Tuesday , June 18 2024

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

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.

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.

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