Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I won't even patronise you by linking to the news that Firefly is to become an MMO - better just to link to Penny Arcade's inevitable commentary - but I will take a moment to rub my hands with glee.


There we go. Always wondered what that bloody ellipsis means in Japanese RPGs? Now you know.

I love Firefly for one reason and one reason alone: I genuinely didn't think I would. For a jaded old science fictioner like me the premise just has too much wrong with it when introduced via the dubious medium of hastily cobbled-together DVD box art. I mean, cowboys in space? Been done. Been done like a kipper. Been done up the arse.

I watched it purely because it was Joss Whedon's work. It seems to be something peculiar to the loosely-affiliated science fiction and fantasy genres that writers hold so much sway over the enquiring fanmind: people who watch a new drama trailed on ITV usually do so because it has Robson Green or Nick Berry or (Goddess help them) Ross Kemp in it - people like me watch a movie because it's written by Neil Gaiman, or a sitcom because it's by Stephen Moffat, or a cancelled scifi series because, hey, it's Joss. How awful can it be? Even a misstep by a great writer is worth experiencing.

So I inaugurated my then-newborn Amazon Rental account (the best way to watch box sets, my child) with Whedon's most personal effort. And couldn't get into it for a full hour, actually. It wasn't hard to immerse oneself, as such, it just took longer than one normally expects from a TV show to get into gear: legend has it that the infamous mis-scheduling that contributed to the show's early demise started with TV execs complaining about this very point, and that Whedon and co were told to draft an entire new introductory episode in a weekend... anyway, it wasn't a problem of poor or slow writing so much as a richly-textured premise that just couldn't be fully explained between ad breaks, something Television Isn't Used To. I truly understand why many people didn't watch it: we're conditioned, to a degree, to expect a fairly narrow range of dramatic template from mainstream drama and anything that deviates from this convention smacks of witchcraft and necromancy to viewers expecting to see Robson Green frowning and a bloody death in the pre-credits.

The scene that made it all right was the one directly after Mal tells Simon about Kaylee's condition and he runs down to the medical bay to uncover the awful truth... it was at that exact point that I realised Joss had snared me entirely without my knowledge: he'd made me love Kaylee to bits already, and that tiny scene had made the rest of these grim, sniping crewmates into a family. After that I couldn't get enough of the show, and was astonished that it had so short a life. Serenity was a relief, finally giving the characters a place to tie off their story (although not permanently, I hope) but it still left me with a yearning for more from that universe.

World-building is something that fades in and out of fashion in science fiction, tied as it is to the specific sub-genres of space opera (Star Wars, Trek, Iain Banks' Culture novels to a lesser extent) and Tolkien - scifi is more personal these days, more about the people, and so it should be. Firefly pulled off the trick of being both a beautifully built world and a very personal story: the latter makes it memorable and comforting to rewatch, the former makes it perfectly suited to the MMO genre, arguably more so than Star Wars or Star Trek. I mean, everyone wants to be the hero in those universes: the Federation starship captain, the Jedi Knight... as an MMO Star Wars Galaxies falls over because everyