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Authors: Leonard Richardson

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Constellation Games

BOOK: Constellation Games
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Constellation Games

a space opera soap opera 
by Leonard Richardson

Metadata

First serialized in 2011. 

First trade paperback edition published 2012. 

Copyright © 2011 by Leonard Richardson 
All rights reserved. 

Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. 

Please respect the author’s rights; don’t pirate! 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 For information, address Candlemark & Gleam LLC, 102 Morgan Street, Bennington, VT 05201 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data In Progress 

ISBN: 978-1-936460-23-6
 eISBN: 978-1-936460-24-3 
Cover art and design by Chris Sobolowski 
Book design and composition by Kate Sullivan 

www.candlemarkandgleam.com

Dedication

For Sumana, again and all the time

Acknowledgements
Thanks to Simon Carless for setting the whole thing rolling. 
To my editor, Kate Sullivan, for demanding more. 
To the patient members of the Secret Cabal who critiqued my drafts month after month: Cheryl Barkauskas, Tom Crosshill, L.K. Herndon, Cleo Maranski, Lizzie Oldfather, Rebecca Rozakis, Steven S. Taylor, and Andrew Willett; as well as Cabal founder N.K. Jemisin.
To my beta readers: Brendan Adkins, Kirk Israel, Beth Lerman, and Adam Parrish. 
Extra thanks to Adam for constructing the Pey Shkoy language and alphabet you see on the cover. 
And to my wife, Sumana Harihareswara, for her critique and support.
About the Author
Leonard Richardson is the author of robotfindskitten, Beautiful Soup, and RESTful Web Services.
Constellation Games
is his first novel.
You can follow him online at
www.crummy.com
, where there's author commentary on each chapter in the book and an archive of the live Twitter streams that accompanied the serialized novel.
Part One: Hardware
Chapter 1: Terrain Deformation
Blog post, May 31

What the hell is up with the moon? I am riveted to the news which is quite the productivity killer because
EVERYTHING HAPPENS SO SLOWLY
. I have CNN on right now because they have the best satellite footage, and I swear there was just a five minute discussion about whether or not something is a dust cloud. Yes, it's a dust cloud! Some fucker is chopping up the moon! You're going to have a certain amount of dust in that circumstance!

But compared to how long you have to wait to see something
happen
, that five minute-argument goes by as quickly as the time after you hit the snooze button. So, starting now, I'm not watching any video that's not sped up 100x. Okay, CNN, you're gone.

A 24-hour news channel with some balls would crash their rented satellite into the "center of activity", the spot in lunar orbit where all the moon chunks are going. But satellites probably don't work that way. So we get shots of the lunar dust cloud because all the satellites were built to map the moon. The moon's not the story! Stop playing peekaboo. Get some close-ups. Do it for science!

I will post a review later tonight. I have twenty critical bugs to fix in this fucking pony game.

Blog post, June 1

Finally done with work. Fans of cute ponies will squeal with glee to learn that
Pôneis Brilhantes 5
has met its death-march deadline and will soon be landing in North America as "Smarty Pets: Pony Stable Extra". Thanks to yours truly, the Smarty Pets series continues to have the best pony physics of any handheld series. You haven't lived until you've used the styluses on the DS Twin to braid a pony's hair! (Ironically, that was around the point where I
stopped
living.)

I have to immediately pivot to a tech demo for the upcoming all- hands meeting in São Paolo, so let's do a game review now, while it won't raise questions about my time cards.

GAME REVIEWS OF DOOOOM 2.0 PRESENTS
Caveman Chaos
(2002)
A game by Narix
Reviewed by Ariel Blum

Publisher:
Narix (Europe), New Time Entertainments (USA)
Platforms:
Windows 2001
ESRB rating:
T for cartoon violence and teleological suspension of the ethical

As always, I've been thinking, "how can I tie in current events to a review of an old video game that no one will read?" Because I am all about your satisfaction. There are a number of games where you mine the moon or some other planet, and it's a fun concept that's hard to screw up, but it's also hard to make a mining game that really stands out.

And then there's
Caveman Chaos
, the game your grandmother gives you because she knows you're into computers and it was in the $10 bin at the office supply store. The biggest-scale, most terrifying "god game" of all time.

In a typical god-game like
City, in Darkness
(my personal favorite) you've got a contextual palette of tools for keeping your charges happy: tools for regrading the ground, putting up a school, and so on. In
Caveman Chaos
you communicate with your primitive isometric-view tribes the same way G-d does in real life—by pummeling the shit out of things!

Need to move a river? Flood it! Mammoths moving out of hunting range? Bring in the ice sheets! Need to clear some space for the new fire pits? You can't spell "fire pit" without "fire"! Your cave-dudes running out of stone chips for spears? Create obsidian the natural way, by sending a fucking active volcano right through the crust of the earth!

In other sim games, when you get bored with doing things correctly, there's a menu of catastrophes you can inflict on your simulated population—hurricane, dirty bomb, Godzilla attack, Prohibition. In
Caveman Chaos
, catastrophes are pretty much the only tools at your disposal. The Narix devs surveyed what had come before and said, "You know that 'extra' mechanic that's thrown in just for fun? Let's make that the CORE OF THE GAME."

Natural disasters are an unconventional technique for winning your population's affection. In fact, they terrify the poor bastards. But that's the genius of this game. Catastrophes bring in the resources you need to advance in the game, but they also kill people and leave the survivors cursing your name. Oh, cruel fate!

Would you believe it gets worse? After a few ice ages and lightning strikes, your cavemen develop religion, as a sort of defense mechanism. A caveman wakes up one day hearing voices—those voices are
you
. He's promoted to shaman, and he forms the rest of your control set.

Tell your shaman where you're going to put a volcano, and he'll declare that area taboo, like a Neanderthal zoning board. This is implemented in-game with an area selection interface and it's a useful way to herd your cavemen around the map. Only now you'd better
put
a volcano there, or your shaman will lose credibility and soon enough end up on the wrong side of a spear.

Shamans have a stat called "soulpower" (this game was originally in German). I'm sure soulpower was intended to be some generic fantasy-game thing like mana or magic points, but when I was a kid I interpreted it as literally the strength of the soul: the degree to which a shaman can listen to the voices in his head without going batshit insane. Push a shaman too hard (and you'll need to push them hard to get anywhere in this game) and he'll snap, start his own religion, and send your caveman tribe into a schism of inappropriate zoning and poorly-built fire pits.

So, a game that pretty explicitly plays up the "god" in "god game", in which your primary means of conversation with your worshippers are natural disasters and psychological torture. I wonder why this game ended up in the $10 bargain bin in America?
City, in Darkness
cleaned this idea up for the family by adopting a more familiar good-versus-evil theme, and honestly
City, in Darkness
is the one that I still play. But for sheer loincloth-pissing terror, for the feeling of looking up at the moon and seeing someone cutting chunks out for some unknown purpose, it's gotta be
Caveman Chaos
.

Blog post, June 2

It's a space station. Someone's building a g-ddamned space station out of moon rocks.

The news is now a parade of denials. Politicians are very concerned and plan to investigate the issue Right Now. NASA scientists have no clue and would like to get back to work. Crazy former NASA scientists know a lot about lunar pyramids, but sadly not much about lunar space stations. Air Force asshats with perpetual frowns are declining comment on nonexistant black ops projects. A few hours of this and I may be going on myself to deny everything. And then they'll do the weather report.

Knock it off, guys. We all know who it is. Too bad they're not giving interviews.

Blog post, June 5

Where were you? I was asleep. Jenny sent me five links to the same video and then called me.

"Yeah, you woke me up, okay? Mission accomplished. I can't see the link. The server's down."

"You have a TV!" said Jenny. "Use the TV. The aliens made us a video."

I ran downstairs to the living room, unplugged a bunch of consoles, and tried to remember how to receive a broadcast signal. "Tell me what's happening," I said, "in the video."

"It's a contact mission," said Jenny. "They came through a wormhole. There's about twenty kinds of aliens and they want us to join them."

I fumbled through the television menus. I changed the input source and my TV picked up the signal.

When I was in high school the space shuttle
Columbia
disintegrated over my head while my dad was driving me to school. We heard about it on the radio, and I cried and cried. A few weeks later, when they decommissioned the other shuttles, I didn't cry because I didn't watch the video, but I knew I would have. Crying isn't sadness; it happens because an emotion is too big for your body. Emotions about space have always been too big for me.

