Welcome to my multi-purpose home page, a no-frills showcase of thoughts on and links to other sites about a few things I find interesting.
After juggling introductions like the specific yet vague "an amiable blend of the ancient art of heckling and the gritty pastime of finding unintentional comedy in cheap B-movies" and the vague yet specific "that show with the robots and the cheesy movies," I'm tempted to just say that the best way to make a first acquaintance with Mystery Science Theater 3000 is to experience it yourself... and yet, I remember first becoming interested in the show without having seen even a moment of it: it was on a cable channel I couldn't get. Instead, I happened almost by accident on the show's fanworks, "MSTings."
It might have been inevitable that some early online fans of Mystery Science Theater would get in on the game themselves by casting sarcastic replies to ridiculous rants, egregious spam, and shoddy fanfics in the voices of the show's characters. A community within that larger group of fans developed fast, and when I happened on its work, I found MSTings funny and entertaining for all that at first I didn't even know what the Mystery Science Theater characters looked like, whether the different people trapped in space, their robot companions, or the assorted mad scientists tormeting them. I read a lot of MSTings, then in the end got around to writing a few myself. In the process, I did start to pick up on the common sins of the fanfiction the spreading MSTing community was now focusing on to deconstruct, make fun of, and at times just mock. Along with that, though, the uncertain thought began to creep up on me that it was tempting as a MSTing reader and author to hold myself above all other attempts at fan expression, and realising that I started to wonder if some MSTing authors, and some fans of the show itself, were intent on dismissing all of popular culture save Mystery Science Theater itself as unsatisfying, just one vast target for snappy interruptions...
Even as I worried about that, though, I was managing to see a first few episodes of the series itself. One of my first reactions was to contrast the often lengthy and involved comments of MSTings, text dropped into more text after all, to the quicker quips that had to be squeezed in among the action and dialogue of even the slowest movie. As I got around to watching a lot more of the series through a variety of means, that thought developed into the idea that perhaps the show let movies speak for themselves in a certain way, that even those cheesy movies had their own unexpected way of entertaining, and that Mystery Science Theater 3000 didn't have to be a bulwark at once against and above a mass culture rejected as a whole.
As I was trying to carry that insight back to at least the MSTings I was working on, though, the community they were part of was dwindling away. The show was off the air, and some had already gone from trying to tell the further stories of its characters to tossing together new crews of random commentators. These "non-standard MSTings" might have fragmented the audience, and in some of those smaller circles some of the cheerful subtleties of the show might have faded away: one large group of works only somewhat resembling MSTings now was taken down altogether as just plain mean. Then, in the end, the oldest and most respectable archive of MSTings turned out to have been run by just one person, who had burned out by degrees on the subtle challenges of archiving fanfiction. One day, he took his archive down while moving, and never put it up again.
Even so, the series remains, and some old MSTings can still be found too, the best of them also distinctive pieces of comedy bringing out unexpected humour. While it's now possible to view a good part of Mystery Science Theater 3000 itself in ways not thought of when it was first on cable and the first MSTings were being written, MSTings do remain one painless way to get a first acquaintance with the show itself.
The MSTing Mine: a list of links to MSTings.
These are some of my favourite MSTings.
These are some of the MSTings I've written or helped to write.
Thoughts on some Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes.
A good source of general Mystery Science Theater 3000 information is Satellite News, which has a history of the show that explains in passing some of the self-references to be found in MSTings. (More of these references are described in brief at 'Botspeak.) The history is complemented by the MST3K Temple's heavily illustrated chronicle, and many more links and documents can be found at mst3k.booyaka.com. Another interesting look at the series, viewing each episode in production order, is the MST3K Chronocinethon. It can be compared to other efforts to look at the whole series, Mighty Jack's MST3K Review and War of the Colossal MST3K Fan Guide.
A new archive of MSTings can be found at Joseph Nebus's site. The Marrissa MSTings are an intriguing series of works tackling an offbeat series of Star Trek fanfics which elevate a very minor character to ridiculous heights, and span enough time to show how both MSTings and the fanfics themselves developed while influencing each other. A smaller but still enjoyable set of MSTings are found at Jim Gadfly's MST3K Page. The oldest and largest archive of MSTings still around (although now folded into a larger site) is the Vault of Anime MSTings. As that site's culture developed, though, its works did become dominated by "non-standard" MSTings. There are non-standard MSTings I do quite like, though, which may have to do with how familiar I am with the fanfics that they tackle. For one reason or another, the best group at finding offbeat stories I could recognise at once as twisted from their origins was the prolific Elmer Studios, a group consciously modeled in some ways on one of the first and best-known non-standard MSTing series, Kazei 5.
