“I used to light fires as a kid. A lot of fires. My folks were always giving me grief about it. They just didn’t understand. It wasn’t pyromania: it was a career move.”
– Private Hank Harnack, 321st Colonial Rangers Battalion
So a couple of months ago I was walking through the local Hastings store back home, shopping for Christmas presents, when a little something caught my eye on the bargain rack: a copy of Starcraft 2: Heaven’s Devils, written by William C. Dietz. I hadn’t heard of it, or Dietz. Intrigued, I picked up the book, read through the jacket, and, lured in by its geek-magnet cover art featuring a space marine with a highly reflective visor, decided to give it a try.
The plot follows young Jim Raynor as he leaves his home planet of Shiloh and experiences life in the Confederate military and its war against the Kel-Morian Combine. As such, the book takes place some 16 years before the start of Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. Raynor deals with bullies on Shiloh, the ordeals of leaving home, the trials of boot camp, and the confusion and terror of combat.
The gruff, confident protagonist from the Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty campaign is nowhere to be found: Jimmy is green and childish at the start of the novel, and although he shows leadership potential throughout the story, he is never a heroic beacon of leadership. The growth of Raynor’s leadership is fine as a thread in the story, but what is most interesting is how his understanding of right and wrong (and shades of gray) evolves throughout the story, as he experiences combat, profiteering, and corruption.
Jim Raynor isn’t alone in the galaxy. He’s got Tychus Findlay to try to tempt him down the path of laziness and graft, the gifted sniper Ryk Kydd who joined the military involuntarily, and the excitable firebat Harnack, who thinks that his flamethrowers are “fekking awesome.” Apart from Raynor (and to some extent, Kydd), the characters are cardboard cutouts of action hero side kicks… which is fine. The characters accomplish what they are built to do: give the world a bit of humor as they show the Terran Confederacy as “Texans in space.”
Heaven’s Devils is not the best book I’ve ever read. However, I found it leaps and bounds more enjoyable than Mass Effect: Retribution when considered as a part of a larger universe. The reason is that it expands the universe just enough to satiate my inner lore nerd and keeps the characters consistent with the world the games created. Retribution told a story that was inconsistent with the characters in the game (the Illusive Man and Anderson in particular), whereas Heaven’s Devils tells a part of the story without corrupting the player’s prior understanding of the characters. It makes sense that Raynor wasn’t always a great hero. You won’t learn all of the secrets of the Confederacy, but you will learn how Tychus and Raynor became friends and better understand their relationship in Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. If the book doesn’t inform anything in the game world, then really, what’s the point of the book, apart from cashing in on the brand?
Overall, I thought that Heaven’s Devils hit the nail on the head in terms of books based in game universes: it was a decent book that filled in some holes in the game’s story. I don’t think that someone unfamiliar with the game universe would love it, but it would be readable. Fans of Starcraft will like following their hero Jim Raynor and seeing him evolve. The book reads like a B-grade action movie, which makes it a perfect bit of light reading for the Starcraft fanatics out there.