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Archive Binge: Artifice

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on July 3, 2016

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Artifice is a science fiction webcomic that addresses issues like the morality of the use of technology after it acquires intelligence, the removal of unwanted identities through eugenics and most importantly, cute boys kissing.

Artifice starts in media res, with an imprisoned synthetic person being harassed by guards employed by the corporation that created him until he chokes one of them. An act that he justifies to his very literal programming as protecting the man’s lungs from smoke inhalation from his cigar. The rest of the story revolves around this synthetic, Deacon, going through therapy to try to ascertain why he has started circumventing his programming. This therapy forms the frame of the story, told through flashbacks, of his time killing the colonists on Da Vinci Four.

After the mission was more or less complete a booby trap detonated, destroying the other synthetic soldiers of the same make as Deacon and stranding him there with the only remaining colonist who Deacon decides that he must keep alive so as to interact with the systems of the base and keep Deacon charged. What seems to begin in a display of false empathy to gain compliance from the survivor, Jeff, gradually blossoms into an incredibly sweet romantic relationship between the two outcasts. The human born gay on a puritanical colony world and the synthetic soldier born too human, too introspective. If you are struggling to imagine how sweet a romantic relationship based on Stockholm syndrome might be, please consider a blushing android. The fact that Deacon is more of a prisoner than Jeff ever could be, constrained by layers of code rather than the threat of violence, certainly helps to make him more sympathetic than any human in his situation would have been. So finally we come to the conflict that all of the therapy and fighting revolve around, when a team comes to retrieve Deacon and he refuses to let Jeff be killed.

Love overpowering programming would have made for a very poignant take on how people surpass their upbringing and societal pressures when they first fall in love, especially with someone that they are not meant to, but that is not the direction that Artifice chooses to go. While Deacon can think his way around the outside of most direct commands there are spoken codes that can be used to overrule his decision making. 

Artifice is well worth a read, even if romance is not your usual cup of tea. There are elements of science fiction deconstructed and examined in the soft conversations of these characters that would have made Isaac Asimov himself think twice on some of his ideas about robots, and not just the sexy ideas. 

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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