Halo: First Strike (Eric Nylund)
After a somewhat disappointing first book and a very disappointing second book, I didn't have high hopes for the third book in the Halo trilogy. But Eric Nylund must have gotten amped up on some really good coffee because Halo: First Strike not only delivers -- it's spectacular.
Starting from where The Flood (and the first computer game) leaves off, First Strike takes you to where the game Halo 2 begins. The story is truly engaging, with an equally interesting cast. I won't spoil it, though. Instead I'll focus on the telling of the story.
Eric Nylund clearly learned a lesson from the abysmal action scenes in The Flood: rather than follow William Dietz's formula of slogging through chapter after chapter of "...and then the Master Chief killed a bunch of bad guys," Nylund picks his enemies and action scenes carefully. Finally, we see the Chief in challenging fights against smart opponents.
Characters are likewise chosen well, and rather than just tell you what the characters do, Nylund takes you deeper into their psyches. The Chief, rather than the mindless slave to duty as presented in the first two books, is faced with ethical dilemmas with no "right" answers. Nylund presents the AI Cortana especially well, with all the complexity one would hope for.
First Strike also does readers a favor with its chronological bookkeeping. In his first Halo book, Nylund would preface each chapter with the date and location of events, but it was hard to keep track of what time the current chapter was taking place relative to the last. (Lots of page-flipping ensued.) This time he adds helpful tips like "four hours later." These are especially necessary since Nylund hops around a lot. He uses these hops to build suspense and also set up the intersection of story lines.
In sum, all sins of his earlier book are forgiven, because First Strike is a solid story, told well, with interesting and complex characters. I have no reservations recommending it to the sci-fi and/or Halo fan.