Scott M. Sandridge

A Work in Progress

SpecMusicMuse – Mass Effect 3 Reflections, Part 2: Why I Chose “Synthesis” and why no Option is “Right” or “Wrong”

I like to first start out by saying that, unlike the IDers, I do not assume that my favorite option is the “right” option and thus, by default, the other two must mean Shepard got Indoctrinated. For one, it’s circular thinking, and I hate thinking in circles. I’d much rather keep it a relatively straight line, thank you very much.

Of course this also means that I won’t have to post a half hour long or longer vid trying to explain how the “Renegade” option of “Destroy All Synthetics” is actually the “Paragon” option in disguise. Mostly because, in Part I of my Reflections on Mass Effect 3, I showed how it can’t be Paragon. The Paragon Shepard wasn’t even willing to sabotage the Genophage cure (and thus doom the Krogan to eventual extinction) even when doing so could’ve given him the upper hand against the Reapers, so thinking that Paragon Shep at the end would be okay with the idea of committing a triple+ genocide just to kill the Reapers is way too much a stretch of logic to be sound. But Badass Renegade Shep? He would. Without thinking twice.  ‘Cause Badass Renegade Shep is all about revenge and “ruthless calculus,” even if he might feel bad about it later.

And if Badass Renegade Shepard was the type of character you were playing. If you had no trouble with backstabbing the Krogan, the Geth, or anyone else who got in your way, then Destroy is the “correct” option for your character–’cause that’s just how he rolls.

But my Shepard wasn’t a total Badass Renegade. Sure, she started out a little heavy on the Renegade end, but as I continued playing, my choices for her went more “middle of the road” by the end of Mass Effect 2, and by the end of Mass Effect 3 she was much more Paragon than Renegade. But despite the Control the Reapers option being the blue color, it didn’t exactly strike me as the Paragon thing to do – because Control destroys free will. And besides, the colors might reflect something more than just Paragon/Neutral/Renegade, as gamermd83 explains in her two-part “Beings of Light” theory:

Sure, the Reapers never had free will to begin with, but why continue the cycle?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. From this point on I’ll be getting a little esoteric on y’all’s asses, so be warned:

Anyone who can put 2+2 together and find out it equals 4 will have no doubt figured out why Commander Shepard’s last name is Shepard. In Mass Effect 2 he dies in a manner where there’s no mistake that he’s dead: by getting spaced out of an exploding Normandy SR1 in a damaged space suit to then get caught up by a nearby planet’s gravity well to end up a crispy critter upon re-entry as he plummets helplessly to the planet’s surface.

A later scene then shows Mr. Bac’n’Crisp getting rebuilt from scratch by Cerberus-modified Reaper tech courtesy of the LAZARUS Project ran by Miranda Lawson (an interesting set of names from an esoteric perspective, no?). It’s obvious that the story writers intended Shepard to be a Messianic archetype, hence why his name is Shepard (Duh!).  In fact, after a Death and Resurrection, the only thing missing for him to completely fulfill his Messianic fate is an Ascension.

So why, if “Control” and “Synthesis” means he got Indoctrinated, is “Destroy” the only option that either ends in him clearly dying, or surviving if you got the “perfect” ending, but not ascending? In the other two, he clearly undergoes some sort of energy-based transformation: either as a new “Catalyst” that now gets to Control the Reapers (who now has to figure out what to do with the damn things, but hey, he’s got eternity to figure that out now) or by becoming the very energy that synthesizes Organics with Synthetics at the molecular level, thus literally reshaping all life in the galaxy into something completely new – and in manner that doesn’t turn them into mind-controlled Reaper toys (As shown by the EDI and Joker scene at the end of the Synthesis, uh, ending).

So by that perspective, “Control” and “Synthesis” aren’t necessarily “wrong” choices. But neither is “Destroy.” In fact, there is no wrong or right choice, because all three come with some sort of sacrifice, and only one effectively breaks the cycle, hence why “Synthesis” only ends up as an option if your War Assets are high enough to get the “good” endings for either of the three choices–in other words, “Synthesis” is the only choice that doesn’t come with a “bad” ending.

