In the bright and often garish and trivial world of Mass Effect fanart, Shalizeh’s beautiful painting both stands out … and sticks around, long after others are forgotten. Here is no climactic moment, no, nor moment of passion or triumph. It is a quiet moment. The type of moment which could be easily forgotten in an hour’s time by some, but treasured forever by others. It’s very quietness is part of its beauty. Amidst the great deeds and high passions of the futuristic epic, the beauty and glory of the story world itself is sometimes overlooked – not by the story, to be sure, but by those who experience it. But artwork like this pierces deeper into it, draws us further into that glory, than the story initially did itself, not only for it’s own beauty, but that it reminds us (or at any rate, reminds me) to do the same myself. Paintings like this Explore the wonders of the story itself, just as the characters within it explore world.
And simply as a portrayal of the theme ‘exploration’ it is magnificent. It is very wisely that Shalizeh has laced the bright world in mist, now revealing, now concealing in brightness the unknown world before them, now dropping it away into the shadow entirely. Yet far from being a meaningless haze, the bright glimpses are sharp and clear behind their veils. The closer one looks, the more real the distant hillsides seem to be. A harsh world, true. Not a world of men. The living creatures hide behind their life-saving masks, not exposing their faces to the hostile wind which drifts the sand across their boots. And yet a bright and glorious world all the same. They do not stand huddled together, nor facing onward with dogged displeasure. Wrex stares out across the valley. Tali meanders almost dreamily towards the rising sun (for rising it looks as though it must be). We cannot see what Shepard is looking at, but she gazes forward with her head held high, looking out on the vistas beyond out view. It is not a world of men, but it doesn’t have to be. Most of the universe is not. For how many millennia have the sands drifted across that slope and never once been touched by a living foot till now? How many times has that sun risen, and never once been seen by living eyes?
As one looks out into the valley and across the rugged foothills beyond, tracing their ridges and gullies up to the peaks and the bright sky beyond (and indeed, one could do this for a while) one notices numerous small imperfections almost, across the land and sky. Is that a twin planet? Or a moon? Or is it much nearer, between us and the sky? I don’t know whether it was intended or not – but when I gaze at the picture long enough I seem to be looking through a mask, as though I too were standing there on that alien hillside with them. And I wonder whose eyes I looking through.
Though I don’t know whether this was meant or not, I find it a most pleasing way to look into the picture. The only difficulty is that one then feels one should be able to turn one’s head. And of course, one can’t.
In the blaze of the light one scarcely sees them at first, but above are the stars from which they came, still visible though the thin atmosphere in the low morning light. Even in the brightness of the sunlight the vast cold heights of space seem very near. And so they are. In a short time, these explorers will be gone again, back into space. And this distant valley will be as it was before.
In all, this is one of the richest and subtlest Mass Effect works it has been my pleasure to see. Thank-you, Shalizeh, for sharing it with us.