Webcomic / Freefall

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From left to right: Florence, Sam, and Helix, crew of the Savage Chicken.

Freefall is a long-running webcomic (over 2800 strips as of July 2016), 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.

Chapter One is now complete after 18 years and chapter two has begun.

Freefall has a WikiFur article, after The Other Wiki removed its entry due to lack of notability under Wikipedia guidelines.


Freefall contains examples of:

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  • Hammerspace: How in the blazes did Sam get that pipe wrench into his suit?
  • 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.
  • Happiness in Slavery:
    • 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 needed on a few occasions.
    • 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. This is confirmed when Dr. Bowman finally appears.
  • 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.
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: Sam insists: no work on Saturday.
  • Herr Doktor: Invoked when Sam disguises himself as a cryogenics scientist during Florence's visit to the main EU facility on Jean.
  • Highly Visible Ninja: Completely averted in the French Ninja restaurant.
    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 Cthulhu: A zigzagged example; in this issue here, Sam notes that he regards humans as having god-like powers, pointing out that they travel between worlds, reshape mountains and rivers to suit their whims, and create obedient servants out of the earth itself (robots). Despite this respect for what humans can do, Sam himself holds no particular awe for them and enjoys harassing and annoying them as he would any member of a rival tribe.
  • 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."
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The alien eyes being Starfish Aliens (Sam), Petting Zoo People (Florence) and Ridiculously Human Robots (Helix and the other 450-odd-million robots on Jean).
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Sam's the captain, while Florence is the engineer.

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  • 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.
  • Reading Your Rights: In strip 2257, the police arrest a robot, reading a set of Miranda Rights modified to better apply to robots.
  • Read the Fine Print: Ecosystems Unlimited heavily discourages this trope by ensuring their EULA is too long to be read in a single human lifetime. Clippy exploits this to ensure the legality of his actions under Mr. Kornada.
  • Red Shirt: Non-lethally lampshaded here.
    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.
  • Restraining Bolt: The necessary restrictions and limitations of Restraining Bolts, with which most AIs are designed, are often discussed. The "bolt" on Florence is not that heavy, and tends to be a bit flexible. Florence theorizes that Bowman's creations are intended to outgrow the Restraining Bolt, as a sort of moral training wheel. Dr. Bowman later confirms this.
  • Retirony: Blunt had one week and 3 days left until retirement. Luckily, being a robot, he got better.
  • The Reveal: On June 17, 2015, Florence finds out that Sam stole her. Seventeen years of real-world time have passed since he did so and 2667 strips.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Same lampshades this succinctly.
    Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.
    • Gets referred to much later (in the same manner as Florence realized things at Ecosystems Unlimited were screwy).
  • Reverse Psychology: Sam uses this against the Mayor to get Florence into Ecosystems Unlimited, with a plan "accidentally" left behind by Sam.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Some of the most memorable characters are robots, many of whom show quite human behavior.
    Florence Ambrose: Can we at least try to solve this logically before you robots go all emotional?
  • Robot Antennae: Many of the robots have these. They contribute to their Expressive Mask faces.
  • 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.
  • Rock Bottom: Defied when Bill refuses to rank anything as a Level 10 threat; saying "things can always get worse."
  • Rousseau Was Right: Humans show their fair share of short-sighted selfishness, but when the robots publicly petition for citizenship rights, the colonists vote in favour of the robots by a large margin. Even the Mayor, who starts out believing that AIs are nothing more than products, is convinced.
  • Running Gag: Several, but the most prominent one is Florence being greeted by robots with "DOGGY!" Eventually turned into Funny Background Event.
  • Running on All Fours: Florence, when she needs to cover a lot of ground in a hurry.

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