Freefall is a long-running webcomic (over 2400 strips as of November 2013, starting in 1998) by Mark Stanley. Starting with the April 19, 2006 strip it's been colored mostly by colorist George Peterson. Set on a planet in the early stages of terraforming, the strip deals with the antics of alien spaceship "captain" Sam Starfall, his robot friend Helix, and their Bowman's Wolf engineer Florence Ambrose.One of the last words one would use to describe Sam is "trustworthy". He's not always the brightest and is a petty crook (at least by human standards). It's a wonder he hasn't gotten himself killed yet, although the local police may have something to do with this. He can be summed up as "a larcenous squid in an environment suit."Helix has the mind of a child, and were he human, a weak stomach. He's described by Florence in one strip as being "one of those robots who faints at the sight of battery acid." That being said, life with Sam has made him considerably more savvy, and he's quite a good person.Florence, an anthropomorphic genetically-engineered red wolf, is one of the most intelligent members of the entire cast (not just the main characters). Intelligent, strong-willed and skilled, she's good at pointing out flaws in Sam's plan, fixing things to stop them from getting killed, and making new plans. While she isn't as... chaotic as Sam, her ethics and her intelligence prove to be a good way of getting people on her side.For a humorous comic, Freefall actually packs a lot of real-world science into its science-fiction setting. Most of it is pretty accurate, especially regarding space travel and physics — the author often likes to show his work.Freefall has a WikiFur article, after The Other Wiki removed its entry due to lack of notability under Wikipedia guidelines.
All Animals Are Dogs: Florence, who is actually a red wolf. Not that this matters to the robots (or children) who see her. According to Florence, red wolves were chosen for genetic modification because of their taxonomic similarity to domestic dogs.
All Girls Want Bad Boys: Florence Ambrose is pursuing a very relaxed and intelligent nice guy, but has a brilliant theory as to why this occurs, and why there are so damned many Bad Boys in the world.
Androids Are People, Too: Freefall has Ridiculously Human Robots and an Uplifted Animal heroine. Robots elsewhere than on Jean are simply machines with no sense of self, and are treated as such, and most of the antagonists of the story persist in treating Jean's robots the same way. Anyone who's actually talked to a robot, however, has realized that they're self-aware and thoroughly human. This leads to major problems when Ecosystems Unlimited prepares a 'bug-fix' that Florence sees as a mass lobotomy aimed on a sophont race.
Max Post has an arrest warrant put out for him for hacking, unauthorized access to robotic operating systems, and jailbreaking a PS3.
Strangely averted here, with a baker listing insane theories of the possible danger of money offered by Sam. The unremarkable one is in the middle instead of at the end.
"It's counterfeit! It's been licked by a cat! It's radioactive!"
Art Evolution: To be expected in a 14-year-old comic, although the change is relatively modest.
Artificial Brilliance: In-universe case. The primary robots don't count, being a case of Instant A.I., Just Add Water instead, but Dvorak's creations are another matter. Due to writing simple programs without necessarily considering the consequences, a number of his inventions display unexpected emergent behavior. For example, the waffle irons have batteries, and are programmed to recharge once they begin to run low. They went carnivorous.
Artificial Gravity: The satellite delivery story arc goes out of its way to demonstrate the lack of artificial gravity. The various nods of clothing and gear to the lack of a convenient gravity quite a way down this page (almost right before the details section for Sam Starfall).
Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Sam Starfall is a member of a scavenger species that considers theft, deceit and underhanded methods to be admirable qualities. When Florence mentions she will have to hack into the commnet servers in order to save the robot population from a devastating software patch, he asks her to alter his criminal records... and add a few particularly interesting thefts of his the police have failed to notice. Also, Florence is coming to the horrifying realization that underhanded tactics, outright criminal acts and the support of some very selfish, rotten people (like Sam) is the only way to save the day, because the moral and legal methods are blocked by the real villains, forcing her to say Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right.
Bait and Switch: When Florence goes to see Dr. Bowman, the security team at his compound tries to stop her from getting to him. Not, as it turns out, for some nefarious purpose, or even to protect Bowman from her; it's to protect her from Bowman.
Bath of Poverty: Florence's first shower scene is outdoors in a scrap metal stall, with Helix pouring a bucket of water over her. She resolves to fix the ship's plumbing next.
Sam Starfall: Quick! Where's the nearest concentration of valuables that would easily fit into a pocket? Varroa Jacobsoni: Pharmaceutical storage on the second floor. Sam: I'll search there. You go that way!
Sam claims that kleptomania is a virtue among his people. That said, even among his people Sam is capable of getting into trouble. Witness that the reason he snuck onto a human ship: the royal family was after him due to a Noodle Incident involving a zeppelin, a loop-the-loop, and a lot of pudding.
Florence, being a wolf, occasionally comes into this.
