Saturday, 31 May 2008


Sometimes I’ve felt as though the decision to study a sci-fi series for my dissertation on the emerging church was a bit too wacky! So I was greatly encouraged by Mike Alsford’s work on ‘Religious Themes in Science Fiction’, especially as he describes the way in which this particular genre encourages us to face both hope and dread.

'To contemplate a destiny amongst the stars whilst at the same time recognising our capacity for greed and self destruction; to aspire to new levels of existence, transformations to ever more blessed states of being, while acknowledging our equal potential to create and become monsters; to look forward to a future paradise or to dread the end results of urban decay and social collapse: hope and dread –these are indeed two of the poles that define us.'
Alsford, M, What If? Religious Themes in Science Fiction, (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2000) pp2-3.

Maggie Burns seems to take this a step further by declaring that Sci-fi makes us face our hopes, fears (=dread) and the truth.

‘… the highest goal of science fiction is to tell us the truth about ourselves. We find it in every sci-fi work that has ever tried to say: “This is how it is. Don’t pretend, don’t turn away, don’t lie. This is who you are. This is what we are.” … Firefly … sets out to show us our world through a created one.’ Burns, M, ‘Mars needs Women’ in Espenson, J (ed), Serenity Found: More Unauhorized essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, (Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2007) pp15-16.

This belief, in the power of story to touch us at a deep level, is my starting

Thursday, 22 May 2008


Eric Greene points out how, in Star Trek, 'Spock reflected Kirk's intellect and McCoy embodied Kirk's emotions. Watching McCoy and Spock argue was like seeing Kirk's internal dialogue externalized.'

Similarly in Firefly the characters of Simon and Jayne are set in direct contrast. Simon is devoted to the protection of his sister, he has risked everything for her - in the episode Safe he is even willing to be burnt at the stake with her - Mal shows the same sort of loyalty to his ship and crew. Conversely, Jayne displays a practical self interest and is unable to understand acts of altruism. 'Jayne's strictly rational common sense and Simon's Quixotic and chivalric devotion established the two men as opposites and repeatedly led them to butt heads.'

Green continues: 'Zoe shares Mal's experience as a soldier, the primal bonds developed by comrades in arms, and understands his special relationship to Serenity Valley. Kaylee shares Mal's love of the ship, Inara his emotional guardedness and fear of intimacy; River, like Mal, has been interferred with and wounded by the Alliance. And Wash ... represents Mal's spirit of resistance to authority and is the one most likely to challenge Mal's orders. ... But while the rest of the crew tended to reflect Mal that is, Book reflected Mal that was, but is no more: Mal as a believer.'

After describing the opening scenes of the pilot episode Green writes: 'In a few concise gestures an entire arc was implied and understood. Mal believed once but no longer. While Book, a former sinner we may assume, now believed. It would seem that just as the defeat at Serenity Valley stripped Mal of his belief, something pushed the shadowy Book into the light. While belief in something larger disappointed Mal, that very belief may have saved Book. Thus, like the rest of the crew, Book reflected an aspect of Mal, but it was more of a reflection in the literal sense: a reverse image.' Greene, E, 'The Good Book' in Espenson, J (ed), Serenity Found: More Unauhorized essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, (Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2007) pp80-82.

I want to explore further what it is that brings people to accept faith and what leads them to reject it - knowing of course that there is no one simple/correct answer and that a lot of people today have lost faith in the church rather than in God.

Monday, 12 May 2008


Captain Malcolm Reynolds - ‘Mal’

‘…a dark, world-weary man, with an unshakeable love and loyalty for his adopted family.’ Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One, (London: Titan Books, 2006), p.26.

I didn’t like Mal at first. Neither did River; in the second episode, Train Job, she commented that his name ‘Mal’ means ‘bad’ in Latin. His character has a complex mixture of good and bad features. A very strong leader, he does not like to be questioned – but he is fiercely protective of his crew.

Nathan Fillion (the actor who plays Mal) said: ‘Someone asked me why he so zealously guards over the safety of his crew and I look at it that Mal gathers to him that which he no longer has within himself. In Wash, he has a lust for life and a sense of humour he’s lost. In Jayne, he has selfishness. In Book, he has spirituality. In Kaylee, he has innocence. Everybody represents a facet of himself that he has lost and that’s why he keeps them close and safe, and yet at arm’s length.’ Quoted in Firefly: Volume One, p.26. I’m interested in exploring his relationships with the others, particularly Book.

The opening scenes of the series begin with his faith – and the way in which it was betrayed. They detail events which occurred six years earlier when he was a Sergeant fighting as for the Independents in order to stop the Alliance from unifying the inhabited worlds under a single rule. He really believed that he could do the impossible. Even in the trenches of the battlefield in Serenity Valley, with bodies falling around him, he could not contemplate defeat. He declared: ‘Our angels are going to soar overhead.’ He kissed the cross around his neck and said: ‘We’re just too pretty for God to let us die.’

Then Zoe relayed the message that no one was coming to save them and that their orders were to surrender. The sky filled with enemy ships and Mal just stared in disbelief.

Friday, 9 May 2008


I had to give a presentation about my dissertation at Cliff College on Wednesday. Preparing for that gave me a chance to check out how I would introduce the key story lines and characters from 'Firefly'/'Serenity' to those who've never even heard of it. Here are is the sort of thing that I said (or wanted to say) - eventually this will form the basis of chapter 1 ...

Devised by Joss Whedon, 'Firefly' is set 500 years in the future when the earth has become uninhabitable and other planets have been terraformed (representing our fears for the effects of climate change and our hopes for the continuation of human life).

The series records the journey made by the nine characters who live on a ‘Firefly’ model of spaceship called ‘Serenity’. Life on the planets they visit (in what is known as the 'verse) resembles that in the 'wild west', complete with saloons, hard manual labour and gun fights.

The show's unique features include an interesting combination of the genres of sci-fi and western, and the fact that it is a sci-fi without alien life forms (though some humans have mutated into creatures known as 'reavers').

'Firefly' was cut after just one series. When it came out on DVD it developed a cult following - the support and campaigning of the fans (known as 'Browncoats') led to the production of the film 'Serenity'.

As the show ended prematurely there were a number of loose ends and unanswered questions about the plot. Joss Whedon has produced a comic book to fill part of the gap and fans have sought to provide their own answers to some questions by writing 'fanfics' or working through a role play game.

The characters are pictured here - front row: Zoe (first mate), Mal (captain) and Kaylee (mechanic); Back row: Shepherd Book (preacher), River (sister of Simon), Wash (pilot, husband of Zoe), Jayne (member of the crew), Simon (doctor) and Inara (companion/'legal' prostitute).

To some extent they are a mixture of fugitives, mercenaries and losers who will take any job which pays enough to give them something to eat and sufficient fuel to keep flying. Although they will undertake criminal activities they do exhibit a conscience - SPOILER - for instance, they take on a job which involves the theft of medicine but when they meet some of the ill people who need that medicine they return the stolen goods.

I'll use the next few posts to introduce the characters in more detail and say what interests me about their experiences and personalities.