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"When you're a recovering mad scientist, you're always afraid you'll lose control and wake up some morning with a half-built time machine in the living room and a plan to go back in time and pants Hitler."
A Miracle of Science is a science fiction Web Comic written by Jon Kilgannon and drawn by Mark Sachs. It ran from 2002 to 2007 and was set in the year 2148, when humanity has spread across the solar system from Venus to Ganymede, and robotics and artificial intelligence are well developed, advanced sciences. Also of note is the science of memetics, which can be used to treat (or cause) psychological issues. Of key importance in the story is one specific meme, Science-Related Memetic Disorder (or, more colloquially, mad science).
Key characters include Benjamin Prester, a field agent of the Vorstellen Police, a law-enforcement agency specializing in SRMD; Caprice Quevillion, a Martian forensic psychiatrist assigned as his partner; and Virgil Haas, the Mad Scientist they attempt to capture. The story opens not long after Mars, a utopian group intelligence, has ended a century of self-imposed isolation.
Given its Mad Scientist motif, one should expect that a significant number of tropes appear as important plot points in the comic. In fact, given the science of memetics, the characters themselves use tropes (common examples being the Chase Scene and the Denouement) as psychological aids when dealing with mad scientists.
Kilgannon and Sachs went on to collaborate on a second webcomic, titled Afterlife Blues.
- Science-Related Memetic Disorder: The name of the mad science disease.
- Absent Aliens: Mars' version of SETI turns up with lots of aliens... but they're all dead. By at least a thousand years. "You've got to love existential angst on a planetary level..."
- Anti-Villain: Yes, Virgil Haas is a Mad Scientist. Yes, he wants to take over the world. But he'd rather not kill anyone to do it. Like the crews of the civilian ships with which he could have rammed the first Qin.
- America Takes Over the World: Well, not exactly the world, but they seem to have taken over Canada. And there's a space colony that's nominally in the US, contravening present-day treaties.
- Annexing nearby countries isn't just a US thing in the AMoS-verse, either; Peru has been absorbed into Brazil.
- Auto Doc: The hospital.
- Badass Boast "Oh come on! I've plunged down from orbit on wings of fire... so don't even think you can scare me!" Benjamin has a longer version of this boast as well.
- Badass Longcoat: Benjamin wears one most of the time.
BatmanCaprice Can Breathe In Space, thanks to Martian technology being Sufficiently Advanced to keep a pocket of air around her wherever she goes.
- Big Guy, Little Guy: Dryden and Chaucer, respectively, are a robotic version and thus able to take the trope to new heights.: Chaucer is the size and shape of a hamster ball; Dryden is several times bigger than a human.
- Black Eyes of Evil: Minus the "evil" part. See the Voice of the Legion entry below.
- Brought Down to Normal: Caprice Quevillion was disconnected from Mars. Subverted.
- Chase Scene and Denouement, as mentioned. The Chase Scene is actually a vital part of proper treatment of SRMD; if the Mad Scientist is not given the psychological fulfillment of a direct confrontation with authority, he'll go even more crazy.
- Cheerful Child: Wei Quevillion, Caprice's seven-year-old sister.
- Chekhov's Gun: Benjamin Prester's therapy is reported to be robust against anything less than a major psychological disturbance.
- Closer Than They Appear: This strip does it with a pair of glowing evil eyes, in the middle of a chase scene.
- Concealment Equals Cover: subverted on this page. When Benjamin is attempting to take cover behind an upturned table, the man shooting at him simply shoots through the table... and then mocks him for taking cover behind such a flimsy object.
- Crystal Spires and Togas: Mars.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Justified as actual insanity, but also subverted as mad scientists' inventions are quickly turned into useful technology for everyone. It's implied that The Government's willingness to cut those checks is what led to the advanced society depicted in the comic.
- Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain: Venus is like this.
- Da Chief: Agent Nyerere.
- Detached Sleeves: Caprice.
- Everybody Lives
- Evil Laugh: Mad scientists do this a lot
- If you get a group of them together in one place, though Benjamin is so far the only known example of an SRMD sufferer who sought out allies, they will apparently hold contests.
- For Science!!
- Genki Girl: Wei Quevillion, as the protagonists comment on this page.
- Genius Bruiser: The Pindars, which gets on Chaucer's nerves at one point:
Chaucer: Rrrg! I told Doctor Haas he shouldn't make you Pindars so smart.
Pindar-Two: I'm going to take that as a compliment.
- Genius Loci: The Martian people form a collective consciousness.
Caprice: Mars likes you.
Benjamin: That's like saying "Brazil has decided you're cute."
- Genre Savvy: The entire science of memetics relies on this. The Vorstellen Police catches mad scientists by knowing exactly how they will react to certain situations.
- Virgil also appears to have read The Evil Overlord List and avoids falling into several of the pitfalls outlined in it.
- A God Am I: Averted; Mars is quick to point out that it isn't omnipotent; merely extremely powerful.
- Good Cop, Bad Cop: Caprice being the good cop to Benjamin's bad cop. Lampshaded.
- A more dramatic example comes after they drop in on Dr. Beatriz Juruna.
- Good Hair, Evil Hair: In addition to his glasses as noted below, one sign that Haas has developed Science-Related Memetic Disorder is that his bangs suddenly jut up and out, managing to look like horns, or perhaps broken antennae.
- Benjamin also has a different hairstyle when he's in mad science mode. Notably, he messes his hair back into this style when he relapses.
- Maybe everyone has "normal" hair and "Mad Science" hair
- Benjamin also has a different hairstyle when he's in mad science mode. Notably, he messes his hair back into this style when he relapses.
- Graceful Loser: Most mad scientists end up being pretty relieved that they're stopped.
- Ground-Shattering Landing: When Benjamin and Caprice crash into the surface of Mars from orbit.
- Guns Do Not Work That Way: Robots can be seen firing entire rounds, as opposed to just the bullet. The case stays in the weapon until extracted in real guns.
- Hive Mind: Mars again, if you couldn't tell.
- Mars however works differently from most in that all members are their own individuals. They relay information to each other, and there is a distinct unified "Mars" meta-personality that can take posession when appropriate, but all information is not immediately shared; the hive mind is divided in two, like the hemispheres of the brain. The Martians' greatest fear is that if both hemispheres were totally connected, the entire planet would become collectively susceptible to SRMD -- with the safety redundancies removed, a single case could spread rapidly through the population.
- Haas also has built an army of information-gathering robots that function on a simpler level like this.
- Honest Advisor: Chaucer. Dr. Haas complains that Chaucer's always picking holes in his plans; Chaucer's response is that he's trying to help, and merely being a yes man isn't helpful.
- Hot Scientist: Dr. Juruna
- Human Cannonball: Suborbital Express variant. A one-man pod is shot into space with a giant cannon, design courtesy of a Mad Scientist. When it fails, Ludicrous Gibs result. Fortunately the failure rate isn't very big...
- Hypocritical Humor: A background character here says "no one who is in favor of eugenics should be allowed to reproduce".
- Imagine Spot: Used in the explanation of the benefits of an AI Hive Mind. Apparently, unlinked computers think about socks.
- Insistent Terminology: It is a thing mad scientists do. Special mention, though, goes to Beatriz "That's Doctor" Juruna.
- Also of note: Benjamin Prester insists on not being called Ben.
- Instant AI, Just Add Water: "Any device complex enough to detect Martians is going to eventually become self-aware."
- Though this may be an intentional ploy on the Martians' part, since they built the machine in the first place. And Caprice does admit that they had to do a bit of bribery to make sure all the parts got installed.
- Lens Flare: Used in the epilogue here and here.
- Lightning Bruiser: The Pindars.
- Mad Scientist: Dr. Haas, Dr. Juruna, and Ben Prester.
- Magical Girl: Caprice arguably qualifies as a superscience version of this, of the Cute Witch variety.
- Mama Bear / Papa Wolf: Mars is very protective of its people.: That link is full of implicit spoilers, by the way.
- Mental Fusion: See Hive Mind, above.
- Nanomachines: The main source of the Martians' advanced technology.
