Building Future Worlds…

inspirationIn the course of becoming an indie writer, there is one aspect of the creative process which keeps coming back to me. To put it simply, it is the challenges and delights of world building – i.e. creating the background, context, and location in which a story takes place. For years, I have been reading other people’s thoughts on the subject, be they authors themselves or just big fans of literary fiction.

But my own experience with the process has taught me much that I simply couldn’t appreciate before I picked up my pen and pad (or in this case, opened a word doc and began typing). Ad lately, the thoughts have been percolating in my mind and I felt the need to write them out. Having done that, I thought I might share them in full.

alien-worldFor starters, being a science fiction writer presents a person with particular opportunities for creative expression. But at the same time, it presents its share of particular challenges. While one is certainly freer to play around with space, place, and invent more freely than with most other genres, they are still required to take into account realism, consistency and continuity in all that they do.

Sooner or later, the world a writer builds will be explored, mapped, and assessed, and any and all inconsistencies are sure to stick out like a sore thumb! So in addition to making sure back-stories, timelines and other details accord with the main plot, authors also need to be mindful of things like technology, physical laws, and the nature of space and time.

self-aware-colonyBut above all, the author in question has to ask themselves what kind of universe they want to build. If it is set in the future, they need to ask themselves certain fundamental questions about where human beings will be down the road. Not only that, they also need to decide what parallels (and they always come up!) they want to draw with the world of today.

Through all of this, they will be basically deciding what kind of message they want to be sending with their book. Because of course, anything they manage to dream up about the future will tell their readers lots about the world the author inhabits, both in the real sense and within their own head. And from what I have seen, it all comes down to five basic questions they must ask themselves…

1. Near-Future/Far Future:
future-city3When it comes to science-fiction stories, the setting is almost always the future. At times, it will be set in an alternate universe, or an alternate timeline; but more often than not, the story takes place down the road. The only question is, how far down the road? Some authors prefer to go with the world of tomorrow, setting their stories a few decades or somewhere in the vicinity of next century.

By doing this, the author in question is generally trying to show how the world of today will determine the world of tomorrow, commenting on current trends and how they are helping/hurting us. During the latter half of the 20th century, this was a very popular option for writers, as the consensus seemed to be that the 21st century would be a time when some truly amazing things would be possible; be it in terms of science, technology, or space travel.

1984_John_HurtOther, less technologically-inclined authors, liked to use the not-so-distant future as a setting for dystopian, post-apocalytpic scenarios, showing how current trends (atomic diplomacy, arms races, high tech, environmental destruction) would have disastrous consequences for humanity in the near-future. Examples of this include Brave New World, 1984, The Iron Heel, The Chrysalids, and a slew of others.

In all cases, the totalitarian regimes or severe technological and social regression that characterized their worlds were the result of something happening in the very near-future, be it nuclear or biological war, a catastrophic accident, or environmental collapse. Basically, humanity’s current behavior was the basis for a cautionary tale, where an exaggerated example is used to illustrate the logical outcome of all this behavior.

arrakis-duneAt the other end of the spectrum, many authors have taken the long view with their sci-fi world building. Basically, they set their stories several centuries or even millennia from now. In so doing, they are able to break with linear timelines and the duty of having to explain how humanity got from here to there, and instead could focus on more abstract questions of existence and broader allegories.

Examples of this include Frank Herbert’s Dune and Asimov’s Foundation series, both of which were set tens of thousands of years in the future. In both of these universes, humanity’s origins and how they got to where they were took a backseat to the historical allegories that were being played upon. While some mention is given to the origins of humanity and where they came from, little attempt is made to draw a line from the present into the future.

foundation_coversInstead, the focus is overwhelmingly on the wider nature of human beings and what drives us to do the things we do. Asimov drew from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to make a point about the timeless nature of history, while Herbert drew on the modern age, medieval and ancient history, religion, philosophy, and evolutionary biology and ecology to investigate the timeless nature of humanity and what factors shape it.

For non-purists, Star Wars and Star Trek can also serve as examples of both tendencies in action. For decades, Star Trek used a not-too-distant future setting to endlessly expound on the human race and the issues it faces today. And always, this examination was done in the form of interstellar travel, the crew of the Enterprise going form world to world and seeing themselves in the problems, norms and social structure of other races.

coruscantStar Wars, on the other hand, was an entirely different animal. For the people living in this universe, no mention is ever made of Earth, and pre-Republic history is considered a distant and inaccessible thing. And while certain existential and social issues are explored (i.e. racism, freedom and oppression), the connections with Earth’s past are more subtle, relying on indirect clues rather than overt comparisons.

The Republic and the Empire, for example, is clearly inspired by Rome’s own example. The Jedi Code is very much the picture of the Bushido code, its practitioners a sort of futuristic samurai, and the smugglers of Tatooine are every bit the swashbuckling, gun toting pirates and cowboys of popular fiction. But always, the focus seemed to more on classically-inspired tales of destiny, and of epic battles of good versus evil.

And of course, whether we are talking near future or far future has a big influence on the physical setting of the story as well. Which brings me to item two…

2. Stellar or Interstellar:100,000starsHere is another important question that every science fiction author has faced, and one which seriously influences the nature  of the story. When it comes to the world of tomorrow, will it be within the confines of planet Earth, the Solar System, or on many different world throughout our galaxy? Or, to go really big, will it encompass the entire Milky Way, or maybe even beyond?

Important questions for a world-builder, and examples certainly abound. In the former case, you have your dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and near future seenarios, where humanity is stuck living on a hellish Earth that has seen better days. Given that humanity would not be significantly more adavanced than the time of writing, or may have even regressed due to the downfall of civilization, Earth would be the only place people can live.

Gaia_galaxyBut that need not always be the case. Consider Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. In his dystopian, post-apocalyptic tale, Earth was devestated by nuclear war, forcing the wealthiest and healthiest to live in the Offworld Colonies while everyone who was too poor or too ravaged by their exposure to radiation was confined to Earth. Clearly, dystopia does not rule out space travel, though it might limit it.

And in the latter case, where human beings have left the cradle and begun walking amongst our System’s other planets and even the stars, the nature of the story tends to be a bit more ambiguous. Those who choose such a setting tend to be of the opinion that mankind either needs to reach out in order to survive, or that doing so will allow us to shed some of our problems.

chasm_city_2Examples abound here again, but Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe seems like the ideal one here. In this series, humanity has access to near-light speed travel, nanotechnology, brain-computer interfacing, neural uploading, AI, smart materials, and has colonized dozens of new worlds. However, the state of humanity has not changed, and on many worlds, civil war and sectarian violence are common.

In either case, the setting also bears a direct relation to the state of technology in the story. For humans still living on Earth (and nowhere else) in the future, chances are, they are about as advanced or even behind the times in which the story was written. For those living amongst the stars, technology would have to advanced sufficiently to make it happen. Which brings me to the next point…

3. High-Tech or Low-Tech:
Star_Trek_SpacedockWhat would a work of science fiction be without plenty of room for gadgets, gizmos, and speculation about the future state of technology? And once more, I can discern of two broad categories that an author can choose from, both of which have their share of potential positives and negatives. And depending on what kind of story you want to write, the choice of what that state is often predetermined.

In the former case, there is the belief that technology will continue to advance in the future, leading to things like space travel, FTL, advanced cyborgs, clones, tricorders, replicators, artificial intelligence, laser guns, lightsabers, phasers, photon torpedoes, synthetic humans, and any number of other fun, interesting and potentially dangerous things.

BAMA_3With stories like these, the purpose of high-tech usually serves as a framing device, providing visual evidence that the story is indeed taking place in the future. In other words, it serves a creative and fun purpose, without much thought being given towards exploring the deeper issues of technological progress and determinism.  But this not be the case, and oftentimes with science fiction, high-tech serves a different purpose altogether.

In many other cases, the advance of technology is directly tied to the plot and the nature of the story. Consider cyberpunk novels like Neuromancer and the other novels of William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy. In these and other cyberpunk novels, the state of technology – i.e. cyberpsace decks, robotic prosthetics, biotech devices – served to illustrate the gap between rich and poor and highlighting the nature of light in a dark, gritty future.

65By contrast, such post-cyberpunk novels as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age took a different approach. While high-tech and its effects on society were explored in great detail, he and other authors of this sub genre chose to break with their predecessors on one key issue. Namely, they did not suppose that the emergence of high-tech would lead to dystopia, but rather an ambiguous future where both good and harm resulted.

And at the other end of the spectrum, where technology is in a low state, the purpose and intent of this is generally the same. On the one hand, it may serve as a plot framing device, illustrating how the world is in a primitive state due to the collapse of civilization as we know it, or because our unsustainable habits caught up with us and resulted in the world stepping backwards in time.

a_boy_and_his_dogAt the same time, the very fact that people live in a primitive state in any of these stories serves the purpose of  commentary. Simply by showing how our lives were unsustainable, or the actions of the story’s progenitor’s so foolish, the author is making a statement and asking the reader to acknowledge and ponder the deeper issue, whether they realize it or not.

At this end of things, A Boy and His Dog and Mad Max serve as good examples. In the former case, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape where a lone boy and his genetically-engineered talking dog rove the landscape in search of food and (in the boy’s case) sexual gratification. Here, the state of technology helps to illustrate the timeless nature of the human condition, namely how we are essentially the products of our environment.

pursuit_specialIn Mad Max as well, the way roving gangs are constantly looking for gasoline, using improvised weapons, and riding around in vehicles cobbled together from various parts gives us a clear picture of what life is like in this post-collapse environment. In addition, the obvious desperation created by said collapse serves to characterize the cultural landscape, which is made up of gangs, tinpot despots, and quasi-cults seeking deliverance.

But on the other hand, the fact that the world exists in this state due to collapse after the planet’s supply of oil ran dry also provides some social commentary. By saying that the world became a dangerous, anarchistic and brutal place simply because humanity was dependent on a resource that suddenly went dry, the creators of Mad Max’s world were clearly trying to tell us something. Namely, conserve!

4. Aliens or Only Humans:
warofworldsaliensAnother very important question for setting the scene in a science fiction story is whether or not extra-terrestrials are involved. Is humanity still alone in the universe, or have they broken that invisible barrier that lies between them and the discovery of other sentient life forms? Once again, the answer to this question has a profound effect on the nature of the story, and it can take many forms.

For starters, if the picture is devoid of aliens, then the focus of the story will certainly be inward, looking at human nature, issues of identity, and how our environment serves to shape us. But if there are aliens, either a single species or several dozen, then the chances are, humanity is a united species and the aliens serve as the “others”, either as a window into our own nature, or as an exploration into the awe and wonder of First Contact.

Alien OrganismsAs case studies for the former category, let us consider the Dune, Foundation, and Firefly universes. In each of these, humanity has become an interstellar species, but has yet to find other sentiences like itself. And in each of these, human nature and weaknesses appear to be very much a constant, with war, petty rivalries and division a costant. Basically, in the absence of an “other”, humanity is focused on itself and the things that divide it.

In Dune, for example, a galaxy-spanning human race has settled millions of worlds, and each world has given rise to its own identity – with some appearing very much alien to another. Their are the “navigators”, beings that have mutated their minds and bodies through constant exposure to spice. Then there are the Tleilaxu, a race of genetic manipulators  who breed humans from dead tissue and produce eunuch “Face Dancers” that can assume any identity.

2007-8-18_DuneAxlotlTank

Basically, in the absence of aliens, human beings have become amorphous in terms of their sense of self, with some altering themselves to the point that they are no longer even considered human to their bretherin. And all the while, humanity’s biggest fight is with itself, with rival houses vying for power, the Emperor gaurding his dominance, and the Guild and various orders looking to ensure that the resource upon which all civilization depends continues to flow.

In the Foundation universe, things are slightly less complicated; but again, the focus is entirely inward. Faced with the imminent decline and collapse of this civilization, Hari Seldon invents the tool known as “Psychohistory”. This science is dedicated to anticipating the behavior of large groups of people, and becomes a roadmap to recovery for a small group of Foundationists who seek to preserve the light of civilization once the empire is gone.

foundation

The series then chronicles their adventures, first in establishing their world and becoming a major power in the periphery – where Imperial power declines first – and then rebuilding the Empire once it finally and fully collapses. Along the way, some unforeseen challenges arise, but Seldon’s Plan prevails and the Empire is restored. In short, it’s all about humans trying to understand the nature of human civilization, so they can control it a little better.

Last, but not least, their is the Firefly universe which – despite the show’s short run – showed itself to be in-depth and interestingly detailed. Basically, the many worlds that make up “The Verse” are divided along quasi-national lines. The core worlds constitute the Alliance, the most advanced and well-off worlds in the system that are constantly trying to expand to bring the entire system under its rule.

verse_whitesunThe Independents, we learn early in the story, were a coalition of worlds immediately outside the core worlds that fought these attempts, and lost. The Border Worlds, meanwhile, are those planets farthest from the core where life is backwards and “uncivilized” by comparison. All of this serves to illustrate the power space and place have over human identity, and how hierarchy, power struggles and  divisiveness are still very much a part of us.

But in universes where aliens are common, then things are a little bit different. In these science fiction universes, where human beings are merely one of many intelligent species finding their way in the cosmos, extra-terrestrials serve to make us look outward and inward at the same time. In this vein, the cases of Babylon 5, and 2001: A Space Odyssey provide the perfect range of examples.

B5_season2In  B5 – much as with Stark Trek, Star Gate, or a slew of other franchises – aliens serve as a mirror for the human condition. By presenting humanity with alien cultures, all of whom have their own particular quarks and flaws, we are given a meter stick with which to measure ourselves. And in B5‘s case, this was done rather brilliantly – with younger races learning from older ones, seeking wisdom from species so evolved that often they are not even physical entities.

However, in time the younger race discover that the oldest (i.e. the Shadows, Vorlons, and First Ones) are not above being flawed themselves. They too are subject to fear, arrogance, and going to war over ideology. The only difference is, when they do it the consequences are far graver! In addition, these races themselves come to see that the ongoing war between them and their proxies has become a senseless, self-perpetuating mistake. Echoes of human frailty there!

2001spaceodyssey128.jpgIn 2001: A Space Odyssey, much the same is true of the Firstborn, a race of aliens so ancient that they too are no longer physical beings, but uploaded intelligences that travel through the cosmos using sleek, seamless, impenetrable slabs (the monoliths). As we learn in the course of the story, this race has existed for eons, and has been seeking out life with the intention of helping it to achieve sentience.

This mission brought them to Earth when humanity was still in its primordial, high-order primate phase. After tinkering with our evolution, these aliens stood back and watched us evolve, until the day that we began to reach out into the cosmos ourselves and began to discover some of the tools they left behind. These include the Tycho Monolith Anomaly-1 (TMA-1) on the Moon, and the even larger one in orbit around Jupiter’s moon of Europa.

2001-monolith-alignmentAfter making contact with this monolith twice, first with the American vessel Discovery and then the joint Russian-American Alexei Leonov, the people of Earth realize that the Firstborn are still at work, looking to turn Jupiter into a sun so that life on Europa (confined to the warm oceans beneath its icy shell) will finally be able to flourish. Humanity is both astounded and humbled to learn that it is not alone in the universe, and wary of its new neighbors.

This story, rather than using aliens as a mirror for humanity’s own nature, uses a far more evolved species to provide a contrast to our own. This has the same effect, in that it forces us to take a look at ourselves and assess our flaws. But instead of showing those flaws in another, it showcases the kind of potential we have. Surely, if the Firstborn could achieve such lengths of evolutionary and technological development, surely we can too!

5. Utopian/Dystopian/Ambiguous:
Inner_city_by_aksuFinally, there is the big question of the qualitative state of humanity and life in this future universe. Will life be good, bad, ugly, or somewhere in between? And will humanity in this narrative be better, worse, or the same as it now? It is the questions of outlook, whether it is pessimistic, optimistic, realistic, or something else entirely which must concern a science fiction writer sooner or later.

Given that the genre evolved as a way of commenting on contemporary trends and offering insight into their effect on us, this should come as no surprise. When looking at where we are going and how things are going to change, one cannot help but delve into what it is that defines this thing we know as “humanity”. And when it comes right down to it, there are a few schools of thought that thousands of years of scholarship and philosophy have provided us with.

transhuman3Consider the dystopian school, which essentially posits that mankind is a selfish, brutish, and essentially evil creature that only ever seeks to do right by himself, rather than other creatures. Out of this school of thought has come many masterful works of science fiction, which show humanity to be oppressive to its own, anthropocentric to aliens and other life forms, and indifferent to the destruction and waste it leaves in its wake.

And of course, there’s the even older Utopia school, which presents us with a future where mankind’s inherent flaws and bad behavior have been overcome through a combination of technological progress, political reform, social evolution, and good old fashioned reason. In these worlds, the angels of humanity’s nature have won the day, having proven superior to humanity’s devils.

IngsocIn the literally realm, 1984 is again a perfect example of dytopian sci=fi, where the totalitarian rule of the few is based entirely on selfishness and the desire for dominance over others. According to O’Brien, the Party’s mouthpiece in the story, their philosophy in quite simple:

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.  If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Hard to argue with something so brutal and unapologetic, isn’t it? In Orwell’s case, the future would be shaped by ongoing war, deprivation, propaganda, fear, torture, humiliation, and brutality. In short, man’s endless capacity to inflict pain and suffering on others.

invitro2Aldous Huxley took a different approach in his seminal dystopian work, Brave New World, in which he posited that civilization would come to be ruled based on man’s endless appetite for pleasure, indifference and distraction. Personal freedom and individuality would be eliminated, yes, but apparently for man’s own good rather than the twisted designs of a few true-believers:

Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered… People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s been very good for happiness. One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for.

But even though the means are entirely different, the basic aim is the same. Deprive humanity of his basic freedom and the potential to do wrong in order to ensure stability and long-term rule. In the end, a darker, more cynical view of humanity and the path that we are on characterized these classic examples of dystopia and all those that would come to be inspired them.

Imminent Utopia by Kuksi
Imminent Utopia by Kuksi

As for Utopian fiction, H.G. Wells’ Men Like Gods is a very appropriate example. In this novel, a contemporary journalist finds himself hurled through time into 3000 years into the future where humanity lives in a global state named Utopia, and where the “Five Principles of Liberty” – privacy, free movement, unlimited knowledge, truthfulness, and free discussion and criticism – are the only law.

After staying with them for a month, the protogonist returns home with renewed vigor and is now committed to the “Great Revolution that is afoot on Earth; that marches and will never desist nor rest again until old Earth is one city and Utopia set up therein.” In short, like most Positivists of his day, Wells believed that the march of progress would lead to a future golden age where humanity would shed it’s primitive habits and finally live up to its full potential.

Larry Niven_2004_Ringworld's Children_0This view would prove to have a profound influence on futurist writers like Asimov and Clarke. In the latter case, he would come to express similar sentiments in both the Space Odyssey series and his novel Childhood’s End. In both cases, humanity found itself confronted with alien beings of superior technology and sophistication, and eventually was able to better itself by opening itself up to their influence.

In both series, humanity is shown the way to betterment (often against their will) by cosmic intelligences far more advanced than their own. But despite the obvious questions about conquest, loss of freedom, individuality, and identity, Clarke presents this as a good thing. Humanity, he believed, had great potential, and would embrace it, even if it had to be carried kicking and screaming.

And just like H.G Wells, Clarke, Asimov, and a great many of his futurist contemporaries believes that the ongoing and expanding applications of science and technology would be what led to humanity’s betterment. A commitment to this, they believed, would eschew humanity’s dependence on religion, superstition, passion and petty emotion; basically, all the things that made us go to war and behave badly in the first place.

Summary:
These are by no means the only considerations one must make before penning a science fiction story, but I think they provide a pretty good picture of the big-ticket items. At least the ones that keep me preoccupied when I’m writing! In the end, knowing where you stand on the questions of location, content, tone and feel, and what your basic conception of the future, is all part of the creation process.

In other words, you need to figure out what you’re trying to say and how you want to say it before you can go to town. In the meantime, I say to all aspiring and established science fiction writers alike: keep pondering, keep dreaming, and keep reaching for them stars!

Firefly, Best Lines (part III)

Hello! Welcome to the third and final installment in the “Best Lines” series dedicated to the awesome show Firefly. It seems fitting that I put up the final installment in the show seeing as how my wife and I just finished (re)watching the entire series on Netflix last night. It’s times like this that make me sad that there isn’t a second, third, fourth season to pick up where it all left off. Sad and very, VERY angry! DAMN YOU FOX! Anyhoo, enjoy the list and stay tuned for a follow-up with the best lines from Serenity. Just need to (re)watch it too (man, Netflix is good to me!).

Trash:
Mal and crew are reunited with an old acquaintance – Saffron, or as she’s known now, Bridgitte – who gives them an offer they can’t refuse. Seems the first laser ever made is ripe for the picking, and the owner just happens to be her ex-husband (her first ex-husband!)

Monty: Damn you, Bridgitte! Damn you to Hades! You broke my heart in a million pieces! You made me love you, and then you… I shaved off my beard for you, devil woman!

Mal: This is my scrap of nowhere. You go on, find your own.
Saffron
: You can’t just leave me here on this lifeless piece-of-crap moon.
Mal
: I can.
Saffron
: I’ll die.
Mal
: Well, as a courtesy, you might start getting busy on that, ’cause all this chatter ain’t doin’ me any kindness.

Inara: Right, you’re a criminal mastermind! What was the last cargo we snuck past the Alliance to transport?
Mal
: That was a little dif—
Inara
: What was the cargo?
Mal
: They were dolls.
Inara
: They were little geisha dolls with big heads that wobbled!
Mal
: Hey! People love those!

Inara: Well, since I can’t seem to find work as Companion, I might as well become a petty thief like you!
Mal
: Petty?
nara
: I didn’t mean petty.
Mal
: What did you mean?
Inara
: Suo-SHEE?
Mal
:
…That’s Chinese for “petty”.

Mal: Saffron has a notion we can walk right in there, take the Lassiter right off his shelf.
Wash
: I’m confused.
Saffron
: You’re asking yourself if I’ve got the security codes, why don’t I go in, grab it for myself?
Wash
: No. Actually, I was wondering… WHAT’S SHE DOING ON THIS SHIP?

Zoe: But Inara ain’t wrong. She can’t be trusted.
Mal
: I ain’t asking you to trust her. I’ll be with her on the inside the whole time.
Saffron
: See there? All you gotta do to be a rich woman, hon, is… get over it.
Zoe
: Hmm. Okay. [punches Saffron] I’m in.

River: She’s a liar.
Jayne
: That don’t exactly set her apart from the rest of us. The plunder sounds fun enough.
River
: She’s a liar, and no good will come of her.
Jayne
: Well, as a rule, I say, girlfolk ain’t to be trusted.
River
: “Jayne” is a girl’s name.
Jayne
: Well, Jayne ain’t a girl! She starts in on that girl’s-name thing, I’ll show her good ‘n’ all, I got man parts!
Simon
: I’m… trying to think of a way for you to be cruder. I just… it’s not coming.

Saffron: Durran, this isn’t what it looks like.
Mal
: Unless… it looks like… we’re stealing your priceless Lassiter, ’cause… that’s what we’re doing. Don’t ask me about the gun, though, ’cause that’s new.
Durran
: Well, I appreciate your honesty. Not, you know, a lot, but..

Durran: How long have you been with him?
Mal
: Oh— pfft! We are not together.
Saffron
: He’s my husband.
Mal
: Well, who in the damn galaxy ain’t?!

Jayne: Is spine okay?
Simon
: How much did they offer you to sell out me and River on Ariel?
Jayne
: Das crazy talk.
Simon
: Then let’s talk crazy. How much?
Jayne
: [looks to the door] Anybody there? [River pokes her head in] Anybody else?

Simon: No matter what you do, or say or plot, no matter how you come down on us… I will never, ever harm you. You’re on this table, you’re safe. ‘Cause I’m your medic, and however little we may like or trust each other, we’re on the same crew. Got the same troubles, same enemies, and more than enough of both. Now, we could circle each other and growl, sleep with one eye open, but that thought wearies me. I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I’m trusting you. I think you should do the same. ‘Cause I don’t see this working any other way.
River
: Also… I can kill you with my brain.

Mal: Yeah. That went well.
Inara
: You call this going well?
Mal
: We got the loot, didn’t we?
Inara
: Yes, but—
Mal
: Then I call this a win. What’s the problem?
Inara
: Shall I start with the part where you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, or the part where you have no clothes?

The Message:
The crew of the Serenity get a strange and unexpected package from an old friend: his body! Initially, it seems he’s dead, but in time they realize he’s alive and smuggling cloned organs to a buyer. Unfortunately, the organs are worth something to some other people, crooked Alliance personnel who’ll stop at nothing to find him.

Simon: Yep—it’s a cow fetus.
Kaylee
: Guess so. It does seem to have an awful lot of limbs.
Simon
: It’s mutated.
Kaylee
: But cow? How do you figure?
Simon
: It’s upside down.
Kaylee
: [looks sideways at it] Oh yeah. Cow.
Simon
: And I’m out twelve bits! I really know how to show a girl a… disgusting time.

Wash: Oh my god, it’s grotesque! Oh, and there’s something in a jar.
Zoe
: Scared her away again, did you?
Simon
: D— This may come as a shock, but I’m actually… not very good at talking to girls.
Zoe
: Why, is there someone you are good at talking to?
Wash
: [looking at the “alien”] Do not fear me! Ours is a peaceful race, and we must live in harmony.

Jayne: I got post?
Book
: Might we all want to step a few paces back before he opens that?
Jayne
: Ha ha! It’s from my mother.
Inara
: So, do aliens live among us?
Kaylee
: Yeah. One of them’s a doctor.

Jayne: [tries on the hat his mother made him] How’s it sit? Pretty cunning, don’t you think?
Kaylee
: I think it’s the sweetest hat ever.
Wash
: A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.
Jayne
: Damn straight!

[Zoe and Mal open a coffin-sized box to find a body.]
Jayne
: What’d y’all order a dead guy for?

Zoe: First rule of battle, little one… don’t ever let them know where you are.
Mal
: WHOO-HOO! I’M RIGHT HERE! I’M RIGHT HERE! YOU WANT SOME O’ ME?! YEAH YOU DO! COME ON! COME ON! AAAAAH! Whoo-hoo!
Zoe
: ‘Course, there’re other schools of thought.

Mal: Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone’s carryin’ a bullet for you right now, doesn’t even know it. The trick is, die of old age before it finds you.

Tracey: [recording] You know, it’s funny. We went to the war never lookin’ to come back, but it’s… it’s the real world I couldn’t survive. You two carried me through that war. Now I need you to carry me just a little bit further… if you can. Tell my folks I wanted to do right by them, and that I’m at peace, and all. Uh… When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that, well… Yeah, you know the rest. Thanks, b-both of you. Oh, yeah, and, uh… make sure my eyes is closed, will ya?

Mal: Oh, the colonel was dead drunk. Three hours pissin’ on about the enlisted men. Uh, “they’re scum”, uh, “they’re not fighters”, and, uh… and then he passed right out—boom.
Zoe
: We couldn’t even move him. So, uh, Tracey just… snipped it right off his face.
Mal
: And you never seen a man more proud of his moustache than Colonel Obrin. I mean, in all my life, I will never love a woman the way this officer loved that lip ferret.
Zoe
: Big, walrus-y thing—all waxed up!
Inara
: Did he find out?
Mal
: Oh! Next mornin’, he wakes up, it’s gone, and he is furious! But he can’t just say, you know, “Someone stole my moustache!” So he, uh, calls together all the platoons…
Zoe
: We thought he was gonna shoot us!
Mal
: …and, uh… Oh, he’s eye-ballin’ all the men somethin’ fierce. Not a word. And he comes up to Tracey, and Tracey’s wearing the gorram thing on his face!
Zoe
: He’d glued it on!
Mal
: He’s starin’ the old man down wearing his own damn moustache!

[Tracey wakes up during his autopsy]
Jayne
: Spry for a dead fella!
Tracey
: Sarge?
Mal
: Yeah?
Tracey
: I think I’m naked.
Mal: You wanna explain to me exactly why you got yourself all corpsified and mailed to me?

Wash: I think they’re about done being stalled to— ahhhh… AHHHHHHH! Mal, your dead army buddy’s on the bridge.
Zoe
: He ain’t dead.
Wash
: …Oh…

Mal: Hear that quiet? Means the call’s already been made.
Tracey
: Well, that call… that call means you just murdered me.
Mal: No, son. You murdered yourself. I just carried the bullet a while.

Tracey: When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, when you can’t do that…
Zoe
: …you find someone to carry you.

Heart of Gold:
An old friend of Inara’s, a madame who runs a brothel, kindly asks the crew of the Serenity for help. On a distant moon, the local Sheriff, a power-hungry and corrupt man, is hellbent on stealing his son from one of the local girls.

Inara: Hi.
Mal
: BWAH!
Inara
: Sorry! Didn’t mean to startle.
Mal
: You didn’t! I was just, uh… “BWAH!” That’s more like a… It’s a warrior like… Strikes fear into the… hearts of… You know, not altogether wise, sneaking up on a fellow when he’s handling his weapon.
Inara
: I’m sure I’ve heard that said. But… perhaps the dining area isn’t the place for this sort of thing.
Mal
: What do ya mean? It’s the only place with a table big enough.
Inara
: Of course. In that case, every well-bred petty crook knows that the small concealable weapons always go to the far left of the place setting.

Inara: It sounds like something this crew can handle. I can’t guarantee they’ll handle it particularly well, but…
Nandi
: If they got guns and brains at all.
Inara
: They’ve got guns

Jayne: Don’t much see the benefit in getting involved in strangers’ troubles without a up-front price negotiated.
Book
: These people need assistance. The benefit wouldn’t necessarily be for you.
Jayne
: That’s what I’m sayin’.
Zoe
: No one’s gonna force you to go, Jayne. As has been stated, this job is strictly speculative.
Jayne
: Good! Don’t know these folks, don’t much care to.
Mal
: They’re whores.
Jayne
: I’m in.

Inara: Nandi, this is Malcolm Reynolds.
Nandi
: I appreciate your coming.
Mal
: Well, any friend of Inara’s is a strictly businesslike relationship of mine.

Mal: I’ll introduce you to the rest later. They’re good folk.
Jayne
: Can I start getting sexed already?
Mal
: Well, that one’s kinda horrific.

Simon: Isn’t there a pregnant woman I’m to examine?
Wash
: You’d really lie with someone being paid for it?
Kaylee
: Well, it’s not like anyone else is lining up to, you know, examine me.
Jayne
: Whoop! My John Thomas is about to pop off and fly around the room, there’s so much tasty here. Ooh!
Wash
: Would be you get your most poetical about your pecker.

Kaylee: Everyone’s got somebody. Wash, tell me I’m pretty.
Wash
: Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion.
Kaylee
: ‘Cause I’m pretty?
Wash
: ‘Cause you’re pretty.

Mal: Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he’s right with God.
Nandi: Captain Reynolds, it took me years to cut this piece of territory out of other men’s hands, to build this business up from nothing.
Mal
: Nandi…
Nandi
: It’s who I am, and it’s my home. I’m not going anywhere.
Mal
: Well, lady, I must say—you’re my kinda stupid.

Wash: Well, I’m not sure now is the best time to bring a tiny little helpless person into our lives.
Zoe
: That excuse is gettin’ a little worn, honey.
Wash
: It’s not an excuse, dear! It’s objective assessment. I can’t help that it stays relevant.
Zoe
: I don’t give a good gorram about relevant, Wash, or objective. And I ain’t so afraid of losing something that I ain’t gonna try to have it. You and I would make one beautiful baby. And I want to meet that child one day. Period.

Nandi: Truth is, I expected a whole lot more of you to be takin’ payment in our trade.
Mal
: Well, we’re an odd conglomeration. Got a preacher, a married fellah, and the doctor… well, he’d have to… relax for thirty seconds to get his play. That’d be more or less a miracle.

Mal: Miss Nandi, I have a confession to make.
Nandi
: Maybe I should get the Shepherd.
Mal
: Well, I ain’t sinned yet. And I’d feel a little more’n awkward if he were here when I did.

Nandi: Malcolm, I been waiting for you to kiss me since I showed you my guns.
Nandi
: You okay with this?
Mal
: I’m just waiting to see if I pass out. Long story.

Inara: So you took to bed with Nandi. I’m glad.
Mal
: Glad?
Inara
: Yes! She’s a dear friend, and probably in need of some comfort about now.
Mal
: So, you’re okay. Well, yeah. Why… why wouldn’t you be?
Inara
: I wouldn’t say I’m entirely okay. I’m a little appalled at her taste.

Jayne: [over radio] Whoa, now, girl, that is just plain dirty.
Mal
: Jayne, you aware your radio’s transmittin’? Cause I ain’t feelin’ particular girlish or dirty at the moment.

Petaline: Rance, this is Jonah. Jonah… say “hi” to your daddy. [Shoots Rance.] Say “goodbye” to your daddy, Jonah.

Objects in Space:
A bounty hunter boards the Serenity and takes the crew hostage. His arrival coincided with the crew’s realization that River might be a “reader” (i.e. a psychic) and her decision to leave the ship.

Kaylee: You couldn’t possibly!
Simon
: No, I wish I was lying, I just…You know, we’d all just made surgeon. That was it, we were the elite. The world was ours, you know?
Kaylee
: So you had to be naked?
Simon
: Naked. Yes. And, uh, on top of the statue of Hippocrates. Can’t you just picture me?
Kaylee
: What, naked? Oh, well, hmm, mmm…Let’s see, I’mma have to conjure up a…yeah, that’s, that’s gonna be difficult... So did the feds come?
Simon
: There were no feds. Until I started singing.
Kaylee
: Oh, no!
Simon
: This is not–
Kaylee
: What did you sing?
Simon
: This is not funny. This, this is a morality tale about the evils of sake.
Simon:
[in River’s head] I would be there right now.

Jayne: Not ever ever?
Book
: Some orders allow shepherds to marry, but I follow a narrower path.
Jayne
: But you still got the urge? They don’t…cut it off or nothin’?
Book
: No, I’m more or less intact. I just…direct my energy elsewhere.
Jayne
: You mean like masturbatin’?
Book
: I hope you’re not thinking of taking orders yourself?
Jayne
: Heheh, yeah, that’s be the day.
Jayne
: [in River’s head] I got stupid, the money was too good.
Book
: [in River’s head]I don’t give half a hump if you’re innocent or not. So where does that put you?

Mal: If I want a lot of medical jargon, I’ll talk to a doctor.
Simon
: You are talking to a doctor.

Wash: Little River gets more colorful by the moment. What’ll she do next?
Zoe
: Either blow us all up or rub soup in our hair. It’s a toss-up.
Wash
: I hope she does the soup thing, it’s always a hoot and we don’t all die from it.

Zoë: Where’s River at now?
Mal
: In her room, which I’m thinking we bolt from the outside from now on.
Wash
: That a little extreme, isn’t it?
Jayne
: Anyone remember her comin’ at me with a butcher’s knife?
Wash
: Wacky fun…
Jayne
: You wanna go, little man?
Wash
: Only if it’s someplace with candlelight.
Zoe
: Sir, I know she’s unpredictable. But I don’t think she’d harm anyone.
Jayne
: Butcher’s knife?!
Zoe
: Anyone we can’t spare.

Mal: Girl knows things. Things she shouldn’t. Things she couldn’t.
Jayne
: What, are you— are you sayin’ she’s a witch?
Wash
: Yes, Jayne. She’s a witch. She has had congress with the beast.
Jayne
: She’s in Congress?
Wash
: How did your brain even learn human speech? I’m just so curious.

Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoe
: We live in a spaceship, dear.
Wash
: So?

Jayne: Well, I don’t like the idea of someone hearin’ what I’m thinkin’.
Inara: No one likes the idea of hearing what you’re thinking.

Simon: Are you Alliance?
Early
: Am I a lion?
Simon
: What?
Early
: I don’t think of myself as a lion. You might as well, though: I have a mighty roar.
Simon
: I said “Alliance”.
Early
: Oh, I thought—
Simon
: No, I was—
Early
: That’s weird.

Simon: I don’t think my last act in this verse is gonna be betraying my sister.
Early: You’re gonna help me. ‘Cause every second you’re with me is a chance to turn the tables, get the better of me. Maybe you’ll find your moment. Maybe I’ll slip. Or, you refuse to help me, I shoot your brain out, and I go upstairs and spend some time violating the little mechanic I got trussed up in the engine room. I take no pleasure in the thought, but she will die, weeping, if you cross me.
Simon: You’re out of your mind.
Early: That’s between me and my mind. Let’s start with these rooms.

Early: You ever been shot?
Simon: No.
Early: You oughta be shot. Or stabbed, lose a leg. To be a surgeon, you know? Know what kind of pain you’re dealing with. They make psychiatrists get psychoanalyzed before they can get certified, but they don’t make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?

Early: Alright, that’s all the hide-and-seek I got time for. [shouting] I know you’re on this ship, little girl! Here’s how this goes: show yourself and finish this exchange, or your brother’s brains’ll be flyin’ every whichaway! [normal tone] You understand, I’m sort of on the clock here, it’s frustrating.
River
: [over Serenity’s intercom] You’re wrong, Early.
Early
: I’m not wrong, dumpling, I will shoot your brother dead if you don’t—
River
: Wrong about River. River’s not on the ship. They didn’t want her here. But she couldn’t make herself leave. So she melted. Melted away. They didn’t know she could do that. But she did.
Early
: Not sure I take your meaning there.
River
: I’m not on the ship. I’m in the ship. I am the ship.
Simon
: River—
River
: River’s gone.
Early
: Then who exactly are we talking to?
River
: Talking to Serenity. And Early? Serenity is very unhappy.

Early: Where’d she go?
Simon
: I can’t keep track of her when she’s not incorporeally possessing a spaceship; don’t look at me.

Early: I only hurt people ’cause they keep gettin’ in the way of me finding you. Tell her.
Simon
: What am I, your advocate?
Early
: You are, starting now.
Simon
: He’s really very… gentle, and fuzzy. We’re becoming fast friends.
Early
: You folks are all insane.
Simon: Well, my sister’s a ship. We had a complicated childhood.

Mal: There was a guy. He was very blurry. You gotta be careful. Ugh. How come there’s a guy on board and how come you’re all of a sudden the ship?
River/Serenity
: I know you have questions.
Mal
: That would be why I just asked them.
River/Serenity
: But there isn’t a lot of time, captain. I need you to trust me.
Mal
: Am I dreamin’?
River/Serenity
: We all are [Mal rolls his eyes] Don’t make faces!

Early: You know, with the exception of one deadly and unpredictable midget, this girl is the smallest cargo I’ve ever had to transport, yet by far the most troublesome. Does that seem right to you?
Simon
: What’d he do?
Early
: Who?
Simon
: The midget.
Early
: Arson. The little man loved fire.

Early: Well I’ll be a son of a whore. You’re not in my gorram mind. You’re on my gorram ship!

Inara: Any chance that shiong-mung duh kwong-run might survive?
Mal
: Air he had left, I’d say his chance’d be about one in… a very large number.

Early:[floating in space]Well, here I am.

And that’s our show! As I was beginning to expect, I’ll need a fourth post if I’m going to cover the gorram movie. Gorram, good word! Stay tuned for the final installment! It’ll be shiny! Fei-oo! Go-se! Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng!

Firefly Best Lines (cont’d)

Last time, I dedicated an entire post to the best lines out of the Firefly series, and only got halfway through its first and only season! I can’t imagine how many posts I’ve going to have to divide this into to make them all fit and not be totally overwhelming to read! Best estimates put it at three…

Jaynestown:
The crew pull a job on a backwater planet where apparently, Jayne is worshiped as a popular hero. When the local people realize he’s returned, things get real interesting real fast!

Simon: I swear… when it’s appropriate.
Kaylee
: Simon, the whole point of swearing is that it ain’t appropriate.

Simon: What… happened in here?
Jayne
: Needed to find some tape.
Simon
: So you had to tear my infirmary apart?
Jayne
: Apparently.
Simon
: My God. You’re like a trained ape… without the training!

Mal: You wanna tell me how come there’s a statue of you here, looking at me like I owe him something?
Jayne:
Wishin’ I could, Captain.
Mal:
No, seriously, Jayne, you want to tell me–?
Jayne:
Look, Mal, I got no ruttin’ idea. I was here a few years back, like I said. Pulled a second-story, stole a lot of scratch from the magistrate up on the hill. But things went way south. I had to hightail it. They don’t…put you on a pedestal in town square for that.
Mal:
Yeah, but I’m looking at some fair compelling evidence says they do.
Simon:
[staring at the statue] This must be what going mad feels like.

Book: What are we up to, sweetheart?
River:
Fixing your Bible.
Book: I, um…what?
River: Bible’s broken. Contradictions, false logistics – doesn’t make sense.
Book: It’s not about… making sense. It’s about believing in something. And letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.

River: They say the snow on the roof is too heavy. They say the ceiling will cave in. His brains are in terrible danger.
Book
: River? Please, why don’t you come on out?
River
: No! Can’t. Too much hair.
Book
: Is— is that it?
Zoe
: Hell, yes, preacher. If I didn’t have stuff to get done, I’d be in there with her.

Mal: So, that’s where the little ‘Jayne Day Celebration’ we got planned comes in. Should give us enough time to get the goods back onto Serenity.
Jayne:
I don’t know. You think we should be using my fame to hoodwink folks?
Mal:
You better laugh when you say that.
Jayne:
  No really, Mal, I mean, maybe there’s something to this. The Mudders? I think I really made a difference in their lives. You know — me, Jayne Cobb.
Mal:
I know your name, jackass.

Simon: I mean, my way of being… polite, or however it’s… Well, it’s the only way I have of… showing you… that I like you… of showing respect.
Kaylee: So, when… we made love last night—
Simon: When we what?!
Kaylee: You really are such an easy mark.

Jayne: Hell, there weren’t a-one of them understood what happened out there; they’re… probably stickin’ that statue right back up.
Mal: Most like.
Jayne: I don’t know why that eats at me so.
Mal: It’s my estimation that… every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sumbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. It’s about what they need.

Out of Gas:
A malfunction in the engine forces the crew of the Serenity to abandon ship. Mal stays behind, but is wounded when the crew of another ship try to take him for all he has!

Zoe: You paid money for this, sir? On purpose?
Mal: What? Come on, seriously, Zoe. Whaddya think?
Zoe: Honestly, sir? I think you got robbed.
Mal: Robbed? What? No. What do you mean?
Zoe: It’s a piece of fei-oo.
Mal: Fei-oo? Okay, she won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon. But she’s solid. Ship like this, be with ya ’til the day you die.
Zoe:Cause it’s a deathtrap.

Mal: Try to see past what she is, and on to what she can be.
Zoe
: What’s that, sir?
Mal
: Freedom, is what.
Zoe
: [pointing] I meant, what’s that?
Mal
: Oh. Yeah, just step around that. I think somethin’ must’ve been livin’ in here.

Mal: Which one do you figured tracked us?
Zoe: The ugly one, sir.
Mal: Could you be more specific?

al: Looks can be deceiving.
Jayne: Not as deceiving as a lowdown, dirty… deceiver.

Wash: What do you expect me to do, Mal?
Mal
: Whatever you have to! And if you can’t do it from here, then get a suit on and go outside on the side of the boat—
Wash
: And what?! Wave my arms around?
Mal
: Wave your arms around, jump up and down, divert the navsats to the transmitter – whatever.
Wash
: Divert the— Right! Because teenage pranks are fun when you’re about to die!
Mal
: Give the beacon a boost, wouldn’t it?
Wash
: Yes, Mal! It would boost the signal. But even if some passerby did happen to receive, all it would do is muck up their navigation!
Mal
: Could be that’s true.
Wash
: Damn right, it’s true! They’d be forced to stop and dig out our signal before they could even go anyplace.
Wash
: Well, maybe I should do that then!
Mal
: Maybe you should!
Wash
: Ok!
Mal
: Good!
Wash
: Fine!

Kaylee: You offerin’ me a job?
Bester: W-w-w—what?
Mal: Believe I just did.
Kaylee: I just gotta ask my folks. Don’t leave without me!
Bester: Mal! What do you need two mechanics for?
Mal: I really don’t.

Ariel:
The crew agrees to pull a job for Simon on the core planet of Ariel. In exchange for getting him and his sister into a hospital, so he can examine her and determine what Alliance scientists did to her, they will get to a chance to steal some lucrative medical supplies.

[Jayne spits on his sharpening stone and sharpens his big knife]
Simon
: Could you not do that while we’re… ever?
Wash
: So, two days in a hospital? That’s awful! Don’t you just hate doctors?
Simon
: Hey!
Wash
: I mean, present company excluded.
Jayne
: Let’s not be excludin’ people. That’d be rude.

[River slashes Jayne’s chest.]
River
: He looks better in red.

[Practicing their cover story]
Mal:
Patients were cynical and not responding and we couldn’t bring ’em back-
Simon:
They were cyanotic and not responsive.

Simon: What about cortical electrodes?
Jayne
: Oh! …We forget ’em.
Simon
: Let’s try that again.

Mal: Pupils were fixed and dilapitated—
Simon
: Dilated.
Mal
: Dilated. Dilated! Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng! Shiny.

[At the hospital]
Emergency Nurse
: What do you got?
Mal
: Got a couple DOAs. By the time we got there—
Emergency Nurse
: Take them down to the morgue.
Jayne
: We applied the cortical electrodes, but we were unable to get a neural reaction from either patient!

Mal: Now all we need is a coupla patients.
Simon:
Corpses, actually.  For this plan to work, River and I will have to be dead.
Jayne:
I’m starting to like this plan.

Mal: You know, I hear tell they used to keelhaul traitors back in the day. I don’t have a keel to haul you on, so…
Jayne: What’re you takin’ it so personal for? It ain’t like I ratted you out to the feds!
Mal: Oh, but you did! You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me! But since that’s a concept you can’t seem to wrap your head around, then you got no place here. You did it to me, Jayne. And that’s a fact.

Simon: I brought some medicine. Do you remember why we went to hospital?
River: It’s time to go to sleep again.
Simon: No, mei-mei. It’s time to wake up.

War Stories:
Mal and Wash are abducted by their old client and crimelord, Niska. In the course of being tortured, they get to work out some of their issues regarding his and Zoe’s relationship.

Book: [quoting Xiang Yu] He said, “Live with a man forty years. Share his house, his meals… speak on every subject… then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.”
Simon: What if you don’t live near a volcano?
Book: I expect he was being poetical.
Simon: Sadistic crap legitimized by florid prose. Tell me you’re not a fan.
Book: I’m just wondering if they were. The people who did this to your sister.

Mal: Ah, the pitter-patter of tiny feet in huge combat boots… SHUT UP! …One of you is gonna fall and die, and I’m not cleaning it up!

Kaylee: Zoe, how come you always cut your apples?
Wash
: You do?
Kaylee
: Her and Cap’n both. Whenever we get fresh fruit, they never just munch on ’em.
Zoe
: You know what a griswald is?
Jayne
: It’s a grenade.
Zoe
: About the size of a battery, responds to pressure. Our platoon was stuck in a trench outside of New Casmir during the winter campaign. More than a week, completely cut off, and the Alliance entrenched not ten yards away. We even got to talkin’ to ’em, yelling across insults and jokes and such, ’cause [there was] no ammo to speak of, no orders, so what’re you gonna do? We mentioned that we were out of rations and ten minutes later, a bunch of apples rained into the trench.
Wash
: And they grew into a big tree, and they all climbed up the tree to a magical land with unicorns and a harp!
Kaylee
: Blew off their heads, huh?
Zoe
: Cap’n said wait, but they were so hungry…Don’t make much noise, just little pops and there’s three guys that kinda just…end at the rib cage.
Wash
: But these apples are healthsome, and good.
Jayne
: Yeah, grenades cost extra.

Wash: And then came the lying to me about it, which for me is sort of the highlight of this little adventure.
Zoe
: Is there any way I’m gonna get out of this with honor and dignity?
Wash
: You’re pretty much down to ritual suicide, lamby-toes.

Zoe: I thought your plan was too risky! I thought.
Wash
: Then tell me. I am a large, semi-muscular man. I can take it. Don’t hide behind Mal ’cause you know he’ll shoot it down for you. Tell me.
Zoe
: Right. ‘Cause what this marriage needs is one more shouting match!
Wash
: No, what this marriage needs is one less husband.

[Inara’s client, a woman, walks in]
Mal:…Huh.
Book: Oh, my.
Kaylee: Oh, gosh, I-I knew she took female clients, I just, uh- They look so glamorous together.
Jayne:…I’ll be in my bunk.

Wash: Didn’t want you taking off without me. In fact, didn’t want you taking off at all. Thought I might take this run instead. Me and the Captain.
Mal: The Captain who’s standing right here telling you that’s not gonna happen?
Wash: Well, it’s a dangerous mission, sir. I can’t stand the thought of something happening that might cause you two to come back with another thrilling tale of bonding and adventure. I just can’t take that right now.
Mal: Okay, um, I’m lost. Uh, I’m angry, and I’m armed, so if you two have something that you need to work out –

Wash: Hey, I’ve been in a firefight before. Well, I was in a fire. Actually, I was fired, from a fry cook opportunity. I can handle myself.

Wash: I don’t want you to spare me, Mal. If you think you know what’s happening then you tell me. You wouldn’t spare Zoe if she were in this situation with you, would you? You would be planning, and plotting, and possibly scheming. So, whatever Zoe would do in this instance is what I wanna do. And you know why? Because no matter how ugly it gets, you two always come back. With the stories. So… I’m Zoe. Now… what do I do?
Mal
: Probably not talk quite so much.
Wash
: Right. Less talking. She’s terse. I can be terse. Once in flight school, I was laconic... If I’m not gonna talk, then you have to!

Zoe: Preacher, don’t the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin’?
Book
: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.

Zoe: Jayne. This somethin’ the Captain has to do for himself.
Mal
: No! No, it’s not!
Zoe
: Oh. [shoots the henchman.]

Mal: So— I hear you all took up arms in that little piece of action back there. How you farin’ with that, Doctor?
Simon
: I don’t know. I, uh, I never— never shot anyone before.
Book
: I was there, son. I’m fair sure you haven’t shot anyone… yet.

Mal: I know it’s a…  difficult mission, but you and I… have to get it on.
Zoe
: I understand. We have no choice. [deadpan] Take me, sir. Take me hard.
Jayne
: Well, somethin’ about that is just downright unsettlin’.
Wash
: We’ll be in our bunk.
Jayne
: Oh, hey— [smacks Mal in the chest where he’s injured] free soup!

And I’m still not done! But I already predicted this would take at least three posts. So stay tuned for what is likely to be (presumably) the final installment in the Firefly/Serenity series!

Firefly & Serenity or “How I Realized Fox Sucks!”

fireflyYeah, I know I’m hardly alone in loving the cult-hit Firefly, nor am I alone in censuring Fox for its inept and inexplicable decision to cancel it after its first season. But then again, that seems to be their thing. What is more lamentable is the fact that after years of maintaining a following worldwide, producing a movie, an RPG, novelizations, comic books, and countless fan sites, Firefly still hasn’t been renewed or picked up by another network! What gives??? C’mon Wedon! Futurama did it, why can’t you?

Well, comeback or not, Firefly and its movie adaptation Serenity were still kick-ass. In addition to its memorable characters, smart writing, and classic sci-fi elements, there was also the heartfelt themes of conquest, resistance, and “manifest destiny”. That above all else made the show a hit, in my humble opinion. In adapting the history of the closing of the frontier, Wedon tapped into a very familiar American narrative and showed just how timeless history and human nature are.

Premise:
To break the show’s background down succinctly, the story takes place roughly 500 years in the future, when humanity left Earth and began to explore the cosmos for a new place to call home. They eventually landed in the Blue Star system, a star with “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons” and began terraforming as many of them as possible. The inner worlds boasted the highest degree of technology and development and formed the Alliance, whereas the outer planets were sparsely populated and underdeveloped by comparison.

In time, the Alliance chose to expand and incorporate the outer worlds, prompting a coalition of Independents (or “Browncoats” because of the uniforms they sported) to resist. After a crushing defeat at the battle of Serenity Valley, the Independents were essentially finished. Thereafter, those “browncoats” who wanted to retain their independence took to a life of piracy, smuggling and spacing to make ends meet, pulling jobs in the outer-outer regions of space and staying clear of Alliance ships and “Reavers”, cannibalistic raiders who raid along the outer rim.

The Cast:
serenity-1One such group is the crew of the Serenity, a Firefly-class ship captained by former “Browncoat” Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion). His second in command, Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres), was with him in the war and served in his platoon. As a result, they have a relationship that goes deeper than most, which has been known to make her husband and ships pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk) a little jealous.

There’s also Kaywinnet Lee “Kaylee” Frye (Jewel Staite), the spunky and ever-cheery ship’s mechanic who seems to be talk to machines and make them work. Then there’s Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), a mercenary who they poached from another gang and who serves as hired muscle on the ship. And last, there’s Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin), a travelling “Companion”, or professional courtesan, who acts as a sort of ambassador for the ship.

As the show opens, the crew of the Serenity pick up some new passengers. The first is Derrial Brook (Ron Glass), a Shepherd (pastor) who is seeking passage away from the inner worlds to preach aboard. He quickly becomes part of the crew and acts as Mal conscience, though it becomes abundantly clear that he is more than what he appears. In addition, there is the strange duo of Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his sister River Tam (Summer Glau). Summer is apparently a gifted young psychic who was experimented on by Alliance doctors, and her brother risked everything in order to free her. Now fugitives from the law, they remain aboard the Firefly as part of the crew, hoping to avoid capture.

The Ship:
serenityThe namesake of the show and the movie, the crew’s vessel of choice is the Firefly-class transport. A n older model, this vessel is apparently favored by privateers and smugglers because of its complex design and the presence of secret compartments. Although it boasts no armaments and is outdated by most inner-world standards, those who use it tend to get pretty attached to it and remain very monogamous. Echoes of the Millenium Falcon there…

Season One:

an Alliance Cruiser

The story opens with the extended crew coming together and getting to know each other. Mal, having realized that Simon and his sister were fugitives, decided to take them in after he shot and killed an alliance agent who had infiltrated their ship. Thereafter, the crew set out to continue on their ongoing adventure, taking whatever jobs they could find and staying one step ahead of the authorities.

Reaver Ship

The constant threat of the Reavers is also a recurring element in the first season. Existing on the fringes of known space and coming from parts unknown, the Reavers appear to be expanding inward towards the core, becoming more brash and brazen with their assaults on shipping and colony worlds. Aside from their obvious brutality and insanity, not much is known about this menace, other than the fact that they look like orcs and their ships like spiky sharks!

