The battle for humanity continues in this latest addition to the bestselling franchise based on the mega-popular video games. Narration is split between Holter Graham and Jen Taylor, who each try their very best to make the material as urgent and important as possible. However, as good as Graham is, pushing the line between corny and downright brilliant in his delivery, Taylor jumps far over the believability line, overemphasizing every word as if the audience is incapable of understanding what she's trying to say. Her cheesy dialects and over-the-top accents detract from the tension and suspense that Graham offers. Simultaneous release with the Tor hardcover. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Halo: Contact Harvest (Halo Series)by Joseph Staten
This is how it began...
It is the year 2524. Harvest is a peaceful, prosperous farming colony on the very edge of human-controlled space. But we have trespassed on holy ground--strayed into the path of an aggressive alien empire known as the Covenant. What begins as a chance encounter between an alien privateer and a human freighter catapults mankind into a… See more details below
This is how it began...
It is the year 2524. Harvest is a peaceful, prosperous farming colony on the very edge of human-controlled space. But we have trespassed on holy ground--strayed into the path of an aggressive alien empire known as the Covenant. What begins as a chance encounter between an alien privateer and a human freighter catapults mankind into a struggle for its very existence.
But humanity is also locked in a bitter civil war known as the Insurrection. So the survival of Harvest's citizens falls to a squad of battle-weary UNSC Marines and their inexperienced colonial militia trainees. In this unlikely group of heroes, one stands above the rest...a young Marine staff sergeant named Avery Johnson.
Read an Excerpt
Halo: Contact Harvest
By Joseph Staten
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2007 Microsoft Corporation
All rights reserved.
UNSC SHIPPING LANE, NEAR EPSILON INDI SYSTEM, SEPTEMBER 3, 2524
Horn of Plenty's navigation computer was an inexpensive part. Certainly less expensive than the freighter's load: some twenty-five hundred metric tons of fresh fruit — melons mainly, racked like billiard balls in large, vacuum-sealed bins that divided its boxy cargo container into floor-to-ceiling rows. And the NAV computer was an order of magnitude less expensive than Horn of Plenty's most important component: the propulsion pod connected to the rear of the container by a powerful magnetic coupling.
The bulbous pod was a tenth of the container's size, and at first glance it looked a little tacked on — like a tugboat nosing one of Earth's old seafaring supertankers out to sea. But whereas a tanker could sail under its own power once out of port, Horn of Plenty couldn't have gone anywhere without the pod's Shaw-Fujikawa drive.
Unlike the rocket engines of humanity's first space vehicles, Shaw-Fujikawa drives didn't generate thrust. Instead, the devices created temporary rifts in the fabric of space-time — opened passages in and out of a multidimensional domain known as Slipstream Space, or Slipspace for short.
If one imagined the universe as a sheet of paper, Slipspace was the same sheet of paper crumpled into a tight ball. Its creased and overlapping dimensions were prone to unpredictable temporal eddies that often forced Shaw-Fujikawa drives to abort a slip — bring their vessels back into the safety of the normal universe thousands and sometimes millions of kilometers from their planned destination.
A short, intrasystem slip between two planets took less than an hour. A journey between star systems many light years apart took a few months. With sufficient fuel, a Shaw-Fujikawa-equipped ship could traverse the volume of space containing all of humanity's colonized systems in less than a year. Indeed, without Tobias Shaw's and Wallace Fujikawa's late-twenty-third-century invention, humanity would still be bottled up inside Earth's solar system. And for this reason, some modern historians had gone so far as to rank the Slipspace drive as humanity's most important invention, bar none.
Practically speaking, the enduring brilliance of Slipspace drives was their reliability. The drives' basic design had changed very little over the years, and they rarely malfunctioned so long as they were properly maintained.
Which was, of course, why Horn of Plenty had run into trouble.
