Thursday, September 29, 2005


Now seems like a good time to reveal my true identity as a sci-fi nerd. I love science fiction, in all its forms, and I am immediately on board with any entertainment premise involving the following: time travel, space travel, parallel universes, the future, non-humanoid beings (a lesser nerd would just say "aliens" there), robots who have turned on their masters, and the scantily clad but kick-ass warrior women intrinsic to the genre.

In keeping with that love, Back to the Future is my favorite film of all time. (Time travel: check. Accurate-sounding but totally bogus science: check. Improbable love story and threat of incest: well, actually going into different kind of checklist there..) The movies I enjoyed most over the past few years were Minority Report, The Matrix, and War of the Worlds (despite Tom Cruise). I even wanted to watch The Island (but I didn't. You have to listen to the critics sometimes.) Gattaca was Netflixed to my house yesterday. I said no to drugs in the '80s and instead read all of Isaac Asimov (I told you: very nerdy). I taught Octavia Butler's Dawn: Xenogenesis to my BU undergrads, and I can justify that choice over similar works by Ursula LeGuin. I have watched every single episode of the original Star Trek series with my dad and have them all recorded on wobbily VHS tapes at my childhood home. Most recently, I burned through all six DVDs of Battlestar Galactica in two days. Plus commentary. I am actually only one Star Trek convention away from being in a little too deep. All this to say that my sci-fi credentials are up-to-date. So it should mean something when I say that I am ready to talk about my favorite science fiction series of all time.

Like all good love stories, it involves heartbreak: the knowledge of eventual but certain loss. I started watching Firefly after it had already been killed (by evildoers at FOX, naturally). I picked up the DVD set of the cancelled series almost by accident and proceeded to get immediately and entirely sucked in. The characters are good, the writing is fantastic, the world of the series is gritty, realistic, and compelling, and the show is funny, scary, and smart all at the same time. Fabulous television. Which explains, of course, why FOX showed the episodes out of order on the loser-slot of Friday night and then pulled the series after only eleven shows. Nobody ever accused FOX of being intelligent.

More than inventive set design or futuristic technology, what makes science fiction great is its (boring-sounding but actually important) moral component: its particular gift at commenting on those values and ideals most important to human life. While often showcasing humanity's grossest tendencies toward greed, violence, and careless destruction (see how many times "nuclear winter" is the beginning premise of any show), sci-fi embraces the best elements of human nature as well: courage, belief, adventure. Science fiction also depends on a strong and abiding element of hope, even when things look bad. Which traits do you embrace when all but 50,000 members of your race have been extinguished? How adaptable is human nature to harsh environments and people who are different? To what lengths will humanity go to seek out new worlds and new civilizations, to boldly go... etc.? Good questions, all asked by science fiction. The genre is well-suited to these questions, since it can extrapolate the human condition 50 or 500 years into the future in order to reveal the most complex parts of human nature today--something sci-fi has been doing ever since the original Star Trek modelled the members of a distant planet after the warhawks and peaceniks of the '60s. So, yeah, I like it.

Firefly recognizes the importance of this moral element and plays with it. That is why the roles of "good guy" and "bad guy" are deliciously muddled, even while the frontier ideals of toughness, pluck, and basic human kindness are lifted up again and again. The series generally passes up easy definitions, going for complexity and ambiguity instead. All the while that crucial undercurrent of hope is palpable, even while the far-from-privileged renegades run into the ugliest of villains and the seemingly bleakest of scenarios.

Like a lot of good love stories, this one ends with a second chance. Some non-idiot executive at a different studio realized Firefly's greatness and greenlighted a movie, Serenity, based on the series. A movie, my friends, that is being released tomorrow. It is, of course, very possible that the movie will fall far short of my impossibly high expectations, that trying to make a feature-length film of this story will screw it up completely, and that I will leave the theater with the double blow of not loving the movie and realizing that the Firefly saga really has come to a final end. But, in the best tradition of science fiction, I will hope for the best. I suggest you come along for the ride if you can.


At 12:41 AM, Blogger scs said...

Speaking of hope, Big Papi keeps them alive in the 9th tonight. Only one game back going into the weekend's series. Go Sox.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger benji said...

man/woman vs man/woman
man/woman vs nature
man/woman vs self
man/woman vs other (SERENITY NOW!!)

have you ever seen Farscape on the scifi channel? kind of in the same vein as firefly.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger scs said...

I was waiting for someone to make the Seinfeld connection...I haven't seen Farscape, but I've heard good things. Damn not having cable.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger benji said...

how was the movie?

At 11:51 AM, Blogger scs said...

It was good. I enjoyed it. It's hard to make the switch from a show I watched 14 hours of to a movie that has to pack everything in under 2 hours. But I liked it. Lots of non-Firefly fans are liking it too. It kicks the ass of those other big budget "sci-fi" attempts of recent years, you know the ones that include Siths, pouty actors not acting, and Natalie Portman with extravagant hairdos.


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