Sunday, December 04, 2022

It Pays To Blow... It Sucks To Retaliate

Today, my theme whistleblowers and the art of whistleblowing. 

This week, or so it seems to me, the copyright-related legal blogs were replete with whistleblowing, one way or another. To use a public transportation metaphor, one may whistle for a taxi, but wait in vain for a London bus, and then suddenly a veritable fleet of them come along.

Here is a lovely anecdote that illustrates the old saw.

"Veritable fleet" was an exaggeration. In naval parlance, two or three personnel carriers in close formation travelling in the same direction would hardly qualify as task unit, much less a task force, and certainly not a fleet.

So, back to why so many wise folks are talking about whistleblowers. It's all to do with the November NOCA (Notice Of Covered Action), and with 1.4 billion in fines, that means $400,000,000 could potentially be paid out to whistleblowers who claim their rewards within the next ninety days.

The FTI Law blog covers the staggering details of who did what, and why they paid such swingeing fines, mostly for failure to disclose something or other, lack of transparency, failing to keep proper records, using investors' or donors' funds inappropriately, and more.

On the same page are handy guides for would-be whistleblowers on how to report fraud, and perhaps share in a reward.

https://ftilaw.com/crypto-fraud

https://ftilaw.com/report-fcpa-violations

There is another article from FTI Law which makes the apparently contrarian suggestion that businesses should go about incentivizing whistleblowers. It is a good argument. https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=b95d1724-e4e8-4b7c-8435-d8bd13920dfd

"The Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower rewards program has prompted over 50,000 tip-offs in the last decade that have led to public companies paying almost $5 billion in fines and penalties.

This is an embarrassing and costly state of affairs for some of the world’s most innovative companies, and something needs to change. If public companies want to stem the flow of fines, the solution is simple: Companies need to incentivize whistleblowers to report internally."

If one self-reports ones own wrongdoing, it is a lot less costly. It is usually a failed cover-up that lands one in really deep water.

For Zuckerman law, Jason Zuckerman  and  Matthew Stock blog about the unwisdom of retaliating against an employee who blows the whistle. The company that they cite is a prime example of everything NOT to do when a whistleblower raises his inconvenient head... or hand.

https://www.zuckermanlaw.com/dodd-frank-sec-whistleblower-retaliation/

https://www.zuckermanlaw.com/sec-whistleblower-protections-dodd-frank-and-sarbanes-oxley-prohibitions-against-retaliation/

Finally, and a lot more copyright-related, Rolling Stone's Jon Blistein exposes the difficulty of uncovering alleged music copyright infringement.
Even with tech like TuneStat available, the lawsuit stresses how difficult it is to detect this kind of alleged infringement, considering how much content is out there on the internet. Comparing it to “finding a needle in a haystack,” the lawsuit suggests, “There are likely many other unauthorized uses that have not yet been discovered,” but finding them all “would be impossible.” 

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/cnn-sued-allegedly-using-hundreds-songs-without-permission-1234639672/ 

Perhaps more whistleblowers would help.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 
SPACE SNARK™ 

 

Friday, December 02, 2022

Karen S Wiesner: Presentation is King, Part 1

A Reader's Commentary

Presentation is King, Part 1

by Karen S. Wiesner

In this three-part commentary using author Christopher Paolini's two series, I talk about the conundrum of how important presentation is with massive sagas.

 

I just finished reading To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, a 880 page hardcover, 1038 page mass market paperback {mmp} book (not including multiple appendices and an afterword and acknowledgement, which I will note that in the mmp added another 63 pages). The novel installment is the first in a new series called Fractalverse. The author is Christopher Paolini. Surely you remember him. At 15, this guy graduated high school and started his first novel, Eragon, the first of a four-book young adult fantasy series set in the land of Alagaƫsia. It was published in 2002 by his parents' publishing company. Multi-talented Paolini himself drew the cover as well as all the maps inside. He toured extensively to promote it--while wearing a medieval costume. Long story short, Paolini was discovered and Knopf publishing house bought the series, reissuing the first book in August 2003. At the age of 19, Paolini made the New York Times Bestseller list. He holds the Guinness World Record for being the youngest author of a bestselling series ever.

I remember reading Eragon in 2006 around the same time the film adaptation with Jeremy Irons was released and thinking, This must be the coolest thing ever. Not only is the author a kid, but he's writing about dragons. Dragons! An epic, sprawling fantasy with dragons. And, man, Paolini could write. He wrote the hell out of that book. (Did I mention dragons?)

I had one dual-faced problem with this book and pretty much all of Paolini's: The size (which is a direct result of the complexity).

Now, let it be known that I'm a die-hard reader in every sense of the word. Since I started grade school and realized the building held its very own room filled with books galore, I have loved books. I started working in the school library when I was in 1st grade and continued that into my high school years and a new building. The grade-school librarian set aside all the brand new books just for me to read in advance of everyone else. In the 5 years I was in that initial building, I read nearly every book the library offered. I was a fast reader and I devoured everything. Whenever I wasn't doing anything else, I was reading. It was my hobby of choice. Or maybe it was more like breathing for someone like me. In any case, by the time I was in high school, I read a Stephen King size book a day. Is it any surprise I wanted to be an author? (BTW, I wrote my first book when I was 5. Not exactly a keeper, but hey…)

So, back to the point, the only problem I had with Paolini's Eragon was the size of it--528 pages--which was a corresponding consequence of its intricate design. As flawlessly written as that first novel was and all the ones that followed in the course of 13 years, including this new intense sci-fi saga that was offered by the now in-his-late-30s author, I admit that I have trouble reading all of his offerings (except The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm, a sequel collection of short stories set in the world of Eragon--which I confess I knew nothing about until I picked up To Sleep in a Sea of Stars and saw it listed in the front with the rest of The Inheritance Cycle). I think I might have read the final book in The Inheritance Cycle, Inheritance, but I can't be 100% sure. If I did, I have no memory of the culminating story contained within.

