Webcomic prologue to chapter 2 – Peering into the world of 2159.

Editors note:

This is a blog entry that never went live back on August 1. Seems like decades ago. Anyway if you feel like going back in time…


Introducing the prologue to chapter 2

Hopefully you’ve made your way here from the webcomic, but if not, this week I am launching the prologue to the season opener of chapter 2. As many of you know, preliminary copies of chapter 2 went out to friends and associates last autumn, and as a webcomic things just wrapped up here last week. But, from now on, all content is brand new, never-before-seen stuff that takes the story to a new level. Until the season opener kicks-off on September 6th, 2013 I will be filling the pipeline with bits and pieces, backstory, all new renderings — of course — and a special teaser on August, 30 to really get things hyped up for the opener.


Prologue i2 and ii2

I’ve used this prologue numbering system to identify these first few spreads as prologue or forward to chapter 2. If you go back to pages 2-7 in chapter 1, you remember that this whole story began with a certain someone looking to piece together some recent events. The voice calls upon the computer named Sevin to assemble a chronology of event by tapping directly into his own memory banks. This week, Sevin gently awakes our mystery man to make a progress report, having astutely concludee that our man’s brain doesn’t contain all the parts of the story as they happened. Hence, Sevin goes hunting; through public records, through mesh data, and also decides to pepper the compendium with other data, possibly archival that helps tell the story.

Thanks to Sevin, we’re getting a thorough picture.

A new webcomic portal page to accommodate chapter 2.
A new webcomic portal page to accommodate chapter 2.

New webcomic portal on the site

Since chapter 1 grew into quite the massive image bank, I’ve created a new webcomic portal on The Lightstream Chronicles web site. From here you can choose chapter 1 archival material or move directly to chapter 2 updates. This should make things easier for newbies.


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The 22nd century medical center. A double-page feature and a new location for the digital, online, graphic novel.

Previously in The Lightstream Chronicles,

… Kristin and Toei received the report that another human was assaulted in DownTown. There have been a series of attacks where humans, primarily young males have been assaulted, “headjacked” and then killed, or dead on arrival; eleven in the last six months. None of these assaults were detected by the ultra-sophisticated surveillance “mesh” that supposedly protects Hong Kong 2 citizens.

Discovering that the latest victim was not only the renowned scientist and prodigy, Dr. Sean Colbert, but that he was still alive and  the step-son of the governor of Hong Kong province. This is big news and has obviously aroused the interest of Lee Chen, Colonel of Special Forces, Elite Corps Enforcement Unit. Lee’s elite corps of droids handle the heavy crimes. They are powerful, connected and operate with minimal government oversight. He also gets the job done. The recent spate of assaults are a thorn in his side and now that it has touched the family of the governor of Hong Kong, Lee is probably loosing patience.

Hence, Kristin and Toei make haste to the Prefectural Medical Center. They’re going to be interested in Sean’s condition. Aside from any other injuries, if he was “headjacked” like the other victims, he could be in a vegetative state, and mentally damaged beyond repair. Not all headjacking results in this but often, a random street “jacking” is not done under ideal conditions and the equipment could be cheap or even home made.

Pages 47 and 48

The way I designed this page, there is really no way to deliver it but as a two page spread. Not a lot of dialog here, but I’m hoping to set the mood of this eerie hospital setting. I imagined the opening scene at the medical center to be this massive white expanse, pristine and almost silent. The occasional synthetic voice calmly directs visitors throughout the space. Maybe there is some creepy, almost imperceptible 22nd century musak playing hauntingly from somewhere. On pages 47 and 48 we hear the hushed chime of the elevator and a disembodied, but remarkably soothing female voice introduces Kristin and Toei, far off in the distance, to the intensive care regen unit. As the panels continue we hear the echo of footsteps as our team approaches the waiting area.

Can't you hear the 22nd century muzak?
Can’t you hear the 22nd century muzak?

A few notes on the medicine of 2159

Medicine has eliminated nearly all forms of disease. Genetics has enabled zero-defect births and isolated the genes that cause aging. The aging gene can be switched on and off (usually in a human’s 2nd decade), through a simple medical procedure.

