Mass Effect: Deception

Mass_Effect_Deception

Check out the biotic hair-do!

This is it folks. I’ve read my final Mass Effect novel. Sadly, it was not nearly as engaging as the first three. If you pay attention to the cover title, you’ll notice there’s a different name down there. Yeah, Drew Karpy-I have the weirdest last name ever had left Bioware in the interim, I believe, and this Bill Dietz guy hopped in and finished off this story arc. His credentials include other geek/nerd culture books. Granted, I’ve only read this one, but based on Deception I am not impressed.

Here’s the thing: I’m a comma girl. I have a love/hate relationship with commas. I love them when they’re used correctly. Hate them when they aren’t. I know a lot of it is objective, but all you need to do is read a sentence out loud to hear where the natural pauses occur and don’t occur. Long story short, I do not approve of Mr. Dietz’s comma usage. I was barely two pages into the book and the misuse of said punctuation was so painful for me that I almost stopped reading. I didn’t, of course. Because Mass Effect. Then I thought I was just being silly and pressed onward. The onslaught of the English language didn’t stop with the commas. I was further assaulted with terrible grammar and even character name-swapping! I vividly remember one sentence that I had to read over three times before realizing it was just a typo. No, Khalee didn’t magically transform into Gillian! I got the feeling they didn’t want to pay an editor to go over this. If there was an editor, they didn’t earn their paycheck. Seriously.

For those of you who aren’t as distressed about grammar and punctuation abuse as I am, I’ll have you know this book is weak in other areas as well. Unlike the first three novels, this one is inconsistent with the video game trilogy. The other novels at least tried to fit into the ME universe, and even mentioned Commander Shepard’s action in passing. This book is… different. Granted, it’s been a few months since I played the Mass Effect games, but there are certain things that made me scratch my head.

In terms of the actual story, many of the characters are unrecognizable from their previous selves. Gillian and Nick have done complete 180s. Hell, there’s no mention of Gillian’s spectrum behavior, which the previous author beat us over the head with. I don’t see how Dietz could have “forgotten” about it. He didn’t even take the time to come up with a bogus explanation like, “Since she wasn’t being snuck experimental Cerberus drugs any longer she started acting normal!” I also really have a hard time accepting Nick’s extreme behavior in this book. His character wasn’t explored nearly enough to give any credence to his actions. Of course, most characters in these books have done little more than conveniently filling roles.

David Anderson, Kai Leng, Aria T’Loak, and The Illusive Man all return to continue the running story. Dietz wrote most of them really well. Except Kai Leng. There’s something about his behavior that just doesn’t jive with his characterization in the games and previous novels. I think the author was trying to humanize him, because he is a lot less robotic and actually has moments where he questions Cerberus; but again, the writer doesn’t give him the proper attention and his changes are not organic or believable.

The grand finale is pretty dull as well. All of the characters not mentioned in the games get conveniently… erased. It’s cheap and poorly executed. I understand wanting to remove characters not in the original game trilogy, I do. But at least be creative about it.

While I recommend reading the first three Mass Effect books written by Drew Karpyshyn if you’d like to whet your ME appetite, I can’t say the same for this one. It’s too poorly written and thought out. Which saddens me, because it was my final Mass Effect book to read…

Who wants to buy me the Mass Effect Library so I can read all the comics?

Mass Effect: Retribution

MERetribution

 

Keep smokin’ that cig, Illusive Man.

Onto the third Mass Effect novel, and the final one written by Drew Karpyshyn. There truly is little to no reason to read this novel if you haven’t already read Redemption and Ascension, so go read those first. Retribution follows the original characters (Plus Illusive Man and Anderson) from the first two books.

I bet you’ll never guess which blue-skinned lady friend from the video games makes an appearance: our favorite renegade asari, Aria T’Loak. She makes the mistake of getting in bed with Cerberus, for reasons I won’t disclose. I thought this novel was going to evaluate on the events which lead up to Aria being kicked out of Omega (as you see in Mass Effect 3) but… it doesn’t, exactly. Being the asari fangirl that I am, I did enjoy seeing more of her and learning a few new tidbits about her.

Despite the Illusive Man and Cerberus playing a huge part in this story, I was surprised when Kai Leng made an appearance and continued to be a major player throughout the book. If you love him (or love to hate him, as in my case), you may enjoy seeing him using his assassin skills on someone that isn’t Commander Shepard.

This book is similar in style and execution as its predecessors. Entertaining, light reading, with a couple of noticeable editorial mistakes. The progression of the characters not in the video games was relatively satisfying. One major thing that annoyed me was their godly powers of deduction. With the way all the characters were able to basically read each other’s minds or calculate someone else’s entire scheme based on one small action. Maybe I’m particularly dense (I don’t have extensive Alliance military training, after all), but half the time I found their assumptions to be a bit far-fetched. I was waiting for the author to mention the crystal ball in their hand.

