Freefall is a scientific term for any body of mass currently in a state such that the only force acting upon it is the force of gravity. It is also popularly used as a skydiving term, meaning the time between exiting an aircraft and deploying a parachute. Additionally, in at least one instance that I know of, it is the name of an attraction at an amusement park.

Because we do not feel the force of gravity directly, freefall is the only time we can feel as if there are no external forces acting on us whatsoever. At all other times when we are upon the surface of the earth, something (usually the ground, or perhaps a chair) is pushing up against us, holding us away from the center of the planet. Because we are constantly exposed to this upward (really outward) force, freefall can take some getting used to.

Although skydiving is a quite popular approximation, it isn't technically freefall due to the overwhelming amount of rushing air causing an upward force. Roller coasters and the like can also allow you to ape the sensation of feeling nothing at all. Other choices for the freefall-seeking adventurer include NASA's vomit comet or becoming an astronaut; a spacecraft traveling in orbit around a planet is in freefall, since the vessel is constantly being pulled down towards the planet and just as constantly missing it due to forward velocity.

Freefall the webcomic

Currently at http://freefall.purrsia.com/, this is an intelligent hard science fiction comedy by Mark Stanley. Set in the far future, on a newly colonized planet undergoing terraforming, there are robots, humans, an alien and a genetically engineered creature.

Dramatis personae
(in order of appearance)

    Sam Starfall Nominally the captain of the starship Savage Chicken and an entrepreneur. An alien, but as he rarely removes his environmental suit, his physical differences are not emphasized. His psychological differences are. Sam's specie's ecological niche is that of scavengers, thus there are differences as simple as eating roadkill, and as complex as looting songs sung during burglaries. "Ethics. Of all the flaws for a crew member to have, why did it have to be ethics?"

    Helix A robot, designed is to lift heavy objects, move them and put them down. He is happiest doing this. Easily excited and not very smart. "But the best part about being a space pirate is how easy it is to hide your treasure. Drop it from obit and boom! It's self burying!"

    Florence Ambrose The series's claim to furry fame. She is a Bowman's Wolf, an uplifted canine. A level headed engineer and the series's straight man. She is often unaware quite how many long, sharp and pointy teeth she displays when she smiles. "Believe me, Helix. when you wear an environment suit and you hear hissing, you hope it's a snake."

    Sawtooth Rivergrinder. A large terraforming robot. Clever than one would expect a construction robot to be. "He called me a big dumb robot. But he doesn't call me that anymore. Now he calls me a big dumb robot who ran a river through his living room"

    Winston Scudder Thurmad. A veterinarian. Florence's love interest? "It never fails. You're doing an autopsy and the moment you crack open the brain casing the phone rings."

    There are many other interesting minor characters. There is the robot community that seem to be universally eccentric, a xenocidal ship's computer and many, many humans.

The story begins with Florence's arrival on planet Jean and chronicles her experiences as an engineer on the Savage Chicken over the next few weeks. The series has an abundance of hideous puns, but also very good science. It's hard science fiction. The author has stated he wants to keep the science as realistic as possible. Everything except FTL travel (which is not dwelt on) is plausible, if not an inevitable consequence of technological progress. It has the best justification for genetically engineering an animal to sentience that I have ever seen. The author has sensibly made the archives available for download as zip files, a blessing for those of us on dial up. Of course this means it's also available on P2P if you want to be charitable and not strain the site's bandwidth.

It's been running for eight years, the latest strips have been in colour and very funny. It has thrice been nominated for a Web Cartoonist's Choice Award, and won as Outstanding Science Fiction Comic in 2001.1 It's my favorite after Schlock Mercenary.

References

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freefall_%28webcomic%29

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