Saturday, 28 January 2012

Mass Effect: Deception (Book Review)

This novel is bad, quite possibly one of the worst in terms of quality I’ve seen recently.

As bad as Revan was, at least in that you could see some quality in the writing when the author wasn’t openly flipping off at Bioware fans. But this? One member on the Cerberus Daily News forum described it best - “It’s like parody written by someone who doesn't know it's parody. Except worse.”

In all honesty, the plot does make the book sound promising. Gillian Grayson, the MEverse’s River Tam, has been in hiding with the Quarian Flotilla since the events of Ascension. A batarian slaver ship attacks the cruiser she is on and in a battle the quarians manage to capture it, from a imprisoned Cerberus agent on board Gillian learns her surrogate father Paul Grayson was experimented upon and killed by the Illusive Man.

From this description you’d expect an average novel. Perhaps a cliché ridden one which doesn’t match up to the quality of the games but isn’t overly bad. You would not expect it to be the latest milestone in the rapid decline in quality of Bioware products. To explain exactly why, this review is going to go through each screw up step by step, to show you just how bad it really is.
If you don’t want a detailed guide and just know if it’s worth getting – avoid it at all costs. There is absolutely nothing of worth to be found in this novel and many elements of it lessen the Mass Effect universe as a result of its existence.

With that done, now onto the analytical evisceration.

The biggest fault in the whole thing is that William C. Dietz makes the most amateur mistake in writing, constantly telling the audience things and not showing them. The entire book is written in an incredibly dry, matter-a-fact style which would be better suited to Wikipedia, not an action novel staring a psychic super being on a vengeful rampage. Here’s what you can expect to see in the many action scenes –
What happened next came as a complete surprise to the krogan as Gillain triggered the biotic power called “charge”. Rather than running away from the guards Gillian pounded straight at them. Within the space of three steps her body became a blur and she could feel additional strength coursing through her body as she hit one of the reptiles and sent the brute flying.

There’s no life to it, the action scenes are completely sterile and feel motionless. The whole thing is utterly devoid of activity and even full scale gunfights, explosions or wetworks operations are so poorly written they're either dull or become laughable. The characters are even worse.
None of the Mass Effect tie-in books had characters which were truly three dimensional, but they at least had some slight depth to them. Everything in this book reduces them to their bare basic characteristics.

Take Nick Donahue, a recurring figure of the last books and a fairly simple character. He was an arrogant, brash, overconfident and saw nothing wrong with using his powers against others but was competently written. In the last book there was a very awkwardly implemented sexual desire by him to bang one of his teachers. Dietz focuses heavily on this last bit so we get frequent moments like this –
But [Nick] couldn't resist watching Mythra Zon leave the building. She had a high forehead, wide-set eyes and perfect lips. The asari was shapely as well.
There’s even an entire bit with Nick seeing an asari and just sitting there, daydreaming about screwing her. It turns up dozens more times than it needs to, and to make matters worse Nick is one of the more logically written characters. Unfortunately no, that’s not a joke. He really is.

Gillian Grayson isn’t so much a character as she is a blank slate with the ability to kill people with her mind. She has practically no personality or detailed reactions which feel remotely engaging. This is a character who was turned into superweapon at a young age, raised by a dying race who fight robots, and is motivated to fight a shadowy organisation to avenge the death of her one parent – and reading about her feels dull!
Not only that, Gillian pulls off a lot of stuff which in this universe which is not only extremely unlikely, but is utterly impossible. For example, her powers.
She’s supposed to be extremely strong, has skills which few could wish for let alone attain and the previous book showed her massacring Cerberus troops. So you’d expect her most basic abilities like telekinesis to be able to flip tanks. The problem is the abilities themselves.

Quarians are specifically noted to have few to no bioitics at all, yet when Gillian shows up she is lobbing around Throw, Singularity, Charge and Reave. The latter is something you could only get very late on in the games through advanced training and a couple of others she never displayed in previous appearances. The quarians sure as hell didn’t teach them so her so where did she learn them? It gets worse. Apparently, according to the canon, it’s physically impossible to have one biotic being capable of Charge and Singularity due to the way they both work. Not only that but apparently Gillian’s version of Singularity causes people to explode, something it’s never done in past depictions, and it’s treated like the normal thing to happen.