These books have been a great way to keep myself in the Mass Effect universe since my video game backlog is way too long to consider replaying them. I’ve also learned some interesting supplemental information about the Illusive Man, Kai Leng, Cerberus, biotics, and other things. I have one book left before I need to come up with some other way to satiate my ME obsession. Then I don’t know what I’m going to do until they re-release the trilogy for new gen or come out with “Mass Effect Next.” Maybe I’ll see if I can get a hold of the comics.

Mass Effect: Ascension

ME_Ascension

Run for your lives!!

I went ahead and read the second of Karpyshyn’s 3 Mass Effect-centric novels. Actually, I read it in two days.

Much of what I said in my review of Revelation holds true here. The novel is a great addition to the Mass Effect Universe for fans of the video game series. I enjoyed this book much more than Revelation for a couple of reasons, and they’re purely biased on my part: One of the main characters is a young autistic girl, and you see a lot of Quarians in this book.

If you found the Quarian culture fascinating in the books and are thirsting for more of the enviro-suited aliens, look no further. A good portion of the novel takes places in the Migraint Fleet. Unlike the events of Tali’s loyalty quest in Mass Effect 2, the characters in the novel actually spend time among the Quarian’s living quarters. You get a much more intimate sense, as the characters do, about the Quarian’s plight; living on cramped ships with limited supplies, and how that, in turn, fosters their strong sense of community and loyalty. I really appreciated this because it was sorely lacking in the video games.

If you don’t care one way or the other about the Quarians, there’s always Cerberus! The Illusive Man is a character in the book. It’s great to get an idea about other “business ventures” Cerberus had sunk its teeth into. Besides, you know, spending billions of credits resurrecting Shepard. Instead, they spend 10 years and tons of money on an autistic, biotic human, hoping she will be the key to leveling the playing field for humanity in their struggle to be recognized on the galactic homefront.

Kahlee Sanders plays front and center in this novel again. I like her a little more than in Revelation, though her reactions (or lack thereof) in certain circumstances seemed either unrealistic or sorely lacking in emotion. Then again, the author doesn’t tend to delve too deeply into many character’s thoughts and emotions besides the red sand addict. Grayson, “father” of the autistic biotic girl Cerberus had him raise for over 10 years, is a red sand junkie. Seeing how red sand affects humans was also a great dose of information the games didn’t have time to explore.

Ascension takes place between the first two Mass Effect games. With that being so, the author has to skirt around some of those player choice plot points. Those couple of bits are glaringly obvious, but I suppose they’re almost unavoidable. I didn’t pick up on any editing oversights in Ascension, either.

As with Ascension, so far I find the books entertaining and quick reads. They’re a great avenue for gamers like myself going through Mass Effect withdrawals. Plus, Quarians and Illusive Man!

Mass Effect Revelation

MER Cover

Remember this guy?

 I enjoy playing video games. I also enjoy reading and writing in my spare time. So why is it I’ve never read a novel based on a video game until now?

There are a couple of reasons. I’ve heard many of them are poorly written. Hopefully not like, 50 Shades of Grey bad writing, but with lots of grammatical issues and sometimes the events actually conflict with the story established in the video games they’re supposed to be aligned with. And until now, none of the video games I’ve been passionate about had books I could purchase to read. In English, anyway. I’d even get Xenogears: Perfect Works if it was in English.

While browsing online, I discovered there was not one, but 3 novels set in the Mass Effect universe. All of which are written by Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for the video games. He’s also written other geek-centric novels too, and is apparently a New York Times bestselling author.

Mass Effect: Revelations is a prequel to the very first Mass Effect game. Throughout the trilogy, you learn that Anderson had “previous encounters” with Saren, but of course the games never explain what that meant. In Mass Effect 2 you briefly meet Kahleen Sanders, and Anderson does hint at having feelings for her in the games, but again, none of their background is fleshed out. The Revelations novel reveals (hardy har) the circumstances under which Anderson meets Saren, Sanders, and the conditions under which he was a Spectre candidate and why he wasn’t selected.

The not-so-spoiler ending of the novel shows how Saren evolved into the rogue Spectre who we all know as the final boss fight in Mass Effect 1.

When writing the novel, Karpyshyn made the assumption that readers like myself were reading this book because we, you know, played the game. Therefore, the novel is much smoother, easier reading than a typical science fiction or fantasy novel that has to dedicate a ton of pages to world building. We already know the world, so the author is able to cut right to the chase and focus on telling the story. It makes the book easy to pick up and read for 10 minutes at a time, or put down for a week and not forget what is going on. I didn’t need to spend time reading 100-200 pages describing a world when I already know what it looks like and how it functions.

