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Videogame tie-in novels get a bad rap. Sure, they’re often cynical cash-ins that get farted out by games studios periodically to milk cash from innocent, story-hungry gamers, but they aren’t all terrible. In fact, in recent years big names in the Science fiction and fantasy community have come forward, recognising the creative opportunities of playing in other people’s imagined worlds and shedding light on the stories that lurk in the background of their favourite game series. Mass Effect, the sprawling RPG with limitless potential for storytelling, just signed up a new author to pen their latest novel, and they may have just won the jackpot.

N.K. Jemisin has been a Science Fiction and Fantasy darling ever since her first novel, The hundred Thousand Kingdoms, was festooned with award nominations back in 2011. This year, her Science Fantasy climate change epic The Fifth Season picked up the Hugo for best novel. It’s intriguing to see her turn her attention to the Mass effect series, a game world characterised by complex, character-driven narratives in an immersive and enormous universe.

Jemisin’s novel Initiation will be part of the Andromeda series, which will hit bookshops in time to coincide with the next instalment of Mass Effect in 2017. The series will be set in the 28th century, focussing on an armada of colony ships containing thousands of passengers from each of Mass Effect’s myriad races, bound for the Andromeda galaxy and, they hope, a new life. The series will kick off in March 2017 with Jason M. Hough’s Nexus Uprising. Other authors in the series will include K.C. Alexander and Catherynne M. Valente.

Tie-in novels are gaining legitimacy fast, with Science fiction legends eagerly jumping into video game universes to tell new stories. Greg Bear, Jeff Vandermeer and even Michael Moorcock have all dabbled in the genre. But the world of the Tie-in novel remains something of a minefield. This is true both for readers, who can often find themselves lumped with lazy, by-the-numbers storytelling, and for authors, who can end up at the mercy of the “Sharecropping” novel trend. These novels are the products of a system where media conglomerates get fledgling authors to write in their worlds while keeping most of the profits for themselves.

Mass Effect has a lot to make up for if they want to atone for their past literary sins. 2011’s Mass Effect: Deception was littered with canonical errors, including turning the only gay character straight (and then killing him) and having another character “grow up” out of autism. The novel prompted petitions from livid fans that it be struck from the canon, and even prompted one irate reader to burn his copy. With the great talent attached to this project, it seems likely that they may finally be able to wash that terrible taste out of their fan’s mouths.

Category: Videogames

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