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Constellation Games

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,078 ratings  ·  163 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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Andrew Wainwright Ooh I remember the aliens having sex bit! That's very funny!

Yes, IMHO it's appropriate for a 13 year old.…more
Ooh I remember the aliens having sex bit! That's very funny!

Yes, IMHO it's appropriate for a 13 year old.(less)

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Average rating 3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,078 ratings  ·  163 reviews

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Dec 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
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
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
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Michael Scott
What a beautiful book! Constellation Games is a sci-fi that's a love story, a coming-of-age novel that's a comedy, a computer games fest that's serious. Get it, read it, savor it!

The background story seems at first our typical aliens-contact-Earth, but quickly dissolves in a discussion about bigot and liberal, Aliens and Earthlings playing in both camps. The storyline gets messy very quickly, but there is an optimistic line that makes it beautiful.

The epistolary style (should I call it blogary
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Constellation Games is an alien first contact story told via the medium of video game reviews.

Before I get all caught up on narrative structures and literary merit, let me just say this was a completely enjoyable book. It's full of in-jokes about video games, game design, and the early internet, and if you're the kind of person who is in on those things, you'll get the jokes and feel gratified. It's also a really funny book, though it gets darker as it goes on. It's so funny and so enjoyable th
Eric Mesa
Jul 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: video-games
I'm in a sweet spot now where there are a lot of authors that seem to be about the same age as me give or take a decade. So I'm starting to see more and more references I can relate to. The main character of this book, Ariel Blum, seems to have also grown up in the video game revolution of the 80s. I appreciate his not-Laura Croft, Dana Light, in a way that I doubt those much older or younger than me would. And, while it's not singular in this respect, a book told mostly through blog posts, IMs, ...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
May 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Kelly Flanagan
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really have to give this book 6 stars. It has to be the funniest book I've ever read. I won't rehash the plot, it honestly makes the book sound a bit lamer than it really is. Now I have a dry sense of humor, I was raised on Monty Python and the Muppet Show. So you might not have the same reaction I did to this book. I was laughing at almost ever page for most of the book. Beyond the humor, the plot as actualy quite good and there were some fresh ideas and situations I was totally not expecting ...more
Apr 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jeanne Thornton
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Joe Mahoney
May 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
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
Jonathan H.
Dec 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, scifi
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. ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is exactly the type of book I want to read at any given time: a humorously told scifi romp exploding with Big Ideas (on art and stories, on humanity and our place in the galaxy, etc) with a solid amount of heart at the core. There's an effortless *fun* throughout, one that isn't trying too hard but still feels creatively fresh -- it makes me feel the way my favorite kid scifi series did growing up. I have an immense fondness for everything about this book.

On a primary level, this is a
I really liked the idea behind the novel: first contact via videogames. Unfortunately, it was a better as an idea rather than in practice.
There were some things that I really liked in the book, but most of those things came in the last third of it. I slogged through the first 250-odd pages to get to some wonderful prose and interesting ideas. I wasn't a fan of the whole ending conceit, but overall, the last ~20% was much better than the previous ~80%.
Also, (view spoiler)
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I discovered this book via a boingboing review a few years ago, and found it deeply delightful. Rereading it more recently has confirmed my impression that it will be a favourite for a long time to come. It's also not exactly widely known, and I would love for more people to discover it, so here's something a bit more in-depth than I usually post here.

Well, first things first: do not, I repeat, do not judge this book by its cover. I beg you. You'd be doing yourself and the book a disfavour.

Frank Burns
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, this was an unexpected treat. A very funny novel of first contact, set here on Earth in a very near future. For once, no need for any militarism as the culture shock is the driving concern of the story. Highly recommended.
Kate Sherrod
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: candlemark-gleam
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
Nov 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, spaceopera
Funny and imaginative. Somewhat believable in an impossible way first contact story.
May 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Smart, flip, alien contact story.

This book vaguely reminds me of something Douglas Coupland may have written, like a new Millennium, science fiction, JPod only set in Austin, TX and not the Pac-NW. Other times, particularly when the aliens are involved, it reminds me of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The writing is good. There have been several times, where I've laughed-out-loud.

There is also a certain amount of edu-tainment, involved. I've managed to learn a bit about the '
Nick de Vera
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Funny, made me want more, looked up the author, disappointed that his other books are about software.
Jonathan Simpson
Aug 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well, it's interesting. I picked this book back up to bring with me on vacation, where I started it from scratch and really liked it! The idea is so innovative, and brings a maturity along with the geekiness that is refreshing. The tagline on the back about how Ariel "will have to grow up" is so corny, but it really works here! It's really true! And with that growth comes a new way to confront problems and conflict that is, in itself, perfectly in-tune with the stealthy critical examination of v ...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
Jeff Raymond
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 the ki
Richard Magahiz
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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Leonard Richardson is an expert on RESTful API design, the developer of the popular Python library Beautiful Soup, and a science fiction novelist.

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“You are employed by a suspicious number of douchebags!” 1 likes
“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” 1 likes
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