Review: The Ballad of Halo Jones

The Ballad of Halo JonesThe Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Halo Jones is early Alan Moore, and it shows a bit. There’s a more episodic free-wheeling structure than in his later work, with some entire episodes seemingly thrown in simply for the purposes of making a joke. Albeit the jokes are usually pretty good. But then again, saying that, he shows already emerging mastery by planting time-bombs. One in particular, carefully planted half-way through the second of the three parts is primed by a one-line comment that goes otherwise unexplained and uncommented on, and finally explodes in the final pages, with amazing effect.

So what happens. Halo starts out as a rather ditzy young woman living in a futuristic hell-hole, and we start out with fairly light-weight tales about life there, which suddenly erupt into a catastrophe. So she gets out: she becomes a stewardess on an interstellar cruise-liner (and, speaking as a heterosexual male, I wish British Airways employed stewardesses shaped like her wearing uniforms like the one she wears), and it’s all light-hearted stuff really until the first time-bomb explodes in your face. And after that, it’s all down-hill to the point where Halo enlists in the military (in a war which is partly based on ideas from The Forever War, but manages to pack the punch far more elegantly and succinctly) and discovers that the war is her life; without it there is nowhere to go.

So what’s it about? A simple answer would be that it’s an anti-war story, but that’s way too simple. Moore makes the profound point that soldiers are amoral until they decide on a course of action. Halo maintains her integrity in action, while her almost lover does not, and pays the price. But war is presented in the tradition of Catch-22 and Bill, the Galactic Hero, where fighters are essentially decent but confused, commanders are insane, and nobody really knows why they’re fighting or what is really happening. The war ends up as a home for life’s rejects, of whom Halo has allowed herself to become one.

What it’s really about is Halo’s process of growing up. From the point at which she leaves Earth, she is always looking back. Even as she leaves Earth, her goal is to somehow recreate her life the way it was before disaster struck and flung her into the galaxy. And so, when that doesn’t happen, she has no plan and nowhere to go save down, all the while dreaming of golden moments from the past. Near the end she bemoans the fact that her past is all she has. And then it is taken from her, and finally, left with nothing, she sees what she has always failed to see: that she must move on and live in the future. So all of this, the catastrophes that drive her away from home, the gradual severing of ties, and the experience of war that strips away her delusions one by one in what is almost a purifying experience, leads to her realisation that she has her life yet to live.

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