Oh, you gotta get this.
I really liked "Finding Serenity," BenBella Books' first collection of Firefly/Serenity essays edited by Jane Espenson. Lots of fun, lots of new insights, even some new facts a diehard Browncoat like me hadn't heard yet. So, yeah, we've seen the movie since then, but how much new stuff could they write about?
You're thinking I'm going to say "quite a bit, actually," aren't you? Damn. You guys are good. Here's what you'll find in "Serenity Found":
Jane's intro. Jane Espenson's memories of the 'verse and what it's like working with Joss.
"Not every writer does this. They assume that there is a chance that the viewer is distracted, or very young, or unsophisticated. They try to accomodate. Joss doesn't give you an inch."
Catching Up with the Future. Science fiction master Orson Scott Card runs through the history of science fiction in films to explain with unrelenting honesty how movies dumbed sci-fi down, how that worked against print sci-fi, and how "Firefly" brought the bar back up where it should be.
The story of "Serenity" was smart, hard science fiction. Not only were the regular cast still good strong characters, the new characters – Mr. Universe and the assassin – were fascinating, surprising, quirky. The plot actually hinged on a moral decision made by the bad guy. Who does that?
Mars Needs Women. By the unstoppable Maggie Burns, this essay explains "how a dress, a cake, and a goofy hat will save science fiction." It sounds funny – and it is – but she uses those pivotal elements to illustrate how objects in "Firefly" told the stories of real people, not Federation members or Jedis.
"Firefly" is the only sci-fi show ever to feature the kind of people I went to high school with, the people who aren't usually represented in fiction except as cannon fodder.
Girls, Guns, Gags. Not a kinky website (I don't think) but an essay from comedian and writer Natalie Haynes that reminds us that Joss writes strong male characters too, and how the real breakthrough was letting the women be funny.
This is how feminism is supposed to work – women aren't better than men at everything, they're better at some things and less good at others and thus they are equals. This is illustrated by the fact that they talk to each other like equals – teasing, mocking, and cracking jokes, acknowledging each other's strengths and weakness with humor and generosity, and occasionally outright spite. That's what you got in "Firefly."
River Tam and the Weaponized Women of the Whedonverse. Writer Michael Marino on Joss' terndencies to arm his female characters, and what this does for self-determination.
Because of River's near incapacity – in "War Stories," she felt incapacitated to the point of asking Simon, "What am I?" – her actualization as a person occurs as she becomes actualized as weapon.
I, Malcolm. By Nathan Fillion. Do you need another reason to buy the book? Our captain talks about being the hero, walking the ship, and what it was really like. Also, he makes with the funny.
Looking back, I know now that everyone in the cast was, in essence, his or her character. What makes Jayne so jayne, is that Adam is a Jayne. Jewel is a free spirit who was cast as a free spirit. Alan is a clever smart ass who questions authority. Ron once gave me the shirt off his back (true story – still a favorite of mine), Gina is alluring and powerful, Morena is elegant, Summer is grace, Sean owes me money.
Freedom in an Unfree World. Writer P. Gardner Goldsmith demonstrates that Mal is a near-perfect libertarian, and why "freedom" is such a powerful concept.
Burgess showed us the path Mal could have followed. Both men are individualists of a sort. Mal simply allows others to be individualists as well. It is because of Mal's strong moral character, and the effort he expends to keep it, that he walks this path.
A Tale of Two Heroes. The story of "Firefly" is about two heroes, Mal and Simon, according to novelist Shanna Swendson, and she touches on the amazing number of similarities between the two men to prove it.
When either Mal or Simon is held over that metaphorical volcano's edge, they both react the same way – with sarcasm, stubbornness, and a touch of recklessness. Both of them come into their own in a crisis, where even if they're not in control of the greater situation, they're totally in control of themselves and willing to stand up to or take on anyone.
The Good Book. Civil rights activist Eric Greene on why Book should have lived, why the anti-establishment skepticism of Serenity's crew might be a response to the certainties of religious extremists and current governmental excesses, and why Joss might have overstepped in denouncing belief.
At the moment the Operative expresses his belief in "a better world," his image is on a video monitor, at the right of the frame, while at the left of the frame are Haven's smoldering remains. The image juxtaposes the Operative's dream – removed, clean, theoretical – with the reality of his actions – immediate, bloody, real.
