After The End Of Everything


To conclude my Mystery Science Theater 3000-based reminiscences:

Everything ends. I guess we can’t put a stop to that. In early 1999 the Sci-Fi Channel decided not to renew Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were a bunch of ideas for continuing the show, most of them floated by the regulars on Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. There was moving to another cable channel. Or maybe going to PBS. Maybe releasing stuff direct to videotape or that newfangled DVD. Maybe forget about fangling stuff and just release stuff online. Maybe save the we-imagined pricey business of recording host sketches and stuff and instead just release audio tracks that people could match to movies they’d buy. Maybe just go to doing live shows on new, never-ending college tours. Maybe even transcend the movies thing altogether and do comic books or something. Maybe do some fundraising scheme to buy new episodes. Not interested in this: the people who actually made the show, far as we could tell. It went off the air in August 1999 with the final episode, Danger Diabolik, and then went off the air again in September 1999 with Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders which had been sitting in some kind of rights quibble for months. The show went off the air once again with The Screaming Skull a bit over four years later, when the Sci-Fi Channel stopped airing reruns.

But losing the original show hurts a group of fans gathered for stuff. And yes, the group’s focus expanded; we got to talking about movies and TV shows and books and all sorts of pop culture, viewed with that perspective of loving good stuff, but also loving looking for what’s enjoyable about the bad. Or looking at the bad and trying to find stuff enjoyable about it. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 has any positive insight, it’s that there is something worth sharing that can be made out of most anything.

Still, it hurts a group to lose its TV show. And it hurts a group to be on Usenet. The great thing about Usenet is it was designed in the early 80s, for anyone who likes to run a server to set up and run and share with people. The thing that kills it is that who wants to set up and run a server for talking about cancelled TV shows? If there’s any money in it, it’s in proper web forums that can show advertisements or at least harvest user information. Usenet can’t do that. Servers dwindled out of operation, probably because they broke and nobody knew they were even there or how to fix them. A couple of big ISPs dropped Usenet on allegations the system was used to pirate movies and TV shows and music and while that may have been true we also used it to legitimately talk about urban legends and pinball and comic strips and stuff like that. Still, with each month, there was a little less Usenet, and some people drifted away not to be seen again, and so there was even less Usenet, and some more people drifted off, and then suddenly there wasn’t anything left but a few people who refuse to turn off the lights.

My community dwindled away. Web Site Number Nine, the center of the MiSTing community, went down for a weekend of maintenance sometime in 2004 and hasn’t come back yet. rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc I’d say had its final collapse around 2007 or 2008. I stick around, checking in some and talking occasionally. I try to write at least one new MiSTing a year and post that, but I admit a lot of it feels like putting in designated at-bats to keep alive some abstract streak no one but me even knows exists.

There’s still fans, though. One time I had a rare chance to meet in person some friends from the Seattle area; they spent nearly the whole weekend talking in MST3K quotes, to the point I felt like I was being quizzed. Did I recognize the episode with the jingle about “when you want the flavor of bacon in a dip”? Well, of course I did, but … is this everything we have to talk about? Somehow it felt alienating and I started taking dives, claiming I don’t recognize episodes that I actually do. Boy that’s screwy.

Weirder stuff happened. Really, every crazy plan we had on Usenet in 1999 to save the show came true. There’s live shows, as Cinematic Titanic and as Rifftrax. There’s recorded audio-only tracks, for Rifftrax. There’s episodes made direct for DVD release. There’s episodes brought back on air, sent to PBS stations or some of those weird digital sub-channels on broadcast TV. I remember somewhere seeing a plan to license an MST3K comic book, but goodness knows if that’ll come about.

And so we come to today, when the Kickstarter-funded, Netflix-backed season debuts. I haven’t seen it yet. Don’t have Netflix. We used to get Internet through AT&T, and they don’t want working-class neighborhoods in the state capitol as customers, so we couldn’t get Internet nearly fast enough to stream videos. They were bad enough that Comcast was the improvement. We probably have fast enough Internet to stream videos now. But the habit built from getting ten minutes into a show and stuff freezing up, until I call tech support and demand someone answer “Why?” dies hard. I recommend asking tech support “Why?” It’s at least as productive as saying what your specific problem is, and we do need more people working out exactly why we’ve let society come to this.

