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February 20 2010

"Mars Needs Women" - a Firefly essay. Taken from 'Serenity Found', this essay looks at why Firefly is the cure for science fiction's problems.

Ms Burns makes several wonderful arguments for the humanization of science fiction, not the least interesting of which is what she says about the demysticification of flobotnam.
A dress, a hat, a catalyzer, a ship; objects employed not as simply plot-devices, but as meaningful, personalizing keys to the richer world of the people-based narratives that are about something us real people actually feel.
I'd love this essay more if she'd never started calling it, "sci-fi", and mentioned the vast emotional difference between searching for a wormhole versus trying like heck to just keep flying.
As much as I criticize genre fiction as doing some of the things she mentions far too often, I don't think scifi as a whole is broken. And as much as I love Farscape and Firefly and saw more real people in them than is usual for tv scifi, I don't think they're the only examples of such shows either.
Absolutely agreed Sunfire.

I think the author is confusing a subset of science fiction for the totality of science fiction. Things like SG1, and Star Trek often displayed almost unisex, multi-racial versions of heroes as a way to say, "anyone can be this." On some level, it was removing the sex of the individual, but on the other it was more about creating character's for those shows that were better than all of us in some way. Someone we can aspire to be. They were superhero shows with science fiction elements.

And the truth is, Firefly wouldn't cure anything if that was all that we could find. Firefly was refreshingly different. But if you're going to do a space melodrama with normal humans, eventually that will get worn out as well. I'm not saying it's not a currently very fertile field to work in.

People love new things done well. That is why Firefly is so endearing. But I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it's the template that saves science fiction. Templates are the problem.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-02-20 23:33 ]
I wasn't aware scifi needs saving, but then again I haven't really read that much new scifi lately. Wait, scifi equals tv-series? I guess I was confused.

I skipped the article to the end, and it seems the writer sees Firefly as the cure for scifi, because people who do not like scifi woud like it, if they only could be guided to watch it. I agree, many would, but is the "cure" really to get more mainstream audience? And as great as Firefly was, it really isn't mainstream.

Do we need more shows like Firefly, definitely. But are they "cure" for scifi? For TV, maybe. For the whole genre, not so much.
In fairness, the author (presumably in the bit you skipped Eerikki ;) makes a distinction between TV sci-fi and the rest, particularly print sci-fi.

That said, agreed, this one irritated me slightly when I first read it too (i'm one of the apparently increasingly silly people who bought the book - turns out if i'd just waited a year or two I could've had it, dripfed, for free ;).

Firstly, it perpetuates one of my least favourite Firefly myths, the idea that Joss "revolutionised" sci-fi, that humour and well drawn characters had never been done before 'Firefly'. Seems to me that it's an idea by and large perpetuated by people who weren't sci-fi fans when they came to the show (I see the same thing re: 'Astonishing X-Men', again, often by people who weren't comics fans before Joss drew them in). Makes me happy those people found the genre/medium through Joss but i'd rather we looked at the vast body of both before deciding what's revolutionary and what's not.

Secondly, it's quite parochial - TV sci-fi has been produced for decades globally, not just in North America. No 'Doctor Who' ? No "Blake's 7" (about, incidentally, a ragtag band of criminals on the run from an oppressive regime) ?

Thirdly, as Sunfire says, it cherry picks a subset of sci-fi (military sci-fi, a type with an easy "hook" and consequently a type that tends to dominate in TV SF) and treats it as the be-all end-all of the genre on TV. And I found even the cherry picked case to be a bit simplistic - I don't have a military background and in fact, in the abstract, i'm not a particularly big fan of militaries in general though I accept we need them (I also don't read much military SF) and yet I could identify with Sam Carter because, superhero or not (and they all are on SG1, it's a light adventure series not BSG), she was a geek. I'm not an archaeologist but identified with Daniel Jackson too, same reason. I'm not ex-special forces (I mean I might be but I can't tell you that without killing you ;) and yet I identified with Jack O'Neill because (as one of the world's great procrastinators myself ;) I admired his particular brand of straightforwardness crossed with open-minded fairness (funnily enough, I liked the same thing about Mal). Ultimately, we're never going to be exactly like any TV character, from any show, we pick bits and pieces that mesh with us. Specifically picking the bits and pieces that don't mesh with us in order to make a case isn't that fair an argument IMO.

But it's well enough written and a personal perspective, so that's cool.
I agree, really good analysis of "Firefly" episodes, particularly on the meaning of objects and the meaning of objects vs. people, but a little too heavy on the overgeneralizations otherwise. "Sci-fi at its best has higher goals than any other genre." Really? No other form of literature aims at telling truths about what makes us human, or our hopes or fears? Not a one? Has this lady read anything that wasn't science fiction? The essay would have been improved by sticking to just what made Firefly so good.

Btw, speaking of other kinds of literature, any one else here read Michael Chaybon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay"? A Pulitzer-prize winning novel about comic book creators.
It's on my TBR pile barboo. Brian K Vaughan's 'The Escapists' was brilliant (which is kinda sorta related to TAAoKaC - it's about a guy trying to revive the Escapist character that features in the book) though I bought the book before the comic on the strength of Chabon's Holmes novella 'The Final Solution' (and the film adaptation of 'Wonder Boys' which I really enjoyed). Bit of a sideways approach i'll admit ;).
Saje,
When you've read it let me know what you think. I'll have to check out the "Wonder Boys" film, and the Vaughan comic book. You would probably also enjoy his "Gentlemen of the Road" which is sort of a sword and sorcery adventure without the sorcery, and "Yiddish Policemen Union" a murder mystery set in an alternate history where European Jewish refugees from the Nazis were settled in Alaska and there is no state of Israel. He's definitely a genre-blurring writer. I think I read somewhere that he is a fan of Neil Gaiman, which is not at all surprising.

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