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3.0 out of 5 stars Riffing on the Meaning of Life--Gen X Style, 17 Mar. 2004
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Lucky Wander Boy (Paperback)
This occasionally clever debut is yet another riff on familiar material: Gen-X angst, the go-go years of the dot.economy, and the Search For Meaning—with the hook of "classic" arcade games to give it a little zest. The protagonist is Adam Pennyman, a cynically intelligent, average looking, slackeresque, 20-something guy, who we first meet in Poland, where he works for an American video production company. A coworker there introduces him to the MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) program, which allows him to rediscover and play all the classic video games of his youth for free. Soon thereafter, he returns from Poland with a stunning girlfriend and sets up in LA as a lowly copywriter for a production company touting their synergies as a lure for venture capital money.
As he settles into this vapid job, Pennyman's obsession with the arcade games of his youth grows, leading him to start writing a book called "The Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments". Sections from it are the most entertaining portions of the book, as Weiss skillfully creates psuedo-intellectual analyses and decodings of "meaning" hidden in these old games. Pennyman's entries show that he views these old games, such as Pac-Man and Frogger, as emblematic of a purer, more innocent time. While the classic games represented an abstract philosophical world, contemporary video games strive for realism, leaving nothing to the imagination. All of this is emblematic to Pennyman of the ugliness of the cultural landscape at
the end of the millennium.
For the first half of the book, Pennyman is a reasonably sympathetic schmuck. But over time, his tendency to whine and rail against authority, combined with laziness, selfishness, judging, and dogmatism grows increasingly unpleasant. Paralleling this, his obsession starts focusing more and more on an obscure game called Lucky Wander Boy, which he played briefly as a youth before it disappeared. The descriptions of the game are awfully fascinating, as it features an incredibly simple first level, an incredibly surreal second level with seemingly no purpose or end, and a third level which no one ever seems to have reached. It quickly becomes apparent that the novel is more or less structured as the game is, growing more and more abstract, and in part/level three, the ending presents itself in four iterations, all named "Replay". On the whole, the book is more entertaining for style than substance. Weiss's writing is sharp and snappy, but he doesn't have a whole lot new to say about disaffected obsessives, and dotcom's have already been satirized to death much more effectively than here. The video game hook is the one thing it's got going for it, but honestly, unless you also grew up in arcades and trying to master the Intellevision disc controllers, it's unlikely to resonate very deeply at all.
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Lucky Wander Boy
Lucky Wander Boy by D. B. Weiss (Paperback - Feb. 2003)
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