Freefall

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Freefall
Freefall
Author(s) Mark Stanley
Website
Update schedule Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Launch date 1998
Genre humor, closely matches science fiction

Freefall is a popular webcomic written and drawn by Mark Stanley and hosted at Purrsia. It is a humorous Science fiction story detailing the misadventures of the starship Savage Chicken and its crew: Sam Starfall, a lovable alien con artist; Helix, a childlike robot; and Florence Ambrose, a genetically engineered "Bowman's Wolf" (i.e. an anthropomorphic canine).

Stanley began writing and drawing the strip on March 30, 1998 as a feature for the occasional furry zine, YARF!, with the intent of telling the actual story behind the characters. The comic is updated three times a week, and it celebrated its thousandth strip in August 2004, and its two-thousandth strip in 2011. The comic is drawn in black and white, but the strips were later colored by fans; in mid-April 2006 (#1254), official colored versions by George Peterson became the default. Some characters from Freefall also appear at the Cross Time Cafe.

Plot outline[edit]

Florence and Sam

The plot focuses on the life of Florence, a hard-working and honest technical engineer, after she is borrowed without consent (stolen) to work for the shady, less-than-ethical Sam Starfall.

Sam is a Sqid; a tentacle-bearing once-aquatic race which lives in a low-technology society on an unknown and unspecified world somewhere in the universe. Wherever that world might happen to be, though, it's not far enough now for the residents of the planet Jean. (The unusual spelling of "Sqid" is explained: "U don't wanna get near one.")

Sam stowed away on a human scout ship and found his way to Jean, a recently-terraformed world populated lightly by a mix of humans and terraforming robots and managed with a kind of frontier improvisation that requires people to mix together with other kinds more than they might otherwise do. Outfitted with a human-resembling environment suit that allows him to move around freely, Sam has been blithely ignoring the rules of Jean's civilization for years. Particularly the ones that have to do with property ownership.

Somehow he got his hands on a wreck of a spaceship, and with the help of his friend/worker, a robot named Helix, and with several rolls of duct tape and not a clue between them about how to build, repair or maintain a spaceship, they tried to get the thing spaceworthy. Deciding that the task was beyond even his advanced duct taping skills, Sam arranged an accident that assigned Florence Ambrose, a highly competent engineer who happened to be a Bowman's Wolf to his ship.

Florence was in cold storage on board the Asimov, a transport starship, at the time, and Jean wasn't her destination. Officially, she's been "misfiled," but instead of making a fuss, she decided to make the best of it. Together, with many misadventures, Sam and Helix assembled the tools and materials, and Florence set to the nearly impossible task of getting the wreck spaceworthy again. By some miracle, they managed it, and Sam rechristened the wreck the Savage Chicken. The repairs weren't perfect, but the gang got their ship, originally designed for interplanetary commerce, cleared as an orbital shuttle, and have flown two missions into orbit.

Florence, meanwhile, has yet to learn that Sam's acquisition of her contract was less than honest. Sam lives in dread each time Florence sends out information about herself that might incriminate him, and also dreads what might happen if Florence finds out. Florence is a large carnivore, but she's been specially trained and conditioned not to hurt humans. Sam, however, is not a human, and every time he wants to try to push her around, she gives the Florence Grin, and Sam finds something better to do.

Freefall's plot has been criticised by some as slow-moving. The comic's thirteen years (in 2011) of thrice-weekly strips has so far covered only a couple weeks' activity in the story.

Robots[edit]

Robots in the Freefall universe are sometimes programmed with the same Three Laws of Robotics that Isaac Asimov made famous in his stories, but their artificial intelligence is well developed, and they have a lot of autonomy, which helps them cope with a universe that has other sapient species besides the humans and robots from Asimov's stories. It is implied that "Three Law Robots" are not created anymore, and modern AI's have more sophisticated safeguards.

A running gag throughout the comic is the reaction of the robots when they first meet Florence. Since the Bowman's Wolf is a brand new species, the Freefall robots do not recognise her, and their first reaction is invariably to throw their arms out wide and shout "DOGGY!!!". The effect has been said to be "kinda freaky" when a lot of them do it at once. Despite this childlike behaviour (actually the result of other robots misinterpreting Helix's childlike reaction to Florence as the proper greeting ritual for her species), the Freefall robots have developed a great respect for Florence, especially after she risked her life to rescue two robots from destruction during a hurricane. Because most of the robots on "Jean" are networked together, all the robots on the planet are now aware of Florence's deeds and are eager to help her in any way they can. (Although they still shout "DOGGY!!!" whenever they first meet her in person.)

One storyline covers Florence's trip to Ecosystems Unlimited (the makers of the Bowman's Wolves) to tell them that the robots on Jean are using Dr. Bowman's architecture, the same used to create Florence's brain. In later strips Stanley included a robot from other sources (films, other cartoons, real life, &c) in each strip, identifying them in a note to the following strip.

Trivia[edit]

Freefall is noted as being one of the more scientifically accurate science fiction web comics available today.[1] Author Stanley has stated he intends to keep the science in the comic as realistic as possible without relying on deus ex machina (or "magic") devices such as "warp drive," "artificial gravity," or "transporter beams." The only handwaved technology in Freefall is the DAVE (Dangerous And Very Expensive) drive used for interstellar travel.

An in-joke for Star Trek fans is that the Savage Chicken's registry number is 1071-CCN - the reverse of the Starship Enterprise's NCC-1701. Another in joke reference is to the George Lucas film THX 1138. In one of the panels in "A gratuitous shower scene" when Helix is looking at Florence in the bottom right "THX 1138" appears.

Despite the world of Freefall largely being populated by humans and robots, furry characters other than Florence sneak into the background of the webcomic whenever possible. Often billboards, company logos or posters in the background will have an anthropomorphic furry character on them, usually based on members of the Freefall discussion forum.

Reception[edit]

Freefall won a Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards in the Outstanding Science Fiction Comic category in 2001,[2] and was a nominee in that category in 2002, 2005 and 2006. Eric Burns of Websnark praised the comic for its consistency in being both funny and hard science fiction.[3] It was also nominated as Best Anthropomorphic Comic for the 2003 Ursa Major Awards.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

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