While I was reading To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, I started to ask myself why I've always had such trouble finishing--or frankly, even beginning--one of Paolini's books. Everything is in his favor: He's an excellent writer, no dispute there. Some of my favorite books are written in the fantasy genre. I adore dragons. I love science fiction, and, when combined with horror…forget about it. Win-win. {I do admit with To Sleep…, I wanted more Alien, less Enemy Mine (Dennis Quaid).} Regardless, the bottom line is that I highly recommend these two series written by Paolini to any fantasy and sci-fi lover.

Almost unconsciously while I worked to get through To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, though, my brain was analyzing my reactions to reading all of his stories. I enjoyed the most the first parts of both his series. What I mean by "parts" is literal in the case of To Sleep..., which was divided into six separate parts that run the gamut, size wise. In the mmp, Part I has 160 pages, the middle parts are between 150-275 pages, and the last one is only 57. The Inheritance Cycle doesn't have parts. However, with the first book, I was really only immersed in the first 150 pages or so. Then I got bogged down. I have some explanations for why this could be the case. In next week's commentary, I'll go over those as we analyze this conundrum concerning how massive sagas are presented.

Happy reading!

Karen S. Wiesner is the author of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection

http://www.writers-exchange.com/3d-fiction-fundamentals-series/

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/writing-reference-titles.html

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her here:

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

Thursday, December 01, 2022

ChessieCon

Over Thanksgiving weekend this year, ChessieCon held its first live convention since 2019. The hiatus probably contributed to the low attendance compared to recent years. Nevertheless, it was great to be able to experience the event in person once again. You can read about it here:

ChessieCon

As a byproduct of the reduced number of attendees, I appeared on more panels than I ever have anywhere. Les and I participated in two together, about "bug-eyed monsters" and other alien threats and about writing series versus stand-alone books. My other session topics were cross-genre fiction, titled "The Collusion of Horror, Fantasy, SF and Speculative Fiction," which we thought might be a typo for "collision"; alien cultures versus human cultures, especially if the alien isn't humanoid; and nonhuman reproduction. The last two panels included a scientist, who gave us a broad perspective on earthly life forms with exotic and outright weird biology (weird from a human perspective, of course). Les also appeared in a session on writer's block. I attended a panel on dystopian fiction that happened to mention a Japanese novel I hadn't heard of before, NEVER LET ME GO, which sounded intriguing enough for me to order a copy when I got home.

Les and I joined in the customary group author signing, which turned out to comsist of three occupied tables in a vast, otherwise empty ballroom. Strikingly different from past years. We had some nice chats, and I bought several books. None of ours got purchased. (Sigh.) But, then, no more than three or four potential readers stopped in.

On Sunday, we watched part of the musical performance by Roberta Rogow, one of my favorite filkers. The musical guests of honor were the Blibbering Humdingers, a filk group comprising mostly members of one family. The woman mainly sang the vocals, while the men played the instruments. I didn't enjoy their Saturday night show as much as I'd hoped. It would have been more pleasurable if I could have understood all the words; I usually liked what I did catch. In most songs, though, they sang too fast for me, and the instrumental sound more often then not drowned out the lyrics. An exception was a lovely piece about Lily's sacrifice in the Harry Potter series. A patter song about changes in language over the years was entertaining, from what I could comprehend of it. I also liked a silly bit, easy to understand for the most part, about captains in popular culture -- Kirk, Picard, Janeway, Sparrow, Crunch (groan), et al.

The con moved to a new hotel this year, the same one used annually in the spring for Shore Leave and Balticon. Positive features: For us personally, the same general route and about the same driving time from home as for the old hotel. Noticeably more efficient elevators. A nice breakfast buffet. (But no grits, even though the dinner menu includes shrimp-and-grits, so the kitchen certainly cooks them.) Friendly staff. Pretty quick meal service. Negative aspects of the hotel: Food at the evening meal, served in the bar, was good in our opinion, but the menu seemed even more limited than the typical hotel restaurant menu. Our room had no guidebook to hotel facilities, so I had to query the front desk whenever in need of information. The clock-radio had all sorts of cutting-edge features we didn't use, with instructions printed on top of the device -- but no directions for setting the time, a not at all intuitive procedure. And somehow our clock had become unplugged. My husband struggled with trying to figure out how to set the time and finally gave up. Altering the thermostat temperature setting was impossible; the desk clerk apologized that they were having trouble with the climate control system and waiting for it to be repaired. Worst of all, the hotel has no food service of any kind at lunch! The coffee shop with basic "grab and go" cold breakfast items and snacks such as chips closes at noon. The bar doesn't open until 5 p.m. The one vending machine offers only drinks, chips, nuts, candy bars, and the like. With only half an hour between midday panels, leaving the premises to seek fast food wasn't feasible, and anyway once I get to a convention, I don't leave the hotel if avoidable. (For one thing, we'd have to park the car all over again.)

