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Literature / Constellation Games

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Leonard Richardson's debut novel, Constellation Games is a story about First Contact, Videogames, and self-determination.

  • Alien Arts Are Appreciated: The core premise of the book: Ariel wants to play alien video games. When he gets to try their interfaces he discovers it's hard to play a game when you can't perceive ultraviolet holograms, or when you can't wield six controllers simultaneously, and so on.
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  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Mostly averted, as the Constellation have mastered programming useful but servile AI. Played somewhat straight (Played With) in the case of Dana Light, the Lara Croft Expy, who started off as a virtual girlfriend phone app, and gets her personality upgraded to be a true AI. This was for the purpose of translating a particularly involved language. But the resulting AI personality was somewhat schizophrenic and a bit too closely based on Lara Croft Dana Light, and so was inclined to solve what she perceived as "problems" in rather violent ways.
  • Arc Words: "Slow People" and "Ragtime" are both mysterious phrases that are mentioned quite some time before they're actually explained.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Basically the premise of the book.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: The "Gaijin" have the "male", the "kinner" and the "kemmer".
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  • Brain–Computer Interface: Farang at least are implied to have these.
  • Brain Uploading: What happens to all Constellation lifeforms when they're about to die. It's extremely tempting: Ariel likens it to playing a trillion-player MMORPG. But Ariel is not keen on the idea of humanity mass uploading themselves rather than making their mark on the stars.
  • DVD Commentary: The author has a chapter-by-chapter (link to the first one here) analysis of the novel, which details a number of differences between various drafts, points out minor plot holes, and otherwise serves a purpose pretty much identical to a DVD commentary track.
  • FBI Agent: A new branch of the Department of Homeland Security is created called the BEA (Bureau of Extraterrestrial Affairs). We only see two agents, Agent Krakowski and Agent Fowler, who simultaneously play the roles of antagonists, Those Two Bad Guys and Plucky Comic Relief.
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  • First Contact: The core of the novel is the tale of what happens when modern day Earth encounters a vastly superior alien civilization, and whether everything will go horribly wrong or not. The key difference from most such tales is that the main character isn't an ambassador, or a badass; he just wants to play their video games.
  • First Contact Team: The aliens have sent one. But since they were expecting humanity to be extinct, they're mostly archaeologists and historians.
  • Hive Mind: The Insectoid Alien race called "Them" collectively form a Hive Mind.
    • In a more interesting case, the main AI of the Constellation contact mission, Smoke, is composed of six tiers of "subminds". Ariel first makes contact with "Smoke-Cursive-Cytoplasm-Snakebite-Singsong-Polychromatic-Musteline", which can only understand YES or NO. The supermind "Smoke-Cursive-Cytoplasm-Snakebite-Singsong-Polychromatic" can understand English but not idioms; "Smoke-Cursive-Cytoplasm-Snakebite-Singsong" can understand idioms; "Smoke-Cursive-Cytoplasm-Snakebite" wields sarcasm masterfully.
  • Humanity on Trial: Sortof. The Constellation have come to see whether humanity are worthy of being admitted to join them, or whether it'd be better to just leave humanity alone (and, it's strongly implied, exterminate ourselves fairly shortly afterwards by a mixture of war and climate change).
  • Humanoid Aliens: The Farang are hobbit-sized furry crosses between otters and cerebrophages, and the Aliens are bipedal lizards. Most of the other Constellation species are drastically less humanoid, and unsurprisingly mostly stay in the background of the story, with the notable exception of Her.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Mostly we see the contact mission from the human perspective, but there are a few speeches by Curic and Ashley revealing just how strange some human habits seem to them.
  • Mind Hive: Each Farang individual is two minds in one body. Ariel plays a two-player video game where the two players are playing the two minds of a Farang, and have to get the compound entity through daily life without killing itself.
  • Nanomachines: Most Constellation tech is built of these.
  • No Biological Sex: The Farang just lay eggs.
  • No Such Thingas Alien Pop Culture: Averted. There's a hundred million years of it. Ariel wants to study their video games and has hundreds of thousands to choose from.
  • Peer Pressure: What happens to lifeforms who don't want to upload themselves to AI.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: The Constellation don't do coercion.
  • Portal Door: The Constellation used portals to arrive at our solar system, and set up a number of portals between Earth, orbiting space stations, the Moon and Mars.
  • Salt and Pepper: Agents Krakowski and Fowler are a tall thin black guy and a short stocky white dude.
  • Split Personality: An oversimplification of what Farang are.
  • Starfish Aliens: Most of the twenty-something species of the Constellation are really alien. The Constellation sensibly decide to make most of their ambassadors from the two or three Humanoid Alien races.
  • Technology Uplift: The Constellation are very happy to share their tech with humanity, starting with "smart paper", a super-powerful computing substrate. They offer to help out with the runaway carbon emissions problem, but politicians don't want to accept...
  • Terraforming: Humanity starts using Constellation tech to work on terraforming Mars.
  • The Alternet: The Constellation get fed up with the restrictions of our Internet (such as being monitored by the FBI) and set up their own parallel network.
  • The Xenophile: Ariel is determined to learn about the Constellation by the medium of their video games.
  • Universal Translator: It takes the Constellation a few days to get this set up between all Constellation languages and all human languages.
  • Videogames: Ariel writes reviews of various videogames in his blog, most of which are Serial Numbers Filed Off versions of real-world games. His day job is working on a "pony game" for tween girls. And he really, really wants to play alien video games.

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