- Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier
Investigating Firefly and Serenity is the third published collection of essays devoted wholly to the short-lived television series Firefly and the theatrical release, Serenity, which it spawned. The other two, earlier collections, Finding Serenity (2005) and Serenity Found (2007) were edited or co-edited by Firefly scriptwriter, Jane Espenson, and include some contributions which approach the texts from a non-academic standpoint, including memoirs by the actors Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye) and Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal Reynolds). Investigating Firefly and Serenity enters freely into dialogue with entries in Finding Serenity (its companion volume was clearly not yet published when this book was in preparation), often taking issue with claims made in the academic essays there. Moreover, the introduction by editors Rhonda Wilcox and Tanya Cochran seems to suggest an attempt to be even more celebratory in tone than Finding Serenity, for all the 'careful scholarly grounding' insisted upon by the blurb on [End Page 148] the back cover. The editorial introduction frequently verges on the rhapsodic, and it is hard to escape the sense that Wilcox and Cochran conceived the book as part of an ongoing investigation of – or encomium upon – the work of 'creator' Joss Whedon. This is nowhere an explicitly articulated aim, though it does seem meant as a selling point, since the back cover notes that this is Wilcox's 'third book on Whedon'.
The ecstatic tone is not carried through into most of the contributions, but the introduction inevitably inflects what follows, and serves to highlight certain questionable editorial choices. For one thing, though Investigating Firefly and Serenity contains an array of engagingly varied essays, Wilcox's and Cochran's hagiographic attitude towards Whedon casts a shadow over the whole collection. The almost uniformly admiring tone of the volume may well be fortuitous, but one could be forgiven for seeing an editorial policy to whitewash the 'creator' and his collaborators, with responses to earlier scholarship on his series generally being justificatory of Whedon.
More worrying is the fact that the text makes altogether too many assumptions about readers' contextual knowledge of and attitudes to Firefly (US 2002–3) and Serenity (Whedon US 2005). It is taken as a given that they will be familiar with the earlier television series which were also 'created' by Whedon, namely Buffy the Vampire Slayer (US 1997–2003) and Angel (US 1999–2004). Thus, for example, Willow Rosenberg, a character from Buffy, is mentioned in order to make a comparative point with no gloss to render this comparison intelligible (136). It is also generally taken for granted that readers will accept that these various television series, and the film Serenity, can and should be considered the unified oeuvre of a single artist.
Apart from the introduction there are nineteen essays in Investigating Firefly and Serenity, divided among nine thematically organised sections. Reference to the 'norms' of Joss Whedon's work, as opposed to the internal patterns and problems of the Firefly/Serenity texts, is offered as the basis for defining every section of the book. The arrangement is not necessarily helpful to either flow or cohesion, chiefly because it artificially overrides internal connections which permeate the volume. For example, the second and third sections are entitled 'Gender' and 'Genre'. To those with knowledge of Whedon's prior work, these sections might seem likely to be the most fertile; the editors duly comment on the fact that Whedon 'writes with feminist goals' and note his capacity for the 'masterful mixture of genre' (9). Yet, partly because of current critical concerns in the academy and partly because of the nature of the texts under consideration, instabilities and equivocations around gender and genre crop up throughout the book, and the essays placed under these headings are not [End Page 149] necessarily the most provocative or interesting explorations of each theme. For instance, the masculine identity and ethics of the Han Solo-esque (anti)hero, Mal Reynolds, are intriguingly played out in Gregory Erickson...