Uncle Buddy's Phantom FunhouseA reconstruction of the original interactive sci-fi/mystery puzzle game!

Enter the

AuthorWho is John McDaid?

Stewart Moulthrop, Michael Joyce, Nancy Kaplan, and John McDaid, otherwise known as TINAC
TINAC—Stuart Moulthrop, Michael Joyce, Nancy Kaplan, and John McDaid

About the Author

John G. McDaid is a science fiction writer and citizen journalist from Portsmouth, Rhode Island. He attended Syracuse University, did graduate work at the New School University, and is ABD in Media Ecology at NYU. He has an MFA in fiction from Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. His hypermedia novel, Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse, was a finalist for a NewMedia Invision Award in 1993. As a member of the TINAC collective, he has spoken on digital narrative at dozens of colleges and conferences in the U. S. and beyond.

In 1993 he attended the prestigious Clarion workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers. Following that experience, McDaid sold his first short story, the Sturgeon Award-winning “Jigoku no mokushiroku” to Asimov’s in 1995. A novelette, “Keyboard Practice,” appeared in the January 2005 Fantasy & Science Fiction. Another story, “Umbrella Men,” was the cover story in that magazine in January 2012. His recent Twine narrative, “We Know The Glass Man,” published in the Cream City Review and exhibited at the 2019 ACM Hypertext Conference in Hof, Germany, picks up the themes and characters from Funhouse.

As a citizen journalist, McDaid has written about local news and politics on his site, harddeadlines.com, for well over a decade; his reporting has also appeared on RI Future. He reviews Rhode Island theater for BroadwayWorld.com.

His Music

McDaid grew up in a musical household, where his father, an Irish immigrant, sang traditional tunes accompanied on a button accordion. His love of folk music led him to Dylan, Robert Hunter, and Roger Waters, while his fascination with lyrical complexity attracted him to the work of Stephen Sondheim. He was profoundly influenced by the ethos of science fiction and its sub-genre of folk music -- called “filk”-- even before he knew the word. Over his 40 years of performing, he's played his geek-inflected songs at political events, science fiction conventions, and NYC venues including Speakeasy and Folk City. His songwriting has earned international recognition, including contest prizes at FilKONtario and the Ohio Valley Filk Fest, and a featured concert at the 2019 World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin. He has been twice nominated for Best Writer/Composer in the Pegasus Awards, the filk community’s annual honor.

The music for the funhouse was written “in character,” that is, as a song cycle crafted by Buddy Newkirk. The physical constraints of shipping on cassettes forced cuts and rearrangements which are restored in the remediated version.

Drawing of character from McDaid's Funhouse
Art from of one of Funhouse’s audio cassette tapes

Artist's Statement

    Sometime in the late 1980s, I was talking about writing with my friend, the mathematician Jim Propp, and he said, as a sort of throwaway challenge, to try imagining what it would take to write a novel that a 20th-century writer could not write. I remember being intrigued by that, and almost immediately realizing that hypermedia was the answer. I couldn't write such a novel, of course, but what I could do was create a space within which such a novel might emerge.

I had the great good fortune to stand on the shoulders of giants. I was a student in Neil Postman's Media Ecology doctoral program at NYU and was teaching in the Expository Writing Program there with J. Yellowlees Douglas, who would become one of the pioneers in electronic literature scholarship. The keynote at the 1987 Media Ecology conference was Jay David Bolter, who introduced me to the work of Michael Joyce and Mark Bernstein. A critical inflection point was my first major paper at the Conference on College Composition & Communication in Atlanta, where I talked about Bolter and Joyce. I was stunned when Nancy Kaplan of Cornell came up after the talk, invited me to dinner, and began connecting me to researchers and practitioners like Stuart Moulthrop at Yale and the Computers in the Humanities User Group (CHUG) at Brown, where Eli Mylonas, George Landow, and Robert Coover were doing pioneering work. There was a fantastic energy in the air around hypertext, like the radiation of a Tesla coil we were all tuning in. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to all the folx who helped shape both my thinking and the discipline in these early days.

Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse was an attempt to use hypermedia to embed the elements of story entirely within situationally appropriate artifacts. Early on, I settled on the conceit of the fiction, that an attorney has passed into the reader's hands the literary estate of science fiction writer Arthur "Buddy" Newkirk. At one point, I had thought about literally distributing it on a hard drive—something that would only become possible much later—but settled for a hybrid approach, with a marked-up print proof of an unpublished story and two cassettes of music accompanying the digital traces of the vanished author. (The constraints of publication prevented me from including assets that the remediated version can now restore.)

As much as possible, I tried to adhere to one of the axioms that TINAC, our little cabal of theorists, had cooked up: "all possible endings." While there does exist some set of actions, pegged to times, that can be encountered in the fiction, how the reader makes sense of those will vary depending on where they have come from and where they go next. There are some characters, and two of them—Art Newkirk and Emily Keane—appear to have a good deal to say. But again, how the reader makes sense of their embedded narratives (and the degree to which they are trusted) will depend much on reader interaction.

For me, it was important to have a balance of word and image, of discursive and presentational, and using HyperCard made that possible. To keep things loose, I added a strictly projective element, a set of "Oracle" fortune-telling cards that emerged for me as I was writing the text (and, in some cases, from which the text emerged.) And in sections of the fiction, I used the programming language, HyperTalk, as both a generator of randomness and as an embedded text.

The result, hopefully, is a text with emergent properties that could be read (and in the process, created) by a non-20th-century audience.

— John McDaid