Hello Kitty writes "As far back as 1981, the videogame industry was pulling in more than Hollywood and Vegas combined; that year it raked in $5 billion, and for the most part did so one quarter at a time. So why haven't the arcade games so formative to geek youth (okay, geek 30somethings, young in the glory days of arcade play) gotten their due from the rest of popular culture? Lucky Wander Boy, DB Weiss' debut novel, is a step toward correcting that oversight. It's also a meditation on the bardo (the Buddhist notion of that which lies between the moment of death and the afterlife), on the excesses of the late dot-com era, and on where Pac-Man went in that split-second between disappearing on one side of the screen and reappearing on the other. And oh, yeah, it has a lead character screwed up just like your hysterical older relatives thought you would be if you didn't quit playing those nasty computer games. Bust out the rasterized graphics and Atari cartridges -- it's a party." Hello Kitty's review continues below.
It's the mid-90s and Adam Pennyman's got no particular place to go, so he finds himself in a Los Angeles apartment with a cranky soon-to-be-ex girlfriend and a copy of MAME, everyone's favorite game emulator. His collection grows until he feels compelled to document it, or his life as realized through his gaming, in an unpublishable text called the Catalogue of Obscure Entertainments.
Unimpressed, his girlfriend starts edging out of his life just as a chance meeting with a former friend lands Adam a copywriting gig at Portal Entertainment, a dot-com ostensibly in the process of turning various videogame properties into movies. (The real business, of course, involves turning smoke and mirrors into venture cap; alumni of, oh, D*N or El*ctr*m*dia are encouraged to up the dosage of whatever they're taking to quell the flashbacks during the passages describing Portal's office culture.)
But Portal puts Adam within reach of the gamer's Grail: Lucky Wander Boy, a rare and bizarre game created by the reclusive Araki Itachi. Lucky Wander Boy was years ahead of its time, and so intricately coded that no one, no one, ever reached third level. Or have they? Adam nearly did once, long ago, and has been haunted ever since by a memory of gameplay that just couldn't have truly happened... could it? Adam will go far to find out. Very far indeed.
I love me some metaphysical conceits in my fiction, so strictly for the description of the Lucky Wander Boy game I'd rate this book highly. (It doesn't exist. It couldn't exist. I want it to exist. Dammit.) The author's done a fine job capturing a certain kind of thinking that occurs when smart people start reading deeper meaning into their obsessions.
Adam's ruminations on many of the classics (Pac-Man, Microsurgeon, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., et al.) ring player-true -- which is why it's so glorious and scary when he goes off the rails with you right beside him. If you played in the days when primitive graphics and freshly-minuted archetypes made gameplay somehow even more addictive, this book will cause howls of recognition. Best of all, it's well-written and for the most part affectionate to the subculture; be glad this quasi-historical novel was written by the promising Weiss and not by that maiden aunt of yours who wouldn't let you have any more quarters.
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