Interview: "Halo: Silent Storm" is the first novel about Master Chief in 15 years
Though there's been nearly two dozen Halo novels released since Eric Nylund's 2001 prequel The Fall of Reach, only three have been about Master Chief, and none since Nylund's First Strike came out in 2003.
But the stoic M.C. is now returning to bookshelves with Halo: Silent Storm, a new novel by Troy Denning, who previously wrote 2015's Halo: Last Light, 2017's Halo: Retribution, and the short story "A Necessary Truth" in Halo: Fractures.
We caught up with Denning to talk about what inspired his latest story, and how it connects to the Halo games and other books.
GameCrate: Let's start with the basics: What is Halo: Silent Storm about, and when does it take place in relation to the games and the other books?
Troy Denning: Silent Storm is set in March/April of 2526, about a year after the war with Covenant begins. That's about 26 years before Halo: Combat Evolved takes place, so we're seeing both the war and the Spartans in their very early stages. John and the rest of the Spartans are basically 15-year old greenhorns with a lot of training, some kickass armor, and fairly limited combat experience. They've only been active for six months, and they've had their Mjolnir power armor for just over three months.
At this point, the UNSC knows almost nothing about the Covenant, only that the aliens are determined to eradicate humanity, and have the technology to do it. Desperate to buy some time to prepare humanity's defenses, the UNSC turns to John-117 and the Spartans to lead a desperate counterattack that it hopes will rock the Covenant back on its heels.
GC: And what is the connection between Halo: Silent Storm and the comic book Halo: Collateral Damage ?
TD: Primarily the early time period and Blue Team, I think. and I didn't coordinate our plotlines directly; it usually falls to the editors at 343 to make sure we don't step on each other's toes. Someone might have sent my outline to Alex, but I don't recall seeing his. Novels generally have a longer lead-time than comics, so I doubt it was ready before I started writing.
GC: Where did the idea for Silent Storm come from?
TD: Basically, we started as we always do, with a phone conference in which 343 and Gallery lay out the parameters of the story: when they'd like it to take place, who they'd like involved, the general goal of the project, etc. As I recall, they just wanted this story to focus on John-117 as a young Spartan, with Blue Team as his supporting cast. They wanted the story to convey the chaos and confusion of the early stages of the war, and of humanity coming to terms with being so badly outmatched by the enemy's technology.
After the call, I went back to research the era in detail and began to generate ideas. I knew I wanted the scale to be big — operational level, at least — and quickly began to think in terms of such classic World War II movies as Where Eagles Dare and A Bridge Too Far. After that, it was just a matter of putting together a story that utilized the special-operations capabilities of the Spartans to facilitate a large-scale action.
Somewhere along the line, I asked if I could use Avery Johnson and Preston Cole, and 343 said "sure!" They were great fun to write, and I loved the opportunity to play with them.
GC: Ae there any writers that had a big influence on Silent Storm but not on your previous Halo novels?
TD: Ken Follett's Jackdaws, one of my favorite books of all time. The scale is smaller than Silent Storm but, in my opinion, it's the perfect "desperate mission" book. I studied the structure of that book, mining it for ways to approach mine.
GC: What about movies, TV shows, or games other than the Halo ones; did any of them have a particular big impact on Silent Storm?
TD: I've already mentioned the World War II movies. I didn't go back to study Where Eagles Dare, but I did watch A Bridge Too Far a couple of times. Its story structure actually didn't stand up as well as I remembered, but it provided some very useful hints about managing the story of a large-scale military operation. I also watched the director's cut of Das Boot, but that proved to be more useful in terms of what not to do.
I remember the original release being one of the most suspenseful movies I've ever seen; the director's cut adds something like an hour to the film, and the additional material just bogged the story down. So it was very useful in reminding me to be careful about how you present long periods of tension for the characters. If you're not careful, that can become long periods of boredom for the reader.
GC: All of your previous Halo stories were about ONI agent Veta Lopis. Does she make an appearance in Silent Storm?
TD: I would have loved to use her in this story, but she's probably about five in this time period, and even with fifteen-year-old Spartans, that would have been pushing it a bit far. There are some cameos from other characters who appeared in Last Light and Retribution, however, so I hope Veta's fans won't feel too left out.
GC: It would seem, given the timeframe of Silent Storm, that there's no connection between it and the upcoming game, Halo: Infinite. But were there any instances where you wanted to do something in Silent Storm only to have someone at 343 say, "You can't do that...and we can't tell you why."?
TD: In media tie-ins, there are always instances like that. In this case, I don't think any of them had to do with Halo: Infinite, but who knows?
We were going to have Atriox make a cameo in this book, based on a mention I made of him in Retribution. But in the second or third pass — I can't remember which — 343 asked me to replace him with Orsun from Last Light. I'm not sure why; maybe I wasn't hitting his character just right, or maybe his presence caused a continuity conflict with some other story.
But I was happy to comply. When you're working in a big IP like Halo, you're always looking for ways to knit your story into the rest of the world. That means you have to be flexible about making changes. I probably try a hundred little connections per book, and most of them make it through the continuity review. But you have to be ready to sacrifice your darlings when they don't work out.
GC: Finally, in our previous interview about Retribution, you said that if that novel was made into a game, it would be a "shooter game with a big puzzle element." What kind of game would Silent Storm be?
TD: I still think I'd want it to be a first-person shooter. You're playing the Master Chief, so it's got to be a shooter. But I'd also like it to be an open world strategy game, where the Chief gets to influence task force destinations and battle tactics once it arrives. Not asking for much, am I?
Halo: Silent Storm is out now in hardcover and digitally.