In his second book in the Halo: Forerunner saga, the prolific sci-fi author Greg Bear begins Halo: Primordium where he left off in Cryptum, the first book. While Cryptum was told from the point of view of Bornstellar, Primordium is told in first person by Chakas, one of the humans Bornstellar hooked up with on Edyre-Tyrene, a.k.a. Earth, during the events that took place in Cryptum.
Chakas is no longer human, though, as he explains to the ones he calls the Reclaimers in his new form as an AI construct – actually, a failing duplicate of a Forerunner monitor. The Reclaimers, an ONI science team, try to retrieve information from Chakas on the Didact, a Promethean who was the supreme commander of the Forerunner military, and on the human-Forerunner war. Chakas begins his story recounting his childhood friendship with Riser, a tiny human called a Florian, and the events covered in Cryptum, where he and Riser, both following their “geas” (a sort of biological GPS installed by the Librarian to guide humans toward doing the bidding of the Forerunners) on a treasure hunt with Bornstellar, the Forerunner equivalent to a human teenager who rebels against his Builder father, to Djamonkin Crater on Earth where they rouse the Didact from hibernation.
In Cryptum, we learned that the Didact builds a ship from a seed planted beneath the crater by his wife, the Librarian, and brings Chakas, Riser and Bornstellar with him on the ship. They are all subsequently captured by the Master Builder and separated from one another. Chakas remembers the pod, or bubble, he was placed into where he is neither quite awake or asleep. Memories of this time for him are hazy until, following the Mendicant Bias attack on the capital, he crash lands on a broken rogue Halo world known as Installation 07.
Chakas is tended to by Vinnevra, a young human woman whose grandfather, Gamelpar, is an outcast among their people because he spooks them with his open questions as to why they were taken from their home planets and dropped there. As Chakas begins to heal from his injuries, he becomes very aware of a presence inside of him, which turns out to be an old warrior spirit called Forthencho, Lord of the Admirals, which has been implanted inside Chakas by the Librarian. Gamelpar has also been imprinted with an old spirit, which is also known as a “geas,” as well as Vinnevra, whose “geas” is not an old spirit but a lady who guides her, presumably the Librarian.
It is decided that the three will follow Vinnevra’s “geas,” which leads them to what Gamelpar refers to as the “Palace of Pain,” which is really a Forerunner research lab where experiments are performed on the humans stranded on the installation. Fortunately, they only get close enough to avoid it – and the giant spider-like creature they call The Captive, which appears to be watching over the crowd of people flowing en masse toward the giant “Palace.” The Captive is also known by the Forerunners as the Primordium, the thing from which all life begins and ends. Questions arise as to why the Librarian would lead them to such a fate. Crestfallen and perplexed, the group trudges on, now in the opposite direction of Vinnevra’s “geas.”
During their journey, they are found by Genemander, a Lifeworker, who leads them to a village, feeds them and gives them a place to rest. They are introduced to a giant, benevolent shadow-ape named Mara. Riser then joins them and explains how he had been protected by the Forerunners because the information in his “geas” was valuable to them. He also crash-landed on the damaged Halo, which is rampant with Flood spores, along with three Forerunners who succumbed to the Flood and died. Chakas is happy to be reunited with his friend.
All seems swell until Chakas discovers that the people they see in this village are all scans – as in, not physical people at all, but living spirits of people who are not dead but what Genemander calls “protected and neutralized” so that “they will not be abused by the Master Builder or anything else.” The truth about Genemander’s village comes out when the old warrior residing within Chakas rises up just as Genemander is about to scan him. Genemander is not a real physical being, either, but a machine, an “ancilla”. He says, “Once I was a Lifeworker. I chose this fate rather than serve the Master Builder.” In hindsight, this statement chillingly foreshadows what is to come for Chakas, though he doesn’t know it yet.
Genemander’s monitor begins to blink out due to power loss and after a sad scene that includes the loss of actual life, Chakas, Riser, Vennevra, and the giant shadow-ape (the only other truly alive being in the village) move on – to where, they do not know. And then the old ghost warriors inside of both Chakas and Riser (sworn enemies from way back) decide to hash it out, much to the exhaustion of both men. Their ancient disagreement was over the Primordial, which Riser’s warrior spirit, known as Yprin Yprikushma, had released from captivity. Forthencho strongly opposed this. They also disagreed on the origin of humanity, which Yprikushma believed to have happened on earth while Forthencho believed several other planets were habitable to humans and thus could’ve theoretically been where humanity originated. Seems like a petty argument in the grander scheme of things, but these two really go at it.
Thus, Halo: Primordium begins in earnest to tell the ancient history of humans and Forerunners. The ancient spirit of Forthencho is alive in intellect and emotion which he conveys silently to Chakas as he operates through him until Chakas awakens to find a piece of flesh gouged out of his back and the Lord of Admirals standing before him in ghost form recruiting Chakas and as many humans as he can to finish his ancient battle against the Forerunners.
It is revealed, though not quite so clearly, that Chakas and his companions have been found and taken to the realm of the Mendicant Bias, which has promised the spirits revenge on the Forerunners. On top of all that, the Halo is on a collision course with what Chakas describes as a red and gray wolf-faced planet. The Halo is breaking apart and their power source is fading. It’s up to the humans to provide the power needed to avert total devastation. Here’s where that handy Forerunner fusion comes into play, for Chakas is literally plugged into the Halo mainframe to help steer it away from the wolf-faced planet. His body is dying, though he cannot feel it with the Forerunner technology zooming through his system.
While all this is happening, the Didact’s fleet approaches Installation 07, knocks the Mendicant Bias offline and proceeds to move the badly damaged Halo to the Ark where it can be repaired. Chakas sees Bornstellar, but he is not the same young Forerunner rebel he remembers; he is now someone else, someone all too familiar. The Didact brings Chakas with him to confront the Primordial, who reveals there is no cure for the Flood. Chakas never sees Vinnevra or Riser again, but says that they’ve been taken to the Ark.
I’m sure I didn’t do this book the justice that it deserves. There is simply too much going on to explain in a simple book review. But my guess is that if you’re reading Halo: Primordium, it’s because you’ve read all the other books and also play the game. You’re into it and that’s cool. Me, not so much.
Greg Bear has authored over 40 science fiction books and short story collections in his long, illustrious career. Learn more about him here.