“But yeah, but isn’t Synthesis what the Reapers were wanting all along?” you ask.

Except…the Reapers aren’t Synthetics….

Not really. The Reapers don’t “want” anything. They have no free will, remember? They only perform the function their creator(s) had created them to perform–to prevent the inevitability of Synthetics turning on their creators and destroying all organic life. They don’t care how it gets done so long as it gets done. Remember, the Reapers only harvest the species that have developed the means to create synthetic life, thus why they left the humans and other species alone in the last cycle, because 50,000 years ago Humans, Salarians, Asari, etc. were still far too primitive to do so.

And no, Shepard did not prove that synthetics and organics can coexist separately forever by his forging a peace with the Geth and Quarians. Organics have this bad habit of creating machines smarter and more powerful than they are and then assuming they can wipe said machines out (which, of course, is why the Reapers were created millions of years ago to begin with, remember?). So that damn annoying ghost kid was right that eventually the cycle would continue with or without the Reapers, only that in the “Destroy” option there’d no longer be any Reapers to stop the process before Organics get wiped out by their own creations (and not because Synthetics are evil, but because Organics are stupid enough to attack them).

And that’s why “Destroy” works best for Renegade Shep. After all, Renegade Shep doesn’t give a shit about ascending or moral quandaries or any of that trivial crap. As far as he’s concerned, the Reapers need destroyed, period. And if doing so requires sacrificing half the galaxy to do so, than that’s just “ruthless calculus.” The ends justify the means. In that way, Renegade Shep is no different than the Catalyst/Reapers, because to the Catalyst the ends justifies the means as well.

“But wasn’t the whole point from the beginning of the story about Shepard needing to destroy the Reapers?”

Yeah, at first. But have you ever heard the term plot twist?

And as for “Control”: my personal beef is the word, itself. It reflects a continuation of the Reapers remaining without free will. Also, that’s a whole lotta’ power for one person to control. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. And not even Paragon Shep will long resist that, especially now that he has an eternity to become corrupted by all the Reaper power. In other words, Control makes you no different than the Catalyst.

But at the end of the day, all philosophizing aside, there was essentially only one reason I picked “Synthesis”:

I loved EDI, I loved the romance between her and Joker, and I knew there’d be no way they could ever have cute little silver babies together without Synthesis. I knew that Shep’s time was over, whether he ascended or died. And surviving the “Destroy” ending doesn’t matter because once Joker discovered that Shep was responsible for the murder of the love of his life when other options had been available, then Shep was a dead man walking anyhow (“Hey Shepard! Long time no see! What? You did what!? Die, asshole!” *flies rebuilt Normandy into a star*).

But Joker and EDI? Their time had just begun. And their love for each other was a far better sign of hope than any peace of convenience forged between the Geth and Quarians. They deserved their chance. For they proved that love can conquer a problem that even the big bad Reapers with all their power could never completely solve.

They deserved Synthesis.

And more importantly, the cycle deserved to be broken.

The Reapers always went on and on about how the cycle can never be broken. And yet, with Synthesis, it was.

June 24, 2012 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SpecMusicMuse – Mass Effect 3 Reflections, Part I: My View on the “Indoctrination Theory” and why I Didn’t Choose Destruction

An article in my Elements of Storytelling column will soon go live that will give my take on where the ending went wrong on Mass Effect 3. What this blog post will instead be about is where I think the “Indoctrination Theory” is both right and wrong, and my own personal pet peeve over the IDers (as it were) insistence that the “Destroy All Synthetics” choice is the only “correct” choice.

For those not familiar with the ID theory, it is a theory that popped up on the Internet by Mass Effect fans who were trying to make sense out of a badly done ending to the storyline for the Mass Effect 3 video game. Basically, they were trying to explain, mostly to themselves, about how it really isn’t as big a screw up as had originally been thought.  Here is a video that provides the facts, in depth, that the theory is based on:

While there is certainly evidence to some amount of hallucinating going on during the ending scenes, and it’s likely that either the Reapers or perhaps the Illusive Man, himself, is attempting to “Indoctrinate” Commander Shepard before he reaches the Catalyst, I do not think the whole entire ending was just a bad dream or whatever.  It seemed to me, as I played through the ending, that what happened actually happened physically while an Indoctrination attempt was occurring. In other words, some parts are clearly hallucinations, but his confrontation with the Illusive Man and his encounter with the ghost child/Catalyst were physical, and the results of Shepard’s choice was also physical.

