And now the fourth part of my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. This of Carrie L—‘s Reboot fanfic, ”Breaking The Barriers”. Again, this MiSTing was done with Carrie L—‘s approval, but as it is a self-insertion fan fiction, I want to obscure her name unless she communicates to me that she’s not embarrassed with a youthful presentation of her story-ready self.
The full MiSTing should be available at this link. So far in the story, Carrie was puttering around on her computer when she got mysteriously zapped to the world inside. She met up with Bob and Phong of the pioneering animated cartoon Reboot. Carrie’s reluctant to reveal her true origins, lest she sound daft. But otherwise it looks like everyone is happy and everything is fine and there’ll be no problems from here on out!
The host sketch at the end, Joel talking about the eight-bit computer era, is one of my first exercises in exploring my own nostalgia. It began as a rambling monologue, along the lines of Joel talking about the swinging 60s in the episode “Catalina Caper”, but a friend said it was too self-indulgent. I think it could have played well, but that depends on the performer. And it’s asking a lot of the reader to go through a wall of text and read it funny. Breaking it up into dialogue makes it much better. Easier to read and easier to read funny in your head. This even though (as I recall) I didn’t really change the lines or where they were placed. Just putting them in different character’s mouths changed how the scene played.
I still use “the computer had 16 colors, and three of them were grey” to talk about what computing in the 80s was like. “We may not have been there, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know all about it” is a line I don’t use much but appreciate for the attitude it captures.
There’s lines in there about all the big eight-bit computers but my experience was centered on the Commodore 64 so that’s where the jokes default. Also note how in 2002 when I wrote this I somehow couldn’t think of a more universal annoying computer experience than “there’s a lot of spam in that there e-mail thing, you know”.
> Part Eight
JOEL: We’re going to have every part except the one that completes the jigsaw puzzle.
> Since Phong wasn’t able to do much more for them,
TOM: He’s genial, but kind of helpless.
> and had
> responsibilities for running the Principle Office,
CROW: That’s where they get their ethics.
> Bob and Carrie
> headed back to his apartment to try and work out how to get Carrie
JOEL: Why doesn’t Carrie just try saying "Xyzzy" some?
> On the way there, Bob called Dot and told her to meet him at
> his apartment.
TOM: But in a wacky mixup they go to different Bob’s apartments!
> On the way there, Bob began to ask Carrie about her
> home. He was curious to know what it was like.
JOEL: [ As Bob ] So, do you have people where you come from?
TOM: [ As Carrie ] I don’t know… I never talked to one.
> As Carrie was
> describing her hometown, the sky suddenly darkened, and the sound of
> crackling static could be heard everywhere. "WARNING! INCOMING GAME!
> WARNING! INCOMING GAME!"
CROW: Red alert! It’s the Atari 2600 "E.T." cartridge!
JOEL: We’re surrounded! It’s "Superman" in the other direction!
> As the voice boomed through the sky, Bob cursed quietly under
> his breath. "Not now!!" He shouted, "Why now!?!"
TOM: Why not? You got someplace else to be?
> Carrie looked at
> him, fear etched into her delicate features. Bob looked over at her.
> *What am I going to do?* he thought, *I can’t let that game close
> without me, but I don’t want to endanger Carrie!*
JOEL: [ As Carrie ] Oh, all right, you go and *play* your little *game*, dear, I’ll wait up for *you*, I don’t have anything else to do.
> Bob saw the fear
> flash in Carrie’s eyes, then she smiled and the fear changed to
> burning fire. "What are you waiting for?"
CROW: I want to check the web site for cheat codes first.
> she asked, "We can’t let
> that game drop onto that empty sector, or it’ll be nullified for sure
> with no one to beat the User.
TOM: So get in there fast, before nobody’s at risk!
> You’re the one who knows the most about
CROW: You and Sid Meier.
> you’ve got to go." Bob marveled at her courage. "I’m not
> willing to risk your life!" He said.
TOM: Oh, just burn a copy of her to CD and don’t worry about it.
> Carrie shifted in her seat so
> that she was facing him squarely. "You don’t have a choice!" She
> shouted over the static, "The whole sector will get nullified if you
> don’t enter that Game!!"
JOEL: They should really just turn "disasters off" and maybe try auto-budgeting too.
CROW: There’s also the .% bond trick.
> Bob stared at her, then turned his car
> sharply. The engine in his 262 whined
> as it strained to pick up
> speed. "Hang on!" Bob shouted, "This is gonna be close!!"
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *
CROW: Made it in just under the chapter break.
> Part Nine
> Carrie opened her eyes slowly.
CROW: o/~ Ding o/~ Welcome to Carrie OS.
