The Cole Protocol – Tobias Buckell
In the fight between discovering and concealing Earth’s location, Covenant, UNSC, and Insurrection all converge on a single refugee colony hidden behind Covenant lines.
Turning the last page of Contact Harvest [x] to the first page in The Cole Protocol is something of a style whiplash. Protocol is the most rapidly-paced books in the Halo line-up. It’s the 100 meter dash to Harvest’s mile run. The words aren’t there to paint a picture; they’re there to get characters from point A to B. We are often told what the characters are feeling, but not really why they are feeling it. There is a lot of focus on “telling” and not “showing.” This is what contributes to the quick pace of the novel.
I used to think that The Cole Protocol was poorly written due to this change. Rereading, I have to disagree with myself. It’s not poorly written, it’s just a lighter writing style than the other Halo books.
While there are things that characters wrestle with, we don’t spend pages and pages on internal drama and reflection. Characters rarely experience distress over things they can’t change, and if they do, they find a way to move on. There’s no strain and losses aren’t given too grand a focus. It’s rather refreshing when nearly every other Halo story comes back around to perform a double-tap on your emotions. It’s a chance to have fun with the Halo Universe without the stress of emotional turmoil.
Halo 3, Halo 4, Halo Reach
Another defining characteristic of the novel is the delightfully dramatic character displays. Buckell does not deal in half-measures. While Contact Harvest went to the small details and the seemingly insignificant moments to pull out emotional threads, The Cole Protocol instead gives those moments an extra flair.
Future Arbiter Thel ‘Vadamee strips naked in front of the governing body of his keep to make a point. Spartan Adriana-111 starts a bar fight and tears a table from where it was bolted on the floor to ward off attackers. Helljumpers kidnap and hogtie Jacob Keyes in order to give him a tattoo. The AI character introduces herself with the line, “Yes, I am Juliana, goddess of the Rubble.”
These grandiose gestures fit within the story because of the style, which I find very akin to a summer blockbuster.
Thriller is the best genre to use to describe The Cole Protocol. The setting and the characters are entrenched in the science fiction genre, but the story itself is a thriller. Even its title follows the pattern of many novels in this category, such as The Bourne Identity or The Da Vinci Code. As the site TV Tropes pointed out, this title structure involves “the” followed by a noun or name and another noun with government connotations [x].
“This creates a feeling of conspiracy, like the reader has just glimpsed the title on a sealed manila folder and now needs to dig through the secrets of powerful men to discover…” (tvtropes.org, “Mad Lib Thriller Title”).
Forward Unto Dawn Episode 1
Conspiracies are most definitely prevalent in the book, both within human and alien ranks. On the human side, the UNSC and Insurrectionists are consistently infiltrating each other ranks, while Prophets dealing behind each others backs creates a web of conflicting orders within the Covenant. There are even conspiracies that don’t relate directly to the overall plot of this particular novel. Thel ‘Vadamee fends off an assassination attempt, and Spartans have become the boogeymen for Insurrectionist children.
Even though conspiracies definitely have their place, thrillers are ultimately “about power – who doesn’t have it, who’s misusing it, and what will it cost to restore some kind of balance to the world” (Genreflecting, pp 160). This is a very strong theme in The Cole Protocol and one that’s ranged from the fringes to the center of all Halo stories. There’s always been this question of who is on top of the galaxy. Before the Human-Covenant War, the Insurrection broke out because of the dispute regarding Earth’s control of the Outer Colonies. The Covenant has always been this tenuous framework that required the subjugation of one race to uplift another. In the War, the Covenant pressed onwards in a display of power in strength and numbers. Humanity created the Cole Protocol, keeping knowledge of systems concealed from alien eyes, because as Catherine Halsey once said, “Knowledge is power.”
Spartan Ops Episode 8
These conflicts all come to the forefront in The Cole Protocol. The UNSC and Prophets are both questioned on their misuse of power. Those without power, Kig-Yar and Unggoy, human refugees, struggle to seize it for themselves in whatever way they can.
The last question on the cost to restore balance will not be answered even when the Human-Covenant War comes to its end seventeen years later, but all surviving heroes and villains find some measure of peace in the final pages. New commands, discovered purpose, moments with family, and Hierarchs who have “resolved the moment of bad blood that had grown between them” (Protocol, pp 348).
The Cole Protocol may be most notable in its establishment of the Arbiter’s character pre-Halo 2. Up until its publication of 2008, there was plenty of speculation but no hard facts regarding his identity. Buckell seems to take this into account. Despite the fast-pace of the book, he still gives time to flesh out Thel ‘Vadamee’s personality and provide a dynamic environment with which to interact. We see who his close friends are, how he reacts to betrayal, and his devotion to the Great Journey. Lak, his uncle and mentor, is introduced late in the book, but mentioned again in The Flood’s Adjunct. The way he deals with assassinations is in contrast to his response in Glasslands and Hunters in the Dark, set nearly two decades of war and character growth later.
Thel’s journey through this novel also provides parallels to other moments in canon. Claire, who runs the Halo blog sailorsanghelios on Tumblr noted that Thel’s willing and arrogant nakedness before the keep Elders was a sharp contrast to the shameful nakedness that we saw in Halo 2 [x]. Both of these events chronicle a change of rank for ‘Vadamee, be it rise to Kaidonship and shipmaster-status, or the fall to the Arbiter’s mantle. Whether or not it was intended, it could be seen that both instances are a sort of thematic rebirth for the character. Childhood is also mentioned, as he often spent time gazing at the stars and wondering what it held for him (pp 147). Though a short paragraph, this evokes similar imagery to the Halo 3 trailer Starry Night, which was officially canonized in the first episode of HUNT the TRUTH.
There’s another connection to HUNT the TRUTH as media censoring is mentioned, once again shielding Earth from certain horrors of war (pp 29). Similarly, The Fall of Reach receives two acknowledgments. On page 37, Keyes requests the transfer of a skilled pilot to his ship, something he will do years later with Ensign Lovell to The Pillar of Autumn. Among the Spartan-II candidates that stood to leave on the first day (Reach, pp 33), was Spartan Jai-006 (Protocol, pp 76).
Even the most recent Hunters in the Dark has a connected moment beyond reoccurring characters. Luther Mann’s reaction to his planet’s glassing as a child is very different to Ignatio Delgado’s. While Luther was unable to fully comprehend the act and thus found beauty in the moment, Delgado instead found a deep distrust of Covenant (pp 13). This highlights how two books similar in tone – both lighter and hopeful – can be founded on opposite themes: honesty [x] and distrust.
I will still fault The Cole Protocol for one thing. Buckell made plenty of wonderful contributions to the canon, and 343 Industries has done an excellent job on tying stories together and clearing up loose ends, but they have yet to clarify a specific disappearance. What in the world happened to Veer?