So I don’t know what I feel or what I expect exactly from the new season. I want to be enthusiastic, but I’m not good with enthusiasm. Especially if it’s something lots of people are enthusiastic about. It makes me worry something’s going wrong. So here’s what I can manage, before ever seeing Season Eleven: I really hope they don’t screw this up.

I don’t know if I want you to tell me whether they did.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Light trading today as investors were paying much more attention to the discovery of the Candy Land wiki and that it allows comments and that the comments can include stuff like “HOW DARE YOU REPLACE MR. MINT WITH SOME STUPID LOOKING GARY-STU!!!”. The index rose one point.

134

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Me, MST3K, and Marissa Picard


So what to do after finally seeing, and getting into, Mystery Science Theater 3000? It being 1996, the answer was: Usenet. The medium is all but dead now, but attempts to reinvent what was great about it continue, without success. I suppose the nearest analogue is Reddit. Or if you imagine the web forum for whatever your favorite subject is. Or the Facebook chat group for your favorite podcast. There’s big technical differences in how they’re organized and administrated. But the important social thing was: here was a way to find and talk with people about stuff you liked. So I got to the newsgroup called rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. The name meant it was part of the big group about recreational topics; then the subsection of recreational topics that are about the arts; the subsection of the arts known as TV; the subsection of TV known as MST3K; and then … uhm … miscellaneous. Well, there was a rec.arts.tv.mst3k.admin that just posted “administrative” stuff like show schedules.

It was, like many newsgroups in the mid-to-late 90s, a lively place. Hundreds of people delighting in how they liked something, and how much they liked something, and how they liked it more than other people, and how other people didn’t like the right stuff about it, and how other people should stop liking the wrong stuff about it. You know, like people do. This sounds bog-standard now, but it was new to us all back then.

Some of the most fascinating stuff going on back then was a kind of flame war with a Star Trek fanfic writer. The fellow was named Stephen Ratliff. So far as I know he still is. You remember that episode where the Enterprise crashed into an Irwin Allen Disaster Movie, and the crew has to endure adventures like Worf helping O’Brien deliver her baby and Data popping his head off and Picard getting some kids to climb out of a stuck elevator? Stephen Ratliff was inspired by the kids of that episode and wrote some fan fiction. It has the kids start playing Star Fleet Officer on the holodecks and all that and forming their own little Kids Crew of under-twelve-year-olds. Anyone could have that idea. Ratliff had an idea of pure genius. He came up with some reason to put these kids in charge of the actual starship Enterprise. And then do it again, in more fan fiction.

There had been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction — taking the text of something and inserting jokes, using the characters from the show — for a couple years even then. But when one MiSTer (get it?) discovered Stephen Ratliff the genre was made. The stories had this magnificent natural absurdity told, in the earliest stories, with remarkable ineptitude. These flame wars on rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc amounted to people decrying the offensiveness of the Kids Crew premise — ten-year-olds put in command of starships, even Next Generation starships where nothing all that bad ever really happens? — and Stephen Ratliff defending his premise with remarkable patience and grace and the not-quite-off-point argument that kids used to be inducted into the Royal Navy so why not have that happen again?

Sure, even without Stephen Ratliff there’d probably be a good MiSTing genre. The idea is too good. But he made it part of the fandom. Partly by writing stuff that was so joyous to read, and to riff on. Partly by being so interesting to talk about. Marissa, the girl from the elevator, gets adopted by Picard and becomes Princess of Deep Space England and travels in time to hook up Wesley Crusher and Chelsea Clinton before sending a space shuttle to Mars and becomes Lord High Admiral of the Federation and all that? (I swear.) How do you not want in on that?

