It’s Earth, near future or possibly present day. Hard to tell these days. Anyway, everything is more or less as is, except for the fact that emissaries from an intergalactic coalition of alien races, the Constellation, have turned up on our doorstep and opened hailing frequencies. Searching the cosmos for intelligent species, they have finally stumbled upon us and are considering whether to invite us to the party. The world is ablaze in wonder, questions fermenting in the brains of every vaguely imaginative person, questions probing the very deepest mysteries of existence.
Every person except Ariel Blum. He wants to know what kind of computer games they play. A game designer by trade, churning out embarrassing teen-oriented apps for girls, Ariel also runs a deeply sarcastic gaming blog. On catching a glimpse of something which may or may not have been an alien Space Invaders on a newsfeed he hurriedly contacts our visitors and asks for a sample. Soon an alien friend awards him access to the CDOGOACG – the Constellation Database of Games of a Certain Complexity – an unimaginably vast collection from all members of the Constellation dating back hundreds of millenia.
Ariel sets about attempting to decipher the mysteries of the CDOGOACG, a daunting task given the variety of cultures and body forms from which they sprung. One by one they make their way onto his blog. Meanwhile the mechanics of first contact slowly pick up pace, with ever more humans making their way to the Constellation’s vessel and engaging in joint projects with our visitors. It’s not all harmony though, as it transpires that our new friends are not of one mind regarding whether involving us at this stage in our evolution is a good idea. And of course the earthbound authorities are less than thrilled at having an unknown civilisation parked in orbit around us.
Billed as a ‘space opera soap opera’, Constellation Games had a lot of hype to live up to, especially for a debut novel. Fortunately it succeeds as a hilarious, bizarre and exceedingly original work of modern sci-fi. The descriptions of the games at the book’s core had me in stitches at times, for some reason putting me in my mind of something concocted by Terry Gilliam locked in a dark room with a ZX Spectrum. Leonard Richardson may have stumbled upon a new field of study: Speculative Extraterrestrial Anthropology. The antics of Ariel and his friends make for highly entertaining reading as they explore the history of the greatest conglomeration in the galaxy while trying to juggle their more mundane daily concerns.
However, this is really a smokescreen. Constellation Games has a deeper purpose, to cry out against the dangers of overreaching powers of government, about the consequences of exerting too much control on a population and the stifling nature of bureaucracy. Bungling government agents hamper Ariel’s attempts to bring the Constellation’s games to an earthly audience. They waste little time in implementing ill thought-out visa procedures and customs regulations on a culture which they can’t begin to understand. The parallels to our own world are clear and infuriating; from the NSA to the RIAA, this book is a hearty and unashamed lambasting of those in power whose sole purpose appears to be restricting the freedom of others to pursue their dreams.
It’s certainly a unique book and one whose subject matter might not appeal to all but Leonard Richardson is an author I’ll be looking out for in the future. He’s smart, he’s sarcastic and he’s brimming with fresh new ideas. Three cheers for weirdness. And damn The Man!