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Book Review: Finding Serenity &#8211 Analyzing a Celebrated Failure

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Mal. Zoe. Jayne. Wash. Inara. Simon. River. Kaylee. Shepherd Book. Serenity.

If those 10 names don’t leave you shaking your head at the stupidity of FOX Network executives, Finding Serenity isn’t the book for you. Finding Serenity is a collection of essays exploring the short lived FOX Television series Firefly.

The names are those of the cast and spaceship in Firefly. Trying to describe the series is nigh impossible. In the words of one essayist, the series is “the Old West transposed to the future, to interstellar space.” It is a time some 500 years in the future when there are fond memories of the “Earth-that-was” and humanity is scrambling and struggling on dozens of planetary frontiers following a war between the Alliance and the Independents. Serenity’s occupants are mostly independent spirits who just don’t seem or want to fit in the Alliance-controlled universe. The ship is their means of seeking freedom, autonomy and survival. And that description only scratches the surface.

Despite being acclaimed by critics and developing a rabid fan base, the FOX Network not only canceled the series after a three-month run in 2002, it didn’t air all the episodes. Yet, as editor Jane Espenson, who wrote one episode of the series, says, “Firefly represents an interesting phenomenon, the celebrated failure.” The DVD release of the complete series was a top-seller. In fact, 18 months after its release it is still ranked #6 for DVD sales at Amazon. This September, creator Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) is releasing a feature length film called Serenity. The complete TV series has been picked up for rebroadcast on the Sc iFi Channel starting in late July. Numerous web sites exist discussing and speculating on issues left unresolved by the early cancellation. Finding Serenity seeks to draw on the seemingly insatiable demand for more of the Fireflyverse.

The book is a collection of 20 essays on various aspects of the series and its characters. To call it an eclectic collection is probably an understatement. The authors include television writers, science fiction authors, a philosopher, a music professor, a cast member and even a certified sex therapist. The subjects are equally as broad. They range from the humorous (such as a spoof in which the Firefly cast switches places with Captain Kirk, et al., on Star Trek) to the more deeply philosophical. One essay explores the existential meaning of Firefly while another looks at how although freedom is a theme of the series, the characters themselves are really far from free. Most of the essays fall in the middle. They look at what the series and characters say about gender and racial issues. They critique individual episodes and the writing and production of the series. One even examines the show’s use of Chinese language and words in virtually every episode.

The collection is broad enough that any individual reader may find a couple essays a bit simplistic for their taste and others too esoteric for what is, after all, a canceled television series. But this is not an introductory book for the newcomer. It delves deep enough into this pop culture symbol to require a level of familiarity with the episodes, characters and tenor of the series.

Suffice it to say, if you’ve got the date Serenity hits the big screen marked on your calendar (September 30), you’ll probably think Finding Serenity is gorram shiny. If you don’t know what that phrase means, the book isn’t for you.

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About Tim Gebhart

After 30 years of practicing law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs. Tim Gebhart is now perfecting the art of doing little more than reading, writing and sleeping.
  • Does the book have anything to say about WHY Fox would cancel the series with episodes left unaired?

  • Maybe Fox learned from Paramount’s mistakes. People are more likely to want something when it has both a reputation for high quality and a limited availability.

    When an entertainment property gets shoveled onto the marketplace in tiresome quantities, and the quality declines too, viewers are more likely to stay away in droves.

    Yeah, Enterprise, I’m looking at you when I say that.

  • Um, how exactly does any TV channel profit from a series it doesn’t air? It’s not like Fox has this massive literary reputation to protect or anything…

  • Fox supposedly canceled the series due to ratings. It did, of course, first air the show during the midst of baseball playoffs (meaning it was on one week and off the next) and aired the second episode instead of the pilot first.

    As for the book, it’s examination of why Fox cancelled it is best summarized in an essay consisting of a series of fictional letters from the Fox exec in charge of its development to Whedon.

  • Fox profits from DVD sales of Firefly, and will profit from the box office receipts for Serenity. Every advance screening of that film has sold out rapidly.

    They are holding to their original release date in September, and I suspect this is timed to allow more word of mouth buzz to build up. The film is clearly ready for release already, or there could not have been any advance screenings.

    Leaving some of the episodes un-aired in the original first season decreased Fox’s immediate profit from the series, but as a result it has gained greatly in value and they stand to profit far more now than they would have then.

  • SpookyRiverFan

    “Shepherd” Book… not “Reverend Book”…

    Just sayin’