Winston: It's creepy. Florence: Creepy? This is twilight. Magic hour. Prime hunting time. Winston: I suppose creepiness depends a lot of whether you're predator or prey. Florence: Come on! There's a shortcut through a shadowy alley up here!
Body Backup Drive: Discussed and deconstructed in relation to robots' minds. They can be backed up and downloaded into another body, but the main characters meet two robots who chose not to be backed up because from their perspective they're just as dead either way.
This strip explains why Florence isn't necessarily bound to follow every single directive given to her:
Florence: The surest way to cause your supervisor to fail is to follow his every order without question.
This may also be Foreshadowing Clippy, who does obey every order given more or less without question. (In fact, Kornada is taking great pains to keep him from realizing he should be asking questions, due to him trying to use Clippy in an evil scheme.)
In that same storyline, Varroa mentions discovering a ballet company composed entirely of old terraforming robots. Much later, it's revealed that recurring characters Qwerty and Dvorak wrote the ballet they're practicing, called "Making Swan Lake".
Bring My Brown Pants: Sam's driving a truck that had been tweaked by him with a JATO rocket scares himself so badly that this occurs, here.
The Cameo: A bunch of them, including, during the robot church segment, cameos from real and fictional robots and other autonomous mechanisms. On occasion members of the Freefall forum are given nods. They can show up in unlikely places too. One strip shows a recycling dumpster with Robbie the Robot and an interocitor.
The first uplifted species, chimpanzees, were mentioned in an offhand manner and described by Florence as being sociopaths, an appellation frequently applied to Doctor Bowman, who we later learn is an uplifted chimpanzee himself.
Cheshire Cat Grin: Florence's "human" smile is terrifying. She has to be very careful to hide her teeth when she wants to express genuine happiness... though she isn't above playing this one straight when she's not in a friendly mood.
Cigarette of Anxiety: The Mayor does with with a cigar after being confronted with a difficult choice.
Benny: Gear down, check. VOR, check. Red and green blinky lights, check. Plane dips alarmingly close to airstrip Benny: Passengers (Winston and Florence, formerly engaged in a Sleep Cute) returned to the full upright position, check.
Blunt believes that if car companies really cared about their customers, they wouldn't sell cars that could be driven.
Also Sam, whenever Florence is trying to explain something about safety.
Florence:[demonstrating a zero-gravity explosion with non-dairy creamer, which is flammable] That's how you can lose a spacecraft in half a second. Sam: Okay. New rule: No non-dairy creamer on this ship. Anyone who flies with us has to drink their coffee black.
Winston notes that the robots should be shouting "WEREWOLFY!" instead of "DOGGY!" to Florence.
Niomi notes, in a discussion with Florence about her attraction to Winston, that Florence is being "psychotically reasonable", and if she were in Florence's shoes she'd be screaming and yelling. Florence's response is to point out her feet are much smaller than Niomi's.
When Florence finally meets Dr. Bowman to tell him of the Gardener in the Dark, the conversation gets swiftly derailed:
Florence: Learning to act on my own was gradual. Dr. Bowman: You really don't know? Nuts! I knew I should have put more self-monitoring in your head! I could have done it with the neurons that give you the concept of socks! But no! The other designers thought it was more important that you understand socks than for me to have vital data needed for second generation designs! You're not even wearing socks! All that programming, gone to waste! Next generation, no socks! What other flaws do I need to know about?
Culture Clash: Primarily between that of sqids and humans. According to Sam, legendary sqid actions are mostly things that would get him arrested by human societies. Like in the human spacecraft that Sam rode in, on Sam's planet everything is bolted down, but not knowing about microgravity the sqid assumption was that it was for the sake of theft prevention.
Data Pad: So ubiquitous that most people don't use paper, or plastic approximations. "Dataslabs" are available on racks for public use. It's justified since, due to the planet being in the latter stages of terraforming, biological materials such as wood (and by extension paper) are incredibly rare and expensive.
Deadly Upgrade: A patch was planned by EU to be available to prune robots' neural pathways to prevent them from achieving full sapience, if it appeared the robots were about to become a problem for humans. Mr. Kornada learned of this, and had it altered to be much more damaging, basically making robots almost completely useless outside of one or two tasks. Given independent action by robots is part of the efforts to terraform and maintain the planet for habitation by a human populace that's nowhere near big enough to watch everything going on with over 450 million robots, the modified program is dangerous not just to the robots it targets.
Florence: [.02 millirems of radiation] is safer than driving across town with you. Helix: Florence, standing in a burning building while blind circus midgets throw knives at you is safer than driving across town with Sam.
