Firefly: Ep. 1

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Neil Gaiman

I am stunned.

Because: look, people! American SF TV programme that I can actually watch without tearing my eyeballs out!

I feel like Firefly is one of those SF fandom behemoths that makes up the Popular Culture Canon. You kind of have to have watched it to get a lot of the conversations happening in the fandom, especially around TV; watching it is like reading Paradise Lost, in that it gives you the keys to a lot of what came after. (It certainly clears up Sheldon Cooper’s obsession with it.)

What is it? Well, it’s a story about a crew of misfits and criminals aboard a spaceship which specialises in smuggling, petty theft, etc. Think Star Wars IV crossed with Guardians of the Galaxy, but without the irritating plot holes or extended fight scenes. And an ensemble cast with (gasp) female characters who actually have character. (Pink and fluffy characters who can work engines! Women whose relationships are established facts and not their entire story arc!) And, like, general awesomeness.

Ooh, crew dynamics! Let me talk about crew dynamics. There are simmering tensions aboard the Serenity – but no sense that they’re there simply for plot purposes, and absolutely no way they’re going to pay off in any easily foreseeable way. People in real life aren’t that easy to read – why should they be in fiction? And Firefly feels very real. There’s no gung-ho heroism about these misfits (which isn’t to say they’re unlikable, or that they don’t have their own quirks): they weigh the consequences of their decisions. They communicate. Their resentments and their tensions don’t get in the way of the task at hand. They are survivors, and there’s a real sense that every decision is, for these criminals, a life-or-death one.

The world-building, too, is intensely realistic in a Star Wars-y kind of way, although perhaps “relatable” would be closer to the mark. This is probably just a reflection of TV’s lower budget, but everything feels very earthy, very grounded: spaceships are beaten up and battered, markets full of low-tech stalls and old-fashioned revolvers abound, people carry old suitcases around. The familiar is prepared with a weak dilution of the alien, and it’s very effective. Despite the vastly altered political situation, everyday life hasn’t really changed, fundamentally. In fact, it’s almost got worse.

What I’m trying to say is, effectively, general awesomeness. Also, am I a proper SF fan now?

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