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D.B. Weiss: Lucky Wander Boy


Lucky Wander Boy

Author: D.B. Weiss
Publisher: Plume

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Since it appeared in the late 1990s, the arcade emulation program MAME has probably done as much as the most vicious computer virus to slow productivity in offices staffed with workers of a certain age. With the ability to summon up virtually any arcade game, it's served both as a reminder that the flashier successors of Pac-Man, Frogger, and their contemporaries don't necessarily improve on the classics, and as a Proustian madeleine for anyone who once dreamed of reaching Donkey Kong's fabled cement-factory level. For Adam Pennyman, the protagonist of D.B. Weiss' debut novel Lucky Wander Boy, it functions as the latter and then some. Prompted by MAME to start work on The Catalogue Of Obsolete Entertainments, an era-encompassing survey of video gaming's first age, Pennyman is reminded of the largely forgotten "Lucky Wander Boy," a poorly distributed early-'80s title that begins as a standard platform game, but takes a metaphysical turn with its second stage. Pennyman's day job only fuels his obsession. Joining Portal Entertainment, a vaguely defined Internet content provider and movie production house, he works on material promoting the company's latest starlet or the forthcoming installment of the Eviscerator series, an adaptation of a later, meaner school of video game. But whenever possible, he keeps edging toward one of the company's more neglected projects, a film version of Lucky Wander Boy. What follows is a Don DeLillo-inspired journey along cultural leylines connecting Gnostic philosophy, Donkey Kong's Mario, a New Mexico landfill containing millions of Atari cartridges left unsold after the company's post-E.T. implosion, and the headquarters of Lucky Wander Boy's mysterious creator. Crisply written and particularly funny when addressing the excesses and petty tyrannies of the Internet business world, Lucky Wander Boy is also remarkably engaging when it lets Adam reflect on the games of his youth in absurd close readings that are too sincere–and occasionally too convincing–to function only as parody. Shortly before Adam starts referring to Samuel Beckett in his uncommissioned Lucky Wander Boy screenplay, the book starts to overreach with him. Weiss has a better handle on his pixilated characters than his human ones, which might be the source of the problem, but his ability to translate the layers of meaning and madness beneath the bleeps and blurs still makes him something of a pioneer.