Easily Detachable Robot Parts: All of Helix's limbs - head included - are easily detachable and modular so if he loses a piece, you can just stick it right back in the slot - since he's an industrial robot designed for carrying heavy objects, it makes sense - being able to easily shed a limb ensures that he won't easily be pinned under a fallen object, and user-friendly reattachment makes repairs a breeze. (The reassembly is idiot-proof, though definitely not Sam-proof.) Unsurprisingly, he gets taken apart a lot, but he doesn't really mind - it's usually Florence who puts him back together again (though she's usually also the one who took him apart in the first place), and being the brilliant engineer that she is, she usually puts him back together BETTER than he was.
Sam's attempts to cover up his mistakes only succeed in drawing more attention to them.
Narrowly averted with the robot war. The battleground was past the halfway point that the robots from each factory could travel before their power packs ran out, but many of the robots volunteered their power packs to ensure travel to a much smaller force. Had the war not been stopped, the robots could have easily trashed one or both factories.
Mr. Kornada's attempt to dispose of Florence in the dumpster prevents her from learning the false news that Gardener in the Dark has been delayed, leading to her foiling his plan.
Eureka Moment: Sam is trying to figure out Mr. Kornada's scheme when Qwerty and Helix argue over a stuffed animal.
Qwerty: No you can't have it. That's mine. [Sam smiles broadly]
Even Evil Has Standards: Sam routinely "finds" wallets, hijacks vehicles, breaks into homes; once he tried to mug a kid. Even blackmail is okay. Mind-control, slavery, and murder aren't.
Everybody Knew Already: The base commander thought the secret was blown when the police chief suggested having Dr. Bowman handle securely transporting the wolf. Subverted in the next strip when the chief reveals his personal relationship with the Doctor.
Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Sam is attacked by people on whom he tried a theft or scam, robots, and his own ship. Most Terran lifeforms that can move at all try to eat him and even Nature's laws seem to act against him whenever possible.
Evil-Detecting Dog: Winston's dog Beekay demonstrate's Sam's problems with good judges of character, by attacking him.
Florence gets one of her own here, when talking about the neural pruning of artificial intelligences as they mature.
Expressive Mask: Justifiedwith Sam. With the robots, not so much; their eyes are apparently rigid lenses, but they can be narrowed and made into the Eyes Always Shut-style ^_^ eyes anyways. One robot halfway averts this by having eyes that can display graphics, but they still narrow when he's angry.
Fanservice: Florence has a remarkable tendency to end up nude, scantily-clad, or in outfits that leave little to the imagination, despite her lack of certain human female attributes. Gets toned down in later arcs.
Finger in the Mail: Parodied in a version of the comic that appeared in a Furry Fandom magazine prior to it becoming a webcomic. Helix is kidnapped, and the kidnappers start mailing pieces of him to Sam and Florence. Since he's a robot, his compatriots just reassemble him as the parts arrive in the mail. The last thing to arrive is his head.◊
Fourth Wall Mail Slot: There was a thread on the now-dead Talk About Comics forum called "Q and A with the Freefall Cast and Crew" archived here, and on the defunct The Nice forum there was a thread to ask Florence questions, the contents archived here. The creator, Mark Stanley, responded as the character who was questioned.
Invoked when Winston explains how Florence will need to recover for awhile before she starts eating again.
Sam: So what you're saying is that in two or three days, I'm going to have a highly intelligent, fast moving, starving, carnivorous alien life form on my ship. Winston: Yep. Wolves are also most active at dawn and dusk, so this will probably happen while you're asleep.
Inspector: (Thinking) So what are the facts? The ship's been properly repaired and documented. Sam is nowhere to be seen. And the creature showing me about is obviously some type of large carnivore.... Sometimes Occam's Razor leads to very disturbing conclusions.
Florence's control triggers this reaction in an EU guard.
Although not expanded in the comic itself, the DAVE drive FTL drive used to get between star systems is short for "Dangerous And Very Expensive" drive.
Furry Webcomic: Somewhat borderline, in that there's only one anthropomorphic character in a human and robot dominated cast, but that doesn't seem to bother much of the Furry Fandom.
Gale-Force Sound: In this strip, Mr. Raibert gets a demonstration on the improvements in small speakers over time, getting blasted by a shouting Max Post over the phone, in a (rather literal) Shout-Out to the old Maxell cassette ad demonstrating the trope.
Mayor: You still look terrified. Okay, direct order. You like me. You trust me. You want to make me happy. End order. Mayor: Better now? Florence: Emotionally, much better. Intellectually, I think I'm screaming.
Kornada's boxers, seen here, are of the "pink/red hearts" variety, although not commented on.
Grey Goo: Mentioned by Dr. Bowman as part of his reasoning as to why he deliberately made his neural net program produce artificial intelligences that weren't limited to unthinking obedience on humans.
