Anders Monsen

Lost worlds and ports of call

Month: September 2005 (page 1 of 2)

Serenity Reviewed

Tuesday night I watched a special screening of Serenity, wrangling an invite as a blogger. I arrived to find a long line at the theatre, which initially puzzled me as some people talking in line had no idea of Serenity or Firefly, the Fox TV show that died and was reborn out of the ashes as a Universal Pictures movie. It turns out many of the people there got free tickets through a community paper or a radio station, both co-sponsors of the event; I watched the movie from a Press row. After one brief preview, the movie opened, taking you straight into the narrative much like the TV show.

Writer/director Joss Whedon is best known for his other TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its spin-off, Angel. I confess that I am fan of neither, and when Firefly debuted on the small screen in 2002, I probably contributed to the show’s demise, as prejudiced by my disregard of Whedon’s other work, I did not watch a single episode. The Fox network abruptly cancelled Firefly after less than a dozen episodes.

TV is a poor medium for narrative sf, in my opinion. Run a series long enough, and desperate writers will wring every possible option and angle out of the show, just to keep the audience guessing and interested. There’s maybe one or two exceptions out there, Babylon 5 being the best of these. That show was written by one person, with pre-determined story arcs and a five-year lifetime. Yet even Babylon 5 could not escape the other reason TV shows in general fail—life exists year to year on TV, and often far less—and while B5 lived its planned five years, the last one was never assured, and it showed. Deviate from what network execs think sell—sex and action—and you’re gone. Firefly never really fell into line with the network, I guess, because while it combined two known genres, the Western and science fiction, it did so in ways that defied both genres, and blended quirky humor to boot.

Serenity, as a movie, succeeds on virtually every level. Due to the scale, it’s far grander than anything the TV screen could offer. You can feel the ship shake and groan through atmosphere. The light is sharper, and the depths of colors more vibrant, the sounds and silences more menacing. The actors seem unaffected by the change to the bigger medium, and put in strong performances. Newcomer Chiwetel Ejiofor, as the Alliance operative with no name, lends a new depth to the story and characters.

The basis for Serenity‘s universe is one where a strong government (the Alliance) manages most of the core planets, with the edges often left to less-civilized people, some who just want to be left along, others who ravage space and feast on other humans. The crew of Serenity includes Captain Malcom “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a cynical foe of the Alliance who inspires great loyalty in his crew; first mate Zoe Warren (Gina Torres), tough as nails and married to the pilot, Hoban “Wash” Washburn (Alan Tudyk), who is seemingly out of place among this often violent crew. The main violent guy is Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), a mercenary not afraid to challenge Mal’s authority. The ship is held together by a sweet engineer, Kaylee (Jewel Staite), also in love with the aloof doctor who’s also River’s brother, Simon (Sean Maher). Former shipmates include Inara (Morena Baccarin), a companion (the term prostitute approximates her role, but very high class, and a different basis for getting clientele), and finally Book (Ron Glass), a preacher and spiritual guide.

Whedon has chosen to focus initially on the 17-year old River (Summer Glau), the gifted, psychotic young girl liberated from the Alliance scientists by her brother. As the movie opens we see a recording of the rescue scene, setting the stage for the Operative, who is tasked with retrieving and killing River. For, as we learn, River carries a dark secret that cannot be exposed. Meanwhile, Mal takes River along on a job, perhaps as part of the process of integrating her into the crew. Inara and Book have left, and the Alliance presses ever harder around Mal, sending him further and further toward the edges of space and legality in search of jobs.

During the job with River, the savage and cannibalistic Reavers attack, bringing to the fore another story thread. What caused humans to become Reavers? Were they unable to face “vasty space” to use Kaylee’s term, or could another calamity be at the root? As the Operative closes in on Mal and the crew of Serenity, something triggers River’s latent combat abilities, marking them on security cameras. A deeper memory also surfaces, one that leads them all to a horrific, and to some regards final, battle after uncovering the terrible secret the River bears.

This movie is important in many ways. First, it’s brilliantly filmed science fiction with few gimmicks, born through superb writing that contains both humor and heart wrenching tragedy. Whedon manages to involve the audience, which laughed at times, and applauded at the end. The effects do not disappoint, but unlike many other sf movies, they overwhelm neither the dialog not the plot. At heart lies a strong plot, that of uncovering government secrets, and what lies at the heart of this particular secret: the desire for control, for “a better world,” as the Operative states, and the result of such attempted control. At what cost one asks? Good intentions often result in horrific consequences, and here we see the root of all government, the idea that some people think they know what’s best for others, and will do anything in their power to enforce that behavior. Serenity stands as one of the most entertaining, thoughtful, and best written movies in many years. It’s not without a few flaws, but I hope one day we’ll see more of Serenity’s crew, but if this is the end of Whedon’s special ‘Verse, well, no other movie made a better showing of what it had. Serenity gives no quarter, and pulls no punches.