I'm no expert at having emotions, but this is as big as they come. I'm still watching this video and it's still like watching
Columbia
touch down in Florida and the crew come out waving and smiling, and behind them the crew of
Challenger
waving and smiling in their 1980s blue suits. And the crews from Apollo 1 and Soyuz 11, and finally Laika the dog waving a little Soviet flag in her mouth. There's nothing to compare it to. It's the object of all future comparisons.

"Are you still there?" said Jenny.

My television showed a small hairy creature standing in front of a screen, manipulating symbols with twitches of the tentacles around its mouth.

"That thing..." I said, "that person is playing a video game."

"That may not be true," said Jenny.

"It's game-
like
," I said.

"I don't know where in the video you are."

"The thing that looks like a
Dragon's Dice
cerebrophage," I said. "With the tentacles on the face. It's gesturing at a computer in a very game-like way."

"Jeeeeezus, you've known about the aliens for three minutes and you're back to talking about video games."

"They have computers," I said. "They'll have games. I'm going to find out what game that cerebrophage is playing and I'm going to review it on my blog."

Jenny is understandably skeptical. But it's going to happen, readers. This is my quest.

Holy shit.

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Corner Pieces
Real life, June 6

"Hey, Jenny," I said. Jenny waved at the video chat window and made a kind of "mehhh" noise that might have been "hey".

"You're still up."

"I am up. This idiot's final act before leaving for the weekend was to tell me to redo the entire website."

"Shit, I'm sorry."

"I don't see no naked chick in your bed," said Jenny. "Wait, lemme full-screen it. Nope, still nothing."

"Jenny. I... this was the worst date of my life."

"Was there an explosion?" said Jenny. "Did you push her to an emotional crisis and she threw up on you?"

"Third worst," I said. "I brought up the Constellation."

"Like, just makin' conversation, or..."

"I may have mentioned that I've been waiting for the space aliens to arrive since I was six."

Instead of facepalming, Jenny asked: "What happened when you were six?"

"
Triple Point
happened."

"Didn't the aliens in that movie want to steal Earth's water?"

"Yes, but they looked very cool."

"I begin to see the problem."

"It seemed like... she had these hot nerdy glasses. Did I mention that? Like your glasses. I thought it'd be okay to discuss the Constellation."

Jenny took off her glasses and peered at them. "They're hipster glasses," she said. "You don't need a fuckin' nerd permit to wear 'em."

"It was a false-flag operation. She just looks at me through those glasses, like, you're one of
those
people."

I reloaded my profile page on the dating site. No rating, no comment. This was a standoff. My date wouldn't rate me until I'd rated her. It was cold-blooded blackmail. Or maybe she had gone to sleep.

"Did you find out what
she
was interested in?" said Jenny.

"Oh, yes, that was my second mistake," I said. "She complained a lot about her job. Apparently bicycle couriers don't get much respect."

"Okay, and then the mistake..."

"I commiserated. I told her that I know how she feels, because I make pony games for ten-year-old girls. And the instant I say 'pony games' she sees me with a little pervert moustache, cruising the middle school in a banged-up white van. And the date's over."

Jenny rubbed her eyes. "Ariel, let me introduce you to the wonderful world of stretching the truth. Suppose I need to get laid, I may pretend to be a famous artist. Usually Erica Fujii. Or Andy Warhol, if I think I can get away with it."

"Hey, you know what?" I said. "Maybe ten-year-old girls should develop their own damn pony games! And then old guys like me would be pushed out of the industry altogether!"

"Listen, I am giving you a walkthrough for your next date. You work for Reflex Games. You make super-violent games for frat boys, and every time one of those bastards goes gold, you shed a single sensitive tear and collect a fat royalty check."

I clicked over to the bicycle courier's profile. I noticed that her bio said she was a bicycle
mechanic
.

I laughed a cynical, world-weary laugh—some kind of laugh, anyway. "Reflex devs don't get royalties," I said.

"This one does," said Jenny, "and he spends them showing the ladies a good time. And if by some freak accident his date finds out he doesn't work for Reflex anymore, that he writes pony games and has been waiting for the Constellation for twenty years, he goes home and smokes some weed and falls asleep like a normal person. Instead of calling up his friend Andy Warhol who is busy redesigning a website."

"I smoked all my weed during the pony death march."

"Plan B is tequila," said Jenny.

"Tequila, okay."

BOOK: Constellation Games
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