Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Miracle of Science

"It's gonna take a hundred thoughts to make this one disappear
A train like that could travel a soul for years
A terrible thought could have a terribly long career"

Poe - Terrible Thought

A not quite representative example of the best old-style webcomics from the glory days before they transitioned from mode of expression to business model, A Miracle of Science lacks the haphazard initial fumbling which characterized most such ouvres. Then again, some might call the fact that its creators had their heads on their shoulders a positive quality.

Visually, it's nothing to write home about (as was more often than not the case with early webcomics) though after the first chapter or two it settles into a clean, direct style well-suited to conveying its story. The authors confess in various notes to being fans of old pulp SciFi magazines and MoS certainly shows it: trenchcoats and pinstripe suits share the stage with bulbous, flashy gadgetry sometimes directly inspired by the nonsensical, generic and often surrealist "ScieFie" covers which publishers always insist on slapping on anything futuristic. Given its clean, focused presentation and hard science themes, it's probably most similar to Freefall, even if its central subject begs comparisons to Narbonic or Girl Genius.

Y'see, it's about mad scientists, though in this case the mad scientist trope is spun into just that: a trope, a meme, a mental infection, a pre-chewed chain of thought which grabs hold of otherwise intelligent minds and drives them both forward and in several other directions at once in the manner of stereotypical Bond villains. It is however an inherently self-defeating, slavish behavior pattern dependent on interaction with authority, and the main job of the new branch of law enforcement protecting the solar system from such threats seems to be minimizing the damage mad scientists can do before they run themselves into the ground. Mads are less evildoers than psychiatric cases.

Quoth the grizzled police chief archetype:

"Mad science follows a fairly rigid memetic track. Infection, Obsession, Challenge, Chase Scene and Denoument. After that, the meme has burned itself out for the moment and the cycle restarts at obsession."

It's a fascinating set-up and the sort of Big Idea which has made for so much good Science Fiction, and MoS is littered with quite a few others in the same vein. You're expected to have some passing familiarity with the basic notions of memes, nanotech, hive minds, AI, etc. and take space exploration as a grand ideal. Call it a romance, buddy flick, crime drama or anything else but what MoS really is, is nerd fiction - because let's face it, if you're actively looking for stories about mad scientists you may already be infected yourself.

P.S.: The authors' commentary below each strip is certainly worth reading as well.

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