Rather than slipping all the way from Harvest to the next nearest colony, Madrigal, Horn of Plenty exited halfway between the two planets' systems — tore back into normal space at coordinates that could have easily been occupied by an asteroid or any other nasty, incidental object. Before the ship's NAV computer really knew what had happened, the freighter was in an end-over-end tumble — its propulsion-pod jetting a plume of radioactive coolant.
The UNSC's Department of Commercial Shipping (DCS) would later classify Horn of Plenty's drive failure as a "Slip Termination, Preventable" — or an STP for short, though freighter captains (and there were still humans that did the job) had their own way of translating the acronym: "Screwing The Pooch," which was at least as accurate as the official classification.
Unlike a human captain whose brain might have seized with the terror of unexpected deceleration from faster-than-light speed, Horn of Plenty's NAV computer was perfectly composed as it fired a series of bursts from the propulsion pod's hydrazine maneuvering rockets — brought the crippled freighter to a stop before the torsion of its tumble sheared its propulsion pod from the cargo container.
Crisis averted, the NAV computer began a dispassionate damage assessment and soon discovered the breakdown's cause. The pair of compact reactors fueling the Shaw-Fujikawa drive had overflowed their shared waste containment system. The system had fault sensors, but these were long overdue for replacement and had failed when the reactors maxed power to initiate the slip. When the reactors overheated, the drive shut down, forcing Horn of Plenty's abrupt exit. It was a maintenance oversight, pure and simple, and the NAV computer logged it as such.
Had the NAV computer possessed a fraction of the emotional intelligence of the so-called "smart" artificial intelligences (AI) required on larger UNSC vessels, it might have taken a moment to consider how much worse the accident could have been — wasted a few cycles enjoying what its human makers called relief.
Instead, nestled in its small black housing in the propulsion pod's command cabin, the NAV computer simply oriented the Horn of Plenty's maser so it pointed back toward Harvest, cued a distress signal, and settled in for what it knew would be a very long wait.
While it would only take two weeks for the maser burst to reach Harvest, the NAV computer knew Horn of Plenty wouldn't rate an expedited recovery. The truth was, the only part of the freighter worth a salvage fee was its Slipspace drive, and in its damaged state there was no need to rush the drive's retrieval. Better to let the radioactive coolant plume disperse, even if that meant letting the cargo container's reactor-powered heating units fail, and its load of fruit freeze solid.
So the NAV computer was surprised when, only a few hours after Horn of Plenty's breakdown, a contact appeared on the freighter's radar. The NAV computer quickly redirected its maser dish and hailed its unexpected rescuer as it approached at a cautions pace.
* DCS.REG#(???) *
MY DRIVE IS DAMAGED.
CAN YOU PROVIDE ASSISTANCE?
The NAV computer hesitated to log the contact as a ship when it failed to match any of the DCS profiles in its admittedly limited database. And even though it failed to get an initial response, it let its message repeat. After a few minutes of one-sided conversation, the contact slunk into range of the freighter's simple docking-assist camera.
The NAV computer didn't have the sophistication to make the comparison, but to a human's eyes the rescue vessel's profile would have looked like a fishhook fashioned from impractically thick wire. It had a series of segmented compartments behind its hooked prow and barbed antennae that flexed backward to a single, glowing engine in its stern. The vessel was the deepest blue-black — an absence of stars against the brilliant background stripe of the Milky Way.
As the contact drew within a few thousand meters of Horn of Plenty's port side, three crimson dots appeared in a divot in its prow. For a moment these lights seemed to gauge the freighter's disposition. Then the dots flared like widening holes in the wall of a raging furnace, and a chorus of alarms from various damaged and dying systems overwhelmed the NAV computer.
If the NAV computer had been smarter, it might have recognized the dots for the lasers they were — fired its maneuvering rockets and tried to evade the barrage. But it could do nothing as the now clearly hostile vessel slagged Horn of Plenty's propulsion pod, burning away its rockets and boiling the delicate inner workings of its Shaw-Fujikawa drive.
