PUTTING THE UN IN UNSC BY KAREN TRAVISS
Have you seen the Halo live action trailers? You probably have. I think they're some of the most striking examples of short cinema around. We Are ODST is still top of my list as a superb example of powerfully silent storytelling, and the Believe trailer campaign was both intelligent and moving: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX5Kh1f5ksY]
And one of the most striking things about them is that they're full of non-American characters. The ODSTs you see are speaking Hungarian. In other Halo trailers, you'll hear British accents and see Sikh turbans. This is the Halo world: it's a spectrum of humanity, a species united – for the most part – by a thirty-year struggle for survival against an alien civilization sworn to wipe out mankind on Earth and the colony worlds.
Halo might look like the most American of games, but it's always been focused on the operations of the United Nations Space Command, with the emphasis on the UN element. This is truly an international force. In the 2500s, the great cities of Earth are now Sydney and Mombasa, not New York and Washington: UNSC facilities are in Essen, Mexico City, Seongnam, not San Diego or Yuma. The most senior commander in the UNSC is an English admiral, Terrence Hood. So when I – an English author – started writing novels for Halo, I decided to look more closely at that internationalism inherent in the franchise.
It's 500 years from today, the world and the galaxy is a very different place with very different global – and galactic – geopolitics. The diverse range of cultures and value systems applies equally to the Sangheili and other Covenant species, too. Aliens don't all come from one planet that's entirely covered in snow or jungle or desert and behave identically, whatever less meticulously-constructed universes might suggest.
In the Kilo Five trilogy that starts with HALO GLASSLANDS, the first humans you meet are a naval intelligence officer who's of Turkish heritage, and a Sangheili cultural expert who's a professor of xenoanthropology at a Sydney university. The special forces marines they team up with are English, Russian, and a Canadian (with a Québécois father and a Chinese mother), and the Spartan attached to the squad is – as we learn later – of Swedish colonial descent. The eccentric AI is also English, or at least that's how BB likes to be seen. There are many Americans in the story, but the main characters are not from the USA, they don't think in American terms, and they don't speak like Americans.
Of course, they also don't speak like civilians, either, and sometimes they don't even talk like each other. Their jargon and slang are the result of their own sub-cultures, which aren't just their countries of origin but also their branch of service. ODSTs are drawn not only from a variety of commando regiments worldwide but also from different elements of the armed forces, and even Mal and Vaz – an Englishman from Wolverhampton and a Russian from Saint Petersburg – have come from different national marine corps and don't always share a common jargon.
All this variety, exploring how they cope with those previous identities and evolve new ones, tells us a lot about identity, the way human beings form their instinctive tribal bonds and how they notice the outsider -- which is Kilo-Five's case, is an essential survival skill in their black ops world. And they're not alone: the Sangheili, far from being a one-size-fits all alien species, vary from state to state and in individual outlook as much as any human.
The real world is not a bland, homogeneous place. And neither is the Haloverse. There are conflicts and alliances within and between. That's part of its appeal to the audience, and a key part of what makes it enjoyable to write.
HALO: THE THURSDAY WAR is out on the 25th October 2012 in the UK:
This is a life-or-death mission for ONI's black-ops team, Kilo-Five, which is tasked with preventing the rutheless Elites, once the military leaders of the Covenant, from regrouping and threatening humankind again. What began as a routine dirty-tricks operation - keeping the Elites busy with their own insurrection - turns into a desperate bid to extract one member of Kilo-Five from the seething heart of an alien civil war.
But troubles never come singly for Kilo-Five. Colonial terrorism is once again surfacing on one of the worlds that survived the war against the Covenant, and the man behind it is much more than just a name to Spartan-010. Meanwhile, the treasure trove of Forerunner technology recovered from the shield world of Onyx is being put to work. And a kidnapped Elite plots vengeance on the humans he fears will bring his people to the brink of destruction.