Daveosaurus (southerndave) wrote,

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Another bit of waffle about web comics

Although most of tonight's comments are going to be about Freefall.

I must admit to being very impressed by this comic. It works on at least three levels. There's the regular one-line strip with a punch line. Over and above that, there's a continuing story being told with interesting charcters. And above all this, there's some quite thoughtful philosophical material on the nature of freedom and free will. And what is really amazing about this comic is that it succeeds at all three.

The story starts off on an Earth colony world with Sam Starfall and Helix. Sam is an alien. That isn't his problem. His problem is that he's as crooked as a three dollar note. Helix is an artificial intelligence. More specifically, a robot. Although describing him as an artificial intelligence may be over-stating things somewhat. Neither of the two is really all that bright.

Fairly soon, the third member of their motley crew appears. (How motley? So motley that, for all that Sam Starfall owns a spaceship (although the spaceship, too, seems to have a mind of its own) it is so ramshackle that the vast majority of the storyline takes place on the ground). Florence Ambrose is an engineer hired - fradulently - by Sam Starfall for the purposes of getting the spaceship up and running again. Florence is yet another artificial intelligence, although not a robot: she is a Bowman's wolf; a species genetically engineered by one Dr. Bowman to include useful things such as human intelligence and opposable thumbs. Although some of her nature remains distinctly non-human. Here, as well. But at least she knows how to smile.

In among all the humour, the story soon becomes more complicated. Florence may be loyal to Sam, but she's not prepared to put up with some of his behaviour. Helix fills Florence in. Florence may be in the process of corrupting (or should that be de-corrupting?) Helix. Florence and Sam's working relationship is also complicated by cultural factors. Despite Sam being the nominal captain of his ship, his normal behaviour is uncomfortably close to what Florence would consider subservience... for example, when he sneaks into the galley after Florence has eaten to raid her leftovers. But Sam does have a work ethic, of sorts: laziness is a work ethic, surely? It just isn't a good one.

But, for all of this, Florence is still property. Even if she was to go it alone, there are only something like fourteen Bowman's wolves in existence; not enough for the species to be viable without help, preferably by the engineering of more Bowman's wolves to provide more genetic diversity. This would come at a price.

There may not be any Daleks on this planet, but their legend lives on.

A regular supporting character is the local veterinarian, seen here learning an important lesson about dealing with management. (Florence has obviously had much experience with management. Soon enough Florence and the vet start spending time together, although there are fewer adolescent jokes about vet-patient relationships than there are thoughts about what is or isn't safe for a canine-based artificial intelligence to eat.

Through all the serious story, though, there's still time for the occasional moment of comedy gold. Sometimes the humour is particularly pointed. Sometimes it is universal. And for all that this is an Earth colony world some time in the distant future, they still have road cones. And memories of the distant past.

Another on-going sub-plot concerns the robots and similar artifical intelligences of this world. They don't just have intelligence... they have personalities. And the capacity for embarrassment. And the ability to have fun. And even, occasionally, the ability to make literary allusions.

One interesting thing is that most of the more recent strips have each featured a different guest robot or artifical intelligence from any source imaginable; fact or fiction. Everything from a skutter to a Roomba to K-9 to a Furby. No sign of Metal Mickey, yet, though...

Bottom line: I very highly recommend this comic.

(Other comics read and enjoyed over the last month: Bristled and Animal Instinct.)
Tags: webcomics: animal instinct, webcomics: bristled, webcomics: freefall

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