Review: Constellation Games

Constellation GamesConstellation Games by Leonard Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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, and emails, definitely speaks to me as someone who straddles the Gen X/ Millenial age cutoffs. Ariel’s work on phone games continues to be more and more relevant as clickers and free to play games become ever more prevalent.

The over-arching story is that of first contact between a present-day Earth and an Star Trek Federation-like alien collective. At first I was left ever-more frustrated at the story to latch on to any of the first contact tropes it was throwing out there. We’re introduced to two threats, Slow People and another I can’t recall because it’s that inconsequential, but involves some organism that eats fossils.

Eventually it became clear that this was because first contact was really only the backdrop being used by Mr Richardson to explore a different story – one that has existed for a long time in a modern context, but which seems to really strike a chord with the last two generations of Americans – is what I do for a living and for recreation worthwhile and fulfilling? Ariel makes stupid phone games for a living. Before that he made stupid first person shooters for a living. He had realized his dream of working to create video games and it turned out to be soul crushing. When the aliens arrive, he decides to review alien video games. This eventually leads to personal growth and understanding – this is a story about Ariel that happens to have aliens.

The writing style and dialogue remind me of Neal Stephenson at his best – think Snow Crash or Crytonomicon. The characters are witty, but believable and the plot is depicted in an almost sarcastic manner while still being moving, emotionally. I might also compare it to Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

If you’re a gamer somewhere between your 20s and 40s, I think you’ll find resonance with the plot and writing style. If you’re not, but enjoy sci-fi – I think you can definitely find something here.


Edit 20160909 – While watching https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jko06… , I wonder if Dana Light is actually supposed to be a play on Joanna Dark? Or if it’s just parodying that name while still being a parody of Laura Croft. (The book mentions posters with the PS1 version which makes me think Laura Croft)

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Author: Eric Mesa

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