It's been seven years since original episodes of Firefly last aired on television and half a decade since the feature film Serenity premiered. Yet fans of the space western show, known as Browncoats, are still thick on the ground and ready for any new tidbits about the show.
The new scrapbook/anthology Firefly: Still Flying will be sure to please the hardcore fan simply because hardcore fans are fairly easy to please. (Complaining about the "Worst. Episode. EVER." is just as much part of the fun as anything else, after all!)
For more casual viewers of the show, Still Flying is worth a skim for the original fiction, but not for much else.
The editor of Still Flying, who goes uncredited, did try a few new things, specifically the commissioning of three original short stories and a small gag comic from four of the series' original writers. Much of the rest of the book is a clipjob, however. The cast interviews are cobbled together from previously published material, and much of the stuff is years old and was first published online, where it is still easy enough to find.
One wonders how a small fanzine like Ray Gun Revival was able to get Jewel Staite, who played Kaylee, for an interview in 2007, but Titan Books was satisfied with brief clips from that and other pieces. Some of the cast interviews at least have quotes taken from panels and discussions at conventions like Dragon Con and Firefly-fan shindigs, and from the set, so some of that will sound new to the only mildly fanatical. Surely the solid hardcore know all this stuff already.
There are a number of fresh essays in Still Flying, but after five years there was clearly little new to discuss about the television show or feature film. Character stand-in Danny Nero—a fellow whose job it is to be roughly the same height and build as an actor so the sets can be lit without using the performers themselves—gets two pages and a spread of his personal photos. The interview drops such bombshells as "I would love to meet some of the fans," but the photos are nice. More interesting is the interview with stunt coordinator Nick Brandon, who at least has something to say. An actually fun fun fact: He gave himself the role of a guard who fights Jayne in the episode "Ariel"—the sidebar page also includes a good montage of the brawl.
The book also gives us a look at the props, ships and other physical elements of the Firefly universe, but as the show was never all that innovative when it came to design or technology, the usual sketches, storyboards and close-up photos feel too familiar. Seen one "movie magic" book, you've seen 'em all. The article on fan films—an approved fan film called Browncoats: Redemption is being made to raise money for charity—is better, though it's less an exploration of the phenomenon than a love letter to the fans. But the fans are the ones who are going to buy Still Flying, so why not?
The fiction is what makes Still Flying more interesting than the usual slapped-together clipjob, but even here the material is mixed. As it's fan fiction of sorts by members of the writing team, lots of furious energy is sure to be spent on whether these pieces are canon, and that alone may be worth the price of admission for Browncoats. From worst to first (spoilers abound):
"Fun With Dick and Jayne" is a two-page parody of the famous basal reader series by Ben Edlund, who also did the art for the piece. Parodies are supposed to be funny, but I imagine that the 90 percent of humanity that doesn't find cartoons of disemboweled dogs funny won't be too thrilled with it. Stick with The Tick, Mr. Edlund.
Next up is "Crystal" by Brett Matthews, a River Tam story that takes place immediately preceding the events of Serenity and involves River's premonitions of the deaths of some of her comrades. The story explicitly doesn't add anything new as it finds a niche to exploit between the end of the show and the beginning of the film, and Matthews loses control of the point of view at various points as we drift from River to the rest of the crew. Short stories allow for a level of interiority that teleplays lack, but point of view often needs to be tightly controlled. Matthews seems like a kid with a new, noisy toy he can't stop using when it comes to point of view and interior monologue, though.
Much better written is Jane Espenson's "What Holds Us Down," in which Kaylee plays hero to a wounded Wash. It's written in Kaylee's peculiar dialect and tones and is actually a pretty nice little science fiction story as well, though nothing that wouldn't have been published 60 years ago in Astounding Science Fiction—pat moral lesson included. In this story, the journey is better than the destination. I'd certainly be interested to read more of Espenson's prose fiction, given her command of voice and tone.
The best story is Jose Molina's "Take the Sky," which will surely send fans over the moon. It takes place some time after the events of Serenity, long after any happily ever after. Kaylee and Simon have babies! Zoe is the new captain of Serenity. Mal is retired and embittered, and Jayne Cobb, billionaire, died in bed ... if not quite in his sleep. Fans will love the glimpse of the future of the crew, but I bought the rest of the story as a real character study and mood piece. Get this guy a tie-in novel deal, stat.
Is Firefly actually still flying? Fan enthusiasm says so, but Titan Books phoned in most of this book. Still Flying is Browncoats only, but if the book whets fandom's appetite for more original Firefly fiction, that would only be a good thing.