Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Webcomics Worth Wreading, Entry 46: Quantum Vibe

I may have mentioned previously that I am a sucker for science fiction. I love stories about the future, about robots and spaceships and offworld colonies. Even implausible, poorly realized visions of the future appeal to me, but I am all the more captivated when a speculative work is carefully thought out and self-consistent. Better still if it contains intricate plots and wonderfully imaginative concepts and is populated by complex, three-dimensional characters, the likes of which you’ll find in Quantum Vibe.

Quantum Vibe is an action-packed romp through the solar system, following the members of a scientific expedition as they find intrigue and danger at every corner. Many of the problems they encounter are directly related to their project, but our solar system is a dangerous place, and anyone traveling around to most of its major destinations on a tight schedule is bound to run into some complications.

This is a vibrant setting, inhabited by a cast of eccentric and fascinating personalities. As much of the drama is the result of personal interactions and relationship progression as comes from external conspiracies or obstacles to the characters’ goals. Much of the story is driven by friendships, both old and new. There are a lot of people in the solar system, but some characters have been alive long enough to meet a good portion of them. The interpersonal relationships in Quantum Vibe are every bit as fascinating as the tales of high-level corporate espionage.

Note: Quantum Vibe is definitely narrative-driven, and I highly recommend reading it all from the beginning.There is a recent recap covering the whole story up to that point, which starts here. If you feel like jumping in with the minimal amount of catching up, feel free to give that a read and get yourself current. I think that taking the time to go through the archive is a better reading experience, though. There’s a lot of nuance and character development that is as entertaining to read as it is relevant to later plot events, and I wouldn’t like to miss out on all of that. (The recap is advantageous even to those who’ve read through the archive, as it provides reminders of details that may have been forgotten, and even lays out some information that actually slipped me by while I was reading the comic the first time around.)

There’s also an About section, starting here, which gives an overview of the characters and setting, and which provides some information that hasn’t yet been stated explicitly in the comic itself.

It’s great to have that additional material, because the setting of Quantum Vibe contains such layers of detail that there’s no way the comic will ever cover everything I could want to know. That’s a good thing; as long as the story continues, I expect to keep discovering new and delightful information about the future being portrayed. As long as there is something else for me to discover, I will never be a bored reader.

In my last post I talked about Vattu and the significance of compelling worldbuilding. Quantum Vibe is another example of worldbuilding done extremely well. The reader can clearly see how the current cultural, political and technological landscape may have evolved into the one presented in the comic, yet there are still wondrous and bizarre surprises around every corner.

One matter that stories set in the future have to address is that of social change. Most people agree that social injustice is currently a problem that needs to be addressed (though there’s a tremendous amount of disagreement as to how it ought to be addressed). When looking to the future, most authors address the question “Will things get better? Or are they going to get worse?”

Depending on the answer, the work will often be set either in a utopia, wherein all sentient beings coexist peacefully and are treated with equality, or a dystopia, wherein the majority of sentient beings are downtrodden in one way or another.

The future presented in Quantum Vibe is not one where all social injustice has been resolved, nor is it one where matters have degraded to a degree that all hope seems lost. Rather than social and political systems being guided one way or the other, it’s clear that they’ve evolved organically, meeting needs as they arose, making adjustments as technology and populations changed, and causing benefit or harm to the population in different places at different times.

In some places life is pretty good for most people. In others, life is pretty fucked up for most people. And in lots of places, there’s a mixture of harmful policies put in place by well-meaning people or corrupt individuals finding ways to twist ostensibly fair systems. Life in Quantum Vibe is in some ways much like life on Earth today: Depending on where you live and what group you belong to, it may be free and easy or horrendously difficult.

While the political developments in Quantum Vibe sound quite familiar, the technological advances are marvelous. Sentient androids (called “artifolk” if you want to be politically correct) and genetically-engineered humans work alongside one another on terraforming projects. Holograms have practically replaced clothing in some locations, and body modification is practical on a scale that is extreme by current standards.

