Lucky Wander Boy (Plume, 2003), by D.B. Weiss, chronicles the fictional exploits of one Adam Pennyman, a 30-something dot.com copywriter with a gorgeous Polish girlfriend he seems incapable of pleasing, and nagging wander-lust that keeps him forever unsatisfied. This protagonist of Weiss’s brilliantly paced, and hilarious novel is a recently awakened classic gaming fan who is working on a book named the “Catalog of Obsolete Entertainments” or “COE” for short. The COE when finished promises to be a complete listing of important classic games each described in great detail as to their game play, artistry, and their significance alongside important literature, movies, philosophy, etc.,
Weiss blends several different writing styles (straight easy to read prose, undergraduate-level compare/contrast essays, technical writing, movie scripts) into a completely engaging first-person account of Adam Pennyman’s search for “meaning” while sifting through the nostalgia of his childhood. Adam’s work on the COE begins with MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) a program that plays old coin-ops on your computer), but leads him to other emulators and bonafide classic games (Donkey Kong, Mr. Do, Pac Man, etc.), and finally to the game fictional Lucky Wander Boy, a machine so rare that no ROM is available, and few if any arcade cabinets are still in existence. It’s this game and the fact that Adam never reached its elusive 3rd level, that drives the story through three distinct “acts” to it’s satisfying conclusion.
The story is told in the first person, as Adam describes to the reader his introduction, and subsequent immersion into the world of classic video games. We learn about the most important game Adam played as young boy, “Microsurgeon” for the Mattel Intellivision, and why video games became so important to him. We travel to with from Los Angeles, across the country, and around the world. All the while we watch Adam get more and more immersed in his quest, and we see the effect it has on the people around him. We learn early on about the stability of Adam’s mind, and at points, begin to questions his interpretation of the events that he is describing.
Lucky Wander Boy is filled with characters and locations that are so true to life, you can imagine them as real people: Adam’s uber-geek love interest Clio, the dot.bomb “Portal Entertainment” where Adam works, the guys who fill a classic gaming convention, the arcade Adam frequented as a kid. As well, the actual history and classic gaming details are mostly accurate, and better yet, chosen to have a maximum effect on the story. The promised land of destiny Adam visits with Clio at the end of the book’s second act is so perfect, you’ll think “yep, that’s where this HAD to take place” and at the same time kick yourself for not figuring out the location in the first place. The book finishes in a way that all my favorite books finish. There are no tricks or twists, or “she’s a he!” 180’s that turn your emotional investment in the material into a moot point. It ends that way it should end. All points in the story lead to its inevitable conclusion, and better yet, you probably will not see it coming until it all unfolds before you.
(note: This review originally appeared on http://www.gamerdad.com)