forerunner and construct alike, as well as the all-encompassing evil desired by the Primordial, later revealed to a Gravemind. In this statement by Guilty Spark below, its stated that like her husband, she still occupies this galaxy with a physical and spiritual presence:
"...unified by only one thing: our love for the elusive Lifeshaper. Without her, humans would have been extinguished many times over. Both I and the Didact love her to this day. Some say she is dead, that she died on Earth. But that is demonstrably untrue."
- 343 Guilty Spark, c. 2553(?), unidentified UNSC Navy vessel
Note the use of his shared affection with Didact, as if he has some sort of continued or recent connection with the Promethean commander. Its likely that the married couple has been estranged for sometime given the way Guilty Spark spoke of the two, especially as he continues his search for her.
"I know where to find her."
- 343 Guilty Spark, c. 2553(?), unidentified UNSC Navy vessel
Closing this discussion on Chakas (as 343 Guilty Spark), Didact, and the Librarian, a reference to the pre-reincarnation form of the Didact (Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting) was stated by one of the ONI officers
"Everything the monitor has related ties in with other Forerunner records we have discovered - including the Bornstellar Relation found on Onyx."
- Science Team Leader, c. 2553(?), unidentified UNSC Navy vessel
Marathon logo

The last half of this Primordium canon analysis deals with the revelations concerning the Geas stored within all living beings. As a refresher for those who don't know, "geas" is a term for a generations-long genetic command imposed on an organism or species. Under the influence of a geas, an organism could be given a set of subconscious orders that would be passed on to their children, in some cases lasting several generations. The status of Humans as the "Reclaimers" of the Mantle is directly related to the geas given to us by the Librarian upon birth, with a select few, mainly those particularly native to Erde-Tyrene (only vaguely theorized to be our homeworld) given the memories and spirit of their ancient ancestors. These "spirits" are the sole remnants of the once proud Human colonial empire that defeated the Shaping Sickness (ancient term for the Flood) and defied their Forerunner brothers.

The most notable and influential of these spirits reside in their two descendants Chakas and Riser, carrying the memories of Forthencho, The Lord of Admirals and Yprin Yprikushma, a female scientist and politician, respectively. During the Human-Forerunner War, these two considered themselves fierce rivals throughout the conflict and were ultimately cast down by each other's side. Upon meeting each other on Installation 07 (then, a much larger ring at a diameter of 30,000km), they argued for hours while the two hosts succumbed to their spirits wishes. Though, this is a pretty small fact I want to get out of the way, laying the background for what I have to say next. See, i'm not a soulless bitch who spoils every single detail about the story and makes 343i want to hunt me down (not that they haven't tried).

Throughout Primordium, the concept of the Geas and our status as Reclaimers weighed heavily on my mind from beginning to end. As a more grounded Human story, you couldn't help but think who these people's ancestors were like during the reign of the Human-San 'Shyuum alliance and more interestingly, who will succeed them? I was correctly very rarely with my assumptions of "who became who" in relation to the Geas and ancient spirtis, and i'm going to share my views on both what I thought, what is here, and what may come.

Geas mashup

I'm probably far from the first person to think that dear Chakas would be the ancestor to one of the greatest Spartan's of all, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117. His calm demeanor, selfless attitude, and adaptability are trademarks of these two unique characters. But, as with Battlestar Galactica, Halo has developed its own concept of "All of this has happened before, all of it will happen again." As Chakas more or less ended up as the dear 343 Guilty Spark, it kinda throws that notion of them being related out of the question; not entirely mind you, as spirits probably don't need to be transferred only through hereditary lines. Though if hereditary does have a place within geas placement, one of his sisters may have been imprinted just in case Chakas perished. However, considering the attitude of Forthencho, The Lord of Admirals, I very much doubt that John-117 would even be considered for that particular imprint.

Rather, I believe his mid-aged Florian companion Morning Riser is the true descendant or at least the ancient spirit currently residing in John. Both the fact that his descendant/spirit Yprin Yprikushma led special operations warriors during the war as well as serving as a "morale commander" provides a good basis for a future candidacy as Spartan (selection process for the SPARTAN-II's influenced by Dr. Halsey's geas?).

Chakas was a more tricky one to figure out and only until I was cooking lunch did I finally realize who he was, disregarding his memories being implanted in 343 Guilty Spark. I firmly believe that his role or spirit would be carried on by us within Noble Six during Halo: Reach. In that game, he suddenly showed up in Noble Team (taken in by the Tudejsa on Installation 07) and walked for days to get back to Noble Team (weeks of tracking down Riser). While not specifically stated in the novel, its likely that Riser took over for Chakas as Vinnevra's friend and guardian in a similar fashion that Noble Six handed off the guardianship of Cortana to John-117. This line of thought ultimately led me to believe that Gamelpar asked Chakas to protect his granddaughter Vinnevra in the same way that Halsey, an equally elderly woman, gave Cortana away to Six before her seclusion on Reach. So if you take anything from that, Chakas is Noble Six, Riser is John-117, and Vinnevra is almost certainly our blue A.I. companion Cortana.

For those with no knowledge of Vinnevra, she was a young Tudesja girl living in a small village when she discovered and took care of Chakas after landing on the rogue Halo. Convincing her and her grandfather to join him in searching for Riser, she didn't just have a geas, but like the other two, an ancient spirit residing inside her. Though her's wouldn't come out due to unknown circumstances, it was triggered by a beacon to the Palace of Pain and allowed her to guide the fellow travelers on their way. Much like how Cortana has complex emotions due to prolonged exposure to mass amounts of data, and of course, telling us a way out of tricky spots.