In addition, River’s condition, the result of endless experimentation, becomes the source of growing concern by her brother. Though she was always gifted, it’s becoming apparent to him and the other members of the crew that she might indeed be a psychic. Given that his resources are limited, they eventually have to break into a medical city on his old homeworld of Persephone so he can do a more thorough examination. His conclusions are that they physically tampered with her brain in order to enhance her abilities. Fractured and suffering from bouts of schizophrenia, she is eventually accepted by the other crew members and begins to feel whole again.

This, more than anything, is a guiding theme of the show, which is the growth of the Serenity family. Already, there is a strong sense of comradery between Mal and Zoe, which grows to include Wash when he and Mal confront and ultimately resolve the issue of his jealousy. There is also the growing bond between Mal and Inara. Initially, the two appear to be mutually hostile, but it soon becomes clear that this merely conceals their mutual attraction. Kaylee, as always, is the cheery epicenter of things, making her role as the ship’s engineer seem like a double-entendre. In addition to making sure the machinery keeps running, she’s also responsible for ensuring that everyone gets along.

Accepting Jayne proves more difficult, given his questionable loyalties; but in time, the crew comes to realize they can trust him since he values his friends more than money. And even though there are aspects of his past that are still unclear, Book proves that he too can be trusted and will endanger himself to keep the others safe. Hence, he too comes to be accepted as a permanent fixture aboard the ship. As the season ends, it becomes clear that even though the crew still faces a number of threats – the Alliance, Reavers, mercenaries and ruthless criminal lords – that they will be facing them together.

The Movie:
firefly-serenity-art-dvdbash-1The film adaptation opens with themes that were well-established in the show. We have the crew of the Serenity still trying to make ends meet, still having to take jobs out of desperation, and still fearing for their safety as hostile elements close in. However, the movie version chose to what was slowly developing with the show and tweak them to bring some serious tension and resolution to the storyline.

These include the ongoing search for River Tam, and the revelation of where the Reavers come from. In an intriguing twist, Wedon melds the two story lines together, showing how River’s condition and her exposure to members of the Alliance government put in her in possession of certain secrets which they would prefer to keep a secret! It is for this reason that an elite agent named only the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sent out to find her, and is given blanket authority to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal.

The theme of family also gets kicked up a notch, with Inara having left the crew because of her incurably difficult relationship with Mal. Book has also left the crew in order to become the preacher to a community of settlers in the outer rim as well. Simon and River also seemed poised to leave when the job at the beginning of the movie comes dangerously close to going wrong and he decides that they would be better off on their own. However, this is cut short when during a payout, River is “triggered” by some sort of hidden transmission and begins kicking the ass of everyone in a seedy establishment. This, for obvious reasons, leads Mal to realize that there’s more going on with her than previously thought.

Reaver2(Spoiler alert!) Eventually, the crew realizes that the key secret which River gleamed from the minds of the Alliance bureaucrats was the existence of a place known as “Miranda”. The secret is also important enough that they’ve sent the Operative to find them, a man who’s talents and methods far outstrip those of the agents and mercenaries they usually send! After an incident where Inara is used as bait, Mal and the rest are determined to know what’s so important that they are willing to kill for.

With the help of their friend, Mr. Universe, they eventually discover that Miranda is a colony located in the outermost ring of the system. This world was apparently settled generations ago by over 30 million people, but things went terribly wrong after an experiment failed and killed almost everyone there. After braving the Reavers to find the planet, the crew stumbles onto the answer in a form of a recording from a scientist’s journal.

It seems that the planet was subjected to a drug known as Pax, which was a chemical agent designed to make people docile and non-violent. However, the drug worked too well, and most people became so passive and withdrawn that they eventually ceased all activity and died of starvation. The remainder, however, became extremely violent and uncontrollable and killed off all remaining survivors, including the scientists. They then took what ships they could find and began preying on shipping in the outer rim. The Reavers were born!

Having learned that the Operative has overrun every last known hideout of theirs and even killed Brooks, Mal decides that its time to fight! With the information of what happened on Miranda firmly in their hands, they make their way back to the reclusive moon where their hacker friend Mr. Universe lives. The Operative has it blockaded, but the Serenity managed to break past them by luring the Reavers into following them.

A huge firefight in space ensues and is followed by an equally tense firefight on the planet between the Serenity crew and the Reavers. In the course of the fight, Wash is killed and Kaylee and Simon are wounded, but River risks her life to save them all and give Mal the time he needs to reach Mr.Universe’s central hub. There, he confronts the Operative one last time, overcomes him, and sends out the broadcast.

Having seen the truth, the Operative orders his men to stand down. Mal and his crew are allowed to leave, mainly because he now knows he no longer has the grounds to hunt them. The Alliance has been dealt a blow from which it may not recover, and for the first time in years, the future seems uncertain. But at least there is hope. There is also much regret since the crew has lost two of its own, Wash and Book. But in the end, they set course for their next destination, carrying on in the only way they know how.

Final Thoughts:
I’ll just say it, this show rocked! It was loaded with great lines, great acting, great characters and lots of relateable material. And, like its theme song, it was pretty touching and emotionally involved. The show began with a pervasive sense of sadness, where people who were fighting for their freedom are overrun, beaten and forced into lives of running and criminality. But also, there is the redeeming sense of family and closeness that develops between the main characters. Though they are kind of a motley bunch, coming from vastly different backgrounds and having their own personal secrets, they eventually come together and realize they share a similar fate.

That is another thing that this show captured so well, which was the pervasive sense of alienation that takes place in a universe which is fast changing. Much like the frontier that inspired it, that process was very painful. Those who did not fit in with the dream of “manifest destiny”, i.e. Native Americans and settlers who preferred the freedom of the frontier, the question of what to do remained a terribly difficult one. The option of fighting seemed hopeless, but the alternative of surrendering seemed just as hopeless: a slow death replacing a swift one.

As Mal expressed in Serenity, “So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?” Another key line he said was “Half of writing history is hiding the truth”. Many a time I felt that Wedon was making a point about our own, how we often miss the fact that changes we’ve come to think of as natural and inevitable were in fact the result of decisions, and that they came with a lot of pain and suffering as well. Part of what makes this show emotionally appealing is that fact that we get to see good guys fighting against terrible odds, and eventually achieving a victory of sorts.

And of course there was the cool mix of cultures that gave the show a truly international feel. Whereas the planets appear to boast names taken predominantly from western mythology and culture, there is a hefty smattering of Mandarin Chinese in the spoken dialogue and written signs. Aspects of Southern, Arabic and other Asian cultures make appearances as well, both in the series and the expanded universe. Basically, Wedon seemed to be going with the plausible sci-fi premise that cultures would mix in the era of colonization to produce new and interesting cultural mosaics.

I for one would like to see where it goes from here. Would the Alliance fall? Would it become even more tyrannical in its pursuit of a “better world” and a unified system? And how would they get around the fact that Watt ggand Book exited stage left (Apparently due to money and the desire to not get typecast. Actors! Pfft!) But, we’ll never know unless someone gets off their duff and starts making new episodes now will we? So Mr. Wedon and/or the Fox Network, get off your duffs and bring back this show gorram it! We’ve waited ten bloody years and we’re growing in strength! Don’t make us come after you!

Oh, and to Mr. Nathan Phillion, whom I hear is trying to ressurect the show himself, tell us what its going to take to get this done and we’ll do our best to help. Please tell us it involves taking the Fox Network down, or at least the crop of execs who keep cancelling shows that are in their prime. Is it not enough that you give TV spots to the most pig-ignorant excuse for journalists and right-wing ideologues, you gotta kill anything with a soul before it grows too? Why don’t you just call yourself the Evil Empire Network and be done with it? I tell ya, the metaphor is too perfect here!

In the meantime, check out this kick-ass trailer from the Serenity movie. I plan to watch it again and would like to think others are too. Rock on Firefly!