Freefall is a long-running webcomic (over 2300 strips as of May 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."Florence, an anthropomorphic genetically-engineered red wolf, is one of the most intelligent members of the entire cast (not just the main characters).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.
This webcomic contains examples of the following tropes:
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.
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. Word Of God discusses 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).
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".
Another one that hasn't gone off yet, more than eight years later. When trying to find contact information for Florence, Winston asks a computer how many genetically engineered sapients there are on the planet. It says there are two... and we haven't met the other one yet. Too obvious not to be a tease, but still unfulfilled. At the rate the comic moves, it could be years more before it becomes relevant.
The other was revealed a few strips before. Winston was genetically engineered to be better suited for living in space.
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.
Florence's hunting instincts can come across as such.
Also Benny's flying:
Benny: Engines, 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 has been known to use this to her advantage in teaching Sam. For instance, whenever they take the Savage Chicken into orbit, she makes sure to give Sam ample time to play in free fall, him never suspecting that she's actually letting him learn how to maneuver in microgravity in case there's an emergency.
Winston notes that the robots should be shouting "WEREWOLFY!" instead of "DOGGY!".
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.
Deadly Upgrade: Gardener In The Dark is a patch designed to prune robots' neural pathways to prevent them from achieving full sentience and walking off the job. However, it seems that Mr. Kornada has had the patch altered to lobotomize the robots back to factory settings. Considering how much Jean relies on intelligent robots to run, this is not a good thing.
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.
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: Justified with 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.
Face Palm: Poor Florence ends up doing these very often throughout the whole comic, with the "pinching bridge of nose" variety being the most common.
Faster-than-Light Travel: The Dangerous And Very Expensive drive is only used for very important people and cargoes, though it's also the only means of sending messages to another system anytime fast. Large payloads like colony ships have to be sent slower than light.
Even then, it is indicated that the travel time isn't shortened from the point of view of the travelers, only those at either end of the journey, so passengers still have to go in cryo.
There's also, although not expanded in the comic itself, the DAVE drive, the FTL drive used to get between star systems. 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 Shout Out to the old Maxell cassette ad demonstrating the trope.
Kornada's boxers, seen here, are of the "pink/red hearts" variety, although not commented on.
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 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.
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; though he hasn't appeared in the comic (see The Ghost), 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.
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.
I Cannot Self-Terminate: This robot really wishes it could. Not that it hasn't a good reason. 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.
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 certainly qualifies as this. He 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 accuretly 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.
There's also a time were a delivery-robot tried to kill Sam by running over him, but sam take advantage of his programming by hidding 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....
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 belong to Sam Starfall.
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.
My Car Hates Me: An unusually literal example: Sam's spaceship's AI was trying to kill him for a while. Now it has settled on injury/maiming.
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 Also, spamming the Cloud Cuckoolander security AI with 2001 heroic crickets to mask his own alert and mess around in the facility with impunity.
No Dialogue Episode: Beginning here and continuing for over twenty strips before someone finally speaks a recognisable word. Word Of God from the Nice forum (made unavailable since then) was that particular story arc wasn't originally to be wordless, but after a few strips Mr. Stanley decided to go without a dialogue for a while.
Nobody Poops: Averted in #536, and again when Florence visits Ecosystems, Unlimited, starting here.Word Of God, in 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.
Note to Self: When Florence has amnesia, this is the only way she can remember anything, using a pen and some sticky notes found elsewhere in the Ecosystems Unlimited testing facility.
Not Rare Over There: 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.
Helix: A pressure cooker works by applying pressure and heat for a long time. My way does the same in an instant. Florence: That sounds almost as you're trying to cook using explosives.
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.
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.
Rescue Romance: Florence and Winston, although Winston's part came up after Florence had mostly rescued herself from being unwillingly abandoned in the water.
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 (as per Word Of God on the forums) can sometimes seem a little odd to some readers.
Florence Ambrose: Can we at least try to solve this logically before you robots go all emotional?
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, Florence thinks she's startled Sam, but he explains: "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."
Settling The Frontier: The comic takes place on a newly colonized planet in the final stages of terraforming.
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.
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 "do laundry" step.
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).
Smooch of Victory: Stopping a robot war and keeping two factories from being destroyed? According to Winston those count as reason for a victory kiss.
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.
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.
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.
Uplifted Animal: 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 (Word Of God states she has no human DNA), 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.
Used Future: The Savage Chicken is a rather beat up spaceship, that's only slowly been made spaceworthy since the arrival of Florence.
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.
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.
Worthless Yellow Rocks: Diamonds are the natural buildup of loose carbon on fusion engines. Sam muses on how he could make a fortune if space travel were cheap, here, by taking advantage of this trope.
Wretched Hive: On Sam's homeworld, the docks are "an oozing infestation of scoundrels whose decaying warehouses held the prizes of a thousand different crimes."
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.
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).