So I got in, despite having — then — only seen a handful of episodes. I had a good source text. There was this cartoon series based on Sonic the Hedgehog, the video game character. In it he and the gang are rebels trying to save the world from the evil Doctor Robotnik and his robots — you know what? Doesn’t matter. It was popular in the 90s, and a lot of people wrote fan fiction. I found a piece and asked the author for permission to riff it. Asking permission was an important part of MiSTing culture. I mean, we didn’t ask for permission to riff spam. But if it was something someone identifiable wrote, it was at least bad form not to ask permission, and to give the author the chance to veto any truly unfair lines — or, in principle, the whole thing — before publishing. No sense being a cad.

It was well-received. One of my friends who’d written his own Sonic the Hedgehog fanfictions asked me to riff his. Other people in the group started looking to Sonic fandom and finding volunteers. There was much more to the MiSTing community than Stephen Ratliff and Sonic the Hedgehog, of course. There was a lot of fanfiction. There were the bizarre rants and conspiracy theories that people published on Usenet without regard for whether that made any sense. My favorite was someone accusing the English department of my grad school, an engineering school, with working to bring down civilization. (Did we even have an English department?) There was spam. So much spam. There was more normal yet poorly-targeted commercial messages. Someone did a whole Tom Swift novel. We did a lot of writing. I learned from it, a good bit about timing and pacing and how to write host sketches that could plausibly be done on the actual show. (Two or three minutes at most, few characters, few entrances and exits, as little editing as possible. This was my taste. Others wrote sketches that could only be done in fan fiction, where budgets and staging action and all aren’t issues. Their tastes.) Stephen Ratliff continued writing Marissa Picard stories that were gradually getting better, in internal logic and in fundamental writing technique. And sending out announcements so people could organize who’d get to riff his newest work.

He won us over. How can you not like someone who listens to you telling him why his stories suck, and thanks you, and writes stories that stop sucking those ways? We won him over. How can you not like an alert and obsessively responsive set of readers for your every word?

There was a lot that was great in the 90s. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Usenet, and MiSTing, were big parts of my great 90s.

Friday: I bet I have some more of this talk in me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose five points on exciting news that astronaut Peggy Whitson is expected soon to become the most experienced United States astronaut in terms of time spent in space, and also on learning the name of a current astronaut.

142

In Which I Blame Ren And Stimpy For My Missing Out On Something Cool A While


Friday comes the release of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s a show that was important to me so I thought I’d talk about my relationship with it some. It’s a nearly one-sided relationship, although I do follow Frank Conniff on Twitter, where he has never noticed me. He’s had other stuff to do.

My first clear memory of knowing about the show was during one of their college tours. I think it had to be 1993. Some friends told me I had to go see it because I would love the show. They were right, but I didn’t believe them. I was still feeling burned after a lot of buildup for Ren and Stimpy, which I tried and learned was so utterly inappropriate for my tastes as to make me wonder if the people who recommended it to me knew anything about me. So I skipped it. Probably just as well. I’m sure whatever I was doing that night was more important anyway. It would have been playing Civilization I on the Macs in the office of the unread left-wing student weekly I wrote for. And I had nowhere to watch the show anyway, as I didn’t have cable, and even if I did, no cable systems had Comedy Central in those days. Yes, yes, there was trading in videotapes but I didn’t have a videotape player at college, because it was 1993.

A couple years pass and I hear occasional bits about what a great show it is. I go off to grad school. Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a syndicated hourlong version, made by cutting each episode in half and airing them successive weeks. It doesn’t air in my grad school’s TV market. But I get to try out some episodes when I’m home for some break. The first half of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The first half of Pod People. Both are classic episodes, although Pod People was the harder to watch. The underlying movie is really sluggish, with muddy audio; if you’re not paying close attention the thing is gibberish. Still, I’m intrigued. The syndicated version goes off the air without my ever catching the second half of an episode.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a movie version. I’m glad to give that a try. There’s some nice publicity drives that make the show sound appealing, or at least worth trying out. The movie is finally released, although not to theaters. The studio makes maybe two-thirds of a print and circulates it for literally minutes. If it ever, ever appeared in a theater in the Albany area I never heard about it.

