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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Firefly Musings

I don't have anything else to blog about, so I'll post a few thoughts about my latest sci-fi interest. (Warning: spoilers.)

Earth That Was. In the Firefly universe, all of humanity had left its ancestral home as Earth was "used up," relocating to a planet-rich star system where many of its planets were terraformed for human habitation. The idea that Earth's resources could dwindle by such proportions in a mere 500 years is preposterous. The Solar System itself offers many resources, including the possibility of terraforming Mars and even Venus. If dead planets can be terraformed, the same technology would be able to ameliorate any environmental damage inflicted on Earth.

And even if humanity did expand to such an extent that the Solar System couldn't support it all, there would be no reason to order a complete evacuation, (oppressive, irrational governments notwithstanding). My advice to Joss Whedon: don't attempt to explain the origins of the exodus from Earth. It would be as silly as Star Trek attempting to explain its Next Generation-era currency-free economic system.

How many star systems? There are a lot of worlds in Firefly. The film Serenity refers to one, apparently the home of core worlds Londinium, Sihnon, and Ariel. But the series mentions at least one border system: the Georgia System). Unless "system" has been redefined somewhat, humanity must have spread to several stars and not just one.

So does that mean faster-than-light travel exists? I see three possibilities:

  1. Civilization exists in several star systems. All ships have FTL capability.
  2. Civilization exists in several star systems. All ships (at least civilian craft) are sublight vessels, but stationary "stargates" allow passage between systems.
  3. Civilization exists in a binary (or trinary) star system, or an exceptionally dense star cluster. The companion/neighboring star(s) are distant enough that each can have its own planetary system, and close enough that sublight travel for commercial vessels is practical.

The show's chief attraction. Not the military elites of Star Trek or the caricatures of Star Wars. Excluding a few eccentric plot twists, they're people you could actually know. A yuppie doctor. A genteel career woman. A troubled teen. Two war vets. An easygoing pilot. A working-class guy. The tomboyish girl from down the street. Their interaction is natural. Their ship looks like a real vessel that someone might own. Firefly is perhaps the least alien of sci-fi programs.

Companionship. One of the (probably unintentional) ironies of the show is the nomenclature for Inara's profession: Companion. In the English language, "companion" refers not to short-term liaisons such Inara's, but to long-term associations - such as Mal and Zoe's years as fellow soldiers and now as fellow shipmates, Zoe and Wash's marriage, and Simon and River's siblinghood. When I think of Inara the first word that pops in my head is "distant." It's not just Mal she's afraid of attaching herself to, it's the Serenity as a whole.

In a sense, she is a counterpart to Jayne. Both are drifters, attached to Serenity primarily though business arrangements, and defiant toward Mal. And both are the most alone of Serenity's nine crew and passengers.

Is he really a shepherd? One mystery that is not answered by the current film is Book's past. In the episode "Objects in Space" (my favorite), the bounty hunter says that Book isn't a cleric, but doesn't say what he supposedly really is. Previous episodes reveal a knowledge of criminal organizations and Alliance law enforcement procedures. The popular theory is that he was (or is?) a law enforcement official; that would explain his high standing with the Alliance ("Safe"). He could have since become a shepherd. Or his ecclesiastical profession could be a ruse, and his ham-handed explanation of faith to River ("Jaynestown") could be explained by his having not sufficiently researched his cover (as opposed to Whedon having not sufficiently researched religious people). River knows the real story, and she ain't telling - yet.

River. Life not originating from Earth has yet to be discovered. But Serenity has its own version of the token alien. River appears to have two paranormal abilities. First she is a telepath; she can access both short- and long-term memories of people present. She is also clairvoyant, able to see enough mechanical detail to tell when an explosion is about to occur ("Out of Gas") or even when someone is about to die if not given proper medical attention ("Ariel"). (Perhaps there is a genetic link between her psychic awareness and her child prodigy genius.) She is also a trained martial artist. Due to the experimentation on her brain, her grasp of reality wavers, and her impulse control is severely strained without medication. River Tam is the teen counselor's worst nightmare. Underneath all the trauma is a delightful, imaginative girl.

Their finest hour. Serenity's nine at their best, all from the TV series:

  • Mal Hired to steal an unknown cargo, double-crosses Niska when he finds out it's a medicine the locals need. ("The Train Job")
  • Zoe (Not shown on screen) Insists that the shuttles return to the derelict Serenity, saving Mal's life. ("Out of Gas")
  • Wash, Kaylee Both outwit bandits who board the Serenity - although they are separated from their respective stations aboard the ship when they do. ("Heart of Gold")
  • Jayne His speech before the mudders of Canton. He rejects the folk hero status that they bestowed on him, but his glimmer of decency only adds to the legend that unites and comforts them. ("Jaynestown")
  • Simon Sneaks River in and out of St. Lucy's Hospital to get a critical medical diagnostic. ("Ariel")
  • River Defeats the bounty hunter in a game of psychological warfare. ("Objects in Space")
  • Inara Outwits Saffron's double-crossing of Mal in the laser weapon heist. ("Trash")
  • Book Outwits the Alliance official pursuing an old comrade of Mal and Zoe's. ("The Message")

Separated at Birth? Firefly crime boss Adlai Niska and Earth-That-Was economist Friedrich Hayek.

Update: Check out Catallarchy's Serenity Shindig, which has links to (spoiler-rich) reviews of the film and episodes.

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