Still, aside from no meaningful lunch on Saturday, none of those glitches posed major problems. We had a fun weekend anyway.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Whole Lotta Facial Recognition

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is a mixed blessing, in my opinion. 

For alien romance writers, or any published writer, their views on "sharing" copyrighted works without payment or permission might be unsettling to some.

On the other hand, their work on internet privacy is fascinating. Take, for instance, their Atlas Of Surveillance (AOS), which is a very cool tool. Anyone can type in any city in the USA and discover what sorts of government/law enforcement surveillance is in place, such as drones, face recognition, cell-site simulators, and license plate readers.

https://atlasofsurveillance.org/


This atlas could be fairly useful for a fiction writer wanting to plot out a "Bourne" type saga, or a modern day 1984, and include some verisimilitude and mischief.
 
The EFF website has a web page devoted to biometrics. Apparently, one benefit of biometrics is that it helps everyday people all the better to identify their friends. It sounds like something that Little Red Riding Hood's wolf would say!

Joking aside, there are some very serious problems with the use of biometrics.
 
Legal bloggers Jason C. Gavejian, Joseph J. Lazzarotti, and Jody Kahn Mason of the law firm Jackson Lewis PC pose the question, what happens if biometrics are used to replace passwords?
 
 
It is an interesting and comprehensive legal perspective, and well worth reading. They also discuss the use of voice recognition. Personally, I decline the convenience with banks and brokerage houses. I would not want to be locked out of my account if I caught a cold and lost my voice! 

Obviously, one should never, never use the word "Yes" on a telephone call with a stranger. Apparently, one should also avoid being filmed or photographed by strangers!
 
Absolutely nothing to do with facial recognition, but a whole lot of kudos for Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly for sharing lucrative remote writing job opportunities.


All the best,

Friday, November 25, 2022

Karen Wiesner: Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms: Mass Effect Series, created by Bioware with Drew Karpyshyn, Casey Hudson, and Preston Watamaniuk

Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms:

Mass Effect Series, created by Bioware with Drew Karpyshyn, Casey Hudson, and Preston Watamaniuk

by Karen Wiesner

In this article series I'm calling "Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms", I plan to explore supernatural fiction series that sometimes had their beginnings as books but branched out into other types of mediums, like videogames, movies/TV series, board/card/role-playing games, and music. In each individual article that I hope will introduce entertainment connoisseurs to some incredible fiction or components of similar themed stories they might have otherwise missed, I'll discuss the origins of the series elements as well as my individual experience with the various types of media, which will be presented as a kind of review of the series.

In this third installment, we'll cover the space opera Mass Effect Series created and developed by Bioware, a Canadian videogame developer, with Drew Karpyshyn (lead writer), Casey Hudson (director), and Preston Watamaniuk (designer). Karpyshyn also wrote the first three novels in the series.

In this sprawling science fiction adventure series with elements of horror, the popular videogame spawned novels, comics, a film, a potential television series, compelling music, a 4D holographic experience at an amusement park, and even its own holiday!

Which Came First?

The Mass Effect Trilogy takes place over the course of 2183-2186 CE {Common Era}). In 2148, humanity discovered highly advanced Prothean technology hidden deep below Mars' surface. The Prothean were thought to be the progenitor race of all species. These remnants of the long extinct culture led mankind to scientific breakthroughs with mass effect fields and the development of faster than light spaceflight. Another Prothean discovery unearthed a dormant mass relay that, once activated, transported them to another relay, which was part of a vast network that made travel around the entire galaxy possible. By 2150, the Alliance was formed and began forging military exploration beyond the Sol System. Only two years later, the first three human colony worlds were settled, including Demeter, Eden Prime, and Terra Nova. 

First contact was made with another spacefaring race in 2157. The Turians had been watching them, and soon the First Contact War culminated into the Turian siege and occupation of Shanxi, a human world. Only a month later, a surprise attack put the planet back in Human hands. The full-scale war the Turians had begun to prepare for against humanity was thwarted when the Citadel Council intervened. The Citadel, a massive space station, had long been considered the political and economic heart of the galaxy. Peace was brokered and so began mankind's foray into interstellar expansion.

Meanwhile, a mercenary named Jack Harper became embroiled in a plot with a Turian named Saren. Harper went on to create the human-supremacist, terrorist organization called Cerberus and, at that time, assumed the identity of the Illusive Man. Horrifying experiments and immoral depravities were ascribed to this organization all throughout the series.

Two years later, Saren became the youngest Turian to be inducted into the Spectres (Special Tactics and Reconnaissance), agents of the Council granted extraordinary power to preserve galactic stability. The first Human Spectre candidate was Alliance Navy Captain David Anderson, commander of the experimental Turian/Human stealth frigate, the SSV Normandy. Anderson's XO,  Commander Shepard, became the first Human Spectre in 2183. Shepard was already an N7 rank soldier, having distinguished him/herself (this main character can be played either as male or female) in combat, by the time he/she took over as captain of the Normandy. 

The original Mass Effect trilogy began in the year 2183 with Commander Shepard coming in contact with an artifact that imparted a vision of war and death across the galaxy. In this deeply disturbing portend, Shepard learned that every 50,000 years, the Reapers, an ancient species of machines, eliminated all higher life forms in a galaxy-wide purge, leaving younger species to advance and thrive until the next cycle. The Reapers believed this apocalypse was necessary to prevent war and chaos from destroying all life for all time. The next two games detailed the epic struggle of the entire galaxy to survive against the Reapers--at times aided by Cerberus, at others massively hampered.

