Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear, 2011.
As an avid science fiction fan, gamer, and generally a button-smashing, team-killing, novel-reading Halo fanboy, it's hard to know where to start with Bear's new book (it's kind of badass calling him "Bear", no?). In this first of three novels, we are introduced to Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting, a young Forerunner Manipular seeking adventure in a Halo universe that we as readers are totally new to-at least, this time frame of it. And our discovery of it is, to say the least, completely riveting. Those of you that went through Halo 3 reading through all the terminals and trying to piece together what happened are finally rewarded here. The author reveals key information at the right times, and keeps the reader on the seat's edge. By the time you finish this one you'll be looking online for the release date of the next one. Or comparing your new knowledge to the Halo Wiki.
The Bear is a master of hard science fiction, as opposed to the military science fiction that almost every other Halo story has been. In fact there's barely any fighting in the book-sorry to disappoint you adrenaline junkie Dietz-types-but it's not even needed to move the plot along at a brisk pace. Rather, hard science fiction focuses more on the scientific aspects of the universe the story is set in. Bear, from a Forerunner perspective, explains their dominance over other species, how they deal with lesser ones, and so on; and large, detailed and fascinating explanations of Forerunner technology.
But where our furry author really shines through is the analysis of natural systems by the advanced Forerunners. Of course Halo fans will instantly recognize some of the systems and structures re-introduced here. The characters in the story speak of time in thousands of years regularly, instead of single or even hundreds of years. This lends an ancient, developed feel to Forerunner civilization and the great natural systems they have mastered-from ecological re-creation and species indexing to genetic neurology and planet creation. It's like reading a Biology textbook... with lasers. Pew pew.
Greg "Ursus arctos horribilis" develops his characters thoroughly. I can't go into too much detail without spoiling things, but reading the protagonist's meditations on Forerunner society, the Mantle, and the other characters were like being teased with delicious cake dangled in front of me, which wasn't a lie and which I got to eat.
The best part about all this is that you know what's going to happen. This is like Star Wars: Episode 1, but without medichlorians. Familiar events, places and characters are introduced with subtlety and wit. Watching it all play out is spectacular. Obviously, revealing this time period of the Halo canon is a huge deal, and 343 Industries found the perfect author to capitalize on the goldmine that is the Forerunners.
There are very few books that I would consider 5 out of 5 stars. This is one of them. Such a polar opposite from other the other Halo novels, so utterly mind-blowing even if you're not a big Halo fan, and so brilliantly delivered (and hardcover, too... bookshelf win), Greg Bear has assured that I will be investing another $60 over the next two novels, and I'll be picking up some of his other work, too.
Get this one--worth every penny.