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Constellation Games

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  572 ratings  ·  110 reviews
First contact isn't all fun and games.

Ariel Blum is pushing thirty and doesn't have much to show for it. His computer programming skills are producing nothing but pony-themed video games for little girls. His love life is a slow-motion train wreck, and whenever he tries to make something of his life, he finds himself back on the couch, replaying the games of his youth.

ebook, 385 pages
Published November 2011 by Candlemark & Gleam
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Disclaimer: I'm a friend of the writer, and in fact, read earlier drafts of this before publication.

Richardson has a wicked sense of humor. His protagonist, Ariel, has a sharp tongue, a serious case of self-deprecation, and not a lot of motivation to get off the couch and on with his life. Which means he has a very different spin on first contact that most science fiction characters. This is what alien contact would be like for most of us--a weird backdrop that doesn't keep us from screwing arou...more
The galactic civilization has arrived in Earth orbit. They've turned a big chunk of the moon into a smart-matter space station, and they come in peace. While others see the arrival of the Constellation as a watershed event in the history of humanity, Ariel Blum's greatest ambition is to find out what kind of video games ETs play and write about them on his snarky game-review blog.

The book is lush with science-fictional thought experiments; the entries in the "Constellation Database of Games of a...more
Constellation Games made me mad. That is why I liked it.

Say I am driving to work after reading a bit of the book in the morning. I am mad. Why the hell would Ariel (main character) do THAT?!?! It doesn't make sense. What the hell is going on here?

Sometimes I feel this a bit when I read a sloppily written book. Some hack "author" will write a book and then have the protagonist execute a series of random, unlikely decisions. That is just trash. It doesn't stay with me and instead serves as furth...more
James Stephenson
I am a big science fiction fan. One of the most seen tropes in the genre is the First Contact Scenario, in which humanity is faced with the existence and arrival of aliens. I really enjoy good first contact stories, from The Day the Earth Stood Still to Carl Sagan's Contact. Constellation Games is by far the most entertaining first contact story that I have ever read. One of the themes of just about every first contact story that I have ever encountered is that of finding a commonality between h...more
Jan 16, 2014 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: kindle
This is a book that's brilliant enough that I don't always get it, whether because I miss some of the references or because I'm just not thinking at the level of the author. It's the kind of book I want to read again sometime to see what else I can get out of it.

It's true speculative fiction. What I mean by that is that it isn't just another genre sausage, with the same basic shape and contents as all the other sausages in that genre; it actually has a new angle. This is first contact as seen th...more
Kristen McDermott
I bought this after reading Cory Doctorow's rave on Boing Boing, and was not disappointed. A truly original plot in which our narrator -- a hapless but very appealing video game designer -- becomes the inadvertent ambassador for humanity to a loose confederation of aliens who have approached Earth to see if it's ready to join the Constellation. In reviewing the Constellation's archive of long-defunct games, Ariel Blum gains insights into its ancient culture and its plans for the Solar System. Ri...more
This book took a little while to warm up, so if your tolerance for goofy sci-fi is low you may never get to the payoff. For about the first half I was enjoying it as a fun read that might as well be in the same universe as Ready Player One or Year Zero. Lots of pop culture injokes and references for video game fans, pretty well executed to seem fun if you get them and not be too intrusive if you don't.

In the second half (or so) though, the characters seem to open up and expose a whole level of d...more
Jonathan H.
A fantastic book about First Contact with aliens, from the perspective of a game developer/blogger who really never grew up. Lots of swearing and sex makes this inappropriate for kids, but it's a great scifi story for adults.
Joe Mahoney
First contact has happened. The Constellation, a large, diverse group of aliens, has popped out of a wormhole and turned a large chunk of the moon into a space station. Now they visitors want our two civilisations to get to know each other in the hope that one day, maybe in a couple of thousand years, humanity might join the Constellation too.

Constellation civilisation has been around for hundreds of millions of years. Their technology is unbelievably advanced. And it occurs to twenty-something...more
Kate Sherrod
I've kind of overdosed in historical fiction lately, what with my Napoleonic War summer and all, and felt myself in need of an antidote to all of that highly mannered costume drama. I found it (Oh did I find it!) in Constellation Games, a book on which I've had my eye since I first spotted it at publisher Candlemark and Gleam's website really just based on that cover. So eye catching, even before one realizes it's actually depicting an exotic video game controller!