The story behind Mass Effect Andromeda, the fourth game, actually began within the timeline of the first three games. The Andromeda Initiative, at least partially funded by “powerful benefactors” (which may or may not include Cerberus) was founded in 2176 and the first wave launched into dark space in 2185. Each of the species had their own massive ark. Those in the scheduled second wave launch held the last of the Milky Way species. The Nexus flagship--filled with a variety of races--was a Citadel-like space station designed to be the Initiative's base of operations as well as a temporary home while the "Golden Worlds" were made habitable. The journey to the Andromeda Galaxy to establish a permanent presence there was intended to be a one-way trip that would take approximately 600 years. Each ark was assigned its own Pathfinder, selected to set up a habitable world for its 100,000 passengers. Alec Ryder, a soldier who fought in the First Contact War, was the Human ark Hyperion's Pathfinder.

Circa 2450 CE, the Scourge, a widespread energy phenomenon, was unleashed in the Heleus Cluster after the detonation of a powerful weapon on a Remnant space station. A race known as the Jardaan created Remnant technology (Rem-Tech), including vaults that, when activated, amplified the environmental stability of a planet. The Scourge deactivated the Remnant vaults, badly damaging the Golden Worlds the Initiative expected to inhabit upon arrival, and nearly destroyed the only sapient sentient species native to the Andromeda galaxy. Angarans fell into a dark age, their civilizations cut off from each other and scattered. Around 2600, the Scourge stabilized. After rediscovering spaceflight, the Angaran people began to reunite. In the midst of their initial healing in 2744, the Kett, a hostile alien species, invaded the Heleus Cluster, intending to "exalt" the Angara into their own empire. Instead of following protocols, the invasion force's leader became obsessed with learning how to control Rem-Tech.

In 2818, after a 633 year journey across dark space, the Nexus arrived to find things vastly different in Andromeda than they expected before setting out. Fourteen months afterward, the Hyperion showed up, having been separated from the other arks that were prevented from rendezvousing with the Nexus for various reasons. This is where the game opens. The player chooses to be either the son or daughter of Alex Ryder. As the first Pathfinder to arrive at the Nexus, they're faced with the challenges of making all the Golden Worlds habitable, finding resources, making alliances, discovering what happened to the missing arks, and defeating the Kett.

A fifth Mass Effect, as yet unofficially titled with no release date in sight, is expected to continue the story from the first trilogy and possibly also the Andromeda installment, which had all the DLC and anticipated follow-up games canceled due to less than enthusiastic fan reception, despite sales success that matched its predecessors.

The chronological order of the Mass Effect Series with videogames, comic books, novels, and one film included is:

1) He Who Laughs Best by Mac Walters and Jeremy Barlow (single issue comic published in 2013): Details how Jeff "Joker" Moreau became the SSV Normandy's pilot prior to the events of ME

2) Evolution by Mac Walters (4-issue comic series first published in 2011): Set in 2157 during the First Contact War, detailing the origins of the Illusive Man and Cerberus.

3)  Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn (novel published May 2007, six months prior to the release of ME): A prequel to the first videogame, set in 2165 involving David Anderson and Saren investigating an attack on a Human research station.

4) Mass Effect (videogame released 2007): Set in the year 2183.

5) Ascension by Drew Karpyshyn (novel published July 2008): Set a few months after the events of ME spotlighting a young biotic prodigy named Gillian Grayson who's pursued by Cerberus and aided by Kahlee Sanders, who also had a significant role in Revelation.

6) Andromeda: Initiation by N. K. Jemisin and Mac Walters (novel published in 2017): Set in the Milky Way before the departure of the arks, Cora Harper attempts to recover dangerous stolen data before it can be used against the Andromeda Initiative.

7) Redemption by Mac Walters and John Jackson Miller (4 issue comic series first published in 2010): Prequel to ME 2 with Cerberus and Liara T'Soni trying to track down Commander Shepard, killed in the opening act of ME 2.

8) Mass Effect Galaxy (2009 released no-longer-available mobile game): A prequel to ME 2, squad members Jacob Taylor and Miranda Lawson investigate aggressive Batarian activities.

9) Mass Effect 2 (videogame released 2010): The prologue begins in the year 2183; 2 years later, Shepard is resurrected by Cerberus to continue fighting the Reapers.

10) Retribution by Drew Karpyshyn (novel published July 2010): Set a few months after the events of the second videogame. Cerberus uses Reaper tech on Paul Grayson.

11) Incursion by Mac Walters (single issue comic published in 2010): An Aria T'Loak adventure set one week before ME 2 opening events.

12) Deception by William C. Dietz (book published January 2012): Set not long after the events of Retribution, concerning Gillian Grayson's search for her father's murderer, the Illusive Man.

13) Conviction by Mac Walters (single issue comic published in 2011): In the days after the events of Arrival (ME 2 DLC), Captain David Anderson tasks Alliance Marine James Vega with the guarding of an important prisoner on Omega.

14) Inquisition (single issue comic published in 2010): Takes place after ME 2 with Captain Bailey investigating allegations of Executor Pallin's corruption within C-Sec.

