It’s been awhile since I’ve read a media tie-in novel, the last being the horrible first book in the Babylon 5 series of novels. However, Mass Effect: Revelation is based upon the upcoming Bioware game for the Xbox 360 called, oddly enough, Mass Effect. The book promises to illuminate some of the backstory to the game, and takes place roughly 10 years previous to the game.
ME:R is the story of Kahlee Sanders, the last survivor of an attack on a super secret human Alliance research facility, and the attempts by the Alliance and other alien races to apprehend her and figure out who attacked the facility and why. Of course, there is the obligatory military hero David Anderson tasked with finding her and returning her to human control and all of this is set against the backdrop of the universe of Mass Effect.
Overall, I’d say this is a decent, if not spectacular, novel. Karpyshyn, who is also the lead writer on the game, give us glimpses of the setting that has been created, but he never really goes into to much detail about the history or just about anything else. He focuses on telling the story of Sanders and the attack on the Alliance base. Along the way, we are introduced to the Spectre (not the James Bond evil society, but sort of like a galactic version of the Texas Rangers) agent Saren, who is a total bastard and isn’t afraid of leaving death and destruction in his wake. Saren will play a prominent role in the game so Karpyshyn gives us quite a bit of backstory on him. Unfortunately, he is really the only alien character that is fleshed out to any degree. All the other ones are pretty much based on cliched characters: the mercenary, the greedy business man, etc. In fact, even the human characters aren’t really developed that well either, pretty much staying in their story roles.
The writing itself is also nothing spectacular. That’s not to say its bad, it isn’t. Its more workmanlike than anything else, with a worrying trend for the omniscient narrator to use ‘!’. I have to assume that writing for a game is much different than writing an actual novel. And given the level of awesome storytelling in games form Bioware as Knights Of The Old Republic and Baldur’s Gate II, I know that Karpyshyn can tell a good story. His ability just doesn’t translate will to novel form. Aside from the glimpses of alien races and societies, everything just felt flat and the use of ‘biotics’ (Mass Effect‘s version of the Force) was rarely touched upon in the book, being used two, maybe three times, and each time it was basically a Force push. A wider array of biotic abilities would have been nice, as would an explanation on how they work. The one other knock is the tendency for infodumps to appear in the text, usually as a character is ‘remembering’ things the reader needs to know. This broke the flow for me as most people aren’t remembering a page worth of stuff that they are already familiar with.
But, not all is negative. As I said, the setting is king here, and aside from not going into too much detail, it is rather interesting, if already used; an ancient race has vanished leaving caches of high technology lying around for the newer races to fight over. Bioware has given it their own twists and it should be an interesting setting to run around in. Karpyshyn also, as stated before, does a nice job on fleshing out Saren, who will be a prominent character in the game. He hates humans, and you find out why and you get a taste of his obsessiveness and ruthlessness from the book.
If you’re interested in the game at all, I’d say ME: R is worth a read. It’s quick and you’ll have a leg up in terms of story when you play the game. Otherwise, if you’re just looking at it from a straight science fiction story, ME: R is mediocre SF at best.