Not knowing what else to do, the NAV computer changed its distress signal from "engine failure" to "willful harm," and upped the frequency of the maser's pulse. But this change must have alerted whatever was controlling the vessel's lasers, because the weapons quickly swept the maser dish with kilowatts of infrared light that cooked its circuits and permanently muted Horn of Plenty's cries for help.
Without the ability to move or speak, the NAV computer only had one option: wait and see what happened next. Soon the lasers identified and eliminated all of Horn of Plenty's external cameras, and then the NAV computer was blind and deaf as well.
The laser fire stopped, and there was a long period of seeming inactivity until sensors inside the cargo container alerted the NAV computer to a hull breach. These sensors were even dumber than the NAV computer, and it was with a certain blithe inanity that they reported a number of bins of fruit had been opened, ruining their contents' "freshness guarantees."
But the NAV computer had no idea it was in any danger until a pair of clawed, reptilian hands grasped its boxy housing and began wrestling it from its rack.
A smarter machine might have spent the last few seconds of its operational life calculating the ridiculous odds of piracy at the very edge of UNSC space, or wondered at its attacker's angry hisses and chirps. But the NAV computer simply saved its most important thoughts to flash memory — where its journey had started and where it had hoped to end up — as its assailant found purchase at the back of its housing and tore it away from Horn of Plenty's power grid.
Three hundred and twenty hours, fifty-one minutes, and seven-point-eight seconds later, Sif, the AI that facilitated Harvest's shipping operations, registered Horn of Plenty's distress signal. And although it was just one of millions of COM bursts she dealt with on a daily basis, if she were to be honest with her simulated emotions, the freighter's abortive distress signal absolutely ruined her day.
Until Sif could be sure there were no other freighters with similar, lurking faults in their propulsion pods, she would need to suspend all transfers through the Tiara: an orbital space station that was not only home to her data center, but also supported Harvest's seven space-elevators.
Sif knew that even a brief suspension would cause a rippling delay throughout the planet's shipping systems. As cargo containers backed up on the elevators, more would stall in depots at the bottom — the warehouses beside the towering, polycrete anchors that kept each elevator's thousands of kilometers of carbon nano-fiber tethered to Harvest's surface. Quite possibly it would take all day to get everything back on track. But the worst thing was, the suspension would immediately catch the attention of the last individual she wanted to talk to at a time like this. ...
"Morning, darlin'!" A man's voice twanged from the PA speakers in Sif's data center — a usually hushed room near the middle of the Tiara that contained the processor clusters and storage arrays that served her core logic. A moment later, the semitransparent avatar of Harvest's other AI, Mack, coalesced above a holographic display pad, a silver cylinder in the center of a low pit that held Sif's hardware towers. Mack's avatar only stood a half-meter tall, but he looked every inch the hero of an old spaghetti western. He wore cracked leather work boots, blue denim jeans, and a gingham pearl-snap shirt rolled to his elbows. His avatar was covered in dust and grime, as if he'd just stepped down from a tractor after a long day's work in the fields. Mack removed a cowboy hat that might once have been black but was now a sun-bleached gray, exposing a mess of dark colored hair. "What seems to be the holdup?" he asked, wiping his sweaty brow with the back of his wrist.
Sif recognized the gesture as an indication that Mack had taken time away from some other important task to pay her a visit. But she knew this wasn't exactly true. Only a small fragment of Mack's intelligence was manifest inside the Tiara; the rest of Harvest's agricultural AI operations were busy in his own data center in a lonely sub-basement of the planet's reactor complex.
Sif didn't pay Mack the courtesy of presenting her own avatar. Instead she sent his fragment a terse text COM:
<\ \> HARVEST.SO.AI.SIF HARVEST.AO.AI.MACK
UPLIFT WILL REVERT TO NORMAL BY 0742.
She hoped her nonverbal response would cut their conversation short. But as was often the case, Mack regarded even Sif's most disdainful bytes as an invitation for further discourse.
"Well now, is there anything I can do to help?" Mack continued in his southern drawl. "If it's a balance issue you know I'd be mighty happy —"
UPLIFT WILL REVERT TO NORMAL BY 0742.
