Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds And Space Hookers In Joss Whedon's Firefly (Anglais) Broché – 11 mars 2005
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Jane Espenson, the "Firefly" writer who announced news of the film in 2003, has now edited Finding Serenity, a collection of essays about the television show, its universe, and characters. These essays run the gamut from larks, such as Glenn Yeffeth's attack on the FOX executives who cancelled the show to Keith R.A. DeCandido's well reasoned explanation for why the pilot-as-aired did not manage to attract an audience, to Lyle Zynda's complex look at the existential philosophy found in the series.
Many of the essays tend to focus on the same topics, although from different points of view. One of those topics is the strength and abilities of the women of the cast and crew. However, even as Tanya Huff describes the abilities of the second-in-command, Zoe Warren, or Robert Taylor lauds the women as the stronger portion of the crew, Nancy Holder sees them as weak and stereotypical.
One of the strengths of "Firefly" is that in just over a dozen shows (including the un-aired episodes), Whedon was able to create enough hooks and mysteries that the twenty authors represented in Finding Serenity are able to tackle a wide variety of topics, from the aforementioned question of the strength of characters to the existence of the Reavers, a bogeyman who the crew of the spaceship Serenity meet up with. Nevertheless, there are numerous other questions which are only touched upon in the essays, such as the mysterious history of Shepherd Book (played by Ron Glass) or the agenda of the equally mysterious Blue Sun corporation.
Several articles compare "Firefly" to other television shows, most notably Star Trek and its sequels, but also Don DeBrandt's comparison to the cult show "The Tick." These articles rely, to some extent on familiarity with not only "Firefly" but also the other show. "Mirror/Mirror: A Parody" requires the reader to have some idea about the characters and situations of "Enterprise," as well as share Roxanne Longstreet Conrad's opinions of the two shows.
One of the high points of the anthology is the inclusion of an article by Jewel Staite, who portrayed the Serenity's mechanic Kaywinnet Lee Frye. Staite's essay looks at her five favorite moments from each of the episodes of "Firefly" and provides an adjunct actor's commentary to the various commentaries available on the DVD sets. It also serves to demonstrate that the actors, or at least one of them, is as big a fan of the show as the people who watched it.
While the essays in Finding Serenity can't provide a replacement for new episodes of the series or the upcoming film (scheduled for release in September, 2005), the book can help fans of the series scratch the itch to discuss the show and perhaps get a little more feeling for the various characters, secrets and subtexts, or at least the ideas of other fans of the show.
This compilation of essays has some very interesting contributions. One essay investigates the question of just who killed the show (besides the network brass at FOX). Another looks at the role of Inarra (Morena Baccarin) on the show, and compares her to women of similar positions throughout history. Some of the episodes are just hilarious, such as the one with the supposed network notes from FOX exec Early Jubal (a take-off on one of the villains from the show), or the Firefly vs. Star Trek: Enterprise adventure. Some of them are strangely contradictory; one author writes that the women of the show are the smartest, ablest, and best characters, and that the men of the show would be nowhere without them (think about it; the most dangerous person on the ship is a 100-pound teenage girl). However, another writer claims that, because this enters into the western genre, the women are subdued and secondary to the male cast members. Also, at the end is a glossary of all the Chinese phrases used on the show, and some of them are pretty funny (although, probably unintentionally so). Finally, there is the essay from Jewel Staite, who plays Kaylee Frye on the show. Basically, it lists her top 5 favorite moments from each episode. I'm not sure if its my favorite (that honor may be reserved for the Firefly vs. Enterprise one), but I do see it somewhat differently than most of the others. Maybe it's because it came from an actual cast member, or maybe because I'm in love with Kaylee (but that's a different story all together).
This is certainly a fun little addition to the Firefly universe. While some of the essays won't be completely accurate come September (some stuff in the film contradicts some of the theories and ideas a few of the authors had), it will always be a good read.
But, by and large, it isn't.
The book starts off promising enough. There is an essay that talks about the look and feel of the show from a filmmaking point of view, and that's pretty cool. Also interesting is the examination of the episode "Objects in Space" (my personal favorite) as an exercise in existentialism.
Unfortunately, the handful of insightful essays/articles do not offset the rest of the book. Most of the book reads like a fanzine (a fan-produced, fan-edited, usually low-quality collection of articles that are insightful and witty to only the most diehard fans). Chief among these were the silly "The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Firefly," and the dreadfully un-funny and irrelevent "Firefly vs. The Tick." Many of the essays are guilty of simply overanalyzing the show to death. Yes, you can pick at the parts fo Firefly (the western part, the sci-fi part...) and find lots of flaws--but what none of the essays seem to point out is that it's the sum of the parts that makes this show such a wonderful thing.
Perhaps the worst of the bunch is "I Want Your Sex..." a seemingly endless man-hating rant by an irate Buffy fan that berates Joss Whedon for not taking the initiative to make the Firefly universe a matriarchal society where women wield all of the power and men are simply window dressing. The characters of Firefly--ALL of them--are strong characters, stronger than those on most shows on television today. To say that the women of this show were marginalized and weak is just plain silly. Everyone who's ever watched the show KNOWS Zoe could kick everyone's [back] on that ship and take command. The fact that she choses NOT to do so (as my wife points out) shows STRENGTH not weakness. The fact that she is devoted to and dotes on her husband is not a weakness (as the writer of the essay would have you believe) but a personal choice. The fact River is not interested in relationships with men on the ship (or off the ship) doesn't maker her character sexless--it doesn't make her ANYTHING. It just is. The girl has other priorities. She's a fugitive, after all...
I'll stop ranting now.
Anyway, if you're looking to supplement your Serenity movie experience, buy the Firefly DVDs, the novel, and the making-of book. (Skip the first step if you already own the DVDs.) As for this book--the few bright spots are hardly worth the price of admission.
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.