Patton Oswalt may be best known as a ribald comic, a gifted pop culture snark artist and as a gloriously unabashed nerd, but his debut novel, “Zombie Spaceship Wasteland,” delves deeper into his unique Otaku zeitgeist and offers a skewed, stained-glass view of his always entertaining– if meandering– mind.
While albums such as “Werewolves and Lollipops” and “My Weakness is Strong” taught the world what Oswalt would do to George Lucas at midnight with a shovel and how the comedian might fare in the apocalypse, “Wasteland”–which waxes poetic on movies and comedy while reveling in Oswalt’s many skittering interests– melds disparate genres seamlessly enough to make the reader forget this is an incredibly atypical comedian memoir. Heady comparisons have already been made to Woody Allen’s “Without Feathers” and Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up,” but “Wasteland” has as much in common with the blurring of fact, fiction, and comedy of William S. Burroughs or Hunter S. Thompson.
The comedy and pop culture references come quickly and furiously in each and every chapter. Whether he’s reminiscing on Dungeons and Dragons, penning a forgotten hobo chantey, espousing his love of literacy (pop culture or otherwise), talking McJobs or revealing pieces of himself one mosaic tile at a time, Oswalt is always engaging and evocative. Anyone who has ever survived movie theater employment will surely relate to “Ticket Booth” while “Punch-Up Notes” takes deadly aim at everything tired, hackneyed, and clichéd in Hollywood. “History of America” perfectly encapsulates comedian archetypes while “I Went to an MTV Gifting Suite” seems to typify fake celebrity and self-entitled douche-baggery in American popular culture.
If there is one missing link here, it is the absence of a defining through line or thesis statement; it is clear all of these things made Oswalt into one of his generation’s funniest and most entertaining comedians, but something seems at times missing. Nods to graphic novels and pop culture tchotchkes are certainly appreciated, but these seem to be little more than effete affectations camouflaging some laziness in overarching storytelling.
Such gripes are easily forgotten, however, in light of the laughs-to-page ratio offered in this ultimately creative and complementary work. Oswalt has always clearly had a literary bent; his comedy has always made allusions to the likes of Poe, Burroughs, or Frank Frazetta, and this book serves as the perfect Petri dish to cultivate all of these interests perfectly.
Oswalt’s humor and anger seems to have been born of suburban-sprawl ennui, and “Wasteland” deftly combines the comic’s brutal honesty and biting sense of humor; though ultimately imperfect, “Zombie Spaceship Wasteland” serves as an excellent bookend to Oswalt’s album’s, films, and occasional musings.