Ah, but! My grad school changes its cable provider to one that’s got Comedy Central. Finally I can give the show a try. By that time the show’s been officially cancelled from its Comedy Central home, but it’s still running a bunch of episodes ahead of the move to the Sci-Fi Channel. It occupies a couple timeslots early Saturday and late Sunday. I try out my first episode: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. It’s a fine episode, still one of my favorites. It’s a foreign movie, a Ruso-Finnish coproduction telling one of the legends of Sadko, whom I don’t know anything about either, which is why when the movie was imported it was redubbed as “Sinbad”. It’s a gorgeous film, full of practical effects and telling about a hero trying to bring happiness to his people and sailing to India and encountering magic and wonder. If it all comes out a little weird that’s probably because legends are a bit like that, especially when it’s legends from another culture and then made into a movie and then redubbed and probably reedited and all that. But it’s beautiful if odd and delightful. By the time I was forty minutes in I was sold on the show. It was also 2:40 am and I theoretically had classes the next day, so went to sleep, still never having seen the end of an episode.

Next Saturday there’s another episode. The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, 10 am. I forget to set the VCR. (I know which episode it was because MST3K fans, incredibly, have kept track of the broadcasting of episodes.) Also somewhere in this time I’ve gotten a VCR. I set the VCR for Kitten With A Whip, 7:00 the next morning. Finally, finally I get to see an episode all the way to the end.

So, yes, I’m sold. Also I’m there at the last three months of the show’s Comedy Central run. I’ll have the chance to catch two episodes a week of a show that’s run for (then) seven seasons, and then probably never see them again. Mystery Science Theater 3000 exists in a complex battlefield of airing rights; there were already, then, episodes that everyone knew could never be legally shown again. There’s still some episodes that it looks like might never be legally released. But three months of the experience is far better than not having the experience at all.

I splurge, and start recording episodes in LP so they’ll be of higher fidelity. Not SP, though. I was a grad student. I didn’t have SP kind of money to spend on blank videotape, come on.

Tomorrow, unless I forget: my new MST3K fandom gets worse.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose two points today as it turned out the shampoo thing was no big deal and nobody really thought I was going to make a go of it, and I’m not hurt but I shall be in the corner weeping, thank you.

137

Service With A Smile


I forget what exactly got me looking up the “Matawan-style” Texaco gas stations of the 60s, although it’s probably a sense of home patriotism. I grew up not far from Matawan, New Jersey, famous for … being the namesake of this one kind of Texaco gas station. Also for two of the shark attacks of 1916. Anyway I wasn’t sure what made something a Matawan-style Texaco gas station of the 60s as opposed to, say, a Manalapan Texaco or a Manahawkin Texaco. There’s a lot of places in New Jersey with names that sound kind of alike, because we paid the Leni Lenape three thousand dollars back in like 1804 to go away and leave their places behind and stop making us feel guilty about it, and this is what we’ve got.

Anyway, the Matawan-style Texaco design question led me on an Internet voyage that revealed, wonderfully, there are enthusiasts of different gas station design who gather in communities that talk about, say, spotting where a Matawan-style station got mutilated but was still identifiable in Benton Harbor, Michigan. And then sometimes interrupt to explain how the Teague was a more versatile design anyway. And all this stuff about gas station architecture fandom has me feeling like the world might just be a good idea despite it all.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped four points today on revelations that Automan came out on DVD last year and we’re only hearing about this now? By accident? What did you think we were paying you for, Miss Tessmacher?