15) Invasion by Mac Walters (4-issue comic series first published in 2011): Aria T'Loak's battle with Cerberus invasion forces on Omega.

16) Paragon Lost (anime film released in 2012): A prequel to ME 3, Alliance Marine James Vega battles the Collectors.

17) Mass Effect 3 (videogame released 2012): Set in the year 2186, six months after the events of ME.

18) Homeworlds by Mac Walters with ME 3 writing team (4-issue comic series first published in 2012): Each issue focused on a different squad member from ME 3 including James Vega, Garrus Vakarian, Tali'Zorah, and Liara T'Soni.

19)  Foundation by Mac Walters (13-issue comic series first published in 2013): Original stories in the series that tie in with the ME 3 Citadel DLC (except issue 5 with ties to ME 2).

20) Andromeda: Nexus Uprising by Jason M. Hough and K.C. Alexander (novel published in 2017, the same day the videogame ME Andromeda was released): Set on the Nexus in the Heleus Cluster before the arrival of the other arks, detailing the events that led to the uprising.

21) Mass Effect Andromeda (videogame released 2017): The Andromeda Initiative began in 2185, between the events of ME 2 and 3, but the events of the game don't start until after the 634-year journey of Ark Hyperion to Andromeda, which arrived in 2819.

22)  Discovery (4-issue series first published in 2017): Expands on the events of ME Andromeda.

23) Andromeda: Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente (novel published in 2018): Set during the journey of the Quarian ark to Andromeda, a deadly pathogen has been intentionally released onboard.

The music of ME is eclectic, to say the least, with vintage synthesized sounds, encapsulating both wonder and terror. The galaxy map, Reaper invasion, and "leaving Earth" music are all iconic to followers. Later scores had more cinematic and orchestral compositions. ME Andromeda starts with "A Better Beginning", which never fails to haunt and even devastate me. All three original soundtracks are here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX1UuJMfQfk

Andromeda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncN_o7x6XPA

On May 18, 2016, Mass Effect: New Earth opened at California's Great America in Santa Clara, California. The theatrical motion simulator amusement park ride includes motion seats equipped to simulate wind and water. The ride's plot coincides with the ME 3 timeline during the invasion of the galaxy by the Reapers. The ship ride is captained by a live action actor playing Conrad Verner, an obsessed fan of Commander Shepard's.

In late 2021, it was reported that negotiations were underway to adapt ME for Amazon's Prime Video streaming service.

An informal commemorative holiday--N7 Day--is observed annually on November 7th to celebrate the franchise.

A Review of the Various Medium Components Available

My first experience with Mass Effect came after my nephew's dad talked about how much he loved it. We bought it and my husband started playing while I avidly watched from the sidelines. The character development is so incredible in this trilogy, each game making the cast more and more distinctive and real. I became so invested in them, I was hooked. As soon as he finished the trilogy, I had to play it myself and I was absorbed so much so that I could barely function. The first few times I played the trilogy straight through, I couldn't sleep, couldn't do anything else, I was so wrapped up in the story and characters' plights. I can safely say an obsession was born.

Since then, I've lost track of the number of times I've played through the original trilogy (I can't play one of them without playing all of them back to back), and I've exhausted nearly every scenario when it comes to different ways to play, companions to romance, etc. available in the games. Over the next decade plus, I convinced countless other gamers I know to play it. I suspect in many cases, it was simply to understand what I was going on and on and on about, talking about this series so often.

When the Legendary Edition was released in May 14, 2021 with all three games, all DLC and add-ons included (except Pinnacle Station), remastered, I might have been the happiest person on the planet.

Additionally, the release of ME Andromeda, a brand new chapter in ME history, was pivotal for me. Unlike so many vocal decriers of this installment, I'd found my brand new favorite game. While the characters aren't quite as intriguing in Andromeda (a bit cardboard), the gameplay and story are superior even to the original trilogy.

A discussion of ME wouldn't be quite complete without a nod to its disappointing endings. Fans spent three games of the trilogy anticipating how everything would come to a head and what the ending would bring. The main character choices shaping the story all through the games were not only pivotal, but, for many, the point. The reception when the ending was finally revealed left fans cold, and even game writers and developers were disappointed at how it turned out. The outcry for the divisive finale that gave the main character no option let alone satisfying solution was so hotly vocal, designers went back and redid the ending, offering an expansion DLC with the main character deciding between three very different options that (if nothing else) at least gave a sense of closure that wasn't in the initial "resolution". However, while there was an interesting twist thrown in in the form of the entity with out-of-the-blue revelations to impart, almost nothing in the story thus far even hinted at what this creature had to tell the main character (although one of the bonus content stories. Leviathan, released a couple months after the alternate ending was made available was clearly an attempt to belatedly shore up those shocking disclosures). Unfortunately, the revised multiple choices the main character was given with the redesigned ending didn't always line up with the choices the protagonist may have made throughout all three games. In fact, some of those decisions were rendered inconsequential. Ultimately, the new ending was better, but fans still left disappointed, understandably so.

To my mind, this situation could have been avoided altogether if the writers had either taken or been given the opportunity to lay the groundwork for every installment in the series long before the games were designed. That said, it's hard to know what transpired since, in the videogame world, if a game doesn't make money and/or the reception is aggressively critical, there may never be a sequel--regardless of whether it ends on a cliffhanger, as was the case for Andromeda, which ended with not one, not two, but three major cliffhangers. The game was met with loud disapproval for reasons that weren't necessarily about gameplay or story content. As a result, DLC and a potential sequel or sequels were summarily squashed--to the dismay of fans. The bonus content that was planned prior to its cancellation would have provided resolutions to all the cliffhangers in the first game. I know I'm not the only fan who fumes whenever I think about never getting those loose ends tied up. One of the loose ends was supposed to be answered in the  novel Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente, however, for my part, I was disappointed with that "conclusion". While a new ME game has been confirmed to be on the horizon, there's no way of knowing whether the developers intend to provide closure for Andromeda--or open another can of worms they may or may not ever close. In short, despite some obvious elephants in the room with these disenchantments, this series remains to this day my all-time favorite.

For completionist gamers, you can find my checklists and quest guidelines, chock full of tips and tricks, for ME games and all DLC below:

ME 1: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/5/5/23554234/masseffect1checklist.pdf

ME 2: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/5/5/23554234/masseffect2checklist.pdf

ME 3: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/5/5/23554234/masseffect3checklist.pdf

Andromeda: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/5/5/23554234/masseffectandromedachecklist.pdf

After playing the games, I bought and read all the novels associated with them. All are good or excellent in giving background on several prequel or secondary plots mentioned in the games. since I've never enjoyed reading comic books, I'm still wavering on whether to purchase them--each have been packaged in volumes that contain all the individual issues. I love all the music associated with the series, owning most of the soundtracks. Finally, I'm enthralled at the prospect of a fifth game and possibly a movie/TV series based on the series in the future.

Whether you're a sci-fi gamer, book or comic reader, TV, movie, and music lover, or amusement park ride enthusiast, I highly recommend the Mass Effect Series in all its multimedia facets. Each component is worth whatever time and monetary investments you make.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150+ titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy American Thanksgiving! It's the only day of the year when we roast a whole turkey and make mashed potatoes. (Mashed potatoes are messy to clean up from, and I don't get a great thrill out of them anyway. Their main appeal is that they provide an excellent base for turkey gravy.)

This year we'll be attending the first in-person ChessieCon since 2019. We received the programming survey much later than usual, because of the confusion involved in restarting the live con after the hiatus, so we're eagerly awaiting the schedule. While we know we'll participate in the mass author signing event, everything else remains to be seen. Also, the con has moved to a new hotel. I'm wondering about the chance of getting elevators that run quickly and efficiently or a restaurant with fast service so we can get to evening panels on time. Maybe? Sometimes miracles do happen!

Fortunately, from our viewpoint, since the new venue is in the same general area as the old one, the drive from home to there shouldn't take any longer.

Whatever your plans, I hope you have a great weekend!

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Bites The Dust

As of November 3rd, 2022, the massive ebook pirate site Z-Library was taken off line and the people who ran the site were arrested.

Read all about it here:

"Z-Library, which had been operational since at least 2009, was perhaps the most visible and high-traffic ebook piracy site in the world, with some of its domains ranking among the top 10,000 most visited websites on the internet worldwide. The site claimed to host 8 million pirated ebooks and 84 million articles through a vast network of “mirrors,” or identical versions hosted on different servers, and had recently gained particular notoriety after trending on TikTok as a source for free ebooks. Substantial traffic to Z-Library domains originated from the United States."

In a lengthy and eye-opening report, The Authors Guild explains the actions taken over the years and recently, and deplores the harm that book piracy does to authors.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 
SPACE SNARK™  



Friday, November 18, 2022

Karen Wiesner: Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms: Dragon Age Series, created by Bioware and David Gaider

Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms:

Dragon Age Series, created by Bioware and David Gaider

by Karen Wiesner

In this article series I'm calling "Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms", I plan to explore supernatural fiction series that sometimes had their beginnings as books but branched out into other types of mediums, like videogames, movies/TV series, board/card/role-playing games, and music. In each individual article that I hope will introduce entertainment connoisseurs to some incredible fiction or components of similar themed stories they might have otherwise missed, I'll discuss the origins of the series elements as well as my individual experience with the various types of media, which will be presented as a kind of review of the series.

In this second installment, we'll cover the dark fantasy Dragon Age Series created and developed by Bioware, a Canadian videogame developer and its lead writer (until 2015), David Gaider. Gaider is credited with the majority of the lore for the setting of these multi-faceted stories. In addition to being the head writer for the first three, main series games, Gaider also wrote two prequel novels to the first game and a follow-up novel to the second game. He was the lead writer on The Silent Grove comic series and it sequels Those Who Speak and Until We Sleep.

In this sprawling fantasy series, the popular videogames spawned novels, comics, graphic novels, multiple webseries, an anime film, gorgeous music, and role-playing games.

Which Came First?

Dragon Age takes place on the fictional continent of Thedas. The first videogame was Dragon Age: Origins with multiple downloadable content additions (DLC) that enlarged the scope of the original story and its memorable characters. Released in 2009, it's widely considered to be one of the best videogames of all times (as are all the installments to this day). The story follows a recent recruit to the Grey Wardens, a legendary order with the mission of saving the kingdom of Ferelden from being wiped out by a monstrous race of subterranean-dwelling beings called Darkspawn. Every few hundred years, these creatures come to the surface and awaken an Archdemon (a corrupted Old God of the Tevinter Imperium in the form of a powerful dragon) to lead them in an event called a Blight--the single biggest threat to all Thedas civilizations. The Grey Wardens and the Dwarves' Legion of the Dead are all that stand between the world and certain annihilation.

