Constellation Games: debut sf novel floored me with its brilliance

I've known that Leonard Richardson was a good writer for half a decade, since he was my student at Viable Paradise.

I just finished Leonard's debut novel, Constellation Games and I'm literally trembling with excitement. Because Constellation Games IS AN AMAZING BOOK.

Here's the plot: Ariel Blum is an Austin-based game-developer with a crappy job making Pony franchise collectible content games for the ten-year-old Brazilian girl market. Then aliens invade the Earth. The Constellation is a coalition of many alien species who have travelled unimaginable distances to invite the Earth to join their loose-knit, non-coercive, freewheeling anarcho-syndicalist collective civilization, which has more than 100 million years' worth of history.

Ariel send the aliens an email. He has a snarky game-review blog where he writes entertainingly about crummy games. Do the aliens have any crappy games they can send him? Turns out they do. From the Constellation space-station (built out of nanocomputers and moon-dust), an alien called Curic drop-ships Ariel a bunch of alien video-games, wrapped in re-entry foam. The aliens are sending stuff like this to a lot of people, and in America, the new Bureau of Extraterrestrial Affairs (made up of ambitious jerks from the DHS) are scrambling to get it all under control.

Ariel has access to the Constellation Database of Games of a Certain Complexity, which contains user-rankings for every game invented by every alien species in the Constellation, including ones that (ominously) are now extinct. He starts mining it for interesting games to download, play and review.

Thus kicks off one of the smartest, most passionate, most principled science fiction novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Formally, Constellation Games is a just-about-perfect science fiction novel. It's got a great narrator's voice in the form of Ariel, a smartalecky, LiveJournal-trained net.wit who talks like Ready Player One crossed with JPOD. The alien species that Ariel encounters are brilliantly inventive (as are their fossil videogames), each detail more charming than the last. The plot is one of those great caper stories, absurd-with-real-danger, the stuff of books like Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede, and it'll rip you right along through the 360 pages like it was a short story, and leave you wanting more.

But there are lots of formally excellent science fiction novels. They deserve our kudos and our attention, but they aren't a patch on Constellation Games. Because this book isn't just entertaining and inventive and clever. It's important.

Constellation Games is one of the best political books I've ever read, an account of the poison chalice of societies based on coercion that puts great works of anarchist fiction to shame. As if that wasn't enough, it's also a fantastic story of love and compassion, which will make you realize that, seen in the right light, we're already living as though it was the first days of a better world. Finally, this is a spectacular novel about art, to rival books like My Name is Asher Lev and The Sun, the Moon and the Stars.

Last week, I thought of Leonard Richardson as a promising talent to watch. Now I fell like he's a nascent master of the field. What a book.

Constellation Games