With that being said, there’s a lot of supplemental background information and tidbits describing humanity venturing into the galactic community and other alien species that either weren’t described in the games or I didn’t bother reading in the codex. I absorb information better when it is presented to me through the lens of a story, not when it reads like an Encyclopedia. Plus, when playing a video game, I want to play, not read.

 I didn’t find the book poorly written, but there were some editing oversights. And even though the introduced characters mainly fit overused niches and I was able to guess how many of them were going to be shot in the face by Spectre Saren or Anderson before they met their ends, I still enjoyed the book. I primarily enjoyed watching Anderson react to situations before the games, actually seeing some batarian characters, and picturing Saren acting like a “normal” Spectre.

I think any fans of the game series will appreciate this book, as it explains events leading up to the first Mass Effect. Even if you don’t like to read, I promise, it is an easy and quick book to get through: plenty of action scenes, not a lot of boring exposition. The book was certainly worth the teeny sum I paid for it. I’ve also already purchased the next novel, Mass Effect Ascension. Be prepared for an onslaught of Mass Effect posts!

Book Review: World War Z

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Who reads these pesky books anymore?

While it does feel like if you wait long enough, a movie adaptation will eventually appear if you don’t feel like reading the book, I can’t begin to figure out how Hollywood can churn out a movie even remotely resembling this book. Strangely enough, it isn’t because of incredibly written characters, emotions, or settings. It’s only due to the unconventional nature of the storytelling.

I love to read. I also love zombie lore. So why is it I haven’t read any zombie apocalypse novels until now? I guess I didn’t know where to start. Or, hell, that zombie apocalypse novels really existed. Plus, admittedly, one of my main attractions to zombies is the guiltless gratuitous violence. Reading about bashing zombie brain matter ain’t quite as gratifying in text as it is in a video game or *some* movies. When I saw ads for a zombie apocalypse movie with Brad Pitt’s face plastered all over I knew I was going to see it. When I learned it was based on a novel, I was obligated to read said novel.

Here’s my theory: The author, Max Brooks, probably isn’t an idiot. I’m sure he and his publishing company know that zombie stuff isn’t generally taken very seriously by critics, literature snobs, and the general public (See if I save your asses when the apocalypse DOES arrive). Therefore, they probably had a closed door discussion during which his agent and such said, “Nobody but the same dead head crew that read the Survival Guide is gonna read a freakin’ zombie novel.” So they had to get critics to rave about the book. And what better way to get lit and critiquing snobs to rave about a book than to do something different. Seriously. I can picture some of my creative writing professors waxing poetic about this novel just because it takes an unconventional approach to book writing. These would be the same professors who swore off the fantasy and sci-fi genres. And don’t get me started on NY Times reviewers. I tried reading movie reviews on their websites a couple of times before. Exhausting is all they are.

The book is built as a compilation of interviews the “main character” conducts ten years after World War Z actually takes place. There are significant pros and cons to this storytelling approach.

The pros I examined: You get a holistic view of the entire world’s reaction to the zombie virus outbreak. The author is very tuned into each country’s political, social and economical situation before the war. This is a theme laced throughout the book. The interviewees are constantly pointing blame at their inept government leaders. And yet each situation is unique to each country, which I thought was pretty cool. He also didn’t have to worry about writing a main character that a lot of readers wouldn’t click with. The main character asks a few questions to his interviewees throughout the novel, and that’s about it. Well, except for the beginning when he sets the stage for the big “Why.” I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t because we just like gratuitous zombie violence.

I’ll admit, I have a hard time finding more pros to writing a book this way. There’s no main character to relate to. By the time I got into one character’s history and story he was moving on to someone else. The common threads of pain, despair, and loss are all there, and I have particular images still stuck in my mind, but I had a hard time weaving a fluid tale from it all. Hell, after I read the book I looked at the summary on Wikipedia and was like, “Oh, so THAT’S how it all went down!” Also, everything is passive. One basic and helpful writing advice I was given while paying a state university a stupid amount of money for a creative writing degree was, “Show, don’t tell.” This book is all telling and no showing. Therefore, while reading, there’s little to no anticipation or fear felt by the part of the reader. It’s all over. Mankind survived. Here’s a little bit of how they did it.

World War Z has taught me it isn’t necessarily bad that zombies aren’t taken seriously. I guess I’m conditioned to appreciate them in their B-movie gratuitous violence glory, and not in the literary sense. With that being said, I’m still open to reading more zombie apocalypse-centric novels that maybe don’t try so hard. Please help me out with any suggestions for reading material!

I do plan on seeing World War Z in the near future. I am bracing myself for the possibility of enjoying the movie more than the book for the first time, no matter how loosely based I’m sure the film is.

My First Book Review: Inferno, by Dan Brown!

Inferno-coverNever again will I complain about my nose.

This is my first book review. Ever. To give you guys a little bit of background on my credentials, so to speak, I am proud to say I’ve been an avid book reader for the same amount of time I’ve been a video gamer: as long as I can remember. There are no bookstores within an hour of where I live. I don’t usually follow many authors or keep track of book releases anymore. When my time for hobbies significantly declined, my book nerdiness sadly became second to my gaming geekiness.

With that being said, there are some authors whose books I still devour whenever I see a new release. Not only have I read all of Dan Brown’s novels, I’ve also read Dante’s Inferno about four times thanks to taking advanced literature courses in high school and obtaining a Creative Writing Degree. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I walked into my local Wal*Mart and laid eyes upon a release poster featuring a new book by Dan Brown with a familiar face adorning the cover.

With The DaVinci Code shaking the world a few years ago and earning itself a film adaptation as well as Angels & Demons  (thanks to Hollywood all I see is Tom Hanks when I read his books now) Dan Brown has become a New York Times bestseller and *almost* become a household name. I imagine most clergymen curse his name, but anyway, he’s pretty much guaranteed a ton of publicity whenever he releases a new book. And rightfully so. I  mean, his last novel, The Lost Symbol, had five years worth of research to back up all of his points. I believe this is the key to his success. Dan Brown’s not some random lunatic spouting cataclysmic talking points from his ass. Everything in his novels is based on fact. Facts open the general public’s eyes, scaring religious and political leaders into facing controversies head-on and airing out their dirty laundry.

If you’ve read any of Dan Brown’s novels,  you already know his style: race-against-time erudite thriller featuring a smart male lead with a smart-in-another-way cute female sidekick. At least I know what to expect, I guess, but it’d be nice if he’d push the boundaries of his self-induced limitations. You know, shake things up a bit. Inferno features the same static protagonist as three of his other novels: Robert Langdon. Langdon is a Harvard professor who uses his eidetic memory and love of snobby artsy-fartsy stuff to save the world.

This basic formula, while feeling worn at times, always manages to pull me in. There’s a variety of reasons for this. I enjoy thrillers, especially so if the author is smart about when to throw in those curveballs the reader (hopefully) isn’t suspecting. Brown is good at this. I also have a love of culture, and his books explore with vivid detail all aspects of culture; entwining art, literature, science, religion–you name it– with sophisticated brilliance. In this particular book’s case, Brown’s criminal mastermind du jour has a fixation on Dante Alighieri and the famous writer’s popular epic poem, The Divine Comedy. 

If you think you don’t know anything about The Divine Comedy, you’re wrong. We all do, you just might not realize you do. The Divine Comedy’s most popular section is the first: The Inferno. Some Catholics canonized his unique structure of hell which features a hairy upside-down Satan at its core. There was even a video game loosely based on it, for God’s sake. Dante’s Inferno was the name of it actually, and it was a pretty fun God of War knockoff if you want to check it out. Point being: our culture is saturated with hundreds of references to this classic piece of literature, and Dan Brown paid it homage in a creative manner.

Another reason I like Dan Brown’s books is because he takes the reader through detailed travels across the world. Appropriately, Inferno spends a chunk of time in Florence, Italy (Dante Alighieri’s hometown).  I have a nerdy love for ancient buildings and art. I’m also not independently wealthy and don’t foresee myself having the opportunity to travel to any of these places anytime soon. Dan Brown dedicates plenty of time to describing awesome sculptures, paintings, and famous landmarks. He takes the time to place the reader in the setting among the frantic nature of his tale. A great substitute for not being physically present. Too bad there aren’t picture guides in my edition. Yes, the book could be about 100 pages shorter if he didn’t spend as much time explaining the intricate details of certain masterpieces. However, as his work has nonfiction roots, he must show the reader he knows what he’s talking about and establish the foundation for the greater plot significance of it all. Dan Brown doesn’t usually throw in half-page descriptors for no reason.

He also somehow knows I like to feel smart. Seriously. If your memory is better than mine, (and that isn’t saying much), you’ll be amazed at the history and factual input he takes the time to address. Oftentimes I would read a page and stare off into space, trying to commit to memory the incredible stuff I’d just read. Yes, I’m a dork like that. If you’re a dork in this sense, you’ll probably enjoy this book for all the same reasons.

Dan Brown throws in overarching queries in his books. You know, those grey morality issues we don’t like to think about. Unlike many of his previous books, this bigger question isn’t particularly aimed at religious folks. In a way it is, but the unquestionable facts pertain to the human race as a whole. The “What if?” question at the end really had me pondering what my personal stance on the whole issue is.

I’m still undecided, by the way.

I’m not going to give a whole plot synopsis or spoilers, they’re pasted all over the internet. But I will say if you like conspiracy theories, thrillers, or just plain appreciate Dante’s Inferno, you should dedicate some time to this page-turner. Once I started this book the pages kept turning and before I knew it the end was nigh and I didn’t want the chase to be over.