And I do mean exotic. For this...more
An interesting, funny first-contact novel clearly written by someone with both a love of SF and gaming. Aliens show up, want to give humans stuff and/or integrate them with their civilization(s). (The aliens are made up of multiple species, all of whom are named "alien" in some language. It was getting a little old by the time I got to "peregrini.") Anyway. The main character is a video game blogger who wants to play, review, and port alien games. So the aliens send him alien games. The whole th...more
May 26, 2014 Barbara rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: sf
I normally don't like first contact stories so I avoid them, but I read this on the recommendation of a friend and I'm very pleased I did.

The author's sense of humour suits me well and I found this wickedly funny. The viewpoint character made this book for me, as he wasn't part of some official "first contact" Earth delegation. Instead, he was just a guy trying to make sense of his world that has suddenly and drastically changed.

The aliens were truly alien. This point was made clearly but withou...more
Jeff Raymond
What a weird book.

It's a first contact story, for one. It's a celebration of old video games, for another. It's a government conspiracy, it's an interstellar war of sorts, it's a book that ultimately tries to be a number of things and doesn't entirely succeed at them all, but is still extremely enjoyable and entertaining enough where it doesn't matter.

Part of the issue might be based on the fact that it's geared toward adults with adult characters, even though the tone is more young adult. I alm...more
I started this as a serial, getting a chapter a week via email which I read on my phone; but I missed reading some weeks and then decided to wait until the serial was finished. The purchase (from Candlemark & Gleam) included the full eBook when the serial was done. So now I've started reading the book again.

I got about one-third through the first time around and I'm almost caught up with where I stopped last time. I'm enjoying it as much the second time around as I did the first time. I'm th...more
Richard Magahiz
Jul 31, 2012 Richard Magahiz rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: adventurous SF fans
Shelves: sf-f, read-in-2012
A hugely ambitious book with multiple distinct types of aliens, technologies well beyond our ability of extrapolating from the current state of knowledge, narrative chunks with alternating disparate styles, and (human) characters with a completely worked-out set of conflicting aims plus a propensity for hiding the truth. It's all quite a lot to consume in the form of a weekly serial, which is what I did, and I am planning to go back and read it again as a whole to try to understand just what was...more
I'm conflicted over this book. Not because it was bad, since it wasn't. Rather because it didn't end as the same book that it started being.

It starts out as a funny book. And it is, often extremely funny. Slowly though, it becomes apparent that this is a serious book, no matter the funny clothes its wearing.

And this is why I'm conflicted. See, I like this book. I was expecting something funny with aliens though, and I got an exposition on how cultures are forced to change and adapt, and some i...more
David Brin fans will like this easy-to-read "first contact" novel by Leonard Richarson. It features appealing main characters (some alien) within a complicated and interesting tech-based story, all told with a funny and confident voice. I like that the author hid his story arc cards well, plus sprinkled little easter eggs for sci-fi fans in the prose. Reading the reviews on this site may reveal plot points better left to be discovered organically. That said, I was really pleased with the resolut...more
Danny Bobby
I really enjoyed this book, even though I initially thought I wouldn't. I don't usually like the "written from the point of view of a blog" style of book, but after a few chapters, the story was interesting enough to me that I just got over it. This book is a candidate for purchasing my own hard copy to have in the library!
Jeanne Thornton
Constellation Games is a space opera epic--one told largely through blog posts, faux twitter feeds, and reviews of extraterrestrial video games--about a first contact event with earth. Plot points (mild spoilers): climate change crisis, chase sequence involving gravity wells and an art museum, extraterrestrials playing MLP-themed casual games and Halo and deducing facts about our civilization from these. The game reviews alone would be worth the price, and famous ZZT programmer and professor Ada...more
Al Billings
This was a wonderful book, as I was told it would be. It is also a silly book in that the premise is that the main character is a game programmer with a blog reviewing crappy old games. When the aliens show up, he asks to review their crappy old games, which they give him. Through this and subsequent events, we explore the aliens, what is going to happen with human civilization, and the aliens at the times when they went through first contact. As a computer geek who plays game, this was close to...more
Sean Llewellyn Williams
I really want to give this four and a half, but five stars it is. A marvellous, entertaining, inventive, thought-provoking book marred only by being a tad too long. The best first-contact novel I've read for a long time. The best novel about gaming I've ever read. It's funny and surprisingly moving. Highly recommended.