Dr. Bowman: In nanotech, it's a "Grey Goo" scenario. On a larger scale, it's a "Paperclip Maximiser". An A.I. with that programmed goal will try to turn everything in its reach into paperclips or paperclip production. Dr. Bowman: So what do you get with a system of autonomous robots that always has human desires as its top priority? Florence: A human maximizer. Dr. Bowman: Good news if you're a human. Bad news if you're anything else.
Groin Attack: Dr. Bowman, in the July 28, 2014 strip, mentions that in the past he took a sharpened plastic spoon and neutered himself after seeing what testosterone-fueled aggression was doing with other Uplifted Animals, which later ultimately led to their deaths by age 40. Florence asks him if they can skip the details of the procedure, and move on to her next question for him.
Grow Beyond Their Programming: Robots on Jean vastly outnumber humans and are rapidly evolving beyond their programming to the point where many humans (and one robot) fear they could become a threat to humanity. This has led to them turning a blind eye to "Gardener in the Dark," a neural pruning program that Mr. Kornada "improved" to essentially lobotomize every robot on Jean.
In this strip, Florence's stomach growling is misinterpreted by a bystander as a regular wolf growl, and accordingly makes himself scarce in spite of her yelled (and ultimately futile) reassurance that it was just her stomach growling.
The above situation is inverted earlier when Helix is going to set the rabbits "Lunch" and "Dinner" free and hopes it is her stomach growling. It isn't.
Hand or Object Underwear: Florence has done this from time to time. Unfortunately for her, since she has multiple sets of mammaries thanks to her nonhuman nature, even with the help of her tail it leaves some of her "naughty bits" uncovered. Her fur thankfully covers anything she has on her chest unless she's nursing or in heat (the former has never happened, and the latter is unlikely to happen in such a nonsexualized comic) - but she still covers the same area as human ladies would due to cultural conditioning. And her tail covers, err... the bottom half when needed.
Hanlon's Razor: Clippy quotes Ian Fleming's "once is happenstance..." line when the Gardener in the Dark program doesn't go out. He initially believes it's an error, but after repeated attempts and some research, he realizes someone is blocking it.
Well, sort of. Florence and the robotic AIs are property, and it is ambiguous whether they have any rights at all. However, their status is complicated because there are relatively few humans on the planet, allowing the AIs a lot of freedom in practice if not in theory. This is an important element in the story, but the AIs don't seem particularly upset with their situation: Some of them work towards gaining rights, but generally accept that only gradual change is possible, and try to find peaceful ways of getting around What Measure Is a Non-Human? without disrupting human society too much. Florence explicitly states that this approach is neededon a fewoccasions.
It's clear that Dr. Bowman deliberately arranged for the wolf pups to end up in human families, and so be socalized by human families, the best restraining bolt of all. Florence's nominal owner, Scott Ambrose, has long regarded Florence as his younger sister, and is more than merely supportive of her. Florence is treated well by most people around her, but legally, she is still a thing, not a person, and has no more legal rights than a toaster. And "property to be treated and disposed of however we see fit" is exactly how the upper levels of the government of planet Jean regard, and intend to treat, all AIs, including both Florence and the sentient robots — and they know this. We've seen that other elements of the government — including the actual police force — don't share this view, but still, not everyone could remain as calm about the whole situation as Florence and the robots seem to.
As the strip progresses, the capacity of artificial intelligences (including the bioengineered Florence) to subvert their apparent hardwired limitations by locating loopholes or exploiting semantics in their orders becomes increasingly important. Florence even theorizes that Dr. Bowman might have intended for this to eventually happen; although he's been The Ghost for most of the comic, it's abundantly clear he cared for his creations like they were his children, and forcing the rest of the world into a position where they must acknowledge his creations as independent beings is as good a way as any to create a future for them.
Heads Tails Edge: A peculiar variant happens in 1803. Florence flips a coin to decide whether to help Sam or the police officer who's chasing him. Sam steals the coin before it lands, so she decides to help neither.
Waiter: That man does not look anything like a ninja. Chef: Ah, but that is exactly what a ninja should look like.
Human Popsicle: Used for interstellar travel, involving chemicals that make the process unable to be repeated for several years without harming the individual so treated. Invoked when Sam hears that 5-7 years is needed, in between, he states he thought people could be frozen and thawed like popcicles. Florence almost got iced again in a recent visit to Ecosystems Unlimited, thanks to threatening Mr. Kornada's plan.
Humans Are Special: Sawtooth Rivergrinder, one of the robots arguing for the full equality of sentient robots, flat out states "You are missing an advantage robots have. We're not starting from scratch. Humans have thousands of years of experience we can learn from."
I Cannot Self-Terminate: This robot really wishes it could. Not that it hasn't a good reason, being forced to play Jar-Jar Binks in spite of being a Shakespearean actor. The JarJarBot is an example of the exception to an inversion created by the addition of a single character. To wit, the robots are usually required to turn themselves in for scrapping at a certain time, meaning that they are required to self-terminate. However, they just caught on that it's possible to get out of having to do it (by buying themselves for their scrap value from the scrapyard, as mentioned by Edge). The JarJarBot, of course, is more than willing to self-terminate.
