These days, it feels like everything pop culture gets about a half dozen bits of spinoff media, from comics and books to video games. With media corporations focusing on transmedia synergy (selling different stories from the same intellectual property (IP) in different formats to get more money), it seems like you can't enjoy a TV show, movie, or a video game without having to read or see something else that explains something important. At some point, these tie-in media gain a life of their own, growing faster than their parent media and ballooning into their own private universes. The science fiction genre is a breeding ground for these "expanded universes." Hugely popular franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Halo, and Dr. Who often come with fans clamoring for more material and IP owners annually crank out novels and comics to feed that demand. Less than 5% of the total fanbase usually know about these works, depending on the franchise, but you wouldn't know if you hang out in fan circles. If there's one thing expanded universe (EU) material does well, it's give the reader/viewer/etc more of what they want. You want more adventures of Captain Picard and the USS Enterprise? You got it. Want to see what happened after the Rebels blew up the second Death Star? Here's tons of novels about fighting Imperial warlords. So it's not that surprising that when fans talk about their favorite franchises, EU material shows up (especially for the IPs with a few entries). But there are typically three problems with EUs: producing more bad than good or tolerable material, being ridiculous in some way, shape, or form, or being completely inaccessible to newcomers. The five EUs on this list embody some or all of these traits to some degree. Let's start with...
5. Mass Effect
It seems hard to believe, but six years ago, people were actually excited about Mass Effect. At the time, everyone was eager to get their hands on Bioware's new space opera RPG and its prequel, both written by Drew Karpyshyn. Looking back, with three full length games, two mobile games, an animated movie, almost a half dozen novels, and several different comic miniseries, it's safe to say that we should've curbed our enthusiasm. Opinions on the Mass Effect EU are divided. Some swear the Karpyshyn novels are fantastic reading, others like the Mac Walters comics, and everything in between. The few points everyone can agree on are that the novel Deception (written by William C. Dietz) is what you would expect out of an author with no clue about the source material, the animated movie Paragon Lost is something no one wanted after Mass Effect 3 was released, and that almost all of the EU content doesn't focus on things people are actually interested in. Thanks to mitigating circumstances, the Mass Effect EU just misses the criteria for being one of the worst EUs ever. One really bad book and a bunch of underwhelming/mediocre tie-ins doesn't tip it over the edge (although Deception would easily make a list of the worst EU books ever). But it's hard to overlook the fact that the Mass Effect 3 EU fails to really expand the universe, especially in light of all the seeds of potential stories planted throughout the games. In a setting with millions of years of untold stories, did we really need to know the story behind Illusive Man's eyes?
Living in Florida, enjoying the weather when its good, writing for a living. TV, Film, Animation, and Games are my life blood. Follow me on Twitter @xbsaint. Just try not to get too mad when I live tweet during Toonami.