The wealthy can afford to have themselves replicated and stored as back up in the event of accident or overall wear and tear, Their consciousness can then uploaded into the replicated self. Though some contend that the soul is left behind in this process, many aspire to have this option.

Most organs can be grown in the laboratory for emergency replacement. Some humans, known as “agers” have decided not to have their aging genes modified, relying instead on technology and “original” genetics. Their life expectancy is usually only 150 years even after replacements.

Next week:

The waiting area, where Lee Chen is… waiting.

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Design fiction and harmless genetic upgrades. It’s all good, right?

Page 46

If you were wondering whether Sean Colbert was dead or alive, the technical answer is, alive. The story has not yet revealed what state the young prodigy is in, coma or conscious, vegetative state, or permanently damaged. All in due time. There was lots of activity this week beyond teaching Design Foundations and feverishly writing lectures. I spoke to a small group of design grad students this week about my research, the idea of design fiction and how, it can participate in future thinking and foresight. I was gratified to see the excitement level and how these topics, specifically from The Lightstream Chronicles online, digital graphic novel and webcomic helped to raise these issues. The discussion included such provocative topics as the prospect of immortality, digital implants, surveillance and security, privacy, mental telepathy, the perfect human body, and technological Darwinism to name a few. Unfortunately the discussion ended just as we got to the real meat of the design fiction future and that is what our role will be in it, not only as designers, but as human beings.

Are you looking into the future?
Are you looking into the future?

The question came up as to why everyone in the story is so perfect, muscled, slender and good looking. I covered this in a previous blog, but it bears some additional discussion. As I mentioned back then,

“…In the story narrative, through genetic engineering, and continuous monitoring and augmentation of body chemistry, the society of 2159 has enabled the sculpting of any body shape, musculature, and proportion. Hence, the story contains a visual proliferation of ideal bodies as a direct result of technological advancements in medicine and body design. The plot then, serves to drive body exaggerations in this context and provides the opportunity to examine the perfect body phenomenon in the cultural context of the narrative.”

But the short answer would be, “Because they can.”

This is an opportunity to put ourselves into the shoes of our fictional characters. Take a couple of newlyweds who are trying for their first child. If the technology existed for a couple of non-invasive genetic alterations to prevent your child from ever having a “weight problem”, would you sign up? Pretty harmless isn’t it? And of course, every other couple is doing it so if you opt out, your child could be a pretty significant stand out from the status quo. As you think this over, you ask yourself, “Do I really want to saddle my child with a weight problem?” So you give pause, however brief, and then opt for the miracle of technology.

The next question would probably not even raise and eyebrow. Now that everybody is walking around and looking pretty darn good, it goes without saying that monitoring your body chemistry, and the weight gaining hormones would only make sense. Since a seamless implant or patch will do this for you, why not?

This is how technology subtly changes culture,society and behavior.  As society makes these seemingly harmless adaptations eventually we have The Lightstream Chronicles. Is that bad?

That is the whole idea behind my research into design fiction. These scenarios can bring cultural legibility to representations of the future and thereby provoke discussion and debate, challenge conventional thinking, and encourage individual foresight and participation into the implications of today’s decision-making; perhaps a glimpse into, and examination of what gets made and how it will affect culture and humanity, rather than to simply wait and see.


Other news

There are currently 6 chapters in The Lightstream Chronicles, and I’ve been working away on the conclusion of chapter 2, struggling with rendering physically correct glass, and the resulting expense that it causes in render time and set up. Of course, most people probably don’t study the way real glass looks, unless you’re a CG artist, so most people wouldn’t notice if it was dead-on or just close. And I’m not sure it matters. Part of what makes up my day.

When chapter 2 concludes we will be at page 84 and my renderings are getting close to this landmark. That leaves about 130 to 140 pages until completion. Sound daunting doesn’t it. Eh! No stopping now, in fact, I’ve just envisioned a new scene to insert into chapter 4, probably 4 to 6 pages.

Let’s get some dialog going. Comment damn it.  I say that in the nicest possible way. 🙂


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The Future Surveillance State Will Prevent Most Crime — But Not All. It Sees You and Knows What You’re Thinking.


As we saw in a previous post, the mesh is a pretty reliable means of monitoring the “public safety”. With a decent, albeit monochrome, three dimensional image, government security sentinels can spot suspicious behavior, illegal speech, and other possible crimes even when you are alone in a closed room. The ubiquitous use of active surface technology (AST) in combination with human sensory implants, (that are as common as a flu shot in the 22nd century) provides a sharp, clear picture of what’s going on anywhere in Hong Kong 2. The prevalence of AST nodes and their long-range signal is so effective that large portions of the network could be disabled, such as a city block, and the network would “self-heal”. Some criminals, however, have created sophisticated “blocking” devices that have successfully cloaked transmissions.

Why didn't we see this coming?
Why didn’t we see this coming?

Decades of visual data that have been correlated with real emergencies have contributed to an almost fool-proof catalog of what constitutes “suspicious” activity. When behavioral anomalies are cross-referenced with immediately accessible bio-data from humans within proximity of suspicion, the system can confirm through heart-rate, blood pressure, adrenaline output, and other secretions whether something illegal is going on. Depending on the severity of the infraction, the observed behavior may trigger something as minor as a telepathic alert to the offending party, to an all out assault by police security. The law of the land is contained in the multi-volume, Hong Kong Protocols where most of what is considered to be illegal is that which infringes on the rights of another. Therefore, almost anything that is individual, or consensual is within the law. The mesh surveillance network is a successful deterrent to most human crimes, however suspicious behavior is not as easily detected in synthetics, since they are absent the bio-data, and can be laced with complex algorithms that belie suspicious activity. Most synthetic humanoids leave the factory with highly secure encryptions that prevent anyone but the most sophisticated techo-criminals, from tampering with synthetic behaviors. As law, synthetics are required to follow the synthetic code which was derived from the robot code, a 20th century imagining of author Isaac Asimov. The ancient robot code stated that:

A robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm 

A robot must obey human orders, unless they conflict with first law 

A robot must protect itself if this does not conflict with other laws 

The synthetic code is much longer and more complex than its 20th century predecessor but still leans heavily on the idea that synthetics cannot injure or allow a human to come to harm. Hacking into a 22nd century synthetic, drone, droid, or robot to enable it to commit a crime or harm another human is called twisting. It is considered a capital crime. Nevertheless, twisted synths are responsible for, or complicit in nearly 70% of the crimes in Hong Kong 2.

Most of the public has grown accustomed to the idea that every waking and sleeping moment of their lives, including their thoughts can be, and is monitored. According to recent polls, the public takes comfort in government assurance that no humans are interpreting their activity, and hence, not making any judgements on their behavior no matter how bizarre.

Now you know.

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There is a story in the future. Digital graphic novel is also designed to make us think.

Page 44

The charming conversation between Kristin Broulliard and Toei-N is just one of the reasons I really like this page. The two of them framed from the back-view with the scope of the big board is another cool visual that I ended up being pleased with. Aside from all this, however there is an interesting design fiction that emerges. As I have written about extensively, the surveillance state technology, the floating balcony, and the natural conversation with a synthetic human being all qualify as diegetic prototypes. The term diegetic prototypes (Kirby 2010) refers to the diegesis, the fictional world within which, “..technologies exist as ‘real’ objects… that function properly and which people actually use.” This project, quite obviously stops short of material fabrication,and leans heavily on the realism that can be conveyed through CG. In their digital forms, artifacts have dimension and virtual physicality. There is a deliberate goal of examining how they can go unnoticed. As with may present-day artifacts like smart phones and laptops, these blend into the scheme of everyday. They are ubiquitous in the culture, yet they serve to influence social interaction and individual behavior. Therein lies the design fiction.

The touch of nanoprene.
The touch of nanoprene.

I created Toei to be an immensely likable “person,” that anyone might enjoy conversing with, but it nevertheless begs the question that we would not be having this conversation with a human being. Does that bother us? Should it?

And these questions also emerge:

Will we forever into the future simply acquiesce to the latest technology, even if it erases any sense of privacy, or human intimacy?

Have we already begun this process through our social networking, texting, and second lives?


In addition to creating an interesting story, it is my goal to make us think as well. Maybe this will get it started.

Comments welcome.

Kirby, David. “The Future Is Now.” Social Studies of Science 40.1 (2010): 41-70. Sage Journals. Web. 20 May 2012. <http://sss.sagepub.com/content/40/1/41.abstract>.

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