Behold the cover to Greg Bear's first Halo novel in its full glory

Here's an exclusive look at the full, uncropped cover art to Greg Bear's first Halo novel, Halo: Cryptum. You'll notice it's pretty different than the usual Halo book cover. No Master Chief, no Spartan armor. How did this happen?

Click the image above to embiggen (it's about 4000 pixels wide, big enough for any desktop.) As always, you can right-click and choose "save link as" (not "save image as") to grab the high-res version.

For those of you who missed the original announcement, Greg Bear is writing a trilogy exploring the history of the mysterious Forerunners, creators and builders of the Halos. As the book's blurb notes:

Almost nothing is known for sure about this ancient race. Worshipped by the Covenant as gods, their engineering relics pepper the galaxy, and their connection to humanity remains unanswered. Devoted fans of both the books and games will finally get to delve deep into the era of these enigmatic beings, and discover for themselves the epic story behind one of the great mysteries of the "Halo" universe: the complete disappearance of the Forerunners from existence.

Tor Books, which is putting out Halo: Cryptum, worked with one of our favorite book-cover artists, Sparth, to do the cover. Sparth, an artist with 343 Industries (Microsoft's Halo studio), is known for sweeping futuristic vistas, including weird structures, and his art definitely says "hard science fiction."

So how did Sparth arrive at this majestic cover? His original drafts were much darker — literally. Check out a step-by-step look at the process of creating the Halo: Cryptum cover, which you can also click to embiggen:

Behold the cover to Greg Bear's first Halo novel in its full glory

According to Frank O'Connor, who's the Halo franchise development director (and basically the Halo storybook keeper) at 343 and Microsoft, the cover aims to "capture the essence and scope of the book and more importantly, the Forerunner universe. There are some hints at the nature of the story in that image, and it's essentially a scene from the universe presented in the game." The art is supposed to convey "the sense of wonder that all our main protagonists feel at the scale and scope of Forerunner technology."

You'll notice two figures standing on a sort of platform: One of them is someone you'll meet in the first few pages of the book.

And the fact that the cover looks more like a classic hard science fiction novel than a Halo tie-in is no accident, says O'Connor. Halo: Cryptum is intended to be "a hard sci-fi novel with a hint of space opera, very much in the mold of Banks, Reynolds and of course, Bear himself. We told him at the very first meeting, this should be a classic Greg Bear giant – in the vein of Eon, Anvil of the Stars and so on, but inspired by the mysteries presented in the Halo games and extended universe."

Adds O'Connor:

We expect Halo fans who have never read any hard sci-fi might be converted, and we expect hard sci-fi fans who've never been exposed to Halo, to become at least curious and hopefully enjoy the book as much as we did.

He adds that the Microsoft and 343 folks didn't "force a template" onto Bear, and this is very much Greg Bear's own book. Although they did have "numerous rich discussions about the Forerunner legacy, our ideas for the state of humanity and the galaxy in the distant past, the threat of the Flood, the Halo array and so on."

And here's the final cover:

Behold the cover to Greg Bear's first Halo novel in its full glory