Serenity sequels

I avoided this story before seeing Serenity due to the presence of spoilers. You have been warned. However, skip the first paragraph that contains the spoiler material, and the rest of the story contains some interesting comments from Joss Whedon, writer/director of Serenity. Of particular interest is this quote, which says as much about his movie as it does about TV in general, and why I really don’t watch that many TV shows. Not that I don’t like questions, but I don’t like the lack of direction in TV shows, where an answer one day is a question the next, all subject to change at any moment.

[T]he difference between TV and movies is that TV shows are a question, and movies are an answer. And so in this we had to have a definitive statement about freedom and humanity and what we need and what we should be allowed to have as people, which is all our flaws. And then I answer that. I make a definitive statement. I put a period or, hopefully, an exclamation point on that, as opposed to just sort of pursuing the question for years, which is what a TV show would do.

More writers enter blogosphere

Occasional fiction collaborators Brad Linaweaver (Prometheus Awarding winning author of Moon of Ice and most recently the Spanish Civil War alternate history, Anarquia), and Daffyd ab Hugh (four Doom novels with Linaweaver, many other fantasy and sf works), have launched a blog, Big Lizards. The site appears brand new this month (September 16) and under heavy construction. Peruse with caution.

Mars novel reviewed

Sunni Maravillosa reviews a couple of books by Wolf DeVoon at the September issue of Sunni’s Salon. I have not yet checked out the novels, but they appear electronic copies, not print. Personally, my favorite Mars fiction is written by Norwegain sf writer Øyvind Myhre, of whose books I have read both though I own only the more recent one: English title Stars Over Tharsis. A couple of Myhre’s short stories did see print in English, one in an obscure DAW Books collection many years ago, the other in the special sf issue of New Libertarian; fittingly this was the Heinlein tribute issue. It’s possible copies of this are available for purchase from Victor Koman at his Triplanetary Traders web page. Koman, of course, is the multiple Prometheus Award-winning author of (among others) Kings of the High Frontier another novel which began in electronic form only, but saw print in a wonderful limited edition a few years ago. That novel remains perhaps the best work of any kind on private space travel. I believe it’s still available from the original publisher,

Serenity Preview

There’s a good chance I’ll be attending a preview screening of Serenity this Wednesday (whoops: Tuesday the 27th, not Wednesday). So far I have avoided all spoiler links and stories, and I will attempt to post a spoiler-free review shortly after the movie.

New Vernor Vinge novel

Vernor Vinge’s forthcoming novel, Rainbows End, is due out by Tor Books in May, 2006. IEEE Spectrum excerpted a sample of the novel, Synthetic Serendipity, online a year ago. Now’s as good a time as any to re-read this chapter.


Yesterday I added comments and permalinks via Blogger’s dashboard, following instructions to the dot. It appears this action killed the time stamp on the posts, something I noticed only today. Not critical, I suppose, just irritating.

Updated: Time stamps have been fixed while retaining permalinks, I think. Also noticed a trio of comment-spam in the most recent post. It’s like the squids in The Matrix; spammers pervade the entire system and eventually you’re simply tracked down, with no EMP devide at hand to save you.

Isabel Paterson novel republished

Via Roderick Long’s blog, news that Isabel Paterson’s novel, Never Ask the End has been republished. According to Long, this novel is not political, yet Paterson is lauded as a good novelist.

Now Reading: The Singularity is Near

I received this tome by Ray Kurzweil in the mail recently. Can’t say much since I just started reading it, but as a non-fiction science book it looks both exciting and intimidating. Some other recent books of similar interest include: Ramez Naam’s More Than Human : Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, Ron Bailey’s Liberation Biology, Gregory Stock’s Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, and Joel Garreau’s Radical Evolution : The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human. I have a copy of Bailey’s book, which is next on the reading list, and of the others Garreau’s looks compelling.

Private settlers on Mars? “The horror!” cries Wired

Enjoyed this lovely quote from Wired magazine about a private company that wants to open a human settlement on Mars:

“Why should people live on Mars? And if it’s going to be done, should a private enterprise engage in what would be one of humanity’s defining moments?”

The article brings up the old UN bombast about space existing for all humanity. Makes me think if the UN had been around a few thousand years ago we’d have this scenario: exploration and use of the oceans shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries. End result? Everyone remains in place except for a few connected bureaucrats. We need off this planet, if only to ensure humankind’s survival. The threshold for the technology of mass murder quickly falls year by year. Sows the seeds of humanity outward, and at least some people may escape. Only private enterprise will make it happen other than as a TV moment.

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