But I do have a bone to pick with the assumption that the “Destroy All Synthetics” option is the only “right” choice. Mainly because it is an assumption based off an assumption: that synthetics can’t have souls. Even though the storyline makes it quite clear, at least as pertaining to the Mass effect universe, that even though synthetics might not start out with souls, they can eventually develop one. The proof of this is in two highly lovable characters: Legion and EDI.

Legion is a Geth. Geth are basically colonies of AI software within a hardware chassis, and (if you manage to get the Geth and Quarians to stop trying to kill each other) you discover that the Geth are also capable of “installing” themselves into the Quarian’s (their organic creators) environmental suits, and even into the Quarian’s bodies to boost their otherwise fubarred immune systems.  There’s a reason I’m explaining that part as you’ll see later.

The thing about Legion is he sacrifices himself for his fellow Geth, but when he does so, at his last moment, he ceases to refer to himself as “we” and starts saying “I”. By doing so, he shows that even a collectivized set of software programs like the Geth can achieve individuality, or as EDI eloquently put it in a later scene: “He became a person.”

To become a person is to become a soul, because that is what a soul is: your self-awareness, your individuality, your personality.

And speaking of EDI, watch this scene and then tell me that EDI also hasn’t developed a soul of her own by this point:

Another thing that makes EDI so interesting is that she was created with Reaper technology…and yet she never ever displays any of the arrogant condescending attitude toward organics that the Reapers display in their quest to fulfill their creators’ wishes: to “save” organic life from the synthetics by, every 50,000 years, wiping out all organic civilizations that are technologically capable of creating advanced AIs.  (What brilliant person thought that silly solution up? Oh yeah….).

And now to another problem I have with the “Destroy All Synthetics” option. Considering the time period, just how many advanced life forms in the galaxy are at least partly if not half synthetic? What happens when your AI-ran pace-maker fries? Oh right….

Ya kinda just did the Reapers job for them, didn’t ya’?

Also, by killing off the Geth you just doomed (at minimum) the Quarians – unless you really screwed the pooch and ended up with either the Geth or the Quarians already wiped out. So yeah, you kill the Reapers, but also EDI, the Geth, and any Humans/Turians/Salarians/Asari with AI pace-makers/biotics enhancers/et., al. (at least in the “Bad” ending for the “Destroy” option).

Good going, you genocidal maniac. :/

And did anyone but me notice that the synthetic races were the only innocent ones out of the whole bunch? The Geth never did anything except in self defense. It was, after all, the Quarians who had started the war by trying to wipe them out. And the Geth fought defensively the whole entire time. Of the Geth “Heretics” who chose to serve the Reapers, even they did so only out of self-defense. What would you do if your own creators were attempting to genocide you and your whole kind and another more powerful group offered an alliance to save your ass?


Even the Reapers are innocent. Despite being a synthetic/organic hybrid, they have no free will of their own. Literally none. They only do what their creator(s) programmed them to do. That’s why there’s a “Control the Reapers” option (Duh!). It doesn’t matter if that is what the Illusive Man was trying to do. Because he clearly couldn’t. Why? Because you can’t control that which already has control of you. The whole reason “Control” is even an option for Shepard is because, unlike the Illusive Man, they couldn’t indoctrinate Shepard, they failed to. Hence why Shep got to meet the Catalyst – Shep being the only life form in millions of years to succeed at doing so – instead of the Illusive Man.

So congratulations: you chose to commit genocide on no less than three entire species (the Reapers, the Geth, and the Quarians) at minimum. And all while other, less genocidal options were available. Pat yourself on the back.

That’s it for Part 1. In Part 2 I’ll explain why I picked “Synthesis” over “Destroy” or “Control.” But for now, I’ll leave you with a little hint: it has to do with the name, Shepard. 😉

And here’s some ME music to enjoy:

Addendum: I just heard that the extended cut ending DLC for Mass effect 3 will be available this Tuesday.  So, pretty soon, we’ll all know what the “real” ending will be…hopefully….