There’s even a reasonable extrapolation of the modern internet, as people communicate, call up information, and arrange purchases by using implants that allow them to access a network just with their thoughts. It’s rare to see the internet in representations of the future, partly because for a long time science fiction authors just didn’t realize that the internet was coming, and partly because a lot of people rely on cutting off communication channels between characters to facilitate drama. It’s a relief to see examples like Quantum Vibe, where the internet is not only present in the future, but it’s been plausibly adapted and updated to make use of ever-changing communications technologies.

Cultural developments are possibly even harder to predict than technological ones. A lot of authors solve this problem by assuming that current cultural touchstones will become well-regarded classics in the future. Quantum Vibe handles this issue with a sense of humor and realism. Characters clearly regard our own time as a part of their history; they know a few things about us and a few of our pop culture references have continued through the ages, but that stuff’s all in the distant past, and they relate to it differently than we do. Certain things may stand the test of time, but they will not pass through history unchanged.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the setting, because it’s brilliant, but what really makes Quantum Vibe work are the characters. Every one of them has such depth that they feel like real people, living in a real place. Nicole Oresme, the protagonist, goes through hell and high water over the course of the story. Like any action star, she’s strong enough to get through the difficult times and keep fighting, but what sets her and Quantum Vibe apart is that we can see how deeply the violence and hardships affect her. And knowing how much she’s been hurt, we can appreciate how strong she truly has to be.

While other characters don’t get the same amount of attention as Nicole, it’s clear that they have just as much activity going on beneath the surface. Others have also dealt with trauma and come through it, and their histories inform their current actions. The reader can’t make assumptions; people are strange and unpredictable, and there’s always more going on than is readily apparent. On occasion, someone shows up who seems to be completely unlikeable, but they turn out to be more sympathetic, or at least more helpful to our heroes, than they first appear.

Some of those characters are spaceships!

If you’re in the mood to escape into a speculative future, or just want to get to know some fascinating characters, or if you’re wondering why these people are risking life and limb all over the solar system, you should check out Quantum Vibe. There’s quite a tapestry here, one that I can’t do justice to with only a few paragraphs of text and some visual aids. I can only speak for myself, but Quantum Vibe gives me almost everything I could possibly want in a science fiction story. Hopefully it will be some of the things you want in a science fiction story, too.

Quantum Vibe is written and drawn by Scott Bieser and colored by Zeke Bieser. It updates on weekdays. Go forth and fall in love with this comic, as I have done. I think you’ll find it a truly rewarding experience.

Now, presented for your amusement: The confusion an individual may experience when encountering sales tax for the first time.

Previous Entry: Vattu


  1. The author, Scott Bieser, is an outspoken Libertarian whose previous co-authored webcomic, "Escape From Terra" was basically in the same universe, but with more plotlines that were very political and less personal. (Like the "Sales Tax" comic but all the time and more strident) It caused me occasional cramps from rolling my eyes even at the times I agreed with the politics. So it was a relief when he focused more with the characters in this one - and made some interesting characters to focus on. When it seems that all the good Webcomic Space Operas (Starslip, Schlock Mercenary. Spacetrawler, Drive) are heavily into Comedy/Satire (or at least started out to be, then matured into a more serious approach), it was good to see somebody take his SciFi seriously from the start (of course, there is occasional comic relief, like today's strip).

    1. It was interesting how my approach to Quantum Vibe changed after I learned of the author's political leanings, though I think it's to his credit that nothing stood out to me as stridently political when I was first reading it.

      Though I do love a Comedic Webcomic Space Opera, good old serious spacefaring drama can indeed be a wonderful thing to find.

  2. Scott's libertarianis has never been a secret. Just look at his other work archived at bigheadpress.com (most also for sale in dead-tree form). The "Probability Broach" graphic novel he did with L. Neil Smith was given a special Prometheus Award by the Libertarian Futurist Society. Also, "Quantum Vibe" and "Escape from Terra" are not in the same future history.

    1. An artist is of course free to espouse his political views in whatever manner he chooses. I do think it's fascinating the way that one can read a work differently depending on one's awareness of the author's background.

  3. Been disappointed by recent racist storyline with stereotyped honour killing Muslim fanatic. I guess even libertarians can't escape racist urges. Really spoiled it for me.

    1. I can definitely understand being bothered by that aspect of the flashback. Taking the story closer to the here-and-now seems to be giving unpalatable biases a chance to shine through.