Title  : Lucky Wander Boy
Author  : D. B. Weiss
Length  : 288 pages
MSRP  : $13.00
ISBN  : 0452283949
Release date  : Feb 25 2003
Publisher  : Plume
Review by  : Ken Gagne

We can play the games, study the chronologies, even hope for sequels. But the birth of electronic entertainment resides only as a memory that can never be solidified, any more than they can be recreated. So learns Adam Pennyman, the protagonist of Lucky Wander Boy, a novel by D.B. Weiss. 

Set in present times, Lucky Wander Boy is a tale of everyman Adam Pennyman; despite (or perhaps because of) a rather strong affinity for classic video games, Adam's character and history are mundane and identifiable to readers. A down-on-his-luck, untalented young man, Adams sets to consume his spare time with a catalog of the home and arcade games of his youth. He writes this encyclopedia as more than just a collection of facts, but of fresh dissertations and analyses on the meaning of said games. These essays are founded in Adam's own youth, and his reminiscences resonate so clearly with the first generation of gamers raised in the Eighties that one wonders to what degree the book is autobiographical. We find ourselves considering the futility of Frogger's quest, or the turning point that Double Dragon represented in the evolution of the arcade game. 

Later, these entries become more convoluted and self-inflated — like much of academia, trying to justify itself with pretentious metaphors and impossible importance. Finding commonalities between Mario and Jesus Christ is not beyond Weiss' main character. 

This change in focus is matched by a similar loss of coherency in the novel itself. Adam becomes obsessed with a (fictional) game from his boyhood, the titular Lucky Wander Boy, but stumbles across people and situations that put him closer to finding the game and its creator. 

The book is divided into three sections; as the story continues, it is more obvious that the book's style and atmosphere parallel the three stages of Lucky Wander Boy, becoming more abstract and deconstructing our main character. Adam discovers that, though the arcade games of his boyhood may be preserved, everything else that made his memories unique are gone, and that the games are just things — singular elements of those overall experiences. With the futility of his search for eternal youth comes irrational antics that Adam calmly rationalizes, though his readers may be filled with disbelief. Adult language and situations make this novel unsuitable for younger readers, who would wonder what the fuss over some pre-Nintendo games is anyway. 

Who is D.B. Weiss is to be writing a novel? The First Quarter was by Steven Kent, electronic entertainment correspondent for MSNBC; even John Sellers was a Donkey Kong world champ before writing Arcade FeverLucky Wander Boy is Weiss' first novel, and is perhaps all that separates him (if anything does) from the innumerable gamers to whom his book speaks. 

Lucky Wander Boy has a captivating opening and middle, with plenty of references only video gamers would get — such as an unexpectedly climatic moment in which, akin to a Terminator movie, Adam finds himself where everything fell apart years ago. Weiss' use of such obscure trivia is masterful, though the history is explained to those not privy to the facts. Ultimately, Weiss seems more concerned with taking a literary gambit of abstractness — like Adam playing his video game, we are left us wandering a strange environment, never really sure how the tale ends. That should not deter interested readers from witnessing the combined memories of Weiss and Pennyman, as much of it rings true.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Tech News, 09-Sep-03