> She had tried to enter the
> game as fearlessly as Bob, but it had gotten the best of her and she
> had closed her eyes in fright.
TOM: She’s afraid of Q*Bert?
> As her eyes focused in the dim light,
> she began to recognize her surroundings. They were standing in a
> large cavern lit by a single flickering torch.
JOEL: She’s in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
> "I know this game…"
> Bob started. "It’s Crystal Chambers."
TOM: That’s not a video game, that’s a porn starlet.
[ JOEL, CROW look at TOM. ]
CROW: I think it’s the one with the bear collecting gems.
> Carrie said, and Bob turned,
> surprised. "The idea is to be the first to get to the final chamber a
> retrive the artifact without releasing any of the traps."
CROW: Hey, it’s inhumane to keep traps all trapped up like that!
JOEL: Let the traps go!
> Bob just
> stared at her, and Carrie giggled. "Don’t look so shocked, I’ve
> played this game before.
TOM: And make sure you don’t get caught by the Wumpus.
> I know all the secrets."
JOEL: Boy, she’s just got the *best* luck.
> Feeling confident,
> she reached up and touched her icon twice gently. "ReBoot!"
> could feel a wave of energy sweep over her. When it was gone, she
> opened her eyes and turned to Bob. "ReBoot!"
CROW: C’mon, reboot, darned you! Aw… would you jiggle the thing?
> Bob was surrounded by a beam of fluorescent green energy.
JOEL: [ Electrocution noises ] Buzzuzzuzzuzuzzuzzuzzerzzzert!
> When the beam faded, Carrie’s eyes began to wander down along Bob’s
> well formatted body.
TOM: Unfortunately, she was Mac, he was MS-DOS… they could never get along.
> His blue uniform had morphed into a worn leather
> jacket over a white shirt with brown pants and hiking boots.
JOEL: It’s a digital Fonzie.
> He was
> equipped with a carrying bag and a long bullwhip. Sitting fashionably
> on the top of his head was a rather beat-up looking fedora.
CROW: This is a weird Dixon Hill episode.
> He turned
> to face Carrie, and her heart skipped a beat.
TOM: Null pointer error in class Heart method advance(int beat).
> In that outfit, he
> looked absolutely stunning!! She let her eyes trace his body once
> again, then carefully returned his gaze.
CROW, TOM: [ In unison ] "What is ‘kiss’?"
> "You look like Indiana
> Jones." Carrie remarked, placing her hand on her hip. "You don’t
> look so bad yourself." Bob smirked, but his real thoughts were very
TOM: [ As Bob ] Who’s this Deanna Jones I’m supposed to be in?
> Carrie was wearing short cutoff jeans with a baby blue
> midriff blouse tied in a knot. She had tall brown boots with a long
> jewelled dagger attached to the right one. She also had a large gun
> holsted around her waist.
JOEL: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Daisy Dukes.
> *Wow!* Bob thought, *She looks awesome! I wonder if she
> dresses like that at home?*
TOM: And he accidentally sends that to an IRC channel.
> Then he reached up and tilted the fedora
> slightly. "Well," he said,
CROW: The problems of two sprites don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world…
> "If we’re gonna win this game, we better
> get a move on."
JOEL: They’re stored on ROM page four. We can get any move we need.
> Reaching up, he removed the torch from its holder,
> and they moved forward together into the unknown.
TOM: Let’s get back to the real game.
JOEL: [ Picking up TOM ] Works for me.
[ ALL leave. ]
[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6.. ]
[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. The Monopoly set is on the center of the
table; GYPSY, CROW, JOEL, and TOM are gathered around to play.
All their tokens are on "Go" — the game is about to start.
JOEL rolls the dice. ]
JOEL: OK, that’s a six, that puts Gypsy [ moving her piece ] on the
State Forests edition … you want to buy it?
TOM: [ As JOEL takes cash from GYPSY’s pile, and gives a title card ]
Joel, what is it with human fantasies about going into the
CROW: Yeah, there’s Reboot, there’s Tron, there’s … um …
TOM: Uh …
[ An awkward pause. JOEL rolls the dice, and advances MAGIC VOICE’s token ]
JOEL: [ Not paying attention as TOM and CROW think of an example ] You want the Peanuts edition?
MAGIC VOICE: Yes, please.
GYPSY: I hope I get the Lionel Train edition.
[ As JOEL takes cash from MAGIC VOICE’s pile and turns over a card ]
CROW: [ Leaping on it ] Yeah! Automan!
TOM: Yeah, and … uh … well, just lots of stuff. What’s with it?
JOEL: [ Rolling ] Ooh, sorry, Tom, you got a four.
TOM: [ As JOEL moves his piece to "Income Tax" ] Aw, sheesh. Still.