99

Comic Strips Worth Reading: Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s _Sally Forth_


Comic strip fans, by which I mean people still passionately angry about what Lynn Johnston did to Elizabeth in the last years of For Better Or For Worse, tend to fetishize original artists. It’s understandable. The first several years of a comic strip tend to be its strongest, when the ideas are most exploratory, the writing the most fresh, the characters the most deftly realized. Even if the original artist and writer stay on they tend to fall into patterns and lose the sense of exploration and discovery of a comic strip’s universe and subtle boundaries. When a new person, often a child or grandchild of the original artist, takes over things tend to be worse-received. Perhaps the new artist doesn’t wish to venture too near breaking the comic. Perhaps the new artist, with the best will and talent in the world, just isn’t in tune with the material the way the originator was during the second and third years of syndication.

And yet sometimes the original artist isn’t the best at exploiting the creative idea. Ordinary comic strip readers, by which I mean people who have never while reading Peanuts wondered about whether Schroeder is his first or last name nor formed a strong opinion on the question, probably don’t care. If the comic strip is entertaining what difference whether it’s written and drawn by the original artist, or by her granddaughter, or by the person who happened to be walking past Comic Strip Master Command when the old artist said she was retiring? There is wisdom in this. Good art is its own justification. Only boring trivia buffs care about the first two film versions of The Maltese Falcon. Star Trek: The Next Generation was an intriguingly-designed but dumb mess before Gene Roddenberry was sidelined from it[*]. Sometimes the cover artist records the song better. So here’s the best current example of this phenomenon.

[*] (Admitting that the production of the Next Generation was deeply screwed up early on, and that a lot of the design of the show was David Gerrold’s, who was thrown off the show in its first season.)

Sally Forth, by Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe.

Greg Howard, a lawyer figuring he could get in on some of that sweet syndicated-newspaper-comic-strip money, began Sally Forth in 1982, and needed only fifteen years to learn better. He first turned over the art to Craig MacIntosh, who’s since turned it over to Jim Keefe. The writing went to Francesco Marciuliano.

Jim Keefe’s a fine artist, the last person to draw the Flash Gordon comic strip. Sad to say, and despite some game efforts by Marciuliano, there isn’t much chance to show off action in Sally Forth. There really aren’t any action-adventure strips left. There’s Mark Trail and if it runs in any actual newspapers Rip Haywire, but past that the only real action in a comic is the occasional sports sequence. The modern comic strip mostly uses art as a scaffold to tether the word balloons. We occasionally decry this, but we go on reading comics with indifferent art as long as the writing is there. Keefe does well, though. Even the talky episodes — and there is a lot of talk in the strip — avoid the trap of being static. We get movement.

``Another autumn, another six hours lost in a corn maze.'' ``We just need a better vantage point. What do you see, Hil?'' ``THRESHER!!!''
Francesco Marciuliano and Craig MacIntosh’s Sally Forth for the 3rd of September, 2008. Because the memory of this particular strip has caused me to giggle occasionally for eight years now.

But, yeah, it’s Marciuliano’s writing that draws interest. Comic strip readers, casual and fans, will put up with almost any art if the writing’s good. Marciuliano made the strip good by what’s probably the only way to make an established thing good again in a lasting, durable way. He looked for emotional honesty in it. After some time spent learning the comic (his WordPress blog has an enlightening description of the earliest days) he wrote to that.

Hilary and Ted Forth compete to be first with Mother's Day Breakfast in Bed. It ends, as such competitions will, with pancakes in the bed and give different types of cheeses on the stairs.
Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth for the 8th of May, 2016 (Mother’s Day). Yes, it’s wordy. But I make out eight distinct punch lines in six panels. Your count may vary. Note by the way Hilary’s quietly offended look in the first panel, bottom row.

An example. Sally Forth’s original boss, a pompous idiot named Ralph, would in any responsible organization be fired. And eventually he was, and he lived in the horrible loneliness of a middle-aged person whose identity’s been torn away. Marciuliano isn’t a cruel writer. Ralph was allowed to find a new space, a job he does all right despite his own fears, a relationship with someone (Sally Forth’s sister) whose strengths and weaknesses complement his, making them functional, happy people. It’s a set of storylines which retool a stock character into a person.