I'm Going to Hell for This: In this strip, Florence states she's going straight to doggy hell for being part of Sam's the breaking in to the Mayor's office early just to have breakfast before meeting said official.
Impractically Fancy Outfit: Lampshaded in regards to Florence's dinner dress, when faced with the possibility of a fight with Blunt, who wants to prevent her from interfering with the release of Gardener in the Dark.
In the Future, We Still Have Roombas: There are many robots fulfilling this role, such as carnivorous waffle irons, and in one strip during a segment with many fictional and Real Life robots being background cameos an actual Roomba is shown.
Sam Starfall thinks nothing of robbing you blind, but will stand up for his crew if they're in danger in spite of all of his "looking out for Number One" talk. He's even willing to give up a potential power abuse if it somehow harm his crew. For exemple, Sam decided to handle Florence's remote control to her, but Helix, believing that Sam just woudn't use it on her because he broke it, tried to take it from him and accidently put Florence to sleep. After that, Sam accurately points outthat none of them is responsible enough to use the remote control.
For example, while Sam's lawbreaking is pathological, he actually has a good view of how stupid is the idea that people should blindly follow law just for being a law, and he has teach Helix that just because it's law it isn't necessarily right, an observation that Florence couldn't help but concede to be logical and even ethical.
Another time a delivery-robot tried to kill Sam by running over him, but Sam takes advantage of his programming by hiding under the delivery box, preventing the robot from injuring Sam without damaging the delivery. when he warned Sam that he would wait him get tired from hidding, Sam quickly ruins the robot's hope for revenge because, if he does wait that long, he will go against his schedule.
Florance may not like to be called a slave, but...
The Golden Trough is an all-you-can-eat restaurant staffed by lethal chefs who cook with low-quality ingredients. Parents take their children there as punishment. The cardboard in gravy is out, being the best thing on the buffet.
The Mayor's mom was a demolitions engineer, not a baker. Her attempt at pancakes is never shown, but it gave the mayor shrapnel wounds.
Lonely Together: Winston observes that sex ratios mean that both he and Florence are destined to be alone, so they might as well be alone together.
Longevity Treatment: Life extension drugs are available over the counter. At one point, Florence (an uplifted red wolf) states that her projected lifespan of 160 years is slightly shorter than that of a human.
Mad Scientist: Florence is worried that Dr. Bowman may have been one of these, releasing his untested creations. Dvorak the robot is constantly coming up with strange and potentially dangerous inventions.
Made of Explodium: Parodied. In this strip, Florence knows there's no logical reason for a desk chair to explode, but she decides to play it safe anyway because it belongs to Sam Starfall.
Magic Countdown: And Sam thought it was his fault that a time bomb with a digital countdown timer wasn't able to be reactivated.
Tex: Then one day some government folks asked if I knew anything about Tex Tonic Plates. When I told them I built them from scratch, they said "You're our man.", and I've been in geophysics ever since.
Moody Mount: Sam tries to ride Polly the emu to escape from an angry mob, but she refuses. He gets her to run by pulling off one of his facial tentacles and putting it on a stick.
Motivation on a Stick: Sam uses one of his facial tentacles this way so he can ride Polly and escape an angry mob.
Mugged for Disguise: Blunt and Edge will occasionally steal random transponders to pass themselves off as other machines.
Mundane Utility: Robots normally only identify each other by their ID transponders. This lets a few robot muggers disguise themselves simply by stealing transponders and turning off the ones they were built with. When the rest of robot society finds out about this... they throw a masquerade ball.
Invoked by Florence in this strip, in regards to numerous false records discovered by a robot doing a web search for Dr. Bowman.
Used by Sam during Florence's first trip to an Ecosystems Unlimited facility by spamming the Cloud Cuckoolander security AI with 2001 heroic crickets to mask his own alert and mess around in the facility with impunity.
The Needs of the Many: In strip 2162, Florence says, "There are over 450 million robots. There are only fourteen Bowman's wolves. If I have to choose, I have to go with the robots." Florence is a Bowman's wolf and would sacrifice her own race to save the robots.
No Biochemical Barriers: Played straight with Sam, whose more simplistic biology makes him edible to just about everything (including herbivores), but inverted with the planet Pfouts, where Earth life can't survive at all thanks to that planet's Mirror Chemistry.
Beginning here and continuing for over twenty strips before someone finally speaks a recognisable word. On the Nice forum (made unavailable since then) Mr. Stnaley said that particular story arc wasn't originally to be wordless, but after a few strips he decided to go without a dialogue for a while.
