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Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe (Smart Pop series) Paperback – September 10, 2007
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"Lots of fun, lots of new insights, even some new facts a diehard Browncoat like me hadn’t heard yet." SerenityStuff.com
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This second volume is better for following the movie, for one thing, giving the authors more of the full story to work with, whereas the first book had only the series with its unanswered questions to consider. There are still some weak points, such as the too-personal-to-be-terribly-interesting "Things my spouse and I argue about while watching Firefly" piece; and the script outline of 'Out of Gas' by a guy who thinks the structure should be laid out scene-by-scene to demonstrate how cool it is...that one really lacked a thesis; and the "admittedly I have a huge chip on my shoulder" exhortation to geeks to be proud of their geeky selves, in which it was actually suggested that David Krumholtz could be plausibly seen as other than hot....
But there were really insightful essays outnumbering the ones that had me rolling my eyes and mouthing, "Blah blah blah," as I read. Jacob's was great, of course (I refer to him by his first name because I am a huge fan of his work and knew him only as Jacob of TWOP long before I learned his surname). There was a really thorough examination of the Libertarian ethics portrayed in Firefly; a thoughtful discussion of the Unification War in terms of its deliberate reflection of the American Civil War and even more carefully depicted differences from it; an in-depth look at many of Joss Whedon's female characters who have been essentially weaponized by meddlesome men; and several other really interesting takes on the Firefly 'verse that aren't for whatever reason leaping to mind right now.
Both books could easily have been trimmed, and one big book might have included only the best of these essays rather than a hit-and-miss double collection. On the other hand, it's great to have new Firefly-related stuff to devour at intervals with the show and film in the past and no likely sequels on the horizon.
My Review: Last collection had yummy-yummy Jewel Staite, aka Kaylee, writing about her favorite things in each episode; this collection has the slurpsome Nathan Fillion reflecting on being the Captain! For that alone, it's worth the price of admission!
But wait! There's more! Loni Peristere (also a beauteous hunk of man-flesh, maybe Joss is a switch-hitter? All the men in the 'verse are so toothsome!), the f/x wizard behind the whole Whedonesque world, talks about the amazing and exacting Creator in terms of inspiring the best work from Loni and his minions, an essay that made me even angrier at the business-sound-but-aesthetically-idiotic cancellation of "Firefly". Then one Geoff Klock pulls apart and analyzes the brilliant, brilliant episode "Out of Gas", in search of storytelling genius and its telltale markers; there are many, and they are important for anyone interested in storytelling craft to study in depth. This essay makes that process almost easy, which is in itself a feat of storytelling.
Bruce Bethke's essay, "Cut 'Em Off At The Horsehead Nebula!", goes into the whys and wherefores of the SFnal aversion to Western tropes invading "its" territory, rooted in the pulp origins of SF, and its early competition with Western pulps for writers and readers. One can still hear nasty, condescending echoes of the war, which SF **won** and could and should drop, in the covert critical reception of "Firefly" as a damned Bat Durston story. Read the essay, I ain't explainin' that one. Too long, and also it pisses me the hell off.
My personal favorite essay is "The Bonnie Brown Flag", relating the "Firefly" underpinnings to the American Civil War's myth of the Noble Losers, the Gentleman Planters following the Bonnie Blue Flag. It's poignant, it's well crafted, and it's quite nicely argued.
The only essay that's a real flop is "The Virtual 'Verse", which was a waaay premature ad for the dead-in-the-water MMORPG of "Firefly" that was, at that time, being touted as forthcoming. Well, it never forthcame, and the essay looks like what it was: Blatant product placement. Ptui.
But then comes what I think is the most important essay: "The Alliance's War on Science" by Ken Wharton. Ten pages of keen observation on the nature of political propaganda masquerading as science. Again, if all you read is this one essay, your purchase price will be fully amortized. The subject is ever-more important, and this essay will sensitize you to the issue like never before.
Just like "Firefly" would have, had it survived intact to this good day. Next best thing is buying BenBella Books's essay collections. And, of course, reading them with the starved passion of a jilted lover. Or is it just me...?
Personally, I thought the essays that explored the characters were the most interesting. They provide interesting insights about the crew of the Serenity. Of those, the essay about Shepherd Book and faith is fascinating and even provides hints about Shepherd's past.
That said, I think the collection would have benefitted from a bit more editorial control. Some of the essays are sloppy. Orson Scott Card's essay is particularly bad, all praise without any sort of analysis or insight. Card trashes all other sci-fi but doesn't really explain why Serenity/Firefly is better. As I tell my students, it's crucial to address strong counterarguments and make a focused point. Some of the other essays seem like they were written hastily without much thought (the Libertarian essay goes to such absurd extremes I laughed out loud).
Overall, this book is definitely worthwhile for Serenity/Firefly fans who want to think more about the series. Especially for the current Kindle price, which is less than a bag of chips at an airport.