He also did this by giving Ted Forth a personality. He became the guy who knows every Monty Python quote and had gotten just old enough to not deploy them at every opportunity. You know this kind of person. I’m one. I can still function in normal society. Ted functions, more obviously ridiculously, but he’s supposed to. (The term “man-child” keeps being brought up, not unfairly.) He’s credibly threatened to take over the comic strip altogether. And the comic keeps running towards being a parody of family-and-workplace comic strips.

Then it draws back, returning to emotional honesty. This summer has had Sally and Ted’s daughter Hilary going off to camp, giving them the chance to live like newlyweds again. And then a few weeks ago they realized they don’t feel that way. That there’s something wrong. Something fixable but they don’t know quite what it is or just how to do it. It was a surprise to them. It surprised me as reader. It surprised Marciuliano when he realized it was going that way.

Ted and Sally Forth talk: Sally realizes that she's taken on a taskmaster role in their relationship while Ted plays the manchild and that isn't satisfying anymore. The original is rather wordier than that.
Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth for the 7th of August, 2016. It’s again wordy but it’s also worth the read. The “wrong Hamilton musical” here refers to a storyline from April in which it turned out Ted bought scalped tickets to a musical about the founding of Hamilton Beach. Which will happen.

But it was also true. Once made explicit it’s obvious this is a sensible way for their relationship to go. It’s the sort of developing human story that, ironically, story comics don’t do well anymore. The humor strips with continuity, and a storytelling style in which a theme is introduced and riffed on for a week, do it much better.

In one of the strip’s flights of fancy there’ve been a few weeks showing Hilary Forth and her friends ten years in the future, in that exciting time of life of being an adult but still relying on your parents because your car’s alternator is always burning out. Many comic strip fans saw it as a better Apartment 3-G than was the actual Apartment 3-G. Some proposed that Marciuliano was secretly auditioning to write it.

This week, Marciuliano takes over the writing for Judge Parker. That story strip’s taken it particularly rough from comic strip fans the last couple years. It’s gotten a lot of slagging for the not-even-glacial story progression — it’s hard to be sure, but I believe in all sincerity they’ve been covering the same three-day weekend since May of 2015 — and showering of the primary characters with undeserved and increasingly implausible riches, some of that from people who are actually thinking of Rex Morgan, which is pretty much the same strip anyway.

He promises, “Yes, there will be a car crash. And yes, the survivors will eat the dead. After all [ … ] it may be minutes before the band is found.” And he’s aware of the storytelling challenges: “If the car crashes then people will say, `I knew it.’ If the car doesn’t crash then people will say, `I knew it. Nothing bad ever happens to these characters’.” I am optimistic about all this.

Math Comics and Mind Melds


I’m not looking particularly to cause trouble, I should say, but Comic Strip Master Command decided everybody had to tell jokes about mathematics so my blog over that way has another article gathering them. Please consider reading, won’t you? It’s literally just one browser tab over to the left, at least the way I make it out.

In the meanwhile I was figuring to go back to hanging out and talking on this Star Trek forum that I mostly like, even if the technology talk sometimes gets a little fractious, and then I see someone started up a post asking people to list their favorite mind-melds, and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be doing something else with my time. I should, but that seems like too much work, too.

Statistics Saturday: The Most Rage-Inducing Things You Can Say To A Fan Of Something