Mal Contents. Writer Alex Bledsoe takes us through Mal's experiences and decisions to show how he grew from just a guy on the run in the first episode to a true hero by the end of "Serenity."
No discussion of Malcolm Reynolds is complete without mentioning the actor who embodied him. Without the inherent intelligence and decency he brought to the part, mal would have been an insufferable bastard and no one would have cared what happened to him."
Curse Your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal. Writer Lani Diane Rich tells us about the things she and her husband have argued about while watching "Firefly," and why Wash's death hit so very hard.
"Look, Zoe's hot and everything, and yes, she probably can kill Wash with her pinky, but this gorgeous woman who gives good myth just offered him sex on a platter." He met my eyes. I could tell by his expression he knew he was in dangerous territory, but there was really no going back, so he continued with false bravado. "To which I say, Yeah Right."
Mutant Enemy U. Another stand-alone reason to buy this book. ZOIC guy and long-time Joss CGI-er Loni Peristere talks about his history with Joss, how he got started, and just how much detail went into making every single bit of Serenity tell a story.
Our department debated the origins of everything we designed; we scrutinized, fought about, and relished our part in the story. And we argued over every choice we made as if it might throw the viewers out of the story if we didn't. We did this to the point of driving Joss and Tim nuts.
Geeks of the World, Unite!. Lecturer Natasha Giardina analyzes the "geek hero" aesthetic.
Specifically,while "Serenity" may be set in an interstellar future age, Mr. Universe looks awfully early twenty-first century: he looks like someone who was the butt of jokes in your high school. In fact, if you're the kind of person who takes your science fiction seriously (which you probably are if you love "Firefly" and "Serenity"), it's just possible he may look a teensy bit like you.
The Alliance's War on Science. Could the current administration's disdain of science lead to the Alliance someday? Physics professor and author Ken Wharton takes a look.
But America's primary cultural contribution to the Alliance's anti-science attitudes – our present-day link to future Miranda-style atrocities – is not a culture of secrecy. With a few exceptions, we're less guilty on that front than most. No, our primary anti-science innovation has been the rise of the Corporation.
The Virtual 'Verse. Multiverse co-founder Corey Bridges (no relation) on how the "Firefly" MMORPG project got started and what would be needed to make it a kick-ass game.
I think that Browncoats will get behind that – after all, who wouldn't want to assemble their own crew to undertake missions together, to build a life for themselves around their ship? Or what about other scenarios that are only glimpsed in the show?
Firefly and Story Structure, Advanced. Geoff Klock analyzes "Out of Gas" in even detail than the late-night shindig bull sessions do, complete with helpful diagrams.
But Joss Whedon and Tim Minear are such accomplished storytellers that – like good jazz musicians playing off a standard chord progression -they are able to introduce and play with the massive complication of moving freely through three distinct time periods: Mal's journey alone through the ship, the story of how Mal got in that position, and the story of how Mal found his ship and gathered his crew.
Cut 'Em Off at the Horsehead Nebula! Author Bruce Bethke wonders about the animosity towards space westerns.
The ironic part is, for a genre that routinely deals in stories of space exploration and colonization, the history and folklore of the American West offers a vast wealth of fascinating source materials and proven paradigms, just waiting to be rediscovered and used.
The Bonnie Brown Flag. Evelyn Vaugn explains how taking slavery out of the picture, "Firefly" could finally comment on the Civil War.
Joss Whedon doesn't rest with the stock or the simplistic, and he sure as hell doesn't overlook the tragedy. The conflict between the Aliance and the Independents allows us, at long last, to consider the devastation that was the American Civil War as someone from the South, the half most drastically affected, must have seen it.
Signal to Noise. TelevisionWithoutPity.com's Jacob Clifton on "Serenity's" message of subversion.
For all practical purposes, the vid screen in the Maidenhead is our first real look at media in the 'verse: repetitive, kawaii, sing-song, and uncomfortably close to our own present-day advertisements and disguised-advertisements.
Please note that I did not grab the best lines out of each essay, just representative ones. There's some great stuff in there.
Of course, I suppose if you don't want to read insightful examinations and funny essays (and vice versa) you could skip this. I'd kinda wonder why you were here, though…