Quantum Vibe: Nicole

The first collection, Nicole, of the Quantum Vibe webcomic has a lot to recommend it, marred by an unfortunate plot turn late in the volume. The series launched in 2011, and this book collects the first 400 strips from the series (which updates every weekday).

Nicole won me over from the start. Although she looks a little panicked on the cover, most of the time, she’s competent and spunky, a welcome choice for a space adventurer. (And it’s refreshing to see a person of color as a lead without that being the point of the story or her only character trait.) At loose ends after being dumped by a loser boyfriend, she takes a new job as a technical assistant to Dr. Seamus O Murchada, an accomplished physicist and inventor. He’s literally larger than life, the result of a rejuvenation procedure gone awry, and he visually and by attitude reminds me of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who. He’s working on a discovery that could change everything, which means various bad guys are out to stop him by any means possible.

This is solid old-school-style science fiction, with likable leads, new worlds, new types of people, and new gadgets. Author Scott Bieser pulls it all together both storywise and visually, with plenty of new discoveries as the two journey through the planets, dodging attempts on their lives. Nicole’s first assignment is a deadly thrill ride, as she’s sent alone to skim the sun’s photosphere. Her determination and intelligence get her through, but that’s just the first challenge in life with Seamus.

The serialized structure makes for consistent pacing, as we meet the characters, explore new galactic locales, and discover life in this future world. Imagination sparks as discoveries are referenced in passing; there are lots of throwaway mentions of techniques and technology that could spin out into future stories of their own. As I expected, given Bieser’s expressed philosophies, there’s a strong libertarian bent to the work. The corporations are evil, individuals are responsible for their own self-defense, and long-standing civilizations have too many laws.

Unfortunately, beyond Nicole, there’s a lack of significant female characters. The few women seen are receptionists, courtesans, or Nicole’s mother. The one exception is Buford, an ape-descended space-working humanoid who fell afoul of unfair laws and usurious legal fines. Her experience, an incident early in the book, unfortunately foreshadows a later turn for Nicole that I found not in keeping with the rest of the volume.

In the last quarter of the book, Nicole and Seamus visit the over-developed police state of Luna. She’s picked up by a guy trying to find out more about Seamus’ work, has drugs planted on her, is beaten up by cops, and winds up in prison. It’s an overblown commentary on how terrible a land with too many laws is, but the plot twist is presented in such broad, rapid, exaggerated strokes that the point risks being lost on the reader. In my case, I was distracted wondering why the author suddenly decided to make Nicole such a punching bag.

Up until this part of the story, Nicole had been presented as someone who could take care of herself — to pile such miseries upon her without her able to do anything about them turns her from protagonist into plot device object. That’s Bieser’s point, I know, but in a fictional story, I found it too much of a tone change, an unpleasant decision to make heavy-handed political statements that overtake the story and character needs.

I liked enough of what happened before that that I’d like to read further in the series, to see if it got back on track. More women will also appear in significant roles, it seems.

(Update: I’ve since had a chance to read more, and I’m really enjoying the culture clash Bieser portrays in their next planet visit. Buford gets a bigger role, and the two also interact with a female android with an intriguing backstory. I’m hooked; it’s good stuff.)

You can find out more and sample Quantum Vibe at its About page, or by starting right after this volume ends on the website. Bieser ran some background material about the series and setting before starting the next major storyline. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

2 Responses to “Quantum Vibe: Nicole”

  1. Rich Says:

    A thoughtful review, I enjoyed it very much. While I think I understand the reason for your dislike of the Nicole in prison arc, I found it a bit refreshing. No matter how strong and competence she is (refreshingly so as you pointed out), I found the prison part grounded the story a bit. No matter how strong someone is, there are forces (govts in this case) that can make individuals feel very small. I didn’t find it politically heavy-handed because doing a short stint in the local lockup is probably the most common experience people could have dealing with loss of control. I think I see it as that more than political. anyway, thanks for the review. Now I want to peek at the rest of your site… :)

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the arc. Scott and I also had a valuable discussion about his intentions for that sequence, where I learned more about his perspective. It’s not so much the setting that bothered me, as what it did to the character, who seemed like a different person afterwards. I know, that’s the likely result of that experience, but that’s seemed to me to be a different kind of story than the one we were reading up to that point. Anyway, reasonable opinions obviously differ, and I’m glad you provided an alternate.

    Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the site!




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