William Johnson's Reviews > Mass Effect: Revelation

Mass Effect by Drew Karpyshyn
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's review
Jan 01, 15

bookshelves: since-joining-goodreads, 2009, classic-scifi, mass-effect
Read in October, 2009, read count: 1

Reprinted from my website Secure Immaturity:

I’m trying to ease my way back into fiction ever since I got burned out on the very subject after earning my degree in English Literature at Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University. I just read too much. . .if that’s possible. . .and needed a break. For the last five years I’ve read endless history books and biographies. Hell, I’ve even read science books. I just abandoned fiction entirely. But lately I’ve needed some kind of escapism and frankly, history can’t offer as much escapism as alien worlds can. So I decided, to ease my way back, I’d start with some media tie-in fiction.

Most media tie-ins are absolutely dreadful to read. Having read 100+ Star Trek books in my youth (okay, I won’t lie. . .I stopped in 2001!) they can become addicting BUT, when revisited as an older gentleman, are exposed for the horrible outputs of schlock they are. So when I searched for interesting media tie-in material I was immensely picky. I wanted to dabble in the Halo books but decided to hold off. The story in the games were awkward enough that glorified fan fic seemed like a dreadful exposure back into the fiction world.

So I did some research and stumbled upon two Mass Effect books. Mass Effect is not only my all-time favorite video game but I feel it’s story rivals that of most cinema and is masterfully constructed. The books also had the added bonus of being written by the game’s writer, Drew Karpyshyn, who, along with Mass Effect, wrote the popular Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game which blows away any of that prequels’ hack scripts.

The book I chose was Mass Effect Revelation because it was a direct prequel to events described in the game. The second book, Mass Effect Ascension, is more an original story set in the universe so, for purposes of gentle ease, I chose something familiar. In the game Mass Effect, you meet with a legendary human captain named David Anderson (voiced by Keith David). Through investigation you discover that Captain Anderson has a rocky history with the game’s principal villain Saren, a Turian Spectre (Turian being his race and Spectre being his standing with the Council, the galaxy’s leaders run by the most advanced species. Spectres are agents of the Council and have virtually no restrictions on how they investigate crimes, kidnappings etc.).

Mass Effect Revelation decides to focus on the events between Anderson and Saren. And while that is the carrot, the stick is the further development of the Mass Effect universe, most especially the infancy of humanity’s ventures into space. In the Mass Effect universe, and unlike most science fiction franchises, humans are relatively new to the universal community (thanks to discovered technology) but are considered ‘bullies’ and, though young, immensely dangerous. Their power rivals all the other powerful species. In the game, humans are on the brink of great power. In the book, humans are still trying to feel their way through the politics of the universe. This makes for very intriguing storytelling.

The first thing that tripped me out about reading the book though is the locations and setting. Since Mass Effect is a free form RPG you have a chance to explore your environment at your own pace and go almost anywhere. In the book, when the author takes the characters (some of which you have ’spoken’ to in the game) to certain locations you have the odd third person perspective of having ‘been there’. When Captain Anderson (a Lt. in the book) enters Chora’s Den, a key location in the game, you become instantly familiar with the place since you’ve technically been there yourself. It’s kind of odd but also very fun to be a part of. I’ve had little experience with this phenomenon.

The book also does a good job of not spoon feeding the universe to the reader. You’d only read this book if you played the game so the author spends no time creating cute allusions to the game or setting up loooooong descriptions of settings or races. Besides a few necessary descriptions of setting or time, Mass Effect Revelation excels in letting the universe speak for itself. The book also doesn’t suffer from prequel syndrome in which the story of the book HAS to connect to the game. Though the outcome of Anderson/Saren’s mission together is known by those who’ve played the game, how they get there and what you discover about them is the fun: the journey, not the destination.

The bonus is the development of Captain Anderson. When I inevitably play Mass Effect again, I will understand Captain Anderson and like more a character I already care for. Saren, however, suffers a little in the book. In Mass Effect (SPOILERS), I got the impression that Saren was an unwilling participant in the evil goings-on due to Sovereign’s Indoctrination (long story, play the game). His past is given some darkness but he seemed by no means evil. But Mass Effect Revelation provides no such ambiguity for the character and gives him no benefit of the doubt: Saren is bad. . .he just needed that extra push to make him psychotic in the game. I wanted to like Saren a bit and feel for him when he eventually falls. . .but alas I have to accept him as full villain now without any grey.

No other characters from the game show up which is another bonus. The story feels isolated but, thanks to great writing in the book AND game, has a fully fleshed out universe. The book won’t challenge fiction readers everywhere but if you want something to pass the time (or to ease you back into fiction) and you love the video game then I can’t think of anything better then this book. It expands your love of the game and doesn’t make you feel stupid for doing so!
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