Nerds pick nits. It’s what we do. It doesn’t matter what kind of nit it is: maybe a TV episode directly contradicts the last one, maybe the physics are horribly wrong in a novel, or maybe something with unfortunate implications appears and needs to be called out.
And nitpicking isn’t inherently bad. One of the most important aspects of a fictional universe is that it’s internally consistent; if the author sets certain rules, he or she should not be breaking them, because it lowers the quality of the work and makes it less enjoyable. Remember all the angry “Lost” fans when, after years of insisting the island wasn’t purgatory, it, uh, turned out to be purgatory? Really dings your enjoyment, doesn’t it?
Still, the current nitpicking fest over “Mass Effect: Deception” is doing way more harm than good, and has managed to set back nerds in the media. Again. Here’s why:
#5) The Overall Tone Has Shifted From Amused to Entitled
There was a time when finding an inconsistency in, say, “Star Trek” was funny. People generated lists of Kirk’s top ten reasons to violate the Prime Directive, or moments that directly contradict another episode, and everybody had a good laugh over it.
The fact that the list opens with “We Won!” says everything you need to know. This isn’t a war, guys. It’s a tie-in book.
#4) The Aggrieved Tone Deliberately Exaggerates Research Failure Into Deliberate Malice
We only tuned into this list because we’d heard that, in addition to getting minor points of lore wrong (and the vast majority of this list are incredibly fiddly points), William C. Dietz had turned gay characters straight, and played off autism as something you “grow out of”.
HOLY CRAP, REALLY?!
Oh, wait, no, it’s just because the author, William C. Dietz, was unaware of the homosexuality and the autism. So he’s not some sort of homophobic autism-hating monster, he just didn’t know he had to write about this stuff.
#3) Mistakes In Alien Biology Are the Same Thing As Making a Character Ex-Gay, Apparently
To say that this list betrays how warped some people’s priorities are is an understatement. Along with that ex-gay and autism thing, you have such unforgivable lapses as…Krogans don’t have spines, humans in Kar’Shan, and misunderstandings about the toxicity of beryllium. Yeah, homophobia? Kind of more important.
#2) It’s Unfair To The Author and The Publishing House
Nobody is pretending this book doesn’t have a lot of lore problems in it, because obviously it does, but the rage over it is not just embarrassing, it’s horribly unfair, especially to William C. Dietz and his editors.
We hate to break it to some of you, but these tie-in novels are not profound works of art crafted with joy and care by elves: they’re designed to rake in some quick cash off a hot property that has a game coming out in March. William C. Dietz did not descend from some self-appointed throne of gold to take a dump all over Mass Effect’s canon; he got tapped by EA and Bioware to write a book, because he’s a fairly efficient and solid writer who’s done this kind of thing before and done it well. He was given a deadline, and told to get cracking.
In short, this isn’t writing as a creative endeavor. This is writing as product manufacturing.
We’ve read the book: the most critical thing we can say about it is that Dietz wrote a fairly straightforward science fiction war novel much like the stuff he’s written before and just filled in the blanks with the appropriate Mass Effect terms. Then he sent it in to be edited and fact-checked, since they’re well aware that fussy fans can ruin a book’s chance of selling well, and this seems to be where the process broke down.
Could they have done a better job? Absolutely. In fact, it’s a little surprising Del Rey, which has a long history of handling tie-in novels, and Dietz, an experienced veteran at writing video game tie-ins, handed in such a rush job, which in turn makes us wonder if the rush job was of their own making.
#1) We Don’t Know the Whole Story, So We Shouldn’t Act Like We Do
A lot can go wrong in a process like this: the owner of the IP sets an unreasonable timeline, the author is sent an out-of-date story bible, or a work is yanked out of the editing process and shoved onto the market. This stuff happens all the time, especially with movie and game tie-ins, because the street date is more important than the quality.
It could well be that nobody at Del Rey cared about the lore. Or, much more likely, it could be that they did care, but weren’t given the time and tools to do their jobs properly. It’s telling that many errors are not with the game lore but inconsistencies with other tie-ins: there may literally have been no time to make sure the tie-ins were internally consistent on the schedule EA set for the book releases, for example.
The whole problem with this nitpick list is that it dumps all the blame for the mistake directly on Del Rey, who certainly deserve a portion, but may not deserve the whole thing. A better thing to do than list nitpicks and demand a fix is to demand some transparency: what actually happened and why?
Once we know that, we can make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen. And maybe get back to nitpicks being funny.
image courtesy EA