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Review: 'Zombie Spaceship Wasteland'

ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND, by Patton Oswalt. Scribner, 191 pp., $24.

Patton Oswalt is one of those rare performers whose material translates to any medium without losing its sharpness - including, for the first time, print. Part memoir, part graphic novel, part collection of humor essays, his "Zombie Spaceship Wasteland" is a little ungainly but extremely likable.

The book will be valuable to anyone who wants to know how to get from here to there. Simply: how to go from being a broke, carless teenage movie usher in a Sterling, Va., strip mall in the 1980s, just an outcast "stuck in the syrup of the suburbs" and surrounded by "paint huffers and skate rats," to becoming one of the most respected comics working. Oswalt has appeared in more than 25 movies (including playing the lead in 2009's wonderful "Big Fan"), released numerous albums and toured with a veritable who's who of today's top comedic talent.

So, how did he do it? It helps to start out, as Oswalt did, as a "dopey-faced" kid obsessed with science fiction and post-apocalyptic fantasy board games that allow a player to create highly imaginative, personal worldviews and characters. In Oswalt's opinion, the average teen outcast falls into one of three highly specific categories: those who prefer zombie stories (and feel a "disgust with the slick and false"), those who enjoy spaceship stories (and are content with "their insular, slightly muted lives" because their "deflector shields up") or those who, like him, tend to gravitate to stories that take place after the apocalypse (and are "confused but fascinated" by the blandness of the world).

While Oswalt might have written more about the skills he used to wend his way through the bleak landscape toward success, it is well worth it to join him on his odyssey. That the hero of this tale is a formerly overweight nerd who hails from the suburbs makes it only more gratifying - especially for those outcasts dreaming that, one day, they, too, will be able to bridge the gap between here and there.

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