Lucky Wander Boy
by D.B. Weiss
Plume, Published by the Penguine Group, 2003
Review score: ** out of *****

Compared to many other animals, humans are strange creatures. We do not have the sleek killing machine grace of the shark which has remained largely unchanged for several hundred million years. We are not particularly well evolved for any niche. Yet now humans exist in almost ever part of the Earth land mass. The characteristic that seems to have allowed the spread of humanity is our brain.

We have evolved to recognize and learn from patterns. To draw conclusions from patterns and to generalize from patterns. Science is based on this skill. We struggle with the fact that much of the world around us contains a significant degree of randomness. Viewing this randomness we attempt to draw meaning and find patterns. Sometimes we go so far as to invent complex systems that overlay meaning onto the randomness: religion and complex academic theories. As I've noted in my fascination with digital signal processing and information theory, I have also fallen prey to the fascination of finding pattern in randomness.

In Lucky Wander Boy classic video games, from the days of Nintendo and Intellivision consoles, take on deep meaning. They are not simple amusements, but texts from which deep lessons can be drawn. The central character, Adam Pennyman, reminds me of someone who has taken too many modern literary criticism classes. But the analysis he applies is to the obscure text of long dead video games, which run are run on software emulators on modern computers. The title of the book is drawn from the video game Lucky Wander Boy, which was a surreal game that pushed the state of the art at the time. It was developed in Japan, written by a Japanese woman and was a great commercial failure. It acts like the obscure holy grail for Adam Pennyman.

Pennyman is a sort of GenX slacker. He keeps getting fired from various jobs because his main interest is working as little as possible. He drifts to Poland, acquires a beautiful Polish girlfriend and then drifts back to Los Angeles, where he goes to work for Portal Entertainment and Development. The Polish girlfriend leaves for other pastures and Adam drifts into a relationship with another woman.

Adam's life is a random walk and he is surrounded by the noise of our modern reality. The artifacts of the video game world, current and obsolete, become his obsession and the text from which Adam Pennyman tries to draw meaning. Another tread in Adam's obscure obcessions is a Chinese book by an executioner who writes on "The Death of a Thousand Cuts". This book, describing horrible dismemberment, is the topic of Adam's unfinished university thesis. Bits of text from this disturbing work becomes bizarrely interwoven with Lucky Wander Boy.

As Lucky Wander Boy follows the random walk of Adam Pennyman's life and his search for meaning in noise, the book also wanders out of control. The ending is disjointed and unclear. As Adam's search for his grail reaches the end, the story seems to move beyond the control of the author, D. B. Weiss, shattering like the pages of a dropped manuscript. The end of Lucky Wander Boy is a bit like reading the end of Hunter Thompson's The Great Shark Hunt, where Thompson, facing a deadline, loses control as the text approaches demented stream of consciousness. By the time I reached the end of the D.B. Weiss' random walk of a novel, I could only wonder why I had wasted money and time on this book (it had something to do with the review on

Ian Kaplan
April 2003
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