So by some measures, Future Imperfect turns 20 today.
I say some because it's slightly unclear. According to the wonderful and well-researched timeline provided by the incomparable Jonathan Lennox, twenty years ago today, 25 September 1993, Rob Mandeville posted "Phoenix" to rec.arts.anime.stories. And Phoenix is definitely part of Future Imperfect; it says so right here on the website.
Phoenix doesn't categorize itself as part of FI. Its existence may predate the creation of the imprint. The earliest story that actually bills itself as part of FI is "Cybertron Dreams," which dates to December of 1993, or thereabouts.
Cybertron Dreams, of course, is deprecated content in the ongoing process of being replaced. So that muddles things further.
I decided to go with Phoenix as the marker, using the "Cybertron Reloaded" promotional posters, which bill Cybertron Dreams as "one of the first" rather than "the first", as the tiebreaker.
Phoenix is an okay little story. (Don't worry, I don't plan to go through it line by line. I mean, what would be the point by now?) In many ways it reads like a Golden Age story but with bigger guns and more awesome toys; it even has the Kilrathi as our antagonists du jour, a common thing at the time. (For context, Wing Commander III had not even been released yet. People were still editing their autoexec.bat and config.sys files to make WC II run properly.)
ReRob plays with lots of spiffy engineering tricks and there's a fair bit of technological fetishism; the extended sequence where he basically wears a Valkyrie as a suit of clothing is something you wouldn't really expect to see in modern FI stories, which spend less time concentrating on telling you how cool the hardware is and showing you people strapping into it and doing cool shit with it. The Rogue Squadron stories come to mind here; if those had been written back in the mid-nineties there probably would have been a lot more scenes of the pilots sitting around discussing technical specifications of their Vipers in loving detail.
Anyway. The purpose of this thread is to celebrate and reminisce upon twenty years of Future Imperfect lighting up the joint. I'll start!
My own first experience with the imprint, like that of many, was Cybertron Dreams. Cybertron Dreams, I'm sorry to say, is a story that's become less and less good for me as the years have gone by, but when I first read it at the age of 17 I thought it was goddamn amazing. From there, for a few years, to me Future Imperfect was more-or-less synonymous with "Twilight," which got a seal released once a year or so whenever the production team could get NXE out of their heads for a little bit.
In fact, for awhile there it really seemed like UF was winding down; the EPU team had branched out into a more traditionally structured story with a beginning, middle, and end (NXE) and other non-UF works such as In Nomine, Gods Willing, and Hopelessly Lost got a fair amount of attention in that 1999-2001 window as well. In addition, people who were once stalwarts (Chris Meadows, Marty Rose) had obviously begun drifting away.
Then 2001 arrived, and Symphony of the Sword came along.
Today, of course, the Symphony is more or less synonymous with Future Impefect; I believe that by itself it is bigger than every other FI story combined. I still nowadays think of Symphony of the Sword as representing a bold new direction and style of writing for EPU, despite the fact that it is older now than UF as a whole was when it debuted back in 2001. I was very surprised, intrigued, and excited by the presence of Shoujo Kakumei Utena becoming integrated into UF. SkU (still the greatest television show I have ever seen, period, ever) is pitch goddamn black. It is a tragedy, in fact, when it isn't a farce. It's also deeply postmodern and generally weird as fuck, traits I hadn't really associated with most of the series that eventually found their way into Undocumented Features. And then the production team combined it with Magic Knight Rayearth, a series that is ALSO a tragedy and ALSO generally weird as fuck.
Somehow it all ended up working out spectacularly well. I think of Symphony of the Sword as the beginning of a distinct "second phase" in UF, where the stories became a lot more character-based than plot-based, less emphasis on hardware, more emphasis on people, and executing some pretty angsty themes without some of the "the characters hang around and mope about how much the universe hates them and generally have their heads up their goddamn asses" stuff we encountered in... more than one Exile story.
(I don't mean to be overly harsh to the Exile. There's some very good stuff in there. But there are a LOT of howlers as well.)
It also seemed to revitalize UF in general. The Symphony was playing hot and hard there for a number of years, Warriors of the Outer Rim came out of nowhere, as did CSI: New Avalon (CSI: New Avalon is something that I, as a reader, consider to be the most solid writing ever done in this universe) Fables of the Reconstruction (sadly deprecated but very amazing) and Cybertron Reloaded. "Day of Infamy" was in there as well, perhaps the piece in the dustbin most beloved by fans; to me it was a very successful fusion pieces, combining the "lets have a huge space battle" aspects of the Core/Golden Age stories with the "no, this is more about the people" aspects of Future Imperfect.
Future Imperfect provided me a lot of entertainment and emotional value at a time when a lot of the older works in a universe I'd grown up with as a fanfiction reader was really beginning to age and age badly. As an imprint, it has grown somewhat beyond spec, I think; I recall bold promises being made in 2005 about coming to the end of the FI era. But still it perseveres, constantly adding new and thoroughly enjoyable people such as Commander Shepard and Avatar Korra. I think of the imprint as representing reinvention, rebirth, a way to move forward and continue to stay relevant and creative while also producing some damn fine art. I think of Cephiro, of Bancroft Tower, of New Avalon, and, these days, of Diqiu.
So it's kind of appropriate it kicked off with a story called "Phoenix."
It's been good times.
So that's at least some of what FI means to me, as it enters its third decade and will soon be old enough to drink. Don't be shy, peeps. Get on in here, share, be happy. The bar is open.
Tip your servers.
"The future is changing, but itís hard to tell."