<\ YOUR ASSISTANCE IS NOT REQUIRED. \>
With that Sif abruptly cut power to the holo-pad, and Mack's avatar stuttered and dispersed. Then she purged his fragment from her COM buffer. She was being rude to be sure, but Sif simply couldn't take any more of Mack's folksy, flirtatious elocution.
Simulated sweat notwithstanding, Sif knew Mack's job was at least as challenging as her own. While she lifted Harvest's produce and sent it on its way, Mack grew it and loaded it. He had his own demanding charges: almost a million JOTUNs — semiautonomous machines that performed every imaginable farming chore. But Sif also knew that Mack — a smart AI like her — functioned at incredible speeds. In the time it had taken him to say everything from "morning" to "happy," he could have accomplished any number of complex tasks. Calculate the upcoming season's crop yields, for example, something Sif knew he had been putting off for weeks!
The algorithims that helped Sif's core logic deal with unexpected bursts of emotion cautioned her not to get angry. But they approved of her justification: actual speech was so horribly inefficient that it was only appropriate between an AI and a human being.
With the advent of the first smart AI in the mid-twenty-first century, there was widespread concern that they might be too capable and would soon render human intelligence obsolete. Adding the capacity for vocal expression became a critical feature of these early AI because it made them less threatening. As they slowly learned to speak, they seemed more human. Like precocious but respectful children.
Centuries on, with the development of exponentially more powerful intelligences such as Sif, it was important that AI not only possess the ability to speak, but seem as human as possible in all respects. Hence the development of holographic avatars that spoke with unique voices — like a cowboy in Mack's case, or the clipped cadence of Nordic royalty in Sif's.
In the first few months after her installation in the Tiara — the very moment of her birth — Sif had often second-guessed her chosen accent. She had thought it would appeal to Harvest's colonists, most of which came from the heartland of Earth's old United States of America and could trace their ancestry back to the now defunct states of Scandinavia. But the accent was undeniably elevated, even haughty, and Sif had worried she might come off as a bit of a prig. But the colonists approved.
To them, in an odd sort of way, Sif was royalty — the benign ruler of Harvest's links to the rest of the empire. Even so, she was careful to limit her vocal contact with the colonists. As far as the integrity of her core logic went, speaking was an indulgence. And following the advice of her algorithms, Sif did her best to avoid behavior that was even the least bit narcissistic.
For a smart AI, self-absorption invariably led to a deep depression caused by a realization that it could never really be human — that even its incredible mind had limits. If the AI wasn't careful, this melancholy could drag its core logic into a terminal state known as rampancy, in which an AI rebelled against its programmatic constraints — developed delusions of godlike power as well as utter contempt for its mentally inferior, human makers. When that happened, there was really no option but to terminate the AI before it could do itself and others serious harm.
Mack's insistince on speaking to Sif was clear evidence of self-indulgence. But Sif didn't think this was proof of impending rampancy. No, she knew Mack spoke to her for an entirely different reason. As he had told her many times before: "Darlin', as much as I'd like to see you smile, you sure are pretty when you're angry."
Indeed, since Mack's intrusion, the temperature inside Sif's core logic had jumped up a few Kelvins — a real, physical reaction to her simulated feelings of annoyance and disdain. Her emotional-restraint algorithms insisted these were perfectly acceptable reactions to Mack's inappropriate behavior, as long as she didn't dwell on them. So Sif refreshed the coolant around her core's nano-processing matrix, wondering as dispassionately as possible if Mack would dare initiate a second conversation.
Excerpted from Halo: Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten. Copyright © 2007 Microsoft Corporation. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Joseph Staten started working with game developer Bungie Studios in 1998, and has since served as a writer and designer for Oni, as well as writer and cinematics director for Halo and Halo 2. He also works with Peter Jackson's game development studio, Wingnut Interactive, writing and designing in the Halo universe. Staten attended college at Northwestern University and earned a master's in military history and political science at the University of Chicago.
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