Constellation Games, by Leonard Richardson

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Rating: +5 Sci-fi, +4 Video Games, +5 Androgynous Mole People, +3 Plot, +5 Refund-Seeking Zombies

Available at: http://www.amazon.com/Constellation-Games-ebook/dp/B008RH...

Summary

Meet Ariel. Ariel likes video games, but makes pony-based video games that only ten-year old girls like. In his spare time, he blogs about games that are way cooler than the games he's paid to work on.

Meet Constellation. Constellation is an anarcho-syndicalist confederation of dozens of alien races. They've just taken up residence on the Moon, and are trying to make first contact with the monkey people down below.

Meet the BEA, the Bureau of Extraterrestrial Affairs. The bureau was slapped together out of spare pieces cut from an alphabet soup of US government agencies. They're dedicated, paranoid, and working hard to contain a situation that is quickly spiraling out of control. Let Ariel show you why:

He asks the bug-eyes (via email) if, somewhere in their hundred-million year history and culture they've invented any cool video games. The aliens are initially reluctant, given that most of the "games" they play are basically sentient AIs. So he asks about retro gaming, and after some negotiation and data exchange, the aliens fire a game console -- called the Brain Embryo -- down from the heavens and into Ariel's front yard.

How does a government agency control the flow of information when the aliens are doing things like that? But God bless 'em, they try.

Back to Ariel and his 90-million-year old gaming console. The games aren't translated, and were written by a relatively solitary race of androgynous mole-people called the Farang (read: no two-player mode). But they're charming, and Ariel feels the project is genuinely important. When he fails to get corporate backing for his plan to port extraterrestrial games to human consoles, he quits his job and strikes out on his own. He makes friends among the aliens, goes to the frikkin moon for a visit-slash-video gaming binge, and suddenly he's deemed a "person of interest" to the BEA.

The stakes are high, with the aliens playing the role of semi-incompetent-but-benevolent overlords who wish to nudge us in a direction away from extinction, and the BEA playing the role of semi-incompetent-but-well-meaning-but-not-really antagonists who fear the aliens' "true motives" and try to coerce Ariel into spying for them.

Ariel and his friends, human and alien alike, are caught in the middle, fighting to save humanity. Mostly by playing video games. Really, you have to read it for that to make sense.

Review

The plot isn't much to look at, and that's not a bad thing. This is more one of those books where you're hit full in the face by an ion storm of energized idea particles and wackytrons. The writing is glib, self-effacing, and quick with the funny, making for a pleasant yet consuming reading experience.

Much of the book comes to us in the form of Ariel's snarky blog posts about his life and his video games. Usually this mechanic is perfectly suited to its task, other times it's a bit distracting.

The book feels like hanging out and playing video games with a group of quick-witted, weird, underachieving friends. If you like sci-fi, and you like video games, you'll find this book very engaging. If you don't like those things, then keep your emptors well-caveated.

The book violates my reviewing rules all over the place. It's small press rather than self-published, and right now it's nearly... check that. It was hovering on the precipice of the top 1000 in the Kindle Store. Maybe the Boing Boing bounce is wearing off, because it's fallen to #7000.

So fleeting is glory, my friends. So fleeting.

The point is, this book was fun, inventive, and worth squandering a few of my indie cred points.

Update: Ooh! Bonus stories! Try before you buy, my little Internet word-mooches.

QUEUEING AJAX REQUESTS

DESPLINING VECTOR IMAGES

A MOOSE BIT MY SISTER

BENCHMARKING CACHE LOADS

WARMING UP JIT COMPILER

COMMITTING CHANGES TO SOURCE

SENDING INVERTED TACHYON PULSE

VIOLATING COPYRIGHT LAWS

OPERATION MOLYBDENUM TORUS IS A GO

BUFFERING

INITIATING NUCLEAR LAUNCH SEQUENCE

RECALIBRATING REALITY

THERMAL SCANNING ACTIVE

SCANNING FOR ORGANIC LIFE

SCANNING FOR INORGANIC LIFE

CALCULATING GODEL PARADOX

ASSEMBLING TINY ROBOTS

ACCESSING LOCAL WI-FI

CUSTOMIZING HTML FOR FASTER XLIB PARSING

DEPLOYING HOLY HAND GRENADE

THIS SPACE FOR RENT

INTERNET EXPLORER DETECTED. SHUTTING DOWN

INSTALLING ROOTKIT

OPTIMIZING JAVASCRIPT LIBRARIES

RECOMPILING FORTRAN

ACHIEVING Y2K COMPLIANCE

SECURING MIND CONTROL LINK

ACTIVATING MIND CONTROL LINK

NEGOTIATING COMMUNICATION PROTOCOL

INSTALLING NEURAL ROOTKIT

UPLOADING ASSASSINATION TARGETS

DRINK FRUCTO-GULP

AUGMENTING REALITY

PADDING GOVERNMENT CONTRACT

FRETTING

DEPLOYING CRYPTOGRAPHIC INTERFACE

TRIANGULATING TARGET

RE-READING 'WEB DESIGN FOR THE PAINFULLY STUPID'

DEBUGGING WETWARE

INVOKING ADMIN PRIVILEGES

DELETING INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE

FALSIFYING LOGFILES

SACRIFICING GOAT.EXE

SACKING RESPONSIBLE PARTIES

STEALING CREDIT CARD DATA