JOEL: [ Taking 10 percent from TOM’s pile. ] In the 80s we suddenly
had computers going from the mysterious impersonal things sending
Johnny Carson comically misaddressed letters to these curious and
friendly things in every home.
CROW: [ As JOEL rolls, and moves CROW’s piece up seven. ] Ooh, chance.
JOEL: [ Taking a card. ] Advance to London Edition.
CROW: I’ll take it. So, what, people just jumped on the newest thing?
JOEL: [ Rolling, advancing his piece to GYPSY’s, and giving her some cash. ] Well, there were a lot of articles about how computers think differently from you and me … me, anyway. How everything’s binary, yes/no, on/off, how they could turn ninety degrees but not just a smidgen to the side … it fired the imagination, there was this alien worldview there for the price of an RF adaptor to hook your Color Computer up to the living room set.
TOM: And that’s an excuse to put Desi Arnaz Junior on TV?
JOEL: Hey, the eight-bit computing era was a great time.
CROW: Hold on now. We may not have been there, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know all about it.
TOM: Mostly it was people saying you could keep recipes on an Atari 800 and being deservedly ridiculed.
JOEL: The Micro Adventure book series gave us a world of international espionage with the fantasy of portable computers and secret messages given us in X-Men comics. A few far-thinkers worked out schemes where two programs would run at the same time but we never knew why we’d want to.
TOM: The computer had sixteen colors, and three of them were grey.
CROW: It was an achievement to have both text and a graphic on screen.
JOEL: Or it was HIRES2 mode.
GYPSY: They thought everybody would have to learn BASIC.
JOEL: We knew something about Wordstar.
TOM: Another point for us.
CROW: You had to *type in* programs, especially if you forgot your *tape* drive.
JOEL: [ Noddding, happily ] And there were rumors how if you used the modem just right you could get free phone calls, of if you had the right sound programs you didn’t need a modem, you could just hold the phone up to the TV set.
GYPSY: Couldn’t you lose your program by looking at the disk directory?
JOEL: Yeah, if you didn’t move the start of memory for the listing, like who didn’t know how to do that?
CROW: Radio Shack pushed comic books.
JOEL: The Microcomputer Kids told us Superman’s brain was exactly as powerful as a TRS-80 Model I.
TOM: That was the pre-Crisis Superman, right?
CROW: Mmm… that’s probably fair.
JOEL: They also said someday in the future we’d read the Metropolis Daily Planet on the computer, and play chess with students thousands of miles away, and shop online or even send electronic mail messages.
TOM: Yeah, the Coleco Adam was a slice of the 21st century dropped on your desk.
JOEL: We knew how to swap out ROM and fix the ASC function bug even if we never used it, ever.
TOM: The only thing animated on a computer was that guy juggling checkered balls on Amiga screens.
JOEL: Yeah! They’d never imagine the movie Rocky and Bullwinkle, Scooby-Doo, or Stuart Little 2.
CROW: Your disk drive got faster if you blanked out the screen.
JOEL: A good seven percent faster! Try that on today’s hardware.
TOM: And it went out of alignment whenever anybody in the county sneezed.
JOEL: Mine never did. Except once.
GYPSY: Wasn’t there a save-with-replace bug?
JOEL: Yeah, but if you remember how the 4040 turned into the 1540 and then the 1541 and 1571 it was completely avoidable. A lot of the time.
TOM: 3-2-1 Contact magazine claimed you needed to know what "modem" stands for.
JOEL: That was Enter magazine. It only folded *into* 3-2-1 Contact.
CROW: They put membrane keyboards on computers!
JOEL: On the Mattel Aquarius. We didn’t buy it then either.
GYPSY: A sprite could have color or be big enough to see.
TOM: The only messaging was to whoever logged on the bulletin board system after you freed up the line.
JOEL: But they helped you change your cursor to the USS Discovery from "2001".
CROW: You never got an upgrade or a bug patch either.
JOEL: And the computer was ready the second you turned on the power.
TOM: They tried to sell people the Commodore 16.
JOEL: And then somehow we got GEOS, Omni bought out Compute!’s Gazette and in the blink of an eye it was all gone. Computers became an expensive way to play solitaire and get fifty unwanted e-mails a day. But for a little while there was magic, there was love, there was a dream that was … Camelot.
CROW: And it came with lines to change if you were typing it in to an Apple IIc.
MAGIC VOICE: Commercial sign in five seconds.
JOEL: It was a golden age.
TOM: The computers were slow, cranky, and awkward.
[ COMMERCIAL SIGN flashes ]
JOEL: They couldn’t have been better. We’ll be right back.
[ JOEL taps COMMERCIAL SIGN. ]
[ to continue … ]