< Constellation Games Author Commentary #24, "Homebrew"

[Comments] (7) Constellation Games Spoiler Conversation: I don't know how much traffic this will get, but now that the paperbacks are being sent out, I'm setting up this post for readers of my commentary posts who have read the whole book. Here you can comment on and ask questions about the chapters that haven't been serialized yet, or the novel as a whole. So have at it! I'll compile anything interesting that comes out of this and include it in the appropriate commentary posts.

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Posted by Emile Snyder at Wed May 09 2012 14:22

I'm curious how other people ultimately felt about reading serialized, vs straight through? I loved the first 1/4 of the book while reading the weekly chapters so much, but as time went on I felt like the dribs-and-drabs pace kept me from staying immersed in the story. It was hard to keep things straight with week long intervals between chapters.

When the paperback arrived, I went back and read it straight through from the beginning. And loved it all, including the middle chapters which didn't do it for me so much in the serialized form.

And yet, somehow I could never resist reading the weekly chapters when they came out ;)

Posted by Leonard at Fri May 11 2012 23:01

I'll respond just so your comment isn't lonely. It looks like the spot where you got tired of the pace is the spot where I buckled down and said "OK, this really needs a plot now."

Although I wrote the book for serialization, I think reading the paperback is the way to go, *until the beginning of part three*. After that things move so fast and there's so much emotion that I think readers would actually benefit from having some down time between chapters.

I don't claim to have accomplished anything in particular with the pacing, but I was trying to model it after Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And if you sit down and watch the whole nine-episode arc that ends the series (starting with "Penumbra"), you'll get burned out.

Posted by Zack at Sun May 13 2012 18:48

I think you're right about part three; I read the entire thing all in one go, and am still processing everything that happened.

Here are some questions about things that happen near the end of the book. Feel free to hold the answers for the appropriate commentary posts.

How much of Ariel's letter to Jenny is factual, how much of it is him embellishing for the sake of throwing the BEA goons off, and how much is him embellishing for the sake of his own ego? (I must confess I didn't really want there to be any sort of romantic past or possibility between Ariel and Jenny, just because that's done so rarely.)

Agent Krakowski babbles at one point about how he didn't think he'd get to meet [the Constellation's edition of Special Circumstances]. Now clearly this is all in his head and there is no such thing, but I do wonder what the Constellation would do if they actually met a new intelligent species that was bent on picking a fight with them. It seems like they have such a technological and organizational advantage that they could probably do something that was both effective and noncoercive, but I am not sure what that would be. (Their relationship with Ragtime seems to be a bit, er, fraught, although clearly not what you would call a war.)

Relatedly, did the Constellation really take Smoke out of the shuttles, or did they just make it seem like they had? It seems insanely dangerous not to have someone monitoring what's going on in the shuttles at all times, just in case of regular old accidents.

Speaking of Smoke, a while ago you said that we were going to get to see the relationship between Smoke and its subminds break down, but I didn't notice that happen. Did I miss it, or is it in the bonus material? (Dana going off the rails doesn't seem to count, because she's an independent actor rather than a submind at that point, isn't she?)

What powers the smart paper? When first introduced it sounds like it absorbs ambient light, which would probably work; later, Ariel's box of notebooks turns out to be smart paper, and he tells Jenny to "keep it someplace warm", but absorbing ambient heat won't work unless either there's a cold sink or the Constellation has technology that can reduce the overall entropy of the universe (which I'm not assuming is out of the question, but it does seem unlikely, especially for what I understood to be pre-contact Gaijin tech).

Posted by Zack at Sun May 13 2012 18:52

(N.B. I am pickier than most people about thermodynamics, on account of having once been a chemist. I don't think the average reader would even notice.)

Posted by Leonard at Sun May 13 2012 21:04

The shuttles contain non-sentient Smoke subminds. The subminds can still call out to their superminds for help, but there's no longer a "person" running on the computer in the shuttle, which is why Dana can easily take one over.

Dana gets reintegrated with Smoke at the end of the novel, and "Dana no Chousen" shows the breakdown that results.

There is a Constellation equivalent of Special Circumstances: it's Curic. More precisely, Special Circumstances is ad hoc and distributed like everything else, and Curic does most of the dirty work in this book. The work is not very dirty by human standards, though.

As for the Constellation encountering a species determined to pick a fight: worst case, they'd leave and come back a couple million years later. Other options include long-term psyops from a safe distance.

I dunno about the smart paper, you got me. Maybe the "plastic" tubs are the cold sinks? Another possible explanation is that Ariel just misunderstood the instructions and screwed this up. (A lot of technical errors in this book I can just fob off on the characters.)

The letter-to-Jenny question will be addressed in the commentary.

Posted by Zack at Mon May 14 2012 19:38

... Wow, that paints everything Curic does in a rather different light. I think I may have to reread the entire book with that in mind.

Re "leave and come back a couple million years later": 's difficult to do that in a hurry if you collapse your wormhole on arrival, innit? I brought this up before; having read all of Part Two, I see why the contact mission wants to keep the Slow People out of it, but I don't see why it's necessary to collapse the wormhole in order to do that. Like I said, it seems like they could just put the local end someplace out of the way and not use it unless it was really necessary, e.g. to leave post haste.

Posted by Leonard at Tue May 15 2012 00:29

Someone's always gonna want to use that port. Someone's always gonna want to bring Slow People through the port. By agreeing to collapse the port ahead of time you ensure that going back is a last resort. You also (supposedly) ensure that nobody volunteers for a contact expedition unless they're deadly serious. There's more about this in "The Time Somn Died".

If you ported into the home system of a Kardashev Type II civilization you might be in trouble, but in this universe there aren't any--those civilizations become Slow People.

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