Origins was followed in 2010 by an enormous expansion pack called Awakening that takes place directly following the end of the original game, continuing with the main character from the first game in a new campaign set in a whole different section of Thedas. Awakening alone added nearly 22 hours of very enjoyable, additional gameplay.

The sequel to Origins came in 2011: Dragon Age II centers around the eldest of the Hawke family, a Blight refugee forced by Darkspawn hordes to flee their home and settle in Kirkwall, where the character drags itself up from nothing to become a champion of a city in the midst of turmoil and political unrest. In the process, the character influences all of Thedas with decisions made and actions taken. Dragon Age II received six downloadable content packs. In one of them, Legacy, Hawke investigates a Grey Wardens prison overrun with Darkspawn, confronts his or her father's actions in the past, and must face off against Corypheus, a character who becomes central in the third Dragon Age installment: Inquisition, released in 2014.

Inquisition highlights the organization of that name tasked with restoring peace and order to Thedas after being ravaged by a demonic invasion. The Inquisition follows its leader, "the Herald of Andraste", an individual unintentionally given the power to seal Fade rifts that bring the demons into Thedas--the Fade being the realm where corrupt souls dwell. Several adds-ons and DLC expanded the main story. One in particular, Trespasser, creates a bridge to the next installment in the series. Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, the fourth in the series and a direct sequel to the previous game, is currently under development and will be set in the Tevinter Imperium region of Thedas and focused on Solas, who was a companion of the Herald of Andraste in Inquisition. The tentative release date is late 2023.

Several spinoff games (no longer available) included the browser games Journeys (2009) with a tie-in to the first game; Legends (2011), a tie-in to the second game; Heroes of Dragon Age (2013) drew on plotlines from existing games; and The Last Court (2014), which was set between the events of the second and third games.

The fictional world of Thedas--the only continent in the known world--in DA is inhabited by a variety of humanoid races. One of the largest themes in the games and books focuses on social classes, political dynamics, and the power struggles between the races and factions. Humans dominate and have the respect of most of the population. Elves are considered second class citizens living in overpopulated "alienages" within human cities or as slaves of Tevinter Imperium magisters. Some elves (the Dalish), wanting to reclaim their cultural heritage, live apart in nomadic settlements.

Dwarven society centers around the caste system and a form of ancestor worship. Dwarves are divided into two types: The underground variety with access to entire cities they've built below the surface in what are called the Deep Roads, and surfacers who are treated by undergrounders with deep suspicion.

The Qunari hail from far north settlements in Thedas and are a race of tall, large, physically robust humanoids with varying skin colors and sometimes horns. Converts to their civil religion are called "the Qun". Individuals born outside Qunari society are called Vashoth, and those who abandon Qunari teachings become "Tal-Vashoth" (traitors).

Magic-wielding characters known as mages have access to the Fade. Demon possession is a constant concern and those who give in to it practice forbidden "blood magic". Mages in southern Thedas are forced by The Chantry (the fictional organized religion or church of the realm) to train in colleges called Circles of Magi. Human mages are either kept in the Circle or, in Tevinter, are given free reign with the most powerful becoming magisters. Dwarves can't be mages, and the elves who live outside Chantry control are part of the Dalish clans. Qunari mages are called "Saarabas" (dangerous things) and are kept leashed with their mouths sewn shut. The Chantry's military wing is called the Templar Order, and they seek out and subdue "apostate" mages. Seekers of Truth acts as a check against Templars.

In addition to two comprehensive guides that offer detailed lore, character studies, geography, races, religion, magic, and cookbooks of the DA universe (released 2013 and 2015), a concept art volume (2014), the following fiction releases are available:

1)    Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider (2009) is a novel prequel to Origins and tells the story of the Orlais rebel Maric and his unlikely ally Loghain (from Origins).

2)    Dragon Age: The Calling by David Gaider (2009) is another Origins prequel in which King Maric (and his son Cailan from Origins) pushes for the return of the Grey Wardens to Ferelden.

3)    Dragon Age: Asunder by David Gaider (2011) takes place after DA II and follows a rogue mage (Rhys, mentioned in Cole's storyline within Inquisition) trying to clear his name of murders committed within the seat of Templar power, the White Spire.

4)    Dragon Age: The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes (2014) details the ruthless, fashionable game of Orlais politics and Empress Celene (from Inquisition) of Orlais's rise to power.

5)    Dragon Age: Last Flight by Liane Merciel (2014) follows an elven mage who becomes a Grey Warden and finds a secret diary uncovering the dark side of the Grey Wardens, which led to the tragic demise of griffin riders.

6)    Dragon Age: Hard in Hardtown by Mary Kirby (2018) is written under the pen name Varric Tethras, one of the games' most iconic characters featured in both DA II and Inquisition. Varric is an author within the Dragon Age Series, and his popular crime-noir drama, Hard in Hardtown, is frequently talked about in the games.

7)    Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights (2020) is an anthology of 15 short stories by various authors that cover a gamut of topics, including Grey Wardens, Mortalitasi necromancers, Dalish elves, and Antivan Crow assassins.

There are also several DA webcomic and comic series published, many of them focused on the best known and loved characters of the series: Flemeth, the Witch of the Wilds and her apostate daughter Morrigan (both of whom made appearances in nearly all game installments); Nathaniel Howe (Awakening and DA II), Alistair (Origins and DA II); Varric (DA II and Inquisition); Isabela (Origins and DA II, though she looked radically different between the two games); and Fenris (DA II).