Between the sudden gaining of skills, ability to do the physically impossible and “supercharged” versions of normal powers doing things they’ve never been hinted to do before she doesn’t come across like an enhanced badass. She reads like a Mary Sue in someone’s bad fanfiction, and it only gets worse later on.

If you’re enough of a fan of the games the first thing you’re probably going to notice is wrong is the names of the quarian characters. The only characters with correctly structured names are the ones who turned up in previous books and were spelled correctly there. One specifically irritating bit is that the “vas” in names is capitalized when it only indicates which ship they’re a part of. This would be like in a fantasy book having characters listed like Theoden Son Of Thengel. None of them, saved for the aforementioned exceptions have surnames either. It’s a minor gripe but it’s something which could have been easily fixed by an editor and Dietz should have noticed when looking up names.

What also should have been easily noticed by an editor was the small technical detail he threw in to the slaver ship, noting it to have a “Standard Tantalus Drive Core”. For those not in the know a Tantalus Drive Core was the thing the SSV Normandy was famed for having, the thing which made it cost as much as a heavy cruiser and gave it extremely advanced stealth capabilities. It was also experimental. It’s also worth noting that this was found on a batarian ship, a race that is constantly on the verge of total war against the human Systems Alliance.
Finding this would be like finding the stealth technology of an American prototype military aircraft on some random North Korean cargo plane and learning it’s a standard bit of technology. Within two years of said technology being created. Words cannot describe the stupidity.
Unfortunately for us this is not even the peak of the technology related problems, that is tied into the Citadel’s version of Chinatown: Hu-town. A town which is described as this – There were no aliens to be seen. Just tired, hollow-eyed humans. They had entered a ghetto called Hu-Town.
Dumb name aside it’s understandable that the Citadel would have a ghetto and it’s understandable that at least some of the population would be human. But an entire town of them?
Humans have been throwing themselves to the ends of the known galaxy creating new colonies, not rushing to find jobs on the Citadel. There are species who are far more prejudiced against and have much more trouble finding jobs like the quarians, krogan and possibly vorcha. All of who have been around for much longer than humanity has and yet it’s hundreds of humans who are on the Citadel being put into poverty. Well, poverty might not be the right word as apparently shops are selling SPECTRE grade equipment.
No, that actually happens. Gillian arrives in Hu-town and in a shop and is able to get a HMBA Master Bio-Amp from it to help enhance her biotic capabilities. She is finding the equipment of the galaxy’s best special forces in a ghetto! This defies all logic!

Oh, and then futuristic Mad Max raiders appear.
Again, not making this up –
They were a scruffy-looking bunch who wore face paint, were dressed in mismatched pieces of armor, and rode power skates. They were called the Lightnings and were known for their hit-and-run-style robberies
Mad Max raiders on Back to the Future style hoverboards. In Mass Effect. The book is literally doing my job for me, shooting itself in the foot so hard that it appears to be determined to drive away readers. Not only this but it actually tries to one up itself in terms of ridiculous and out of place methods of travel, as we later on get this gem –
“Look!” Anderson exclaimed “Gyrocycles!” I saw them on the way in. Let's grab one.” “You can drive it?” A much younger version of Anderson appeared when he smiled. “I can con a spaceship, can't I?”
Ignoring the obvious point of asking why is Anderson acting so out of character and where all his brain cells went, it needs to be pointed out we’ve jumped from Mad Max to Ratchet and Clank. Not one bit of this even registers as being Mass Effect related any more and feels like it’s come right out of 90s Image comics.

And finally there’s the book’s portrayal of Cerberus. Throughout the series Cerberus has been presented as an operation working from the shadows, ones working for humanity but are openly opposed by most humans due to their methods. Both the Systems Alliance and Citadel races deem them terrorists and they have been shown to willingly massacre and torture others to further humanity’s power.
They are, above all things, secretive very smart Machiavellian agents who are good at covering their tracks.

So what does this book do? It gives them a PR department. One which openly approaches mainstream media outlets to try and create recruitment advertisements for them –
Leng explained. “The mainstream media won't run our ads so we're using guerilla marketing techniques to put the message out. This includes wall crawls in places like Hu-Town, pirate sites on the extranet, and a network of flesh and blood storytellers, all trained to tell tales about the rise of humanity.”
Oh, and apparently humanity has absolutely no problem with them killing humans, leading their forces into traps and being responsible for as many human deaths as alien ones –
“Our polling shows that even though members of the other races tend to have negative impressions of Cerberus, most humans feel we are a positive influence.”

That small tremor you just felt is every Mass Effect fan from here to the ends of the earth banging their head against the nearest hard surface.

To conclude, this one is shockingly bad. The only thing which elevates it above the likes of Arms-Commander and Revan is that it wasn’t written to openly spite the reader. Even taking that into consideration both of those books were much better written than this one.
Bioware just doesn’t seem to care any more. We’ve seen a steady decline in the quality of the tie-in-novels they produce and this one is the worst Mass Effect one by far. As much as the review might have bashed William C. Dietz, he has produced good novels in the past, none of which have ever had this level of bad writing and cartoonish characterisation.
A lot of the mistakes are things which should have been picked up by editors or people working in Bioware, who should have pointed out things like the mass produced Tantalus Drive Core. As such a large amount of the blame for this book’s failure can be placed upon them.

Ignore this novel, pretend it doesn’t exist and hope that Bioware puts more effort into Mass Effect 3’s lore than what was in here. And that we don’t end up with a level playing as Shepard fighting his way through Cerberus’ PR department on a gyrocycle.

Mass Effect and all related characters and media are owned by Bioware.


  1. Thank you, THANK YOU! Someone outside the BioWare Social Network has acknowledged this piece of crap!

  2. Ugh. This book really pisses me off, I shall simply try my hardest to ignore it and not let it taint the rest of the franchise.

    Also he ruined my precious Hendel. Since when to teh ghezs "oogle" asari and chase after "the opposite sex".

  3. This "novel" is just crawling with Unfortunate Implications. Gillian just suddenly "grew out of" her autism (and aged six years when only three years passed - magic?) and Hendel Mitra was apparently "cured of his homosexuality" (Dietz just insulted a lot of people with this book). Not direct quotes from the book, but that's what I'm getting. I doubt Dietz was trying to piss anyone off on purpose, he just didn't care.

    And I was really looking forward to it, what with Gillian starring in it and all. The ending just made me sad, but not in the good way. You know.

    Bioware's got some 'splaining to do.

    1. I specifically avoided bringing up the changes with Gillian for two reasons - the first being the implication that autism is a childhood phase it left a bad taste in my mouth. The second being I would have had to mention the horrible ending, which would have likely doubled the length of this review. Or devolve the whole thing into insane ranting.

      Thanks for the reminder with Hendel though, I forgot he was gay in Ascension. As you say, a lot of unfortunate implication.

  4. Sadly this book only adds to my increasing panic that Bioware are going to screw up ME3.

  5. I only read the first few pages of this piece of dren, and aside from all the stuff mentioned by every one else - the technology seems to have reverted back to the late nineteen-hundreds earth-tech at certain places... "metal detector". State of the art device that makes sure no one brings anything harmful to a meeting... Yeah. Because knives (which are necessarily made of metal) are the most dangerous things one can possibly have in the MEverse. They could have borrowed the omni-tool-compatible scanning app from one of Aria's guards, it's a lot less cumbersome.
    Thank you, for this tribute to what is a horrible stain on Mass-Effect's otherwise spotless record.

  6. Is it true that Kai Leng breaks into Anderson's house to eat cereal?

    I'm reading things about this book that looks like pure trolling. Can't believe this shit. It's been a long time I've been this furious with a book ruining everything others worked for.

  7. Gillian learns the biotic abilities from Hendel Mitra her biotic head of security on the quarian flotilla the book wasn't as good as the others or the games but still enjoyable and readable I quite enjoyed it, I do not agree with what you say but some of the things you say are true. Any one considering reading this should try it anyway and not take my opinion or anyone else's read the book and make up your own

  8. This book was garbage. There are numerous spelling and grammatical errors. The plot is overly coincidental, like everyone is separate in the beginning then like comes together into this super ending, which makes no sense. Half of the descriptions were poor and unnecessary. Lastly if your going to name a character in one chapter make sure that characters name is consistently spelled in future appearences.