Mass Effect’s Place in Science Fiction – Revelation


“Reading Journals” are one of the main, and currently the only, sub-series for Gaming’s Place in Literature. These Journals are used to explore individual novels within a game’s expanded universe. The general format will be to write about the book’s writing style and quality of story before diving into a genre analysis. Exceptions to this format will likely occur.

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The Hero of Alpha Halo, The Woman Called McKay – Gaming’s Place in Literature

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

Master Chief is not the protagonist of Halo: The Flood. He’s certainly the protagonist of Combat Evolved, but in the novelization of the game, he hands the driver’s seat over to one Lieutenant Melissa McKay.

The base definition of a protagonist is simple: “the leading character’ of a story [X]. However with a cast of thousands, and multiple viewpoint characters, it can be difficult to pinpoint who the protagonist actually is. Quickbeam, a content writer over at, gives us another method of locating the main character in a story: the narrative.

“[A] character-driven story like LOTR is not strictly about sacrifice (or heroism, or the impermanence of beauty, or all those themes that are intrinsic). I must admit the novel is woven of many threads but the groundwork of the tale, the telling of it, spins on a single proviso: Who is transformed the most between the opening and the closing page, taking the reader through his transformation?” [X]

The telling of the tale, as Quickbeam so graciously highlighted, is also called the narrative. This is the way a story is told, the grand combination of themes, characters, plot, and writing style. Now not all narratives work off the same proviso or condition as Lord of the Rings does. While we do see character transformation in our protagonists throughout the Halo series, Halo 2 being an easy example, one of the groundwork pieces for Halo as a whole is sacrifice.

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Halo: The Flood – Gaming’s Place in Literature

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

The Flood is a Halo book that’s known to get some flak from the fanbase, and I can understand why. Coming off of Nylund’s close look into the way the Master Chief thinks, the more action-oriented style can feel shallow. There are parts where Dietz slows down the story to describe in detail how the Master Chief dispatched the Covenant squads, which is particularly dull when you’ve played the campaign and recognize the scenes. I’m not sure we needed the description of our first Warthog jump in the tunnel system that “is not a natural formation.” Furthermore there are some interesting continuity choices that Dietz makes, such as everyone and their Sangheili zealots knowing that John was a child soldier.

With all these issue in mind, I will defend this book vigorously. Dietz had a lot of obstacles to overcome that were different from Nylund. Frank O’Connor has explained that Dietz not only had to transfer a well-known story from one medium to another, but also had to do so in less time that Nylund had (X). Therefore, even upon rereading, I remain both impressed and delighted with what we were given.

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Halo: The Fall of Reach – Gaming’s Place in Literature

The first entry in my series, Halo’s Place in Science Fiction for Halo Archive, this analysis on The Fall of Reach will also be the first entry in a more expansive series.

Gaming’s Place in Literature seeks to examine game-related fiction through different lenses of literary analysis.

Fall of Reach is very much a character-driven story. Scenes transition from one to the other when a character point is made or developed, as opposed to the completion of an event. In fact, looking at it from a whole, there is not that much of a solid plot. There is the underlying themes of what it takes to save humanity and the continual comparisons of lives spent and lives wasted. Each segment gives something else from which the next can continue and build. However, there is no overarching story line; it’s more a chronicle of events.

I do not fault Fall of Reach for this, not in the slightest. This is no detraction from the novel. One of the most widely celebrated science fiction novels, Starship Troopers, is the same. There is an end goal and a final exciting event that changes the course of the war, but the story is more about the characters and their journey. Quite frankly, I think a plot would get in the way with the sort of story that Fall of Reach is trying to tell.

A plotted story calls for resolution at the end, be it triumph or tragedy. Here, there is no resolution. Halsey’s constant questioning of morality is never answered. John’s understanding of winning/losing and spending/wasting lives is never finalized. Keyes and his crew find their morale, only to have to torn from their grasp. Cortana has barely entered the world proper and already her goals have been forced to shift drastically. It’s a strange sense of reality that was interwoven so beautifully that I didn’t even realize the lack of plot until I sat down to write this piece.

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“Smart” Science Fiction

The Museum of Science Fiction recently tweeted out an essay with a question attached:


I at first assumed that “smart” science fiction was referring to “hard” sci-fi, where real-life science defines the rules and, more often than not, drives the plot. Reading through the piece, I discovered that the author Darren Beyer instead defines smart science fiction as:

Novels like The Martian and the Atlantis series rely on plot, theme, tempo, and realism to draw the reader in, versus attracting them simply because they belong to a genre the reader finds appealing.

Beyer goes onto say that smart science fiction has been a staple of the genre over the years, but it has never made the leap to the mainstream until recently due to the majority of novels catering to old tropes.

I am of two minds about this. The first part says that there is no hard-and-fast rule for how a genre is defined. The second part makes worrisome noises and warily eyes old quotes of literature elitism.

In the past, many authors have done their best to have their books avoid the dreaded “science fiction” label. After all, that meant talking squids and spaceships, and nothing serious or insightful could come from such things. While Beyer’s essay does keep the novels like The Martian firmly planted in the science fiction genre, I disagree with separating them from the other piece of science fiction based on quality.

For one, the way I discover new works is that I look for common themes that I would like to explore further. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was picked up because I wanted to read more science fiction in which songs played an important role. I first read Starship Troopers because Halo had given me a craving for military science fiction. Sub-genres work because they are based on similar elements.

Secondly, it seems to be a similar separation, though on a lesser scale, to avoid a dreaded label. That work isn’t space opera – it’s a serious exploration of imperialism. This work isn’t an alien invasion book – it’s a metaphor for communism. These works are GoodTM and therefore cannot be scifi horror, alternate history, cyberpunk, etc. Perhaps this is not what Beyer meant, but the sub-genre of “smart” science fiction rings a little too close for my taste.

But then that loops around to the first part of my mind; there is no solid definition for science fiction, and like genres themselves, there are many overlaps in sub-genres. If smart science fiction is a sub-genre that Beyer can use to organize his readings and his understanding of science fiction as a whole, then he is welcome to use it. I, on the other hand, will pass.

Kind (of) Like J’onn

In a recent interview, Supergirl’s executive producer called J’onn J’onzz “the warmest soul in the DC universe,” and heavens above if that isn’t the perfect description of the Manhunter from Mars. Ever since I truly took the plunge into the DC universe, J’onn was the character I latched onto the most.

My first introduction to Martian Manhunter was in middle school, I believe. I picked up a Justice League graphic novel on a whim and thought: a “manhunter” is a good guy?  That sounded like a villainous title to me. I never made it past the first few pages of the novel, and would have to wait almost a decade before I learned exactly who this fellow was, and I wish I had known him sooner.

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“These are your first steps.”: Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth in The Force Awakens

Dear stranger to whom I gave a ride home from The Force Awakens, I was delighted that you invoked the Hero’s Journey when sharing your thoughts on the new Star Wars. Part of me wishes that the space between the theater and your house was longer so that we could get farther than simply establishing that we both knew the monomyth. However, one thing that you said stuck with me: that you wished there was more of the Hero’s Journey present in Rey’s story in The Force Awakens, like there was in The Empire Strikes Back for Luke. Yet, no matter how good The Empire Strikes Back is, it only contains a portion of the monomyth which started in A New Hope. Similarly, The Force Awakens gives us the beginning of Rey’s Journey, and in fact, doubles-up on certain steps in the Departure stage of the Classical Monomyth.

[Spoilers under the cut]

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