Tabletop role-playing games exist set in the DA universe. An anime film adaptation called Dawn of the Seeker (2012) focused on a young Cassandra Pentaghast (of DA II and Inquisition) and is still available to watch on Hulu. Warden's Fall (2010) introduced the events covered in Awakening, detailing Kristoff's journey to the Blackmarsh. In 2011, the webseries Redemption premiered a day before the release of DA II DLC Mark of the Assassin, in which the character Tallis, played by actress Felicia Day (the voice actress in Mark of the Assassin and also writer and co-producer of Redemption) is sent by the Qunari to recapture a Saarabas. Absolution, a Netflix TV series slated for December 2022 release, will feature new characters set in the Tevinter Imperium.

A Review of the Various Medium Components Available

My first experience with Dragon Age was Origins. My son was into videogames while growing up, and we had this one, though no one really played it much. I tried several times to play the Xbox 360 version but found the controls clunky so abandoned the game before getting very far each time. Then I played Inquisition, which was one of three games we bought after we got our first Xbox One console. Everything about Inquisition is exquisite--amazing characters, story, gameplay, etc. It's a huge game with at least 200 hours of gameplay (compared to about 90 for Origins and 60 for DA II). The sheer amount of things to do in the game can be a turn-off to those who don't like a huge to-do list in-game. I do love that kind of thing because it makes sense that. in an inquisition, in order to gain followers, you need to go into each area you want to ally with and fix their problems. There's a certain logic to it, even if it does sometimes seem like too much at times.

DA games aren't linear, which is a good thing to me. I tend to hate linear games, though hybrid ones that have some linear, some non-linear elements are acceptable. I also love that you can decide what class of character to play (male or female warrior, rogue, or mage) and also decide your race and background (across all of the games, you can play as a noble or commoner human, Dalish or city elf, noble or commoner dwarf, or Qunari). Incidentally, in a weird DLC, The Darkspawn Chronicles, you can also play as Darkspawn…you know, if you don't mind being a traitor to everything! Each class, race, and background are unique and, especially in Origins, the merging of those unique storylines can really show you all perspectives of the story. In each game, you get to customize exactly how your character looks, which is one of the best parts of getting these games started. There are also romance potentials in each game, all usually chosen from your companions, which accompany you on various missions undertaken throughout the game. Who you choose to bring with you (2-3 per mission in each game) can really change the perspective and even the outcome of the quests.

After playing Inquisition, I was sold on the series, so I knew I had to go back and play the others. Origins wasn't easy to get used to, but, once I got past the class/race/background origin story and became a Grey Warden, I embraced the old-style gameplay pretty quickly.

Dragon Age II is very different from the first, the gameplay mechanics much smoother. The first two games have complicated companion scaling systems. Main character's actions, dialogue, and/or the giving of gifts can provide approval or disapproval. When added together, you'll either end up with a friend or an enemy who eventually has to make a choice about continuing to support you or to abandon you and your cause. It is possible to secure the loyalty of most companions (except in DA II, where you do have to make a choice between two of the characters whether you want to or not), but it can be hard to maintain loyalty with everyone, particularly in II where a stacking bad rating could mean a member in your party will rebel against you in the end (and you'll have to kill him or her). All across the board, DA II falls into morally obscure territory, and I've spent countless hours talking about the "ethics and politics" of the events in this story with fellow gamers.

I've now played all unique classes, races, and backgrounds of Origins, DA II, and Inquisition with and all expansions countless times. I love how the DLC for each game, particularly Legacy for DA II and Trespasser for Inquisition, segue into the next main game. In fact, you really won't get the full story any other way, and, as in the end of the main campaign in Inquisition, you're left with almost a false impression of what actually occurred if you only play the main game. Only by undertaking Trespasser following the events of the main game do you learn the true nature of who and what brought about the Inquisition. Crafty of the developers, considering how many people I know who skip the DLC!

For completionist gamers, you can find my checklists, chock full of tips and tricks, for DA games below:

Origins and all DLC as well as the Awakening expansion:

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/5/5/23554234/dragonageoriginschecklist.pdf

Dragon Age II with all DLC:

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/5/5/23554234/dragonageiichecklist.pdf

Inquisition with all DLC:

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/5/5/23554234/dragonageinquisitionchecklist.pdf

I ordered Books 1-5 in the Dragon Age series while I was playing through the games the first time. The writing of each of these was the highest quality, and finding out backstories behind events, characters, and settings in the games was intriguing, really making the whole series feel like a complete world. I'd love to see full games or DLC created for each of the books. Even if you don't play the games (which would be sad because it's such an interactive way to experience the stories), the books for this series are well worth reading for any dark fantasy lover.

That brings us to the music of Dragon Age. While the haunting "Leliana's Song" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efa9Wr5j9Wo and "The Dawn Will Come" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsxE0dwLICU are probably the songs almost everyone who's played the games know best, all the soundtracks from the main games and the DLC contain breathtakingly gorgeous music. Highly recommended! You can listen in here: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=dragon+age+soundtracks.

Whether you're a dark fantasy book reader, gamer, lover of TV and movies and music, I highly recommend Dragon Age Series in all its multimedia facets. Each component is worth whatever time and monetary investments you make.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150+ titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor