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Mass Effect: Ascension is a novel written by Drew Karpyshyn. It is the sequel novel to Mass Effect: Revelation, and also a sequel to Mass Effect, the Xbox 360 game. The book takes place about two months after the events in Mass Effect, but because of the game's different endings, it has to be pretty vague about things. Reading Ascension before playing the game won't spoil much of anything... but chances are you aren't reading these books unless you've played the game.
I originally read Revelation in late 2007 and then played Mass Effect in early 2008. Ascension was released in July of last year and I finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago. I'm not going to do any formal reviewing, just talk about a few things that jumped out at me.
The main character of Ascension is Kahlee Sanders, a secondary character from Revelation and the daughter of Jon Grissom, the first human sent through a mass relay. In Mass Effect: Ascension, she's part of the Ascension project, a school to help develop and harness children who have inate biotic powers (think the Force from Star Wars). She's really neither likable or unlikable, just kind of there and playing the role of the main hero. In my opinion, if you're going to be a humain in the Mass Effect universe, you had better be pretty darned interesting for me to care about you. The aliens are just too cool.
Speaking of aliens, the coolest in the book is Lemm'Shal nar Tesleya, a shotgun-wielding quarian out on his pilgrimage. Quarians go on pilgrimages when they come of age and leave their fleet (they don't have a homeworld anymore) and can not return until they bring back something of value. Lemm decides he can get bring back some worthy information about some missing quarians and the traitorous quarian named Golo, but ends up returning with a whole lot more. He's brave verging on stupid and has learned a lot in his relatively short pilgrimage.
Gillian is a young girl in the Ascension project with tremendous biotic powers that she has difficulty controlling. She almost appears autistic at first but after leaving the project, she starts coming out of her shell. She serves as an interesting representation of the power of biotics, but unfortunately nothing more.
The Illusive Man is the leader of the Cerberus group, a black ops military group that used to be a part of the human Alliance. Since they've gone rogue, their main goal has become to ascend the human race to its highest possible point, while trampling on any other species that gets in the way. The Illusive Man is... well, illusive, and not much is known about him. But from the goals of the Cerberus project, it's pretty easy to tell he's also very ambitious and destructive.
Gillian's adopted father is Grayson, a protective man who also serves The Illusive Man in Cerberus. Grayson checked Gillian into the Ascension project but was using an inside man for uncontrolled experiments to see how powerful her biotics really are. Eventually, one of the tests went wrong and Grayson was forced to quickly pull her out of the project before he and Cerberus could be compromised.
The quarian race were driven from their home planet by the geth, a synthetic AI species the quarian originally created to act as servants and perform monotonous labor. The geth eventually became sentient and a war broke out between them and the quarian, the geth won, and the quarians retreated to the only safe haven they had left, their space ships, known as the Migrant Fleet or Flotilla.
In the game, Shepard and gang have very little contact with any quarians, most of them just live in the fleet, preserving what little life they have left. However, every quarian must leave the fleet when they come of age, and go on their pilgrimage. During the pilgrimage, a young quarian must find something of value, whether it is technology, weapons, a new ship, or information. A few quarian never return, having found a better life outside the fleet or even getting killed, but most eventually find something and return to the fleet, presenting their gift to the captain of a new vessel and home.
In Mass Effect: Ascension, Kahlee Sanders and Gillian are invited to the Flotilla by Lemm as his "gift," and are the first non-quarians ever on board. You'll have to read to find out why they were worthy enough to be considered, but we finally get a look at quarian culture first-hand and get to check out the inside of the Migrant Fleet. It's an exciting few chapters and made me realize how deep the Mass Effect universe really is.
If the Citadel represents the best of aliens working together in the galaxy, Omega would be the complete opposite. Built on and inside the remains of an asteroid, Omega is a lawless world where exiled races thrive and only the most ruthless survive. It's a dark spot in Mass Effect's world, and is just what it needs to prove it's not a utopian universe. Omega is located in Terminus space, outside the council's control, and is just where I want to go in Mass Effect 2.
They're only mentioned a few times in the book, but the Collectors are a new and mysterious species introduced to the story. The Collectors live in unknown territories outside of mapped space, and only appear when they're "on a mission." Many regard them as a myth because they only show their face every few centuries, but it seems they definitely exist. They typically offer advanced technology in exchange for live and unique people. Whether it's a dozen left-handed salarians or ten human biotics, their deals are typically too good to pass up for certain entrepreneurially folk. In the book, we learn about Golo, a quarian who was exiled from the fleet for trying to exchange two dozen quarians to the Collectors.
This book has got me totally pumped for Mass Effect 2. The game was recently announced to come out in about a year, and while that seems like a really long way off, it'll give me time to replay the original a few more times. Ascension introduces a bunch of characters and locations to the series, and while some aspects of the book were rather weak, overall it was very good. First of all, I want to travel to Omega immediately. I really hope the game kicks off here instead of the Citadel or some other familiar location from the original Mass Effect. It would be great if this was your primary quest-receiving location, think about it though, the Citadel was almost destroyed at the end of Mass Effect. There's a ton of cleanup to do there and Shepard is not a janitor. I really think we're heading to Omega in Mass Effect 2.
I also believe that Lemm, the friendly shotgun-toting quarian is going to join Shepard's crew. Tali is the quarian star from the original, and depending on how much you bothered with her, her pilgrimage is done. While Lemm's pilgrimage is also complete, we really need some fresh blood in the group. He would be a great addition and could potentially replace Tali as the quarian on the team and also maybe Ashley as the pure soldier. We also have to be going to the Migrant Fleet, maybe this is where we pick up Lemm or drop off Tali?
Finally, I think the Illusive Man's Cerberus group will be the central antagonists of Mass Effect 2. The reapers seem temporarily out of the picture and the geth have mostly been wiped out, especially without Saren in command anymore. Since humans seem to be on the verge of taking over leadership at the Citadel, it would be amazing to see the race's most corrupt work both with and against them. Cerberus wants humans to be the race on top, and will do anything to accomplish this. Terrorism is not out of the question and Shepard might be the only one who can stop them. But would a renegade Shepard be interested in furthering their goals? I can not wait for this game.