Once upon a time, I played games on my family's computer where you typed in two-word commands and read the results. Most of the time, I couldn't solve all of the puzzles in them and got stuck partway through. I heard here and there, though, about games just like them but better that came on disks in fancy packages instead of as listings in computer magazines, games with better writing where you could type in full sentences. They weren't just "text adventures," but "interactive fiction."
I only ever managed to play one of those games (and couldn't solve of all the puzzles in it) while they were still being sold in fancy packages, though. The pictures in adventure games that used illustrations were getting better and better, until they squeezed their text off computer screens and interactive fiction off store shelves, and I was left with the feeling I had missed out. That feeling did lift when two large budget collections of interactive fiction were re-released, although I felt guilty about using the hint book included in one collection and couldn't solve all of the puzzles in the other collection. Then, I ran across a new surprise. There were other people organised online who didn't just still play interactive fiction, but who had created development systems that let them write their own works. I still can't solve all the puzzles I run into, which perhaps leaves me feeling I don't play as many of these games as I could, but interactive fiction is still around even as graphic adventures themselves have faded from store shelves. That may have left advocates of interactive fiction a little less intent on being defensive, which I don't mind, as I've played and enjoyed the occasional graphic adventure as well.
Interactive fiction games, and the interpreters that let you play them on different computers, cluster in the IF Archive. Brief reviews of many of the games there are found at Baf's Guide to the IF Archive; for longer, more detailed reviews, you can check SPAG Magazine. Brass Lantern is a good site for further information about interactive fiction. There's still a healthy amount of nostalgia for the commercial days of text adventures in the 1980s, including the most well-known company creating them, Infocom. Information about its games can be found at the Infocom Site. The complex manuals that provided introductions to those games have been scanned in at the Infocom Gallery; PDF versions of some of them are available at the Infocom Documentation Project.
Doom remains a visceral legend, but out of all the first-person shooters turned out in the mid-1990s either to try and improve on it or try and cash in on its success, Marathon may be the most fondly remembered by those who played it. This might have to do with its origins. It was programmed by Bungie Software as a Macintosh-only title and beat ports of comparable complexity to its market, making it a formative experience in its own right for some. There's more to the game than just that, though. One of Marathon's distinguishing features was logging into computer terminals in the game, at first just for mission briefings but building bit by bit into a complicated and literate story with some very memorable characters surrounding the atmospheric and also thoughtful gameplay.
The Marathon at Bungie.org page hosts a group of Marathon pages, including Marathon's Story, which has delved for years into the complexities of the game and hosts a small message board. There are archives of third-party maps and scenarios for the game, but many of them don't seem to have as much depth as the original levels, now available for download to be used with the lightly upgraded open source version. There are a few exceptions to this rule, though. One is Marathon Rubicon, a polished and conscious attempt that's both a sequel and extension of the game. Its story has even been analysed in much the same fashion as the original. Another excellent third-party scenario is Tempus Irae. Its story perhaps isn't tied as closely to the original as Rubicon's, but it's still a good-looking, well-designed, intelligent and innovative adventure.
At first, Robotech was one more cartoon on Saturday mornings in the middle of the 1980s, but one distinctive enough to get my attention. It had fighter planes that turned into giant robots, but unlike the Transformers, there were people piloting those machines, able to do a good deal more than just be pals with their protectors. That was like Voltron, and yet the action was a bit more varied, felt a bit more real for all that that's an odd word to use with giant robots turning into fighter planes and alien invaders. Even before I noticed others mention it, I thought it was also different from G.I. Joe in that it wasn't going to notable lengths insisting that people weren't being blown up with their expensive machines. As well, the merchandising seemed more a genuine reaction to the show than all the stuff entangled with everything else, although in retrospect that impression might have been more a happy accident than from a lack of actual attempt.
