Mass Effect: Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn
Drew Karpyshyn’s Revelation is in many ways exactly what you’d expect from a Mass Effect novel. It’s formulaic in just the right ways, as it seamlessly transitions the best aspects of Mass Effect’s interactive fiction into an easily digested, compulsive read for fans of the universe.
In the original game humanity is still the newcomer to the intergalactic landscape. Stung by the unfortunate actions that lead to the First Contact War, humanity still finds itself fighting, trying to earn the respect of The Council, and the races that form it. In Mass Effect, players assume the role of Commander Shepard, an up-and-coming specialist in the Alliance military. Shepard’s immediate superior – and mentor – is one Captain David Anderson, and Revelation serves essentially as the then Lieutenant’s origin story.
Like any good licensed material Revelation strikes the proper balance of new and old. Predominantly the book is written for the fans, and thus, there are specific characters, gadgets and locations the more discerning player will immediately recognize; they provide us that momentary feeling of pride and smugness, assuming the Easter egg was laid specifically for us and no other reader. But, thankfully, these moments wind up in the minority. Working with an established universe such as Mass Effect, Mr. Karpyshyn is able to create a compelling, but also totally plausible scenario that fits snugly into canon and leads nicely into the first game.
Spanning several star-systems, races and planets, Revelation moves briskly through its tale of subversion and discovery. Although Lt. Anderson remains the primary hero, every chapter shifts the story’s focus onto the shoulders of the other protagonists and antagonists, allowing the reader a chance to understand each character’s motivations fully. The narrative jumps are seamless and easy to follow, allowing off-page characters time to travel, plan or recover. Perhaps though, more importantly, the shifting perspectives keep the nature of the story moving, which echoes the scope of its galaxy reaching yarn and allows the text to span the type of conflicts a fan of the property would expect.
Of course, centering on the actions of the Alliance military means you’ll be reading military fiction. However, those familiar with the source material know that the action is always supplemented by intergalactic political intrigue, interspecies affairs, relationships and good old fashioned deception. Revelation wastes no time whisking its readers from one arena to another, whether it be a remote research facility under fire, a crucial face-to-face with The Council or an uneasy truce between unlikely allies.
The prose is clean and efficient, much like the deadly efficiency exhibited throughout the story. The conciseness of the writing ensures that Mr. Karpyshyn’s descriptions never get too bogged down in the fantastic technical wizardries of the genre, but also restrain the book from truly elevating itself to great science-fiction. The matter-of-fact and to-the-point flow of his words suit the directness of the story and ensure no readers are alienated by needless explanation, but, also limit his ability to get lost in the fiction he’s creating.
The Prologue, however, is the one place Mr. Karpyshyn allows himself a moment to disappear into the universe. A lot of information is thrust at the reader in a short period of time, illustrating the vague workings of the mass relays that allow interstellar travel and setting up humanity’s unexpected arrival on the intergalactic scene – and inadvertently triggering the First Contact War. The Prologue covers man finding Prothean technology on Mars, which of course leads to their relative understanding and subsequent technological leaps in space travel. The short period of time reflected, covering an Earth-bound civilization to wide-spanning Council race, is a clever parallel to mankind’s overall ambition, an unquestionable theme in the overall Mass Effect saga.
In a way that is why Revelation succeeds, because although fans get to finally see Lt. Anderson’s previous dealings with the Spectre, Saren, the real character is humanity itself, trying to carve out its proper place in the universe. And ultimately, as a people and as individuals, that is what we’re all doing.