Jane Espenson, editor,
Finding Serenity
(BenBella, 2005)

Has a series so brief ever sparked so much interest after the slamming door of cancellation?

Sure, popular acclaim for Firefly doesn't match the outcry that followed an early demise of Star Trek in the 1960s -- but then again, Star Trek had a few more episodes in the can before the hammer came down. But considering that fewer than a dozen episodes of Firefly were aired before the Fox Network scurried to replace it with more "reality" programming, the outpouring of support for Joss Whedon's quirky tale of space cowboys on a galactic frontier is remarkable.

But so, too, was the series.

Between the end of the series and the release of Serenity, a feature film that continues the story, Jane Espenson gathered together a host of writers and experts to ponder the many levels of Firefly in a collection of thoughtful, well-researched essays. With this level of scholarly works already collected, it wouldn't surprise me to learn there are college-level courses being taught on the show. But, for those who don't want to take their interest and/or adulation on campus, Finding Serenity is a good place to sate your need for more on Mal, Zoe, Wash and the rest of the merry crew.

Larry Dixon, in "The Reward, the Details, the Devils, the Due," kicks off the analysis with a varied look at the show and the reasons it resonated so deeply with him. With one eye on history, Lawrence Watt-Evans examines the motivations that drive the Reavers in the series, drawing on a Scottish legend for his source material in "The Heirs of Sawney Beane." Leigh Adams Wright ponders a question that has bothered many viewers of the series: with the show's many Chinese influences, down to the very language they speak, why are Asian characters so notably absent?

Glenn Yeffeth, in one of the more amusing entries, posits the paper trail that a typical Fox Network executive might have left as the show's fortunes turned. Ginjer Buchanan investigates the series' suspicious death and points a finger at the culprit(s) who perpetrated the crime -- you may be surprised to see Gene Roddenberry and even Whedon himself among the suspects! Next, Keith R.A. DeCandido explains how Fox's questionable decision to muck with the order of episodes, kicking off the series with one of its weaker scripts, contributed to its ratings failure. Mercedes Lackey then tackles the issue of freedom, real and imagined, in the Firefly 'verse.

For an example of true literary dementia, read Don DeBrandt's analytical comparison between Firefly and, um, The Tick. For a more serious, philosophical take, Lyle Zynda pokes around in the psyche of the last episode to be aired, "Objects in Space," and guest villain Jubal Early.

For a truly sweet look at characterization, check out Michelle Sagara West's exposition on the marriage of Zoe and Wash. Tanya Huff takes the notion in a different direction by explaining how Zoe -- not Buffy, not Xena -- epitomizes the TV warrior woman. Joy Davidson, a sex therapist, goes another route by finding Inara's place in the realm of the sacred feminine archetype, both goddess/priestess and whore. And, in keeping with the basic theme, Robert B. Taylor gives an overview of alpha feminism aboard Firefly.

From Nancy Holder, we get an explanation for Whedon's failure to make strong female characters work in a (futuristic) Western setting. John C. Wright, on the other hand, discusses Whedon's failure to account for the chivalry element inherent in the Western genre.

In one of the sillier chapters, Roxanne Longstreet Conrad poses a "Mirror/Mirror" exchange between the crews of Serenity and Jonathan Archer's Enterprise; Star Trek fans might not be pleased with the results of the experiment. Speaking of Star Trek, David Gerrold ("The Trouble with Tribbles") sorts through issues of storytelling, subtext and suspension of disbelief.

What did all of those Chinese expressions mean, anyway? Kevin M. Sullivan spells it out for those without a universal translator handy. (At the end of the book, Sullivan also supplies an unofficial glossary for the show.) Jennifer Goltz translates Firefly's musical score. And, in one of the most delightful chapters, Jewel Staite (Kaylee) reveals her favorite moments from every episode.

That's a helluva lot of scholarly text expended on so short-lived a series. And yet, these writers and editors (to say nothing of the Powers That Be at BenBella Publishing) thought the subject worth their time and thought -- and I have to agree. While Fox executives might be short-sighted, fans of the Firefly series know a good thing when they see it. And they're not ready to let it go just yet.

by Tom Knapp
15 April 2006

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