I could see Robotech only as occasional episodes, but they were enough to tell me that there was a larger story, and it was going somewhere. Then, just around the time the show went off the air after what seemed like a good long run at the time, I discovered there were novelisations of it, again something distinctive for a Saturday morning cartoon. Those novelisations and some role-playing games I used for little more than to remind me of what the machinery looked like were enough to keep me interested in the story for close to ten years. At that point, right around when my small annoyances with the novelisations were starting to add up, I discovered that other people were still aware of Robotech online... and that while some just dismissed the novelisations and role-playing games and assorted comics as having skated into a restrictive, mystical, and unsatisfying dead end and advanced their own subtle reinterpretations of the series, some seemed to see Robotech altogether as the most controversial Saturday morning cartoon of the 1980s. This had nothing to do with violence or merchandising or any of the controversy that once swirled around all of those cartoons. Rather, it was because of the particular and peculiar circumstances of Robotech's creation. It had, I was beginning to understand, started as an anime series named Macross, one that had been extended with some creative rewriting and two other separate anime series with at most similar machinery and themes to make it long enough to sell in weekday syndication at the time, Japanese names Americanised and ultimate origin not quite clear in the credits.
The mere fact that Robotech was no longer Macross seemed enough to condemn it for some. Others suggested, with a little more subtlety, that some of the themes and characters of Macross had been injured in transition. Still, I found it hard to get upset because it had been harder for a while than it might have been to see Macross itself in North America, and was able to keep viewing Robotech in its original context. The appeal to historical perspective may be a last line of defence of something that might have been a simple casualty on the very edge of the development of a fandom and industry that could view animation from Japan undisguised, looking with too much knowledge at the connections struck between its components can leave one grappling with competing interpretations and turn its unifying themes into lessons that have to be learned again and again (although I've wondered about bits of the plot of Macross too), and the various attempts to continue its original, perhaps even accidental success may well be small to fragmented successes themselves (although some of the sequels to Macross can be just a little controversial too), but I can still see Robotech as something that at last pointed me to the broader fields of all anime. It may well be, of course, that with now having seen not just all of Robotech at last but also the original anime series that went into it, I'm right back to more contemplating it than viewing it, but I see no need to count those years of interest as wasted.
The official Robotech site, with its message boards, is a centre of discussion for Robotech fans, even if that discussion isn't always too intelligent. Some fans holding themselves aloof from the official site criticised its new timeline and information for rejecting the spin-off materials that built up over the years. This does, though, manage to hold a certain irony for me, because that new information was first created by another small group of fans displeased with the spin-offs for (depending on how you saw it) either just not being well thought out or not fitting in with the way they could view the original series, as something approaching hard SF with unexpected background subtlety to be teased out of its at times murky dialogue. You can judge further for yourself what they sold others on by looking at the full version of the new information at the Robotech Reference Guide, originally the Robotech Technical Files. It can't fail to impress one way or another with its size and seriousness, even if it can sometimes feel a little dry. More openly personalised news about and views on Robotech can be found at Roboblog III: The Odyssey.
If expressing an old fondness for Robotech might look a little dubious, then doing the same for Star Wars could seem just plain dangerous. Sneering contempt for the way the movies turned out to cast in relief pained nostalgia for "the way they used to be" is a fixture (on or off topic) in a wide variety of online discussions... but the more of it I saw, the less it appealed to me. Somehow, the more certain characters were insulted, the more sympathetic I felt for them, and the more nostalgia for background figures and technological gadgetry was displayed, the more shallow it seemed to me. All of it did make me begin to doubt my own judgment, but I clung to the feeling that there had to be something that kept me interested in the story of the movies... and then, at long last, I stumbled upon a small group of people who made a conscious effort not to just recycle grievances over and over again. In the blessed new light of positivity, I began to convince myself of certain things. At the close of the original movies, Darth Vader's casting down of the Emperor started to change from something that had just happened in between small furry aliens defeating the Empire and another Death Star being blown up to a return to his original and true state as the imperfect yet human Anakin Skywalker... someone the new movies were indeed establishing for me. All of a sudden, the old movies and the new movies fit together as one self-contained whole. Of course, if some people still want to be offended by moments of comedy relief, specific bits of dialogue, or certain kinds of special effects, they're welcome to. Every so often now, though, I do actually pity them.
Starting with the confident belief that the Star Wars movies do reward thoughtful analysis, the team at Saga Journal (who came together in the community organised around the Anakin Skywalker Home Page) have been proving that through their essays. Star Wars: The Visual Story provides another positive take on how to see the movies, as does the Star Wars Prequel Appreciation Society in a more specific area, and Star Wars Origins looks at some of the many books and movies suggested as having provided inspiration for the saga with the aim of showing how it blends into a whole.
My multi-purpose journal. Occasional ramblings on these and other topics.