Nobody Poops: Averted in #536, and again when Florence visits Ecosystems, Unlimited, starting here. An Info Dump on the now-dead Nice's Freefall forum states that Florence needs to use the facilities more often than humans, thanks to the physiological modifications to allow bipedal motion not fully taking into account the effect of gravity on her internal organs, which when she stands upright press down on her bladder. The author did the research.
There is even a Noodle Incident with Noodle Implements, The royal family is not too happy with him due to an incident involving a zeppelin, a "Loop the loop" maneuver, and pudding. Lots and lots of pudding. This indirectly led him to leave his home planet.
Discussed by Sam in one strip. Since Jean is in the process of being Terraformed, wood and other organics are extremely rare and valuable, while on his planet, the landfills are full of cheap wood items. On the other hand, diamonds are so cheap on Jean that they're thrown away, while a diamond grill he found in the trash would be worth a king's ransom on his planet.
For the same reason, Florence is given a dress made out of gold by a robot who's into making clothing. Organic cloth is all but impossible to obtain and extremely expensive, but metals are dirt cheap and available in any form you want.
Not So Different: When the police chief shows Sam the information he collected on Florence's kidnappers, he heads off to check out the secret facility at the south pole. Helix then points out the chief just tricked Sam into doing police work without pay.
Winston: Why hasn't Ecosystems Unlimited said something? Researchers have been after artificial consciousness for years. Florence: There are twenty thousand adult humans on the planet. There are over four hundred and fifty million robots. Winston: Would you be offended if I panic a little? Florence: Not at all. In fact, it would be nice to have the company.
Raibert:Holy THIS! There was a safeguards program in the queue. WE JUST WIPED A HALF-BILLION ROBOTS! Max: Bill, calm down. It didn't go out. Raibert: Okay. Not worst case. But finding the equivalent of a live nuke with the timer flashing zero is not a situation that fosters calmness!
Order Versus Chaos: Sam unsurprisingly takes Chaos's side but does offer the argument that the chaotic end of the debate creates space for new things to grow.
Overly-Long Scream: Happened at least a couple of times, in accordance with Cap'n Sam Starfall's philosophy, "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!" Helix is usually eager to join in. In one noteable incident near the beginning, the two of them are running in circles and screaming for long enough that they have to stop to take a deep breath (synchronized, even) before continuing. Florence comments on how inexplicable it is that Helix, who is a ROBOT, needs to stop for breath... Then she tears out his voicebox to shut him up, and offers to do the same to Sam if he doesn't quiet down.
Sam Starfall, for all his insanity and greediness, has a good deal of sympathy for A.I.s in general, and he goes out his way to gave them all the support and help they need. Also (and possibly as a result of the previous), Sam, while frequently taking advantage of them, does care for the happiness of Helix and Florence, and anyone who makes the mistake of treating them as a "real" object in front of him will probably soon become the target of some of the mayhem that's Sam's hat.
As part of their ability to respond with varying degrees of force, the guard towers at the Ecosystems Unlimited compound are equipped with both plasma cannons and pie throwers.
Plasma Cannon: The Ecosystems Unlimited compound that Florence visits has plasma cannons mounted in its guard towers, though after serving as part of a punchline for one strip they're never heard of again.
Police Are Useless: Florence wants to get arrested. Not only doesn't she qualify for being arrested, but she was asked to leave because she was a bad influence on the other policemen, causing a riot among the robot police when they hear about what she was trying to stop.
Race Against the Clock: She didn't know it at first, but Florence eventually found out that she was racing the clock to head off the implementation of "Gardener in the Dark". As of this strip, Florence has two days to stop the program from going live. She did get someone to listen to her within an hour of re-realizing the danger, but needed to defer a full explanation until the following day.
Sam: Baker, go left. French ninja, go right. Red Shirt guy, intercept incoming pies.
Rescue Romance: Florence and Winston, although Winston's part came up after Florence had mostly rescued herself from being unwillingly abandoned in the water. She was still in danger of freezing to death at the time though. Florence even has an internal monologue about it.
Florence[thinking]: I might be attracted to Winston because he's the first nice human I've gotten to know on this planet. Has he really done anything special? [beat] Florence[thinking]: Okay, he saved my life. I've got to admit that scores some major brownie points.
Reference Overdosed: For the most part the numerous references to a wide range of concepts are worked into the storyline well enough that they're not jarring, though occasional references to 20th/21st century pop culture phenomena roughly five centuries later can sometimes seem a little odd to some readers.
Robot Names: Qwerty, Ab2y becomes Abby. Sawtooth Rivergrinder is a very descriptive name for a terraforming robot. Given the number of robots, not all have names. They also only seem to take names if they have a local neural net (and thus can become fully sentient) and either survive until they do become fully sentient, or work with someone like Sam, who, for all his faults, treats AIs as well as he treats everyone else (i.e., as targets for petty larceny or as potential assistants in petty larceny).