(Thanks, Cory Doctorow, for giving it such a rave review on Boing Boing that I felt compelled to read it immediately:
Victor Milán
It's a good book, no question. Entertaining, fun. Interesting characters - especially aliens. And some nicely-drawn alien cultures, as part of well-realized, 100-million year old "post-scarcity anarchy" culture.

The end disappointed me. I can't on conscience say that it fell apart, since I think it went where the author intended.

For me much of it hinged on the fact that the author either fails to recognize the difference between coercion - initiated force - and self-defense. Or simply fails to be...more
This was quite fun, which did much to make up for its first-novel flaws. It was not art, it does not even really attempt art, but it entertained me and made me laugh, which is not so bad.

My two real problems with it were (view spoiler)...more
I was deceived by the rave ratings/reviews of this book. It's a video gamer geekfest (Ready Player One less the '80s retro nostalgia) slash first contact novel - but not as good as Ready Player One (or, say, Snowcrash) and vastly lacking in depth compared to innumerable first contact novels (e.g., The Sparrow, Robert J. Sawyer's stuff, Brin's Uplift universe, etc. etc.).
I only give it 3 stars because, while I did like it quite a bit, the story seemed to switch gears right in the middle. I enjoyed the exploration of how the world might react to a non-invasion. I especially enjoyed all the alien video games, and the snarky video game reviews, by both the human and alien reviewers. Then it became about politics and fractals, and it lost me.
Nick Fagerlund
This was great! Funny and with tons of heart and lots of clever bits. I enjoyed it a lot. If I had to say what it was about… it’s about coming to terms with your place in history, I think. With both choosing to be important and accepting that you’ll be small and irrelevant, and how you kind of have to do both.
Bill Lefler

Feels like a Rudy Rucker novel (a good thing) with a bit less higher dimension psychedelic mushrooms. A good start and I will be looking for another novel from this author.
Jeremy Tolbert
Just a bloody marvelous upbeat, funny science fiction novel from a new author who bears following.
I picked up this book because of the premise. Mobile pony-game programmer gets involved with first contact by downloading alien games and reviewing them on his blog.

The book is mostly presented as blogposts and instant messages, interspersed with "real life" bits Ariel (the male protagonist) didn't want to post.

The book eventually ends up as a treatise on so many things. The simplicity of the current video game industry, government surveillance and bureaucracy, climate change, the singularity, t...more
This book combined amusing dialogue, genuinely interesting science fiction dilemmas and believably alien aliens all together in my favorite book so far this year. This book is an excellent addition to the first contact genre. I found the blog entries especially enjoyable. I was very disappointed to discover that there isn't a whole shelf of work by this author to continue with.

My personal favorite part was the review of the main characters pony game by one of the aliens:

"In addition to money,...more
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“Smoke-ccss-b85b07: Tell me about a time when you did something evil. ABlum: oh gee well sometimes i work too hard is that evil? Smoke-ccssb85b07: Sarcasm ignored. ABlum: ok um when i started college, my brother raph pressured me to join the ut austin chapter of his fraternity and i joined, only to discover that fraternities are the stupidest forms of social organization ever invented so, live and learn but at the end of the fall semester, one of my frat brothers offered to pay me to write his final history paper and i did it but i didn't want to get caught, so i read his earlier papers and put a lot of work into imitating his shitty writing which made the paper a d+ at best so he failed the class and i wouldn't give the money back so they made up an honor code violation and kicked me out of the frat and at the time i remember thinking "this has worked out surprisingly well" so, i don't know what you consider "evil" but i'm sure you can find it somewhere in there” 0 likes
“Historians and paleontologists have a great rivalry," said Tetsuo. "Most contact missions arrive too late, after history has ended. The people we wanted to contact have wiped themselves out. The historians have to put on pith helmets and learn how to dig up fossils." "But you're not fossils," said Ashley. "And so, the historians win!" said Tetsuo. "This time, the paleontologists have to learn about inefficient hierarchical systems of social organization!” 0 likes
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