My suspicions are confirmed for the spirit lineage of Riser and Vinnevra to John-117 and Catherine Halsey (passed onto Cortana), respectively at the very end of the novel when 343 Guilty Spark takes control of a UNSC warship (the Infinity from Glasslands?) after supplanting the "defunct" shipboard A.I.:
"One of you almost certainly carries Vinnevra and Riser's old spirits within. Only the Lifeshaper can find them and coax my friends back to life. And after a hundred thousand years of exploration and study...I know where to find her."
- 343 Guilty Spark, c. 2553(?), unidentified UNSC Navy vessel
I won't go any further. Even though I spoiled some key details concerning the future of the Halo universe, I still very much kept most of the story a hidden treat from you. That, and I really can't comprehend everything I read in Primordium at this moment, another read of it will have to remedy that.

In closing, I would say that Primordium more than lived up to what I expected it to mainly be: a teaser for Halo 4. From the start, I knew that this could have been a standalone novel within the franchise, and despite its shortcomings, it wasn't all too bad of a read. Though too much filler, fluff, and imagery that requires a PhD from the University of the Master Builders to comprehend really sets back this novel for us plain folk who don't know too much about the Forerunners and the times they lived in. This story could have been just as great if it were a few chapters shorter and a part of a more expansive second book that included the viewpoints of Chakas, Riser (he gets his own chapter however), and the Didact.

The "more grounded" aspect was respectable and I appreciated it, but it was grounded in a way that discouraged enthusiasm while reading. As I stated before, my only real motivation to continue reading this was to get to the juicier bits of Primordium and when I encountered them, more often than not, they were met with the same feeling a haunted house family has with not understanding just to get the fuck out.

tl;dr, the story, characters, and dialogue were absolutely fantastic, I can't stress this bit enough. If you have any sort of need for a Halo 4 tease, this is for you. If you're just looking for a casual read however, there are much better science fiction adventures out there at the moment for you to pick up. You may as well skip this one and just read a synopsis on Halopedian or HBO if your truly interested. All in all, it wasn't great or what I expected, but its far from anything terrible.

I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this, especially the canon analysis bit. I'll admit that this was quite fun to write and much more rewarding (and time consuming) than the normal touchy-feely emotional articles I normally write. I'll be posting this over on the HBO forums as well if you've like to have a discussion about it there, or you can post below in the comments section if you'd prefer. And please, do not hesistate to correct me on any detail I overlooked or wrote in error on the canon section and especially let me know about the writing itself. Thank you and have a great day!


All trademarks and material relating to Halo are properties of Microsoft, Microsoft Studios, and 343 Industries. The Marathon symbol is property of Bungie, Inc.. The cover art for Halo: Cryptum and Halo: Primordium were drawn by Nicolas "Sparth" Bouvier. The Halsey concept art was drawn by Isaac Hannaford. Master Chief, Cortana, and Noble Six renders were retrieved from, in addition to the description of "Geas."


  1. You mention the Battlestar Galactica "all of this has happened before" sentiment, and that was something I really loved - the idea of historical imperative, that history follows patterns that are hard to break, and that these patterns perpetuate themselves. I loved that idea in BSG. I was just so disappointed at the end when "oops, it was God all along" happened and Starbuck [redacted]. The only part of the very last episode I liked was the last few minutes, 150,000 years later, musing on modern human society following the same pattern.

    If the Forerunner trilogy is setting the Halo franchise up to take on some similar philosophical/spiritual/historical elements, I really hope they have their payoff planned out from the start, and that it's a bang rather than a whimper. Ronald D. Moore said many times that he had no real idea what "the Plan" was, and I think the series suffered for it. If they'd planned out the end from the beginning, they could have planted some proper clues, taken cues from earlier series, etc - they could also have made a better end, one that didn't seem so...disappointing. The fact that it took so long for 343i to even announce that they were working on a game gives me hope that more thought went into the future of this franchise.

    When I think of the Didact and Cortana, though, I think of the dynamic between the Master Chief and Cortana before anything else. A stoic soldier, a leader of men at the tip of the spear against his people's enemies, and a charismatic, tough, manipulative but ultimately altruistic scientific and philosophical genius. The two roles complement each other perfectly, and it's definitely one of those patterns I can see repeating themselves throughout eternity, Geas or no Geas. I know that everything is building up to their return alive (individually or in a bigger way) but the similarities, to me, are too striking. I don't even care about the Forerunner/Human difference, because I don't see any. People are people, regardless (apparently) of species, number of digits, manner of respiration, and so on.

    Also, I haven't read Primordium yet (stupid NZ with stupidly long shipping times), but you mention that ONI is talking to Spark in ~2553. Does this mean that he's still alive, after the Ark, or that it is occurring before his death?

  2. 2553 was when Onyx/Trevelyan was "officially discovered" as a Shield World in February 2553 by ONI. I don't particularly know when the conversation takes place, but 2553 would be the very minimum.

    As for 343 Guilty Spark, I stated that I have absolutely no idea how he ended up where he is. Nothing that I picked up on teases how he may have been recovered by the Humans.

  3. I impressed at the story and your recapping of it!

  4. maira is not god.she is just a normal human.

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  6. i have to say i agree with your critique of the book's structure. i thought 'Lord of the Rings too. i'm not looking forward to the second read. it made me re-read and appreciate cryptum more though.

    interesting thoughts on teases for halo 4.