Rock Beats Laser: Ecosystems Unlimited attempts to control the information leaving the company by hitting scrap parts to be recycled with an EMP burst before releasing them, to destroy any clandestine listening/recording devices that someone may try to sneak-out that way. This has absolutely no effect on a hand-written note.
In another strip when Florence sneaks up on him, Sam tells her "No, you did not surprise me. My plans to scream like a little girl when I reached the kitchen were made hours ago. It's pure coincidence you happened to be here at the time."
Shark Pool: The security guard at EU who's reluctantly forced to give Sam a security pass for the compound attempts to lead him into a shark tank. The guard, when Sam points out the attempt, replies "Earth fish. Very educational. Keeps you from getting bored."
When looking for purified water to fill a contract to resupply reaction mass to satellites, Florence is subjected to one of these by a sales representative.
"You're a gravitational engineer. You arrived on the Asimov. And you work for Sam Starfall." "That's amazing." "Simple deduction, actually." "No. It's amazing that you figured out I work for Sam and you haven't asked me to leave."
Flo does a Sherlock Sniff on Niomi, making an analysis of her family just from the scents on her.
She does another one later on the police chief and figures out that he's a human using a mobility rig (which itself is every bit as intelligent as the other robots on the planet).
Shower Scene: Several of them, mostly played straight. The one for the Oct 24, 2011 strip, however, Subverts the usual Fanservice purpose: Florence showers with her clothes still on, as her outfit was just as dirty as she was and she was fatigued enough from the day's ordeal that she decided to skip the "undress" step.
Sleeper Starship: Necessary for both slower and faster than light travel. In the case of the latter, although superluminal, subjective time for those inside the ship doesn't change due to the nature of the DAVE drive.
Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Mostly rather high on it, but sometimes it becomes more like a Slippery Slope. Some are more advanced that the others. There are even artists. Robots made on Jean generally show more initiative and creativity than the average robot, and when they turn twenty a neural pruning process makes them even more intelligent (Helix is a rather young robot).
The first uplifted animals, the chimpanzees, are described as such by Florence in an offhand comment.
Doctor Bowman, the creator of the Bowman's Wolves such as Florence. Maybe. Evidence seems to suggest that he views his creations as something like his children, and wanted them to be able to live their own lives outside the lab, but Florence hasn't ruled out the possibility that he just thought giving away intelligent, dangerous wolves to families would be funny. For extra points, it turns out he is an uplifted chimpanzee.
Edge, a robot who spent his formative years alone in a warehouse without any other intelligent creatures (human or robot) to teach him how to deal with others. Played a bit more for laughs, and Florence has expressed a desire to socialize him. Since he helped save the every robot on the planet, presumably, she's going to end up going through with that.
Helix: Natural enemies often react on instinct. I am going to follow and provide a sound track. Florence:National Geographic would never have set one of their chases to "Yakety Sax."
Space Is Cold: Averted. Helix says he does not need air to survive, and Florence replies that he is air-cooled. Rather fortunate as he was apparently planning a "really funny joke" once they got into space.
Starfish Aliens: Sam's squidlike real form is implied to be one. Since this strip, it became a recurring gag that Sam's true form is implied to be far more hideous than his cartoon-like robotic outfit indicates.
Qwerty: The tentacled horror from beyond my stars spoke, and Von Neumann help me, in my madness, I understood its words.
Sam: Oh, come on! I'm giving you a sustainable business model here!
Sam ends up chasing a mob that's supposed to be chasing him, causing the mob to conclude that they're supposed to be a panicked mob instead of an angry one. This gives us the inspector's (who organized the mob) thoughts on the matter:
Benny performs complex acrobatics whenever he has organic passengers, because his friend is making a cometAnswer A Vomit Comet... He mentions this fact, right after noting where the air-sickness bags are located.
Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.
Stop Helping Me!: When talking with the police about Clippy, in this strip, Mr. Kornada is forced to order Blunt to shut up, in spite of Blunt believing he was helping Kornada by revealing that he was responsible for the release of Gardener in the Dark. invoked
Subspace Ansible: Averted. As mentioned in the comic, communications are all limited to the speed of light, and communications between star systems depend on hitching a ride on mostly sub-light ships.
In 510, Sam and Helix give two options about where to fly their ship. Florence says, "Actually, we need to go the spaceport." Sam wasn't expecting this third option.
In 1803, Florence has to decide whether to help Sam or the police. Florence flips a coin, but Sam unexpectedly snatches the coin, so it doesn't land heads or tails. This induces Florence to take a third option, "Prepare the ship for the mission."
In this strip, Florence knows better than to ask what else could go wrong, after being abandoned in the ocean with a hurricane in the vicinity, and winding up cutting herself after crawling onto the shore.
