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A Science Fiction webcomic by Elliot Toman, Westward is an old-fashioned Space Opera and Adventure story about humanity's first faster-than-light starship, the brave colonists it carries, the mysterious Martian scientist who guides it, and a cynical Intrepid Reporter who discovers a mystery of cosmic proportions at the heart of their mission.
Set in an Alternate History where the Cold War never ended and humanity reached Mars by the 1970s, Westward has a unique visual style, a wide cast of engaging characters, and a plot that takes its readers from dead alien worlds to mysterious spaceborne artefacts to a seemingly unremarkable Western town all without losing its impact, its sense of adventure, or its ability to keep everyone guessing and glued to the screen with every page.
This webcomic contains examples of:
- Alternate History: World War II ended when a (presumed) Soviet superweapon destroyed Berlin and ignited the Earth's atmosphere, devastating much of Europe; the Cold War continues into the 21st century; a manned mission to Mars happens in 1974, and attempts to colonize it are made by the 1980s; Faster-Than-Light Travel is possible in 1999 (though no-one entirely understands it).
- Art Evolution: The earlier pages have a simpler and rougher appearance than later ones, though many of them have a certain charm precisely because of that cleaner, simpler approach.
- Black Box: Escherspace. Publicly, the government claims that "only a few scientists" know how it works; in reality, it may be just Phobos, and he must personally work the controls when the Westward makes an interstellar jump. One Phobos, one starship -- it can't work without him, it seems.
- Clarke's Third Law: Evoked by Rex and Captain Carter early on in the strip.
- Cold War: In Westward's timeline, it never ended. Initially it's just an interesting part of the background, but eventually the implications become quite important to the plot, and personally to some of the characters...
- Cool Starship: The Westward itself is humanity's first starship, a giant colony-ship that can leap across the galaxy in a second under the guidance of a big-brained Martian scientist. And it packs enough power to shift the orbits of planets or create a mini super-nova if you aren't careful with the controls...
- Dreaming the Truth: Mr. Townsend's dreams aren't always consistent with his conscious memories of his traumatic past...
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Escherspace, which functions as a variety of Jump Drive.
- An interesting detail is that while the jump itself is instantaneous, many weeks of space travel using conventional engines are still required as part of every trip, to ensure that the ship is at a safe distance from any massive astronomical body before and after the jump.
- Everyone aboard must take shelter in special "normalization booths" during the jump; the author has stated that this "creates a good separation between travel that's normal — adhering to the laws of physics — and travel that's abnormal, unnatural, and dangerous."
- Frickin' Laser Beams: Spratt's "Ruby Ray" -- it seems he's invented Frickin' Laser Beams in this timeline.
- Going Critical: The starship Westward is driven by the most powerful nuclear reactor ever built, so it's only natural for this trope to make an appearance sooner or later.
Nuclear reactors don't blow up on account of the safeguards, which [were] disabled, so it makes sense, see? It's just like if somebody went and disabled all the safeguards on your, uh, toaster. Boom.—Elliot Toman responds to reader questions about the potential explosive meltdown.
- Insufferable Genius: Spratt, the brilliant engineer, is not a people person.
- Intrepid Reporter: Lamont Townsend is an unusually cynical example.
- M. C. Escher: Escherspace is a reference to his work, of course. Relativity specifically is used to illustrate the concept in a Newsreel.
- The Multiverse: It may be possible to view parallel universes, with the right technology. "We're always so close to the end..."
- The concept of parallel worlds starts to play an increasingly important -- but still mysterious -- role in the story as the comic goes on.
- My Brain Is Big: Phobos is a traditional big-brained Martian, which fits the comic's old-fashioned Space Opera feel.
- Mysterious Past: We gradually learn about Lamont Townsend's mysterious past; Phobos' past and Captain Carter's past are also unknown so far, especially when it comes to their relationship, and how they really first met. It seems clear that all this was very carefully plotted beforehand, however.
- Space Elevator: The Westward carries its own portable space elevator, which can be deployed from the ship's orbit to the planet's surface for the transport of landing parties and colonists. It can also be pulled up and later re-deployed. The author has stated that he wanted an alternative to the Teleporters and Transporters that other sci-fi works use for this purpose, something with more of an "analog" feel -- and a bit more plausible. However, while it's a unique approach, the elevator doesn't quite work in a realistic manner. It also seems to be the Westward's only way of accessing a planet's surface, which may lead to problems later on in the story.
- Starship Luxurious: The Westward contains Frontier Town, an entire little community for space colonists. This is fairly justified, since the ship must sustain a fairly large population of civilians for months and years before a planet suitable for colonization is found, all while keeping them happy and stable. However, even purely utilitarian parts of the ship, like the engine room, are quite spacious.
- Time Stands Still: One character seems to be able to play tricks with time.
- Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Lamont suffered plenty of trauma while locked up in a Communist prison, and it seems to have taken its toll.
- Vehicle Title: Westward is the name of humanity's first starship, and also fits the comic as a whole, with its themes of frontier exploration and adventure.
- Wagon Train to the Stars