Q&A with Karen Traviss

Halo: Glasslands is the first novel in an all-new HALO® trilogy by #1 New York Times bestselling author and game writer Karen Traviss. Traviss, critically acclaimed for her original series “The Wess’har Wars” as well as novels written in the Star Wars® and Gears of War® universes, managed to find time in the midst of her Gears of War 3 insanity (she serves as lead writer on the game) to sit down with her publicist at Tor Books and talk HALO.

Justin Golenbock:  How did you first become involved with the HALO franchise?

Karen Traviss: I was asked if I wanted to write a novella for HALO: Evolutions. I’m endlessly curious and always up for anything new if it sounds cool so I was interested. I was working on Gears at the time (as I still am) so I wanted to be sure they were cool with it, and they thought it was a great idea. If it’s military, if it’s a game, if it’s an IP I know nothing about (essential—I can’t work on things that I might have a pre-existing opinion on) and it has the moral grey areas I work best in, then I’ll probably give it a go if I have the time.

JG: Glasslands has been highly-anticipated by HALO fans as the first book or game in the franchise to delve deep into the chaos of the post-HALO 3 universe. Can you reveal anything about the plot for eager gamers and readers?

KT: As a former defence correspondent and a military writer,  I approach HALO as a real situation. War is bad enough, but when a relatively straightforward war—two sides, clear stakes—ends, then fragmentation usually takes place. Hostility doesn’t end cleanly. Factions emerge. You’re not sure where the threat is coming from, and it keeps changing. In HALO, it’s like the end of the Cold War. So who operates best in this uncertain landscape, where conventional force – weapons and ships – have no targets or conventional wars to fight? Intelligence.  Enter ONI, the Office of Naval Intelligence. If your enemy is off balance and licking his wounds, you grab that chance to knock him down so hard he never gets up again. You use black ops techniques using smart, adaptable people who can operate off the grid and handle themselves in the most dangerous environments in deniable operations. ONI assembles a team of ODSTs, a Spartan II, a civilian Sangheili expert, and an AI spy. It ought to be a simple case of doing the dirty on the bad guys by sneaky means, but things get very complicated when the secret roots of the Spartan programme is blown wide open….

ONI also has its hands full with another problem—Halsey has been a very bad girl and strolled off with a few Spartans mid-battle. While they’re hunting for her, she’s stranded in a Dyson sphere with “her” Spartans, some Spartan IIIs she views as third rate,  and Chief Mendez. It’s a sealed world. They could be the last sentient life in the galaxy. They don’t know if the Dyson sphere will turn out to be a haven or a hell, or indeed if it’s already inhabited. They’re cooped up with one another for what might be forever and now they have to face the previously unspoken tension, guilt, and blame about a shocking era in Earth’s history – the terrible abuse of kidnapped children to create Spartans. It’s very uncomfortable and now it’s about to get personal and really painful. Cue mayhem!

JG: What was it like integrating characters of your own creation into the lives and stories of those who have already lived on the page (and in the games)?

KT: First and foremost, I’m still a news journalist at heart. I want to start from scratch, ask my questions, and get answers. I want to be objective,  tell the truth, and  let the interviewees speak for themselves, without twisting their words or injecting my own opinions—to see the world through their eyes.

So I decided which existing characters I wanted to follow, and looked again at the raw data—the absolute neutral basic  facts, i.e. what they did and when they did it. Then I rebuilt the characters using psychological profiling techniques.  The result is that you’ll see characters you think you know portrayed differently, perhaps too differently for some fans’ tastes, but I’ve done what i always do—build or rebuild fully realised characters who behave like real people, place them in the environment, and then follow where they lead, seeing the situation and the events through their eyes. They won’t always see the event the same way and there will be contradictions—the reader has to do some work and make their mind up about who they believe. No easy answers, no heroes or villains—just people, even if those people are aliens. Make up your own mind.

I think fans will find a very different Mendez to the one they’ve seen before. This is a CPO, and if you’re navy (as I am!)  then you know the power of the Chief.  And this guy is hardcore. He trains SBS/ SEALS, effectively. He certainly won’t wilt in the face of Catherine Halsey, believe me. He doesn’t give a damn about her Ph.Ds and he’s as stained by the Spartan programme as she is. Then there’s Halsey herself. Boy, as a journalist, I’d love to have interviewed a real individual like her. I have to see the world as she sees it, to be her for the duration of her point of view scenes, and getting into her head means that the logic and justification that makes sense to her must also make sense to me, however much I feel repelled by it when I step outside her head. Not even a serial killer sees himself (or herself – let’s not be sexist) as evil. Their world makes perfect sense to them. I don’t inject my opinions or steer readers. The joy of writing for me is to explore other minds totally unlike my own. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s unsettling and even unpleasant, but it’s always new. Maybe Halsey is right and she’s a patriot, maybe she’s a monster like Dr. Mengele. It’s your call.

And then there’s Margaret Parangosky. She’s solid gold for a writer like me. I couldn’t believe nobody had developed her before. A 92-year-old serving admiral who’s also the chief spook? Damn, she’s got to be one tough old bird. She and Halsey, alpha female to alpha female – one of the most rewarding scenes I’ve ever “reported.”

Oh, and Lucy. Lucy the Spartan III. I’m big on dialogue, but how do I tackle a character who can’t speak? Read the book and find out…

JG:  Let’s talk 2012.  What can your fans look forward to after the publication of Halo: Glasslands and the great, big, massively-anticipated release of Gears of War 3?

KT: The next year is going to be spent catching up with my novel schedule—I’ve been tied up with Gears 3 for a couple of years and I have to write more books now! I’m going to be getting on with my new creator-owned series, Privateers (Simon & Schuster), which isn’t the usual speculative fiction you’ve seen from me. It’s set on Earth a few years from now, in an even more uncertain world than we face today, and it’s about private military contractors, sometimes unkindly called mercenaries. But it’s still full of the mucky politics, authentic military action, and vivid characters you’ve come to expect from me. Some of my friends work for PMCs and I thought it was time a few fictional stereotypes were dispelled. So the first book is out next year, title to be announced. There’ll be another Gears of War book out next year, too—The Slab—and I’m continuing the Gears comic series, as well as the next HALO novel, obviously. So busy, busy, busy. Very busy.

JG: Thank you for your time Karen, and good luck with both upcoming releases!!  Halo: Glasslands will be available online and in bookstores nationwide on October 25, 2011. For more information on Karen Traviss and her books and other projects visit www.karentraviss.com.

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4 thoughts on “Q&A with Karen Traviss

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  4. Please, tell her to stop writing Halsey out of character in the following books. The Halo community is really upset about that.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R1JMYRRJ3RZSKY/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0765323931&nodeID=&tag=&linkCode=

    “When Nylund was writing, he gave you the impression that what Halsey did was indeed wrong, but left the audience to form their own opinions. Traviss does not. She almost immediately starts in by literally using her own characters as mouthpieces to compare Halsey to Mengele. I’m not joking; we’re talking actual LITERAL Mengele references. It makes the book read less like a book and more like a forum debate between fans, or a piece of criticism on prior works in the series. Clearly, Traviss has some ideological differences with the character in question and felt the need to use her writing to slag off on and otherwise beat the tar out of Halsey with one indignity after another.”

    That’s from the most helpful review at amazon. :(

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