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History of John McDaid's Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse
A historical account of John McDaid's Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse detailing the work's production
Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse probably began in John McDaid's ongoing sketchbooks as early as 1978, which was (on the evidence of The Writer's Brain stack) the year McDaid began to muse on the electric typewriter, and through it, media, narrative, and technology. At some point in 1986, McDaid's friend Jim Propp prompted him to envision "a novel no 20th century novelist could write." This was a couple of years after Apple released the first Macintosh personal computer (January, 1984) and some months before the company brought forth HyperCard, the revolutionary hypermedia authoring tool McDaid would use for his futuristic work.
McDaid was actively engaged on early versions of the Funhouse in 1987. In the summer of 1988 he took part in a summer writing/game design workshop at Humboldt State University in California, where a dozen writers and designers collaborated with the hypermedia author Rob Swigart and science fiction writer Vonda McIntyre on a hybrid game/novel based in HyperCard. The project was never completed, but McDaid gained important technical and aesthetic insights from the experience. He also acquired the mantra, "This is not a game," repeated prominently in the Funhouse.
In early 1990, McDaid demonstrated a draft of the Funhouse as part of an experiment in teaching hypertext led by Nancy Kaplan, then the Director of the Writing Workshop at Cornell University. McDaid had already met Jay David Bolter and Michael Joyce when they visited NYU. Through Kaplan he became acquainted with Stuart Moulthrop, who would join Joyce, McDaid, Jane Y. Douglas, and others in the informal circle called TINAC (standing either for "Textuality, Intertextuality, Narrative, and Computers" -- McDaid's reading -- or "This Is Never a Coincidence" -- Moulthrop's).
Eastgate contracted to publish the Funhouse in 1992, at about the same time McDaid was accepted to the Clarion Workshop, the influential seminar for beginning science fiction writers. Production considerations on the highly complex project delayed actual release until 1993. The version available from Eastgate in the spring of that year included two cassette tapes, proof pages of a short story, a booklet, and five 3.5-inch diskettes comprising the HyperCard stacks that make up the digital core of the Funhouse. Around the turn of the century, as diskette drives ceased to be included on personal computers, Eastgate produced a second edition of the Funhouse (2001) with a single CD-ROM replacing the diskettes. Both diskette and CD editions used the distinctive black-and-silver box, sourced from a confectionery supplier and referred to by Bernstein as "a chocolate box full of death."
A review by Gavin Edwards, regular contributor to Rolling Stone and Spin, appeared in The Village Voice shortly after publication. Funhouse was mentioned by Robert Coover in his controversial "End of Books" front-page essay in the New York Times Book Review in 1993. Coover wrote a longer account of the work, also in the Times, the following year. A number of hypertext and new-media theorists have written about the Funhouse, including Noah Wardrip-Fruin, N.K. Hayles, Jill Walker Rettberg, Scott Rettberg, Astrid Ensslin, Donna Leishman, Loss Pequeno Glazier, Stuart Moulthrop, Alvaro Seica, and Roberto Simanowski. The Funhouse is a centerpiece of Anja Rau's rejoinder to the Gutenberg Elegy controversy ("Wreader's Digest"), and part of Espen Aarseth's account of digital literature in "Narrative in the Turing Universe," included in Franco Moretti's The Novel, Volume 2.
Funhouse is now difficult to access in its original form. Eastgate no longer sells the title, and while neither author nor publisher rule out a future re-release or re-issue, the obsolescence of HyperCard poses a major obstacle. In March, 2004, after years of diminishing interest and investment, Apple withdrew HyperCard from sale. In October, 2007, with the release of Macintosh OS 10.5 (“Leopard”), Apple ended support for Classic mode, the emulation environment under which HyperCard could still run on newer machines. Subsequent versions do not include Classic. Various third-party schemes for emulating HyperCard have been proposed and attempted, but in mid-2015 none are readily available. At this writing, the most effective way to read the Funhouse is on a vintage Macintosh computer, as in John McDaid's traversal.