June 23, 2012 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SpecMusicMuse: Spirit of Fire Blog Tour Interview w/Stephen Zimmer

And now for an interview with one of the best small press authors since, uh, that other Scott guy….

1) What got you interested in Epic Fantasy? Who were your inspirations?

Epic fantasy interests me because it gives you the broadest possible range to tell a story.  It allows a story to be viewed from inside a character’s head all the way to a cosmic level, and everything in between … and it works.  The fantastical dimension gives you even more range.

Epic fantasy lends itself very well to weaving in all the layers and intricacies of real life from an individual to a societal level, from the forces of politics and religion, to the flow of history within a world.   It has depth and a real sense of how things fit together and influence each other, and gives the reader the perspectives to appreciate those kinds of dynamics.  It really takes in the essence of a world, its cultures, and history.

Take Middle Earth for example, from the Silmarillilon to the Lord of the Rings, you have everything from a creation mythology, to a world’s entire history, to invented languages and a wide range of very engaging characters, as well as the tremendous stories told in books such as The Hobbit and the trilogy itself.

This kind of complexity can be challenging, but for storytellers and readers it can be immensely rewarding too.  I can cite many examples of richly developed series, from George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire to Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen novels.

As far as inspirations, the big two for me were J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and since then there have been many more, including Guy Gavriel Kay, Glen Cook, Clive Barker, R.A. Salvatore, C.S. Friedman, George R.R. Martin, and others.  I have been inspired by each for different reasons, as all of these authors have a distinctive style and particular strengths.

2) What’s it like being a small press author? What are the advantages/disadvantages compared to the big press?

Life as a small press author is very tough, make no mistake, but I think it is very tough for any level of author in this weird publishing climate that we have right now.  Don’t forget that many major press authors still have to work day jobs to make ends meet.  This is one of the hardest sectors in the entertainment world to make a living at, without question.

You also have to wear many hats these days.  Managing and growing your online presence is a full-scale task in itself that authors in past decades did not have to worry about, yet it is a necessity in today’s publishing atmosphere.   Can you even begin to imagine C.S. Lewis sending out daily tweets for example?   Can you imagine J.D. Salinger making a status update on Facebook?

The big pluses of small press are that I really get to work closely with my editor, and I get to be involved in the art phase with Matt when it comes to the covers and interior illustrations.  I also feel much more connected to the promotion phases of new releases, and have been able to support my work as much as I possibly can, with activities such as this large blog tour I’m doing right now.

The minuses are the difficulties in getting shelf space in bookstores, without question.  This is becoming less of a factor overall with the continual rise of ebooks in terms of market share, but wherever I’ve been given a chance to be on a shelf, and had individuals in the store familiar with my work, I’ve seen new readers emerge.   I think that there is going to be a solid place for independent bookstores in the future, and I hope to work with more and more of them in the future.  Hopefully as the market shifts further from chainstores to eBooks and independents, the barriers to shelf space will ease up a little more as it won’t be one national buyer rendering a decision but instead the individual stores themselves.

I have talked to quite a few chainstore managers, including some who already read and buy my books, who would be glad to carry them on the shelves but could not due to corporate policies and buying controls from higher up.  I know it will be nice when individuals like that, in the context of independent bookstores, will be able to bring the titles into the store without hindrance.

3)If you could summarize Spirit of Fire in one sentence, what would it be?

When darkness shrouds the world and all seems impossible, reach within and find the spirit of fire inside!

4) So, what’s the death count at in this book? lol!

Pretty massive, but not in the George R.R. Martin way, as far as main characters go.  I won’t go so far to say that they are all safe, but I’m not into killing off my strongest characters en masse!  Haha!

However, I do have some pretty large, vivid battles, and I don’t pull punches in them.  A great many die in these clashes, and the battles carry a realism that reflects combat in medieval times.   When you are using swords and axes, the results are not nice and clean.  I don’t feel I go over the top in conveying these realities, but neither do I shirk from them.

