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Unlike "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," Joss Whedon's television series "Firefly" only last fifteen episodes. Of those three were never shown and the two-part pilot aired as the eleventh and twelfth episodes. FOX had cancelled "Dark Angel" after two seasons to spend its limited special effects budget on "Firefly," and then decided halfway through the season to cancel the show. In retrospect it is clear that while "Firefly" had a small audience it was extremely loyal, which explains why Whedon was able to reunite his cast for the theatrical film "Serenity" and provide some sense of closure regarding the ship and its crew. Consequently, with only those fifteen episodes to consider it seems unlikely that "Firefly" will receive the same sort of critical attention that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has received, which is why "Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's 'Firefly'" may be one of the few to do so and why it is ultimately geared more towards fans than academics. In other words, the twenty-one pieces in this volume edited by Jane Espenson constitutes a mixed bag of deep thoughts and biting humor.
The first essay, "The Reward, the Details, the Devils, the Due," in which artist Larry Dixon looks at how the "Firefly" universe was fleshed out in terms of set design, set dressing, and cinematography, gets the book off to a good start. Author Lawrence Watt-Evans critiques the Reavers from the perspective of an earth legend regarding cannibalism in "The Heirs of Sawney Beane." Leigh Adams Wright's "Asian Objects in Space" critiques the use of Asian culture with context in the series (i.e., what is the point of the curses in Chinese?). The title of "'Serenity' and Bobby McGee: Freedom and the Illusion of Freedom in Joss Whedon's 'Firefly'" gives away Mercedes Lackey's thesis in her look at the politics of the show. Philosophy professor Lyle Zynda explores the emotional truths of Whedon's show in "We're All Just Floating in Space," where Whedon gets treated on the same level as Camus, Nietzsche and Sartre.
In the humor department Glenn Yeffeth makes up a series of memos from Early "Nutcrusher" Jubal, Vice President of FOX Programming to explain, "The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of 'Firefly' (the behind-the-scenes story)." Ginjer Buchanan's "Who Killed 'Firefly'?" provides a more reasoned explanation for what happened. But Keith R.A. DeCandido makes a compelling case for why skipping the pilot was a big mistake in "'The Train Job' Didn't Do the Job: Poor Opening Contributed to 'Firefly''s Doom." Don Debrandt offers an analog between "'Firefly' vs. 'The Tick'," a comparison few people would make. Michelle Sagara West explores the Zoe-Wash marriage as "More Than a Marriage of Convenience." Other pieces look at single characters, with fantasy author Tanya Huff's "'Thanks for the reenactment, sir.' Zoe: Updating the Woman Warrior," and therapist Joy Davidson's "Whores and Goddesses: The Archetypal Domain of Inara Serra."
"The Captain May Wear the Tight Pants, but it's the Gals Who Make 'Serenity' Soar" by Robert B. Taylor explores gender roles on the series, while Nancy Holder talks about the hope that Whedon's fans brought to the show in "I Want Your Sex: Gender and Power in Joss Whedon's Dystopian Future World." Then there is retired attorney John C. Wright's "Just Shove Him in the Engine, or The Role of Chivalry in 'Firefly,'" which actually argues that Whedon does not have a feminist agenda and is merely being politically correct, included as proof that Espenson is a fair minded editor. "Mirror/Mirror: A Parody" is Roxanne Longstreet Conrad's comedic comparison of the worlds of "Firefly" and "Enterprise," which argues that only Phlox could take their "Serenity" counterpart. Then "Star Trek" writer David Gerrold's "Star Truck" speculates on what might have happened down the road in the "Firefly' universe. Gerrold is able to question the feasibility of the terraforming the universe assumptions of the series with the need to tell stories on a science fiction television series, which I found quite interesting.
At the end of the book the concern of the fans takes over, starting with "Kaylee Speaks: Jewel Staite on 'Firefly,'" in which the actress shares her five favorite moments from each episode of the series. For many readers it may well be that the best piece in the book appears last, which is where Kevin M. Sullivan provides the "Unofficial Glossary of 'Firefly' in Chinese." Being able to both pronounce and translate the phrase "Ta ma duh" (neutral tones apply) might be worth the cost of the book all by itself and it is why I decided to round up on the rating.. The curses are all arranged chronologically by episode, so keep this book handy as you watch the shows again on DVD so that you can finally find out what sort of obscenities Mal and his crew were getting away with on the show.
So there is a little bit of everything here, which I do not think is a bad thing since "Finding 'Serenity'" is likely to be one of the few books that will end up publishing either the fan humor or the academic speculations (although the number of reviews here would, to my mind, suggest it should not be and there are plenty more topics to explore, such as the religion of Shepherd Book and the decentralization of the Alliance). Espenson mixes and matches the pieces well, so you are never reading all of the heavy analytical pieces or the hit-and-miss humor ones all in a row. I think that if you pay special attention to the pieces Espenson picks to begin and end the collection, since these simply emphasize the fact that a lot of viewers loved this series and that one of the reasons is that Joss Whedon always provides depth to his creative endeavors. Basically anybody who watched "Firefly" will find food for thought here worth consuming, even if there are some courses you only pick at to get to the deserts at the end.