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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

Written by Carlton Mellick III

In an alternate reality where '80s fads never went out of style, struggling comic book creator Wesley Allen Scott enters the virtual world of Cybernetrix, based on the classic film Tron...and his life will never be the same.


Didja Know?


Cybernetrix is not set in the Tron universe, but it was inspired by it so I've decided to include a side-bar analysis of the similarities. The novel is part of a literary genre that some have recently dubbed "bizarro fiction", stories with weirdness as their central theme.


Story Summary


I'm not going to do a complete story summary since it is a fairly new novel (published 2008), but I'll tell you the setup. Buy it for yourself and read it if you're a Tron fan and don't mind some adult content.


The story seems to be set around the time it was written (2007-08), on an alternate Earth where '80s fads never went out of style. Atari has produced a virtual reality video game that was supposed to be based on the classic Tron movie, but Disney would not license the property to them due to adult content, so Atari instead licensed the low-budget b-movie rip-off of Tron called Cybernetrix. Cybernetrix was almost exactly like Tron except with mature content (and bad special effects). Now the video game has become the most popular game on the planet.


Struggling comic book creator Wesley Allan Scott is forced to take a regular job at a large company called WinCorp. There he meets Don, a Cybernetrix addict who finally convinces him to play the game. When he does, he places the small helmet and electrodes on his head and activates the game console and finds his consciousness uploaded to the world of Cybernetrix. He meets Don and some other co-workers there. He also finds himself attracted to Xiva23, a non-user artificial personality known as a bot. Becoming addicted to the game himself, he begins an affair with the strange Xiva and eventually finds himself questioning his own sanity as he keeps seeing glimpses of the Cybernetrix world appearing in the real world. What is going on?


Didja Notice?


In the Author's Note at the beginning of the book, Mellick recommends watching Tron before reading this novel, as he intended it as a parody of the cult classic Disney film.

It may be a coincidence but the main character's name of Wesley Allan Scott may be a play on DC Comics characters. The actor who portrayed the DC superhero called the Flash on the 1990-91 CBS TV series The Flash, was John Wesley Shipp. The Flash's civilian identity was Barry Allen. The last name of Scott may be borrowed from DC's original Green Lantern, Alan Scott.

On page 9, Wes...erm, excuse me, Wesley...has a glow-in-the-dark Devo poster on his bedroom ceiling. Devo is a punk rock band formed in 1973 which still occasionally re-forms for concert tours.

Page 9 also mentions Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. The Sandman was a 1989-1996 DC comic book (published for the last third of its life under the Vertigo imprint) written by Neil Gaiman.

Pages 15-17 mention several '80s-themed brand names:
  • Wesley drank 3 40s of King Cobra the night before.
King Cobra is a brand of malt liquor sold by Anheuser-Busch. "40s" refers to a 40-ounce bottle.  
  • Wesley has a Supercuts hairstyle.
Supercuts is a chain of hair salons started in 1975. They are known for having styles of cuts that the hairdressers are trained to provide at all locations, leading some to call the chain the McDonald's of hair salons.  
  • Wesley had M.A.S.K. action figures as a child.
M.A.S.K. was a toy line, animated series, and DC comic book about a quasi-military strike force fighting for good against the evil machinations of V.E.N.O.M.
M.A.S.K.=Mobile Armored Strike Kommand
V.E.N.O.M.=Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem
  • As a child, Wesley had one or more Andre the Giant themed birthday party(s).
Andre the Giant (1946-1993) was a professional wrestler, best known for his bouts in the 1980s.  
  • Portland, Oregon, birthplace of Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse Comics is the largest independent comics publisher in the U.S. Owner and publisher Mike Richardson started as the owner of several comic book stores in the Portland area before starting Dark Horse Comics publishing in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie.
  • Dungeons and Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy role-playing game created in 1974 and currently produced by Wizards of the Coast.
  • Rubik's Cube
Rubik's Cube is a well-known mechanical puzzle invented in 1974 by Hungarian Erno Rubik and marketed by Ideal Toys since 1980.
  • Jelly Babies
Jelly Babies are a gummy candy manufactured in the U.K. and Australia.
  • Atari 64
Atari is a video game company originally founded in 1972. There is no Atari game unit officially called Atari 64, but since one of the conceits of this novel is that many '80s fads never died, it must be that Atari remained a dominant force in the video game market and continued to produce new and updated game consoles.
  • He-Man
He-Man is a character in the Masters of the Universe franchise created by toymaker Mattel in 1982. It has spawned toys, animated series, a movie, and comic books.
  • Star Wars: The Next Generation
There has never been a Star Wars: The Next Generation TV series as described here. This is Mellick's play on the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series which ran from 1987-1994. Mellick may be saying that in the alternate history of Cybernetrix, Star Trek did not make the comeback it did in our own past; it had been supplanted by Star Wars.
  • Taldo Fett
Wesley has a rare, mint condition Taldo Fett action figure from Star Wars: The Next Generation. Taldo is not a character who has appeared in any of the Star Wars franchise's real world incarnations. There are, of course, the characters of Boba Fett and Jango Fett within the Star Wars universe.
  • Hawaiian Punch board game
Hawaiian Punch is a fruit punch marketed since 1950 (and before that as an ice cream topping syrup). There actually was a board game manufactured in 1978 by Mattel.
  • Max Headroom
Max Headroom is a character depicted as an artificial intelligence living in a computer network who would randomly project himself on TV or computer screens around the world to add ironic or amusing commentary in the dystopian future TV series Max Headroom of 1987-1988. Since Wesley still has a poster of the character, perhaps the franchise has continued to thrive to current times.
  • Diamond's
Diamond's was a chain of department stores from 1947-1984, when it was sold to Dillard's. In the novel, the chain may have survived to current times.
  • Izod alligator shirts
Izod is a clothing company which, from 1952-1993, teamed with the Lacoste shirt company to produce the famous Izod Lacoste polo shirts with the Lacoste logo of a crocodile (not an alligator as stated) on the left breast. Since the end of the companies' partnership in 1993, Izod shirts no longer feature the crocodile. Again, in the '80s-centric world of Cybernetrix, Izod Lacoste may continue to make the popular polo shirt with the crocodile patch.
  • Tab
Tab is a diet cola made by the Coca-Cola company.
  • Sausage McMuffin
The Sausage McMuffin is one of several McMuffin breakfast sandwiches offered by the McDonald's fast-food chain.
  • iPod ghetto blaster
This may be a reference to custom made docking stations for the iPod in the form of '80s style boom boxes. Or it may be that in the '80s-centric world of the novel, Apple actually makes boom boxes using iPod digital music playback technology.
  • Fat Boys
The Fat Boys was a hip-hop band from the 1980s. In our world, they recorded 7 albums from 1984-1991. Here in the novel, it is mentioned they have 12 or 13 releases, so they must have remained together through the '90s and possibly into the 2000s. In our world, the Fat Boys announced a reunion in 2008 and released another album.
  • DeLorean
Pages 14, 16-17 and 166-167 mention DeLorean automobiles. The DeLorean Motor Company was founded in 1975 by John DeLorean and went bankrupt in 1982. It only ever produced one model of vehicle, the DMC-12 sports car made famous in the Back to the Future trilogy of films. In the alternate history of Cybernetrix, DMC continues to be operational and is, in fact, the top manufacturer of automobiles. One of its models is the new DeLorean Falcon, described as looking like a cross between the original DMC-12 and the Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars films. Here also, other manufacturers have mimicked the gull-wing doors in the DeLorean style.
  • Better Off Dead
Better Off Dead is a 1985 teen comedy that is pretty much as described on page 16 of the novel.
  • Phil Collins
Phil Collins is best known as a singer-songwriter. His music, both solo and with the band Genesis, was extremely popular in '80s and he continues to make music today. The fact that the douchebag character of Chuck is said to be a huge fan may be Mellick's statement of how he views Collins as an artist/performer.
  • Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live is, of course, the venerable late night comedy sketch show that has run on the NBC television network since 1975 and still going strong.
  • Dodge DT
Dodge is a U.S. auto brand. They do not make a Dodge DT model and in this novel the DT is described as being a small two-door sports car with sliding doors to go against the gull-wing openings established by DeLorean and mimicked by other auto manufacturers.

Page 12 mentions what the residents of Portland refer to as the Ban roll-on building because of the dome on top. Page 179 indicates it is located on Salmon Street, but this appears to be a residential road on Google Maps. There is a building with this nickname, but it is in Seattle, WA rather than Portland, OR. This building's real name is the Second & Seneca Building. Another nickname for it is R2-D2, for the blue dome.

Also on page 12, Wesley goes down to Pioneer Square to watch the break-dancers. Pioneer Square is a reference to Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. The reference to break-dancing in the book is another '80s pop culture reference (though breaking still does have its practitioners in our world).

Wesley's new job is at WinCorp, a computer software company. Although there are several small businesses using that name in the U.S., none appear to be the same company described here in Portland. WinCorp may be Mellick's play on what would be the Microsoft Corporation, headquartered in Redmond, WA in our world.

Page 13 tells us that Wesley's self-publishing comic book company was called Bouncing Lobster Comics. On page 19, we learn he had produced a DIY (do it yourself) comic called Neo Tokyo Crimewave.

Page 20 suggests that the only comic books that were currently selling well were Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-offs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a 1992 movie and cult-favorite 1997-2003 TV series which did spawn a number of ongoing and mini-series comic books from Dark Horse Comics and IDW Publishing. In the real world, the Buffyverse titles sell well but are hardly the top sellers.

On page 23, Don tells Wesley that 20/20 recently ran a piece on the Cybernetrix game. 20/20 is a television newsmagazine that has run on the ABC network in the U.S. since 1978.

On page 24, Don gives a description of the Cybernetrix game and movie on which it is based (there was no Cybernetrix movie in the real world):
     "It takes place in this glowing neon world," Don said. "Have you ever seen Tron?"
     "Well, the world is like the world in Tron. Actually, it's exactly like the world in Tron. Actually, the game was supposed to be called Tron World, but it's not a child-friendly game so Disney wouldn't let Atari call it that. So they called it Cybernetrix. Have you ever seen the movie Cybernetrix?"
     "Not many people have. It was a B-movie rip-off version of Tron, made around the same time. It was horrible. It was pretty much exactly like Tron but the effects were really substandard. The only reason anyone watched it was for the T and A. The good characters in Cybernetrix were green rather than blue, and the evil characters were purple rather than red. Instead of the Master Control Program, there was the Overlord Program. Instead of the lightcycles, there were lazerbikes. They even spelled laser with a Z. It was a terrible movie. The game is amazing though. Amazing!"

The back cover of the book gives the reader a glimpse of a lazerbike.
Lazerbike from Cybernetrix Light Cycles from Tron

On page 26, Wesley gets lunch at Taco de Carlos. This was a fast food chain spin-off from Carl's Jr. started in 1972. The chain was sold off in the early '80s and most of the restaurants became Del Taco franchises.

Also on page 26, Wesley sees a picture, in Don's cubicle, of the 19th incarnation of The Doctor on Dr. Who, played by Adrian Edmondson. Although Dr. Who is a real British television series, the character has only gone through 13 incarnations thus far. The higher number of The Doctor's incarnation is probably intended to indcate that the original TV series was not cancelled in 1989 as it was in our world (later returning in 2005), hence more incarnations of the The Doctor were needed over the years. Adrian Edmondson is a real British actor (pictured at right); he has yet to play The Doctor. (Photo from UnrealityTV.) Adrian Edmondson

On page 27, Don mentions the Atari 2600. The Atari 2600 video game system was released in 1977 and was the most popular game system through the 1980s.

On page 33, Wesley watches Electric Boogaloo 5 on AMC. AMC is the American Movie Classics cable channel. "Electric Boogaloo 5" is probably an ironic reference to the 1985 film Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, the sequel to Breakin'. The term "electric boogaloo" has since become a mostly derogatory term for an unwanted or poorly made sequel (although "electric boogaloo" is also the name of a funk dance style developed in the 1970s).

Page 36 mentions that the Cybernetrix armor is as light as Tupperware. Tupperware is a company that makes mostly lightweight plastic containers for the home kitchen.

On page 43, the denizens and users in Cybernetrix are seen to be drinking a glowing blue fluid called electric tea by Wesley (known as juice by Cybernetrons). This is similar to the glowing blue fluid/water drank by denizens of the Electronic World in Tron.

Page 43 also introduces Omega, who seems to be the Cybernetrix equivalent of Sark. Oddly, there does not seem to be an equivalent Tron character.

On page 48, Wesley reflects that he had more fun in the Cybernetrix world than he'd had since he'd visited Disneyland when he was 8 years old. This is presumably a reference to the one-and-only Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, CA, opened in 1955, though in the alternate history of the novel there may be multiple Disneylands.

Page 48 tells us that while their consciousnesses are uploaded to the Cybernetrix world, the physical bodies of the players are in what doctors have termed "yellow sleep", a kind of sleeping in which an REM state is never reached. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and indicates when a person has reached the dream state of sleep.

Page 58 mentions that Amy has platinum blond Eurythmics hair in the real world. The Eurythmics were a U.K. musical duo comprised of singer Annie Lennox and musician David Stewart. Annie Lennox was known for her platinum blond hair in the '80s.

If you pay attention throughout her appearances in the novel, you'll notice that Amy's dialog is almost always followed by "Amy cried", as in "You picked up Lazerbike Fight pretty fast!" Amy cried.

On page 59, Steve discusses the Cybernetrix gladiator games of Discs of Death, Voltro Jai Alai and Hover Tanks. These are similar to the Tron games of Deadly Discs; the electronic jai alai game; and Space Paranoids. The hover tanks in Cybernetrix are later revealed to be similar to the Recognizers of Tron, but shaped like an M.

On page 73, platform 069DD is described as an area of the adult section of Cybernetrix. 69 is the common English term for the sexual position which allows two persons to give simultaneous oral sex. DD refers to a large cup size in a bra.

Page 87 tells us that Cybernetrons (bots) are not designed with genitals. However, Wesley's bot lover Xiva23 does have a thin crease between her legs that somewhat resembles a vagina.

Page 102 mentions Don using a Commodore Notebook. Commodore was a brand of personal computers that was extremely popular in the 1980s. The company declared bankruptcy in 1994, never having produced a notebook computer. Obviously in the world of this novel, Commodore survived and thrived to current times.

On page 103, Wesley and Don speculate on a Dungeons and Dragons or Star Wars version of Cybernetrix. This is not all that different from the MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) that currently exist such as Star Wars Galaxies (now closed) and Dungeons and Dragons Online.

On page 104, Wesley buys Squeeze-it and Fruit Wrinkles. These are both sugary foods of the '80s which are no longer produced. Squeeze-it was a fruity/sugary water beverage in a rubbery/plastic bottle. Fruit Wrinkles were a sort of dried fruit/sugary snack, like a chunk of fruit roll-up.

On page 111, Wesley eats at Wienerschnitzel. This is a fast food chain in the U.S. southwest specializing in hot dogs.

Also on page 111, Wesley goes to the movies to see Ghostbusters 7. In the real world, there have been only 2 Ghostbusters movies, both released in the 1980s, with a third in perpetual discussion. A remake of Ghostbusters with a mostly female cast was released in July 2016.

Page 140 mentions the types of animals to be seen in the Cybernetrix zoo: squawking holo-brids, sea-squirms, tigerhawks, snakebabies, and gooblocks.

Page 142 reveals that, like the Electronic World of Tron, Cybernetrix has I/O towers for communicating with the real world.

The lazerbike chase on page 149 is similar to a scene from Tron's Light Cycle battle, including some of the dialog!

On page 161, Wesley is described as wearing British Knights shoes. British Knights is a shoe company founded in 1980.

On page 163, Wesley is in the Pearl District of Portland. This is a real district in Portland.

As the novel nears its close, several Portland street names are dropped as Wesley investigates the war zone the U.S. has become from the Cybernetron invasion. 23rd Avenue, Burnside, and 11th Avenue are all within proximity of each other in Portland. Xiva23's new apartment is described as being on 11th around the corner from the library; this is a fairly true-to-life description of the area and probably refers to Multnomah County Library.

On page 166, Wesley writes down an address on Pound Puppy notebook paper. Presumably, this is a reference to Pound Puppies, a toy and animated series line in the '80s.

Xiva23's (formerly Shelly's) apartment, is filled with '80s clothing styles: legwarmers, jellies, jammers, scrunch socks, stonewashed jeans, Guess shirts and pastel dresses.

On page 178, Xiva23 tells Wesley that the user forces have been driven "across the river". This probably means the Willamette River since they are in the Pearl District near the Willamette (the other Portland river being the Columbia).

Also on page 178, it is revealed that Omega has commanded that the AIs shall not be known by the user term "bots" but as netrons.


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