  1. “I never heard of that. Is it any good?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Obviously you have heard of it or you wouldn’t be talking to a fan of it, so you’re a fibber and if there’s one thing we can’t take on the Internet it’s deadpan humor, but fibbers are also trouble.
  2. “I loved the movie they made based on that!”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Nobody’s made a lovable movie based on anything since 1989’s The Dream Team was made based on the idea that Stephen Furst and James Remar should spend some time in a movie together.
  3. “Oh yeah. I loved whenever that guy turned up on Science Theater Mystery 2000.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Get the title right at least. It’s Science Theater Mystery 4000.
  4. “You know one-seventh of all the people to serve two full terms as Vice-President of the United States were Richard Nixon?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    There isn’t any context in which this isn’t a weird thing to say. Even gatherings of fans of the Vice-Presidency swapping trivia about the Vice-Presidency is the wrong place for it. Just avoid bringing it up.
  5. “Does it have a web site?”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    What is this, 1997, when Star Trek first appeared on the Internet? There are whole web sites devoted to nothing but things that don’t have web sites. You sound like you’re trying to make a badly programmed robot’s head explode.
  6. “I know it, I just don’t like it.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Yet you are presumably allowed to vote, and possess rutabagas, and give your own opinion about how gigantic a kangaroo you would have to be to be satisfied with your gigantic kangaroo nature, and throw around trivia about the Vice-Presidency.
  7. “I remember that thing. It looked pretty good but I just never got into it for some reason.”
    Why it is rage-inducing:
    Well, obviously. Anyway, there’s really nothing you can do to sufficiently apologize for saying something like that. It’s probably best if after this you end the friendship, possibly by moving to a new city, in a different country, on another continent.

Math Comics, And Isn’t That Enough?


Over on my mathematics blog there’s another of my collections of comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, and cartoonists were able to find another way to mention the infinite monkey problem of Shakespeare-writing, so, there’s that.

I’d like to offer the non-mathematically-inclined readers some comic strips to talk about here, but right now, I haven’t got anything good, I’m afraid. I suppose I could discuss some of the comics that I find compelling in their badness, but, this is the Internet. You can find something agonizingly bad just by looking at something, and if that doesn’t make you feel bad enough, look at a forum for its fan community, or its Wikipedia Talk page, and that’s enough to make you regret things in general and that thing in particular.

The Show Didn’t Predict The Existence of Minnesota, That Would Be Silly


If you remember anything about the late 80s/early 90s sitcom Coach it’s probably because you’re too good at remembering things and should maybe take a course in Useful Forgetting from your county college. Never mind. But if you do remember any of that it’s likely that what you remember is most of the show was set at Minnesota State University, which didn’t exist, because setting college shows at imaginary colleges lets the production staff have a giggle when they meet someone claiming they went there as an undergraduate, something they can’t get if they just meet someone who insists he went to Rutgers, like, I want to say, Scott Baio’s character on Who’s The Boss because I only partly completed my Useful Forgetting course.

Anyway, thing is, nowadays there is a Minnesota State University, formed when a couple universities in Minnesota changed their names and teamed up to fight evil. And now that’s got me wondering if fanboys of Coach get all smug about how their show predicted how there’d just have to be a Minnesota State and the universe didn’t make sense without it, the way certain Star Trek fanboys insist there wouldn’t be cell phones if it weren’t for communicators. And if they do, does anyone call them on it, or do their friends figure they should get to enjoy whatever reflected Coach-based glory they can get?

All this is a ridiculous thing to wonder and I apologize for taking so much of your time with it.

Another Warning From My Dreams


Do not “just slip out” a couple seconds during a science fiction convention centered around praising the guy who played George Jefferson on The Jeffersons, because everybody else at the con is just going to get together and build a satiric comic set-piece based on his work and it’s going to just rehash the most obvious, base jokes about The Jeffersons in a science fiction setting and it’ll have almost no artistic integrity at all, and you’re going to have a dickens of a time getting back in the convention hall past the defensive screen of people warning you that that’s the guy who played George Jefferson in there and he’s just killing with what you recognize as artistically bankrupt, pandering, fan-written science fiction convention activities. Be safe: go to the bathroom before the convention starts!

