Drive has a lot of recurring themes, many of which build a solid conceptual foundation, driving the worldbuilding. This article is a place for analysis, essay and, partially, wild speculation by smart people.
The very inception of Drive was a Sheldon comic strip, which was all about everyone expecting their empire lasting forever, when in reality history clearly shows one trend: empires fall.
As such, it is not surprising that this is repeated throughout the history of the Drive universe:
- The 3,000-year old Grasskan empire got entirely invaded by Vinn.
- Whatever culture unleashed the Vinn culture was once thriving, now the Vinn are looking for these "Missing Gods".
- The Sill had the most advanced civilisation ever. A para-religious event almost instantly stopped their political power.
- The Second Spanish Empire seems to be on the verge of collapse, and is losing territory over time.
Procreation shapes culture
- The human empire is shaped by La Familia's line of succession.
- The Continuum of Makers is an extreme example. They are able to multiply quickly and painlessly, with likely genetically indentical copies of themselves. Therefore, a pre-Maker ranks very low - instead, their inventions and creations ("Spirits") are "birthed".
- The Vinn are a polar opposite to the Continuum. They consume other species and render their hosts infertile, leaving death behind them as the hosts die. Infecting new potential hosts is a necessity for the species's survival. They call each other "child" and they look for their mysterious progenitors.
- Fillipod culture has evolved to be artistically complex, making it a factor of selective pressure. Finding a mate truly requires a poet's heart.
- Nyx are perhaps the weirdest species the Drive universe has to offer. Their 16 genders hints at the fact that they are tremendously difficult to understand.
- Veetans are raised appropriately to their relatively short livespan, which could contribute to their incredibly resilient optimism.
- Astina have offspring in large numbers. Their survival and, later on, recognition depends on fighting in fierce competition. Their comparatively ruthless nature is a prerequisite for successful natural selection.
- Tesskans are pack creatures, territorial and aggressive and their cubs are left to fend for themselves.
- Prahsitt do not unambiguously fit into this theme as their communal farming society compares to earlier human agricultural societies.
- Sill procreate rarely nowadays, as a result, it looks like the species is slowly dying out.
- What limited culture Trankin might or could have is severely limited due to their solitary. Due to too rare breeding events and decimated habitat, they too have become rare.
To know. To survive. To create.
The following are essays by Disqus user keinsignal.
I'd been going over the archives looking for some bit of trivia or another and something struck me about page 86. Here, Dave has Ahmis instill three primary motivations in his robotic Maker-Spirit - "To know. To survive. To create." I think this line holds a key to an important theme that the strip is trying to explore. In fact, I think this is the Big Theme of the strip. It's right there in Ahmis' words: "I have given you three fundamental DRIVES."
In some sense this whole strip has been built around different ways of looking at the "drive" of humanity (and to some extent all living things) to expand, reproduce, foster a legacy for future generations, and ultimately to leave our mark on the universe in some way.
Taking this a step further, I strongly suspect that Dave, in Roddenberry-esque fashion, has personified these three human Drives (I'm just gonna start capitalizing that) in his aliens; specifically the three primary extraterrestrial races of the Empire: The Veetans spend their short lives exploring the universe, then return home to share what they've learned, filling entire libraries in the process - clearly they are the "To Know" race. The Tesskans are our "To Survive" avatars; pure Darwinian survival machines, like sharks or cockroaches - tough, dangerous, and not given over to deep ponderings on the meaning of comic strips or other things. Which makes it all the more ironic that it's the Fillipods - happily inhabiting the "To Create" role with their love of cool gizmos and spontaneous poetry slams - who wind up as the real survivors after the near-destruction of Tesskil.
(It might be coincidence, but the order I've listed these three is the order in which the Drives are listed by Ahmis - and is also the order in which they are introduced in the strip.)
I may be over-leveraging the analytical shoehorn here, but I think there's another triptych here that serves as a dark side to this one - what happens when the Drives are misused, or pushed past the point of sustainability. These would be the three major powers in our story: The Empire, a hereditary dynasty built on their ability to interpret and understand something they did not, themselves, create, and moreover upon their ability to control access to that knowledge. The Continuum, a self-absorbed, rigorously orderly society which elevates and sanctifies its own creations, regarding their use by outsiders as cause for brutal holy war. And the Vinn, a raging brushfire frantically trying to outpace its own extinction, consuming whole worlds in their nearly-mindless constant expansion.
Finally, as we appear to be in or near the last act of the drama, it's interesting that we've been introduced, almost simultaneously, to two species/civilizations where these Drives no longer hold sway - the nearly-exterminated Grasskans, who have opted to render their homeworlds permanently uninhabitable rather than surrender to the Vinn, and the Sill, who have willingly abandoned organic survival in pursuit of some mysterious higher existence in The Great Quiet. This suggests an interesting speculation - is there a third species that fits this mold which we haven't been introduced to yet? The Lost Gods, maybe, or the Pilots?
The Fourth Drive
In an earlier essay, I explored the possible thematic significance of Ahmis's three directives to his creation, the "Spirit which is itself a Maker", as given on p86: "To Know. To Survive. To Create." I called them "the Drives", and suggested they were a guiding principle underlying the world-building in DRIVE. (To avoid confusion, in this piece I'll be using capital-D Drive(s) to refer to the three directives, and DRIVE in all-caps to refer to the comic strip itself). To summarize—you can read the whole thing here—I suggest that these are intended to represent three fundamental motivations which underlie much of human endeavor and progress, and that DRIVE is in many ways an exploration of their various possible manifestations, combinations, and consequences. More specifically, I suggested that the major civilizations in the strip (both human and alien) each embody one of these Drives in one way or another.
Now, on my first read-through, that interpretation missed me entirely. I had taken Ahmis' instructions as perhaps a nod to Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics (not in direct parallel but just as an alternative set of "prime directives"), and, inasmuch as I thought they had any major significance at all to the story, I had expected that, as in I, Robot, we might see the consequences and limitations of this three-law system as it played out in the outside world. In some ways I will be bringing that reading into this essay, though looking at it not in terms of the Maker-Spirit's actions (of which we've seen very few anyway), but those of the other characters and races. It probably goes without saying but everything that follows presumes that the Drives are a key, guiding theme of the series, and that the major races and factions serve as their "avatars", so to speak. So, if you're not buying any of that, hop off now, 'cause this is your last stop.
At the time of this writing, Ahmis and his creation's paths have diverged by several centuries and many, many light-years. Ahmis has no idea what has become of his Maker-Spirit in all this time; perhaps he presumes it is still in its escape pod, tumbling directionlessly through the vastness of space. I can only assume a reunion is inevitable, and will be a key turning point in the plot when it happens. My guess is that once confronted with what the Maker-Spirit has become, what it has done in its alliance with the scourge of the Vinn, he will be greatly dismayed. Like so many science fiction characters of the Renegade Creator archetype—Victor Frankenstein, Doctor Moreau, Seth Brundle, Jehovah—he will come to regret his creation. His work is flawed, perhaps irredeemably so, and moreover this flaw is an echo of his own limitations, his own blind spots. His calculations were incomplete. Something was missing, and for the lack of this key element, he has birthed a monster.
Now, something I sort of poked at in the previous essay was the idea of DRIVE's six major races/factions (Humans, Makers, Vinn, Veetans, Tesskans, and Fillipods) each representing a positive or negative aspect of one of the Drives:
- Veetans devote their lives to learning and exploration, and delight in sharing their experiences and recording them for future generations; the Empire uses knowledge for power and is absolutely ruthless about keeping its secrets.
- Tesskans, despite the survival-of-the-fittest pecking order that defines their society, still exhibit a sense of camaraderie and banter as they bash their way across the galaxy in the hijacked Spark of Thought—they may be a pack of dumb brutes but at least they're having fun![footnote 1] The Vinn, on the other hand, are driven not by pride or competitiveness but desperate clawing hunger, and leave only sterile desolation in their wake.
- The Continuum treat their creations as holy objects, never to be sullied by infidel hands, whereas the Fillipods can barely be restrained from sharing their latest technological breakthrough or 80,000-stanza chanson de geste.
What do these pairings have in common? The negative aspect is always selfish, the positive aspect shared. One utilizes a Drive out of greed and bare self-preservation, the other finds joy in its expression. The negative closes itself off, an inward-turning vicious spiral; the positive is expansive and open.
It seems obvious to us, as readers. Even though we humans all-too-often fail to recognize our own inhumanity, most of us have little trouble spotting selfishness and self-centeredness in others, especially when we have the luxury of seeing it from a distance, in fiction or in history. But these values of openness and empathy do not even appear to exist among the Makers—Ahmis treats Kik's notion "that there is good in the Universe, and we should aid it where possible" as a complete novelty. So, this is what Ahmis missed—what, as a Maker and a recent outcast from the Continuum of Makers, he could not have known. There is a fourth Drive, almost meaningless in isolation but immensely powerful in combination, whose absence will doom any and all of the other Drives regardless of their potency.
(You may already see where I'm going with this, if so try to stifle your groans.)
The Fourth Drive... is Love.
- ↑ (Tesskans remind me of Warhammer 40,000's Orks in this respect—in a universe torn with chaos and strife, where every faction is engaged in the business of inflicting literally planet-shattering levels of violence and destruction on every other, they're the only ones who seem to be enjoying themselves at it.)
With the Second Spanish Empire's political system, propaganda is a very necessary tool for La Familia.
Main article: Category:Propaganda Poster
Main article: Category:Telepathy
Telepathy is a well-established trope in (and outside of) science fiction. There are some known telepathical species in Drive:
Main article: Category:Technology
Being in the 25th century and interacting with extraterrestrial sapient species has a technological advantage over, say, living in the first half of the 21st century.
This future has holograms, of course, and more powerful versions of appliances that have existed earlier, such as cross-planet communication devices (the Familia cochlear implants, for example). But some new inventions defy our current understanding of physics, this is largely due to the influence of alien inventors, such as the Continuum of Makers or the Nyx.
Most notably, the driving technology and plot device in this comic is the Ring Drive
Main article: Category:Extra Pages
Creating another layer of realism, these "found" in-story contemporary documents expand on plot elements, vastly enriching the story with details. These pages range from letters to poetry, scanned book pages, broshures, leaked information, maps, organigrams and blueprints. The most prominent parts are the Enciclopedia Xenobiológica, which explain species.
It is currently unknown how the documents (or the story as a whole, for that matter) is delivered to the reader.
- ↑ Drive Podcast 1
- ↑ maybe this one?