Timothy Zahn

There should be more books like Mass Effect! A lament, with recommendations

I’ve been reading science fiction avidly for about 5 years now, and I really got into it to begin with thanks to the Mass Effect video game series. Those games have, I believe, a sense of worldbuilding that’s hard to find in published science fiction. As a setting for SF stories, it’s unbeatable to my mind. It’s a densely-populated galaxy filled with humans and numerous, diverse alien species, living and working side by side. It’s a co-operative, optimistic future, despite all the peril it gets put in during the games’ storylines. To put it simply, it’s a future I would love to live in.

mass-effect-trilogy

The notion of entirely alien species being your co-workers, friends and even romantic partners is just such an alluring one, and it’s why I’ve read far and wide trying to find an SF author who feels the same way. While I’ve found some wonderful authors that come somewhat close to the feeling I got from those games (Reynolds, Banks, Brin, Vinge, and others… see below), I’ve yet to find any novel or series of books that entirely scratches that itch. A reading experience that brings to life a universe I want to live in and explore.

And no, the Mass Effect tie-in novels don’t count. They’re just awful.

This blog post has two aims:

  • Firstly, to lament upon the lack of recent books that fall into a similar worldbuilding niche as the Mass Effect games (the ‘recent’ part being important, I’ll explain why soon).
  • Secondly, to give some recommendations to works of science fiction that admittedly do come close. This will be my personal selection of recommendations for anyone else who, like me, came to printed SF via the Mass Effect games, and who wants to read books with a similar feel.

There should be more books like Mass Effect!

The first Mass Effect game came out in 2007, with the sequels coming in 2010 and 2012. I don’t blog about video games, so I won’t go much more into the specifics of their releases, but they were pretty damn popular. And they were, deservedly, critically acclaimed; yes, even the third title with its controversial ending. Moreso, they are without a doubt influential and key works of recent space opera. The website io9 called the series a “major highlight in the history of space opera” and “the most important science fiction universe of our generation”.

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