Science Fiction versus Fantasy Explained


When A Hard Science Fiction Fan Calls Something What He Means Is
Hard Science Fiction “I liked it. It had spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Soft Science Fiction “I didn’t like it, but it had spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Hard Fantasy “I liked it, but it didn’t have spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Soft Fantasy “I didn’t like it, and it didn’t have spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”

Suddenly I Realize I’m Seeing It Everywhere


You know what you just don’t encounter on the Internet? Fan art of the Invisible Man. Unless, of course, you never see anything but fan art of the Invisible Man. Psychologists were thinking of adding “how much Invisible Man fan art do you think is out there?” to personality tests as an optimism-versus-pessimism thing, but it’d really only be useful for people who are in Invisible Man fandom, and that fan community is very quiet, almost invisible, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

It Was “Allegiance”, Season 4, Episode 18


Do you like a thing? Do you want to regret liking it? Why not try fandom?

If there’s anything that can smother the joy you find in something like a full-on encounter with its committed fans I haven’t found it yet, and neither will you, because you’ll be too busy screaming and fleeing, sometimes into a wall. This doesn’t depend on what the thing is: books, theater, furniture, drapery covered in white chocolate, paint, web browsers, rare spices from the Maluku Islands, arcsecants, the Oxford comma, and birdbaths can all trigger it.

Don’t believe me? Think back to the last time you talked about Star Trek with that friend who was way too into it. Remember?

You: Hey, I was feeling like watching something Star Trek tonight. What’s the best Next Generation movie?

Fan: There isn’t one. But First Contact comes closest. That’s the one with the Borg.

You: Oh yeah! You will be assimilated. I should watch that again sometime.

Fan: That’s a not wholly execrable choice. You’ll have to watch “Best of Both Worlds” first.

You: Why?

Fan: Why? It introduced Locutus and assimilation and had that awesome cliffhanger where Riker orders Worf to fire.

You: Oh. Oh, yeah. I guess I can have a double feature night.

Fan: And you’re going to have to watch “I, Borg” in-between so you understand Picard’s lingering low-level telepathic link to the Borg Collective.

You: Can’t you maybe explain it instead?

Fan: I don’t dare spoil you! Oh, you’ve got to see Generations before you get to First Contact.

You: Can I just watch the movie I wanted to watch?

Fan: You’re adorably naive. You have to see how the starship from the TV show was destroyed so you can understand the implications of their being on a wholly new Enterprise.

You: I could maybe just listen to the director’s commentary after if I have any questions.

Fan: Frakes’s commentaries are not without their charms but — oh, that reminds me, you’re going to have to watch “Journey’s End” because that explains why Wesley Crusher isn’t part of the movie franchise.

You: I thought they sold Wesley to a dealer on Delta Pavonis III who stripped him for parts.

Fan: But that’s a time-saving episode to catch because that also explains the political situations between the Maquis and the Cardassians and the Federation so you’re going to have a leg up in the Deep Space Nine episodes that you need to see.

You: I thought the only Deep Space Nine episode I had to see was the one where they went back to the original Trek.

Fan: A pandering trifle.

You: A trifle with tribbles.

Fan: [ After making a disappointed face suggesting an awareness that a situation like this was predicted, but had not been believed could be anything but the worst imaginable case. ] Fortunately I think you only require three Deep Space Nine episodes to get all the necessary background regarding Worf’s presence on the Defiant but they are two-parters. And of course you’ll want to see the other episodes focusing on Wesley and the Traveller so you understand both how he was the helm officer at one point and then was absent from the movie, but that’s only two more episodes to the total.

You: I don’t have to have a little Star Trek night. I could just stare at birdbaths until they burn into my retinas.

Fan: Oh, and you’ll want to watch the series finale of Voyager.

You: Have I not suffered enough?

Fan: I fear there might be some aspect of the multiverse in which you don’t despise Janeway with every fermion of your being.

You: I don’t know. I used to watch Columbo.

Fan: Also you’re going to want to watch this episode where aliens trying to understand leadership abduct Picard and replace him with a duplicate who leads the whole crew in a drunken sing-along in Ten Forward, because nobody remembers anything about this episode and I have to prove I didn’t make it up.

You: [ After sighing ] Which episode is that?

Fan: I don’t know, I can never remember it.

And this is why you watched Empire Strikes Back, without mentioning it to anyone, instead.