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Mass Effect: a novel idea

So, I made a mistake. I’ll be the first to admit it.
I completely forgot to check out the second Mass Effect novel before I played the second game. I have a feeling it seriously hampered my ability to enjoy it.
Ascension is sort of an odd book. It doesn’t really pick up the main Mass Effect storyline where Revelation left off, but then again, that’s what the game was for. But it also doesn’t pick up where the first game left off.

A geth stares ominously at some people running

Don't you just love a paperback sci-fi cover?

It does return us to the world of Kahlee Sanders, mild manner scientist with a propensity for kicking shell. Captain Anderson, or freshly minted Spectre Anderson as he was known back in those days, made a heroic effort to keep Saren from blowing up poor little Kahlee in Revelation. In Ascension she has done what any good non-com chasing dollar signs does. She has left the Alliance in favor of private contracting. For you non-military or corporate people out there, this means she still works for the Alliance but gets paid a lot more. She works on a top-secret training facility for the large number of biotic humans that have gain their abilities as a result of “suspicious” industrial accidents which have Cerberus’s name written all over them in secret ink you can only read when you do something with lemon juice. I forget what exactly.

So we come to the crux of the story. Ascension’s sole purpose as a product on the market is to give us a first hand taste of Cerberus. After all, you spend the entire second game working for them so it wouldn’t hurt to learn more about this company. If you recall, the only run in with Cerberus you have prior to Ascension, or ME2 if like me you couldn’t be buggered with a book first, was when Shepherd cleared out a secret base that was doing illegal research. Not off to a good start in the P.R. department.

Well, apparently that’s not entirely true. According to the Mass Effect wiki Cerberus was behind the Rachni experiments and the Thorian Creeper. I don’t remember that at all. Now I feel like a bad fan. Excuse me while I spend the next two days re-beating both games and reading both books…Oh. Wait. No I don’t have time to do that before this hits the press!

Anyway,  Cerberus is generally perceived as some sort of galactic  Black Panthers or Weather Underground type organization in their misguided attempts at forwarding the status of humanity on the galactic scale. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for humanity. I just don’t think we need to aggravate all of galactic civilization just so we play emperor of the Milky Way. We can make it there with a little diplomacy and a lot of well-timed galaxy saving. Of course we will aggravate some people that way, but the Turians are just mad that we beat them to the punch so forget them.

Ascension really does nothing to improve Cerberus’s perception, although at times I think it’s trying. The book is told from two perspectives, Kahlee’s and Paul Grayson’s. Grayson is a Cerberus operative who is given a daughter to adopt as his own from the Illusive Man himself. As you might have guessed, the daughter is a powerful biotic and a survivor of one of the aforementioned accidents, specifically the one on Yondoa. She also has high-functioning autism which may or may not be related to the accident and the drugs Cerberus is pumping through her to make her a ueber biotic.

The plot itself is not the gripping epic Revelation was. There is room for some sweet epic action but the books wings have been clipped by a serious continuity restrain.

The restraint is quite simple. One of the key elements of the games, something Bioware has been beating us over the head with constantly, is choices. Choices that have consequences. QED, the book can’t be influence by the game too much without trampling all over your meticulously built universe and ruining all of your good guy, bad guy, gray guy choices. Very few plots outside of a CYOA sequel have the kind of constrains put on it that Ascension does. I have to admit author Drew Karpyshyn does find a way to make a go of it by rightly focusing on character development and tossing in a few plot lines that contrast Cerberus and the Alliance. He just doesn’t do it well enough to garner my interest.

The dialogue in both novels seems a little flat and the writing is pulp fictiony, but I easily forgave him that in Revelation because he was introducing me to an amazing universe with incredible technologies describe in perfect detail. And really, I don’t expect my paperback sci-fi novels to read like Faulkner. As I said, the point of Ascension is to give us a first hand look at Cerberus and also to dabble a bit in Quarian politics. Something humans have no business doing in my opinion. Just as Enosh Shepherd. He didn’t have word one to say to the dignitaries aboard that beautiful flotilla ship in ME2.

Cuteness and light

Look man, I got important stuff to do. Savin' the galaxy and all...

But I digress. What were we talking about? Oh right. Karpyshyn’s writing  just doesn’t pull off the introspective in a way that draws me into the story line. I did care for Grayson’s daughter Gillian, but at the end of the day none of the characters were included in ME2 and the whole book feels like something I saw out the window of the SR-2 on my way to rescuing a cargo ship full of babies from a Geth Collector alliance bent on using the babies to blow up a planet full of puppies. You know, important stuff.

When I met Captain Anderson in the first game I felt like I was in a secret club because I already knew so much about this hero of humanity. I wouldn’t want to meet red sand addict Paul Grayson and Kahlee needs to be in the third book Retribution, which comes out next month. Some of the Quarians would be fun to meet, but that doesn’t seem likely either for reasons I won’t go into now.

I am of course looking forward to Retribution and I fully intend to read it before ME3. Ok, before the end of August. Look, when a guy starts a collection of paperbacks he likes to see it through, alright? It’s funny, I’m not particularly chomping at the bit to find out what happens to Kahlee. I didn’t even remember who she was at the beginning of Ascension. I guess I just want to spend more time in the Mass Effect universe. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to live in a world full of space ships and aliens?

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