5) Your novels tend to provide a good balance between characterization/setting and action/pacing? what are the ways you manage that balance, to make sure the story doesn’t get bogged down in detail or end up with scenes that flash by too fast?

I am always trying to improve in this regard, keeping a nice balance between action/pacing and characterization/setting.  I feel my book three’s in my two series, The Seventh Throne in the Rising Dawn Saga and Spirit of Fire in the Fires in Eden series, show good progress in these areas.  Of course, the book one’s of my series are perhaps a little heavier on characterization/setting by default, as they are the foundational titles for the entire series and really need to set the parameters for the worlds the stories are set in.  I don’t forget that I am a reader too, and if I see areas that I would get bogged down in as a reader, I work to address to those sections.

I am careful about the ordering of my threads as well, and try to be sure that threads that follow each other are not of similar types.  Sometimes there is a need for slowing the pace down in a big story for a moment, but you don’t want to stay there overly long.

6) What’s it like writing a series? How different is it from writing separate novels in separate worlds? Easier? Harder?

I enjoy writing a series, and having room to work in layers and depth, planting seeds for later harvest, in a sense.   I don’t think it is necessarily easier or harder than writing stand-alone novels in separate worlds, but I do think there is a specific art to crafting a full series.  Each title of a series, in my view, has a specific purpose in the overall story being told.  The unique challenges in writing a series is to make sure that each title achieves its own goal while simultaneously serving its proper role in the context of the series as a whole.

7) Anything you’d like to tell potential readers?

I am an author that understands that without readers, an author is nothing.  Seems like a simple concept, but not all authors seem to understand that reality.   I am not the kind of author that will leave readers waiting years on end for a new title, nor will I come out with a title in a series where nothing really happens.

As a huge, lifelong fan of epic fantasy, I do understand what frustrates readers and what makes epic fantasy exciting, and I will do my best to bring you series that grow and deliver more and more with each new title.  I feel strongly that both of my series reflect that kind of progression over the course of the first three books of each.  Not every reader is going to like my work, and that’s fine, but for the ones that do, you will have the commitment of an author that puts every last bit of energy he has to give you as much as he possibly can.


Map of Ave


Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker, whose literary works include the epic urban fantasy series The Rising Dawn Saga, as well as the epic medieval fantasy Fires in Eden Series.

The Exodus Gate, Book One of the Rising Dawn Saga, was Stephen’s debut novel.  It was released in the spring of 2009, with The Storm Guardians following in 2010, and The Seventh Throne in August of 2011.

Crown of Vengeance, Book One of the Fires in Eden Series, was released in the fall of 2009, with Book Two, Dream of Legends, following in December of 2010.  Crown of Vengeance received a 2010 Pluto Award for Best Novel in Small Press.

Stephen’s short fiction includes the Harvey and Solomon steampunk stories included in the Dreams of Steam and Dreams of Steam II: Bolts and Brass anthologies from Kerlak Publishing.

As a filmmaker, Stephen’s film credits include the supernatural thriller feature Shadows Light, the horror short film The Sirens, and the recent Swordbearer, a medieval fantasy short film based upon the H. David Blalock novel Ascendant.

Further information on Stephen Zimmer can be found  at:


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June 21, 2012 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Spirit of Fire Blog Tour

For Immediate Release

May 25, 2012

48 Date Blog Tour Announced and Cover Art Unveiled for Stephen Zimmer’s Spirit of Fire

Seventh Star Press is proud to unveil the cover art and illustrations created by award-winning artist Matthew Perry for Spirit of Fire, Book Three of the epic fantasy Fires in Eden Series by award-winning author Stephen Zimmer, as well as announce the dates and sites for the 48 day Spirit of Fire Blog Tour.  A pre-order window for a limited edition hardcover is also open in advance of the book’s official release.

(Illustrations by Matthew Perry from the first edition of Spirit of Fire)
The Spirit of Fire Blog Tour is being hosted by Babs Book Bistro, and will feature 50 events over 48 days, beginning May 29th  and running through July 14th. The tour will feature a number of activities, including reviews, video, interviews, podcasts, guest blog posts, and contests/giveaways.

Spirit of Fire is the third title in the Fires in Eden Series, following Crown of Vengeance and Dream of Legends.  Also associated with the epic fantasy series is a growing collection of short stories, the Chronicles of Ave, that have been released on eBook and are part of the Seventh Star Singles catalog.

In Spirit of Fire, a maelstrom of war engulfs lands resisting the designs of the Unifier to bring about a new order, of a kind that has never existed within Ave.  Battered by a massive invasion force from Gallea, the tribal people of the Five Realms and their Midragardan allies are being driven eastward, towards the sea, while the Saxan lines are wearing down ever thinner on the Plains of Athelney.

Time is running out quickly, as an ancient creature of legend soars through the skies with a brave young Saxan.   They carry the desperate hopes of two realms sorely beset by a voracious enemy.

Diabolic entities conduct a great hunt, as a malignant darkness deepens across all of Ave.  Exiles from another world must gain refuge, or find themselves ensnared by the long reach of the Unifier.  The very nature of creation itself stands in the balance.

It is a time when the honor and fortitude of many are put to the test, and terrible prices are paid for resisting great evils.  It is also a time of awakening for many, old and young alike, some of whom may yet discover the spirit of fire that lies within.

The third installment in the Fires in Eden series, Spirit of Fire is richly imagined epic fantasy with a diverse ensemble of characters that offers a new world to explore for readers who enjoy large-scale tales along the likes of George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Steven Erikson, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Spirit of Fire will be released in softcover and eBook versions during the first week of June.  The novel is now available for pre-order in a beautiful hardcover edition that is strictly limited to 75 copies.

The limited hardcover edition will be signed and numbered by Stephen Zimmer and includes a bonus illustration from Matthew Perry not included in other editions.  It will be accompanied by an assortment of collectibles, including a set of glossy art cards, bookmarks, and magnets.  The limited edition hardcovers will also be bundled with the eBook version (provided as a direct ePub file for users with Nooks, iPads, or Sony eReaders, and gifted as a Kindle file for Kindle users).  Those interested in securing one of the 75 limited hardcovers can place a pre-order at:

The Spirit of Fire Blog Tour Dates and Participants Are As Follows:

May 29  Fantasy Book Review

May 30  Ginger Nuts of Horror

May 31  Mom Cat’s Gateway Book Blog

June 1   Splash of Our Worlds

June 2   Soliloquy

June 3   Ritesh Kala’s Book Review

June 4   Jess Resides Here

June 5   Reading Away the Days

June 6   Vilutheril Reviews

June 7   A Daydreamer’s Thoughts

June 8  Red Headed Bookworm

June 9   Lisa’s World of Books

June 10  Kentucky Geek Girl

June 11  Goatfairy Review Blog

June 12  Book and Movie Dimension Blog

June 13  Full Moon Bites

June 14  Stuck in Books

June 15  The Independent Review

June 15  Alchemy of Scrawl

June 16  Watch Play Read

June 17  A Book Vacation

June 18  Eva’s Sanctuary

June 19  That Book Place Blog

June 20  Edi’s Book Lighthouse

June 21  SpecMusicMuse

June 22  Once Upon a Time

June 23  Azure Dwarf Horde of Sci-Fi & Fantasy

June 24  Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action

June 25  Eden Road Blog

June 25  Ali’s Bookshelf (live podcast)

June 26  Workaday Reads

June 27  Bookishly Me

June 28  Earth’s Book Nook

June 29  Darlene’s Book Nook

June 30  The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

July 1     Evie Bookish

July 2     Urban Fantasy Reviews

July 3     The Cabin Goddess

July 4     TheSci-Fi Guys Book Review

July 5     The Speculative Salon

July 6     Ali’s Bookshelf

July 7     Bunnys Review

July 8     Bee’s Knees Reviews

July 9     In the Dark of Night with James Tuck

July 10   Edin Road Radio (live podcast)

July 11   A Few Words

July 12    Bab’s Book Bistro

July 13   Alchemy of Scrawl  (live podcast)

July 14    Babs Book Bistro (live podcast)

June 20, 2012 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment