Geeks are thorough. We love completeness and detail. When you are playing D&D, you do not fight a monster. You battle a Skullcrusher Ogre with a speed of 30, an armor class of 22, a base attack of +12 and +25 if grappling. Over the years we have looked to “definitive guides” to answer any and all questions about our geek obsessions. The D&D franchise has probably the most complete set of canon material. Star Wars would follow a close second.
This past October, Bungie answered the prayers of their legions of fans with the release of the official Halo Encyclopedia. We had a chance to chat with the book’s consulting editor and sci-fi author Tobias Buckell.
GD: You mentioned on your blog that DK approached you as someone with Halo knowledge to assist in the editing process. Was it your work on The Cole Protocol that gave you the advantage?
TB: I would have to imagine that put me in the running! They were looking for a consultant, and my name was passed on to them as someone familiar with the property. I’ve been reading DK books of all sorts since I was a kid, so getting a chance to work with them was cool.
GD: The Halo Encyclopedia draws on each of the official Halo releases (up through ODST and Halo Wars). Did you find it difficult to check and cross-check the canon with such an extensive story and background?
TB: I was getting whiplash from looking stuff up! Imagine me at 5am, sitting blearily in front of the computer, all the Halo novels, graphic novels, comic books, scattered around my office, and various files open on my 24″ monitor and laptop screen.
GD: Word on the street is that Bungie keeps an official Halo “bible” locked away deep in their game studios. Did you get a chance to read through its covers?
TB: I’ve had a chance to read a Halo bible. Signed for a chance to read my copy in blood, right? Just kidding. May Bungie ninjas assassinate me should I speak further of it (laughs). I’m not sure if it was the master bible that has all the upcoming stuff, I know as much about that as anyone else, to be honest. But I have had access to a canon that was lent to me for use both when I wrote the book, and worked on the Encyclopedia, and for my recent novella for the Evolutions anthology.
GD: What are some of the most memorable items from the Halo canon that you first learned about while working on the encyclopedia?
TB: I had the chance to read a Halo bible, nothing in the Encyclopedia was particularly new to me.
GD: I’m sure the Halo fanboys (and fangirls) have come out in droves to dispute parts of the encyclopedia. Do they understand that you are the “editorial consultant” and not the keeper of the Halo canon?
TB: Yes, I’ve had some rather accusatory and nasty emails! There were some inaccuracies in the first run of the Encyclopedia, the guys at Microsoft Studios are very aware of exactly what they are, and are committed to working on that. One has to remember that the reason fans are that intense is because they love the property, and that is pretty cool. It’s a positive thing, in the end, although sometimes you can find yourself on the end of some vitriol. You can’t take it personally.
GD: The Halo Evolutions anthology was also just recently released. What was the motivation for your novella, Dirt, which is included in the book?
TB: The game ODST was on its way out, so I wanted to write a piece that took a look at how we got all the way there, from the POV of an ODST. Maybe even ‘the rook’ from ODST himself (though whether or not that is canon or not will have to be decided, it’s the implication of the story, but I left it somewhat open, sneaky author). It was a bit of a gamble for me, as a piece of literature. I intended to write a short bank heist piece, but then as I wrote it, delved into the past of the characters and tried to build them up and explain how they got where they were in detail, and it ended up spanning the timeline from just before first contact with the Covenant to right as Earth was first attacked. I also was trying to write a sort of tribute to the old ‘Why We Fight’ pieces of WWII as well, which I watched a bit to grab some of the flavor for this piece.
GD: You’ve worked on The Cole Protocol, the Halo Encyclopedia, and now a story in Halo Evolutions. Can we expect to see more Halo-centered work coming from you?
TB: Right now there’s nothing agreed upon, but I will say that I would always be happy to write in the universe. The letters I get back from readers make it a very fulfilling thing to do. So we’ll see! For now though, I’m working on a couple of original pieces for the foreseeable future.
GD: Halo has become one of those rare exceptions where a concept created for one type of media has jumped to others. First released in 2001 as a video game, the Halo world can now be found in a plethora of books, graphic novels, comics, collectibles, home-brew video (Machinima loves Halo forge), and possibly a movie. What are your thoughts on this? Is this the future of entertainment?
TB: You know, I think so. I see writers who do audio-oriented work, screenplays, graphic novels, novels, young adult novels, and it seems to me that creating stories that span media types is a way to draw in a larger audience.
GD: You have a growing bibliography, with a background in sci-fi leading up to your most recent Halo work. With the popularity of the Halo universe at your back are you worried that your other works will get lost in the mix?
TB: I’m not too worried, no. I’ve had a pause since the Halo book came out, but that’s more attributable to a health concern that took me out of the game for almost four months, and then left me doing a lot of freelance nonfiction work over the year to pay down medical bills and put money back in the kitty after four months of only being able to work a little bit each day. My original novels actually picked up readers from the Halo-verse (tooting my own horn, but if you love big explosions, over the top space battles, and bad ass human killing machines, I’m all about that stuff, its why the Bungie folks asked if I’d be interested in doing a Halo novel), and having a bestseller has opened some doors for me that I’m hoping to take advantage of this year. Now that I’m working on the original stuff again, I’m looking for business to continue as usual.
GD: You have some great advice for “beginning authors” on your blog. Any quick tips for that aspiring kid who also has a few dreams of their own that they want to get down on paper?
TB: It’s a lame line, but I use it every time because I like it: the biggest part of the word ‘writer’ is the word ‘write.’ So write. As much as you can. Practice, practice! I’ve read a few books saying that 10,000 hours of practice is what it takes to master something, so start racking up those hours. Another line is that it takes a million words to get good. Either way: start writing!
GD: Thanks Tobias!