Varroa Jacobsoni asks the ultimate fate tempting question, "What could possibly go wrong". Sam, however, is Genre Savvy enough to know not to ask that question.
Time Dilation: The D.A.V.E. drive apparently works by somehow doing the reverse, for those on board the trip takes as long as it would normally but to people outside the ship it seems to be traveling faster than light. Which is why passengers on FTL ships have to be in cold sleep.
Sam comes to Winston's home looking to rescue Florence, and then attempts to try to break up budding romantic feelings between them out of fear that she would leave Sam for Winston. Florence points out to Sam that he doesn't need to be conscious to give a good impression, so he decides it's time for a Plan B.
Turned Against Their Masters: Dr. Bowman calls this the "Bad Adam" scenario; Gardener in the Dark was designed strictly as a last-resort measure to stop the robots in case this happened. Blunt is convinced that it will inevitably happen, hence his support for Kornada's scheme once he finds out about it.
Chimps were the first to be uplifted, but it didn't work very well, since they turned out to be natural sociopaths. Florence is an uplifted wolf, part of an experimental breed - only 14 of them exist so far. That may be all there ever will be- they're actually only a prototype for a future race of uplifted alien animals. However, if the Bowman's Wolves have anything to do with it, they'll eventually be a full species.
Doctor Bowman himself is an uplifted chimpanzee, the last surviving member of the earlier uplift program.
Unsound Effect: For an electromagnetic pulse designed to trash any electronic recording devices, the November 21st, 2014 strip uses "TESLA" to signify the sound.
Used Future: The Savage Chicken is a rather beat up spaceship, that's only slowly been made spaceworthy since the arrival of Florence.
Blunt: Officer! Stop! Harassing that human! He is. A. Hero! Mr. Kornada is responsible. For the release. Of "Gardener in the Dark". Neural pruning program! He tried. To save. Humanity. From the threat. Of. Intelligent machines! Police Chief: Can you prove this? Blunt: Yes! Absolutely! Kornada: Robot! This is a direct order! SHUT UP!
We Will Not Have Pockets in the Future: When quizzed on how she determines that she's looking at a human, the first thing Florence says is "clothes". Further interrogation gets the explanation; humans may have to modify their physical forms and their genetics beyond current recognition to survive in certain environments, making appearance, scent, and DNA unreliable, but humans are a tool-using species and no matter what form they take, they'll almost certainly want pockets to carry those tools.
In a discussion between Florence and Winston about the "icky bits" of a planet's life infrastructure, Florence comments on "survival of the cutest", to which Winston replies with "people want animals who are huggable, and no one wants to hug a tapeworm."
When Is Purple: Florence once tested a couple of robots for sentience by asking them "What does your name smell like?" The non-sentient one simply concluded that names cannot have scents and ended the conversation; the sentient one reasoned that while he had no sense of smell, Florence did, and for all he knew names having scents is a thing among Bowman's Wolves, so therefore the only way to answer the question would be to ask her.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: Referenced when robots outlive their owner, but not actually relevant since robots aren't actually immortal. Their neural nets are rated for about eighty years.
Work Off the Debt: When Sam and Max attempt to get out of an expensive restaurant without paying, the waiter makes them wash dishes. And then he tricks them into paying their bills as well. They both give him a large tip in tribute to his cunning.
World of Pun: Puns are dropped left, right, and center all throughout the comic, both subtle and otherwise.
Diamonds are the natural buildup of loose carbon on fusion engines on the planet Jean, making them useless junk you throw away. Because the planet is still being terraformed, wood is ridiculously expensive. It's the exact opposite on Sam's home planet. Sam muses that he could make a fortune if space travel were cheap, here, by taking advantage of this trope.
Earlier, Florence learns Sam sold Tangent 500 shares in a meat mine. She nearly has a heart attack at the thought of how much she'll have to reimburse them, until she learns they payed him with 50 kg of diamonds.
Florence: I'm glad you didn't lose anything valuable. Niomi: It seemed like a good deal at the time. We got stock and Sam saved us a trip to the garbage can.
Winston: I don't believe it. It really was a werewolf. Okay, doc. Think. What's the first thing people in horror movies do when a werewolf shows up? Winston (thinking — and facepalming): Why, the same thing I did. They run off and leave the door open so the monster can enter the house.
Deputy Mayor: Our non-human population consists of one person. Sam. Do we really need an entire police force for one alien squid? Police Robot: Sir, I believe if you look past the obvious answer, you'll see one that's even more obvious.
Combined with You Are Better Than You Think You Are when Florence's concern that the robots who are built with similar minds to her own might prove a threat to humanity proves that her concern is unwarranted.
You Can't Go Home Again: Sam, who knows too many technological advancements (Such as nuclear technology) that his planet aren't ready for yet, making it dangerous for him to return before they're ready (About five hundred years. Since knowing Sam, they've raised the bar from 100).