Interview: Author Troy Denning on how his novel "Halo: Last Light" turns the game into a crime thriller
Ever since director Ridley Scott made Blade Runner, people have been combining elements of pulp crime stories and science fiction in interesting ways. Not only have we seen such original noir-sci-fi as the BioShock games, Adam Sternbergh's "Spademan" books Shovel Ready and Near Enemy, and Adam Christopher's upcoming novel Made to Kill, but even existing universes have gone dark, such as when writer Timothy Zahn made Han and Chewie go all Ocean's 11 for the novel Star Wars: Scoundrels.
Now it's Halo's turn with Halo: Last Light (paperback, digital), a new thriller by Troy Denning that's set not long after the events of Halo 3. Though, as Denning confesses, it wasn't that game, or any of the others, that made him want to write this novel, or that gave him the idea for it.
GameCrate: Let's start with the basics: What is Halo: Last Light about and how does it connect to the Halo series, and especially the new Halo 5: Guardians, in terms of both chronology and story?
Troy Denning: At its heart, Last Light is a crime thriller on steroids. It takes place over a period of four days in July of 2553, and the hero is Veta Lopis, an unrelenting homicide investigator who has a cultural hatred of all things UNSC…and her own reasons for hunting serial killers. When she's assigned to a politically sensitive case in which the only viable suspects are members of Blue Team , her determination to discover the truth takes them all so far down a rabbit hole that there's no going back.
GC: Huh, doesn't sound like any Halo game I've played. How familiar were you with the Halo games before you signed on to write Halo: Last Light?
TD: I was certainly familiar with the Halo universe. I've played the games, but let's just say my thumbs aren't exactly Spartan material. My entry point was actually through the books. A Star Wars author with whom I'd worked, Karen Traviss, wrote the Kilo-Five trilogy , so I gave them a read and enjoyed them. And that's what drew me deeper into the Halo universe.
GC: Yeah, those were good. So what made you want to write a Halo novel?
TD: I love writing action, combat, and space opera, so it was hardly a stretch to imagine that I'd enjoy working in the Halo universe. After reading the Kilo Five trilogy, I moved on to Eric Nylund's First Strike and Greg Bear's Forerunner Saga, and it quickly grew obvious just how rich and immense the Halo universe was. When I heard through the grapevine that Gallery Books had the license and was looking for authors, I felt a little jolt that said, "The Librarian has a plan for you." I asked a friend to let people at Gallery know I would be interested. We started to talk, then I had a conference call with 343 and Gallery, and we seemed to click from the start.
GC: In terms of the timeframe in which Halo: Last Light is set, the book takes place after the events of Halo 3, which is the same timeframe as the Kilo-Five trilogy. Was setting it then something you chose or did 343 have that in mind already?
TD: As I recall, it was clear from the first exploratory conversation with 343 that they were hoping I would set my book in that time period. But they did give me the option of suggesting another time period myself. Now, one of the things I've learned through the years is that major IPs usually have a long-term plan in place, one that you, as a freelance author, may not be aware of. So I began to think about what kind of possibilities might be cool for 2552-2553, and I fell in love with the chaos of the period.
GC: Along the same lines, who came up with the general plot of Halo: Last Light?
TD: It's hard to remember brainstorming sessions accurately, but I've always wanted to write a crime thriller. So I think I suggested doing some sort of detective story, and Gallery and 343 immediately said they had been tossing around the same possibility for their new lineup.
I do know the reason a murder story was on my mind. My father was a homicide investigator for the county sheriff for part of the time I was a growing up, and the initial discussions with 343 took place while I was out in Wyoming, visiting him for the final time. I don't think I could have written any other type of book at the time.
GC: While Last Light is your first Halo novel, it's not the first book you've written that's based on a video game. Your 1999 novel The Oath of Stonekeep was based on an adventure game. How, if at all, was writing Halo: Last Light different from writing the Stonekeep novel?
TD: The biggest difference in writing the two books is the technology of the time. When I wrote Oath of Stonekeep, I'd play the game and pause, then try to make out the details on my little monitor. Needless to say, there was a lot of guessing involved.
The support system was different, too. Oath was written in the days before continuity databases were as easy to keep and share as they are now. My job was pretty much to play the game over and over again, decide what I was seeing, and put it in the book. Nowadays, if a property doesn't have a shareable continuity database, or at least a Wiki, I'd be leery about working on it.
GC: All of your novels are based on other things: Halo, Star Wars, and so on. What is it about writing a novel based on someone else's universe that you enjoy so much?
TD: Mostly, it's just good luck: I've just been so busy with great projects that I don't have the time to develop my own. I have four great concepts I'd love to do, and which I think people would flip for. But when an editor asks whether you'd be interested in working on a property you've loved for years, it's hard to say no. Maybe that's what I'll do when I retire: develop all of these projects I've been incubating.
GC: Finally, if someone enjoyed Halo: Last Light and wanted to read another of your books, which would you recommend and why?
TD: Last Light is the first time I've used a heavy crime thriller element, but for people who like the military action aspect, I'd suggest most of my Star Wars books, especially Star by Star and Apocalypse. Both books involve the Jedi facing implacable threats, and both are filled with plenty of action and suspense.
Halo: Last Light is available now in paperback and digitally.