- People's Republic of Tyranny: The People's Republic of the Moon, a drab-looking lunar colony that's heavily implied to be a Communist state (USSR imitation), at least at the time of flashback. It's mentioned that they've got a picture of Beria, head of Stalin's Secret Police, on at least one denomination of their money, which suggests something about what they value.
- Plot Technology: subverted. When mad scientists are captured, their inventions and research are used for the benefit of society as a whole.
- The Rant: Reading Jon and Mark's columns is strictly optional, but they offer a bit more insight into the comic's world and also occasional scientific lectures.
- Redheaded Hero: Benjamin.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Fabula and Syuzhet, color-coded little ball-shaped robots from the Martian Constabulary -- or rather, AIs seen operating a swarm of color-coded robots.
Prester: Um... which one of you guys is Fabula?
Six red robots: Officer Fabula, at your service.
Prester: And which is Syuzhet?
Six blue robots: Yo.
Prester: I've been on Mars for five minutes, and already my brain hurts.
- Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: See Badass Boast above.
- Ridiculously-Human Robots: Robots with sentience will talk to themselves out loud; in fact, Benjamin points out that only sentient AI's are known to do this: suggesting it's actually rather common amongst them.
- Also averted insofar as the robots are rarely, if ever humanoid, being shaped to their purposes.
- Sanity Slippage Noticeable in Benjamin if you know what you're looking for, though thankfully he gets better.
- Scary Shiny Glasses: The only time Dr. Haas doesn't have these is in the prologue, just before he catches SRMD
- Sex by Proxy: A romantic example: everyone on Mars loves Prester.
- "Shut Up" Kiss: on the penultimate page
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Solidly Idealist.
- Shown Their Work: Kilgannon and Sachs are both computer professionals and science geeks, and it shows, making A Miracle of Science one of the hardest-SF webcomics out there. They're courteous enough to confine the worst of the infodumps to the "John/Mark Sez" columns beside the latest panel.
- Star-Spangled Spandex/Bishie Sparkle: Caprice's hair; Word of God says it's a fashion accessory.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: subverted with the Martians, which are Sufficiently Advanced but actually human.
- Take Over the World: A seemingly common compulsion among mad scientists. Unusually for a Mad Scientist story, we get several hints as to how, exactly, the various loonies in the story intend to "improve" the solar system once they're in charge of it.
- Talking Your Way Out: When Caprice is captured, she pulls this off.
- The Red Planet
- Theme Naming: All of Virgil Haas's robots, much like himself, are named after famous writers and poets.
- There Are No Therapists: Averted. Both main cast members are therapists -- Benjamin is equally as much a counselor for mad scientists as a detective, and Caprice is a medical doctor and psychiatrist. Therapy for Mad Scientists is a major plot point.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Benjamin Prester, Caprice Quevillion, and even Virgil Haas are or become unwilling to kill innocents. How well they stick by this rule during a disaster tells quite a bit about their resistance to Breakdown, and in Prester's case, Character Development.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore. While not mentioned directly in the plotline, it's mentioned in the site's glossary that the book Crank Theories of Robotics is a known cause of SRMD; effectively, one can become a Mad Scientist simply by reading it. Doctor Haas is seen with it in the prologue.
- Tropers Do It Without Notability: "Astronomers do it in the dark"
- Voice of the Legion: Whenever the Martian group mind speaks through one of its members. Said member simultaneously acquires Black Eyes of Evil: minus the "evil" part.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Caprice immediately calls Benjamin out on his plan to escape Haas' attack on their ship by blasting up five civilian ships and killing a few hundred people. This may or may not have been foreshadowing.
- Wig, Dress, Accent, subverted in this page by having a poorly-disguised version of the protagonists going through customs... and then having the actual protagonists enter the scene in the next page.
- Wrecked Weapon: Benjamin has a gun that he just built with his mad science abilities shot out of his hand. Twice.
[Ben:: somewhat hysterically "He shot my gun! He shot my gun! Why are you negotiating with the man who shot my gun?!"
- You Can Barely Stand: Word for word, in the final Chase Scene.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Blue hair runs in Caprice's family, presumably on her mother's side; her dad has brown hair, but every other Quevillion we see has some shade of blue hair. There's a smattering of extras with oddly colored hair, either flat-out unnatural or just matching oddly with their skin tone.