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28 October 2013 @ 10:48 am
In which I throw down a webcomic in disgust  
I've been reading a webcomic for three months that I just stopped reading, and the reason why drove me to write about it.

Let me explain. The webcomic is Quantum Vibe, which was mentioned on RPG.net as pretty good, though with a libertarian bent. "Well, whatever," I thought. "I read Atlas Shrugged[1], I can read this if it's recommended on somewhere I trust the opinion of." And for a while, it did work. The story starts out with the main character losing her job, running out of money, and then being hired on as the assistant of a famous scientist who seems excessively paranoid about his newest assignment for no obvious reason, having to perform really suicidally dangerous tasks like diving under the corona of the sun to detonate some nuclear bombs in order to get some data for his experiments... All in all, it seemed to get off to a really promising start.

Then the Lunar arc happened. The characters started talking about the Lunar government, and that's when the ideological hammer came out. It started with having to go through Lunar customs, which is weird and odd and Lunars (loonies?) do it but no one else introduced has because apparently people living in fragile habitats floating in the endless dark of space don't care about what people are bringing on board? Then the main character is pulled aside for a "random screening." Then at the money-changer, it turns out a post-scarcity civilization still uses gold-backed currency but Lunars are weird because they use FIAT CURRENCY. Then this happens.

That's about the point where I threw up my hands and closed the tab.[2]

I think the problem was the bait-and-switch. I wouldn't have minded if the entire comic had been like that from the beginning, since then I would have had that warning and wouldn't have had all my exceptations changed out from under me. Like I said, I read Atlas Shrugged. And I certainly wouldn't have minded if it hadn't turned into an Author Tract. Changing after I got invested both felt like a betrayal and got really annoying in the way any preaching is annoying when you aren't expecting it.

In writing this, I also realized something else that annoyed me: Lunar society isn't contrasted with any of the other future societies because up to that point almost nothing is described about them. Earth is a cyberpunk hellhole ruled over by a bunch of megacorporations where the population has been genetically engineered into a caste system...and that's about all that's revealed, so Lunar society is a transparently obvious critique of modern America with out-of-control cops, corporations bribing the government, two tiers of justice depending on whether you're rich or poor, a ban on the carrying of personal weapons without a permit, FIAT CURRENCY, etc., etc., etc. So the two societies we know anything about are dystopic, and the main character's habitat is apparently a libertarian paradise which maintains its liberty by virtue of not having to tell us how it actually works.

While looking around the internet for other people's opinion on the topic, I found a Charles Stross essay about how space is often cast is a frontier. In American fiction, the big frontier we always think of is the West back during the days of Manifest Destiny[3], and so space is often cast as the Wild West. But when you think about it, space is really nothing like the Wild We-


But seriously, the usual categorization is Earth groaning under bureaucracy and extreme regimentation, while the true free spirits head out to the asteroids or the outer colonies or whatever to make their fortunes away from the panopticon and obsessive nit-picking of all those dirtgrubbers. But really, this makes no sense. As Stross mentions, on Earth it's easy to strike it off alone and go live in your own community in the wilderness because there's actual wilderness where people can live. In space, the environment is actively trying its level best to murder you literally every second and only constant effort prevents your horrific death by decompression or asphyxiation or radiation poisoning or any of the other ways to die that are really unlikely on Earth. To avoid that, any government in space is way more likely to be a dystopian hellhole than to be some kind of minarchist utopia. And I guess Quantum Vibe does have 2 hellholes to 1 utopias, so that's a start. But one of those is Earth, which gets no points because it doesn't need a dystopia to maintain its very existence.

Summary: Bait-and-switches are terrible, especially if you initially expected it but were lulled into a false sense of security.

[1]: I am aware the Objectivism and Libertarianism are overlapping circles on the Venn.
[2]: Though finally noticing the author's Twitter feed on the side of the page didn't help either.
[3]: To the extent that those days are over, anyway.
Current Mood: uncomfortableuncomfortable
Current Music: Rabih Abou-Khalil - Arabian Waltz
q99q99 on October 28th, 2013 04:45 pm (UTC)
I don't think you need hellholes, but you do need people working together and probably fairly strict controls on many things. Not 'evil govment,' but 'people willingly buy into this for obvious reasons.'

The strip you linked just seems heavy-handed and extremely clumsy to me.

dorchadasdorchadas on October 28th, 2013 07:19 pm (UTC)
I think that annoyed me more than anything else. A well-written political screed is still well-written, but if it's not...
q99q99 on October 28th, 2013 07:50 pm (UTC)
Yea, this was an extremely cheap, poorly done 'take that'.

There's a libertarian comic, the Probability Broach, that's obviously libertarian, but I find entertaining. It never pretends to be anything else, and it's setting is over-the-top silly about it ("Our libertarian society is so awesome it has talking chimps!").
dorchadasdorchadas on October 28th, 2013 08:53 pm (UTC)
I would have given Atlas Shrugged way more than two stars if the Titans of Industry had been talking chimps. (^_^)
q99q99 on October 29th, 2013 08:51 am (UTC)
Oh yes!

And even the villains of the thing are pretty fun! ("We're going to bring in nuclear weapons to use in a takeover! What are you going to do about it, regulate weaponry? Hahaha!")
marianlhmarianlh on October 28th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
I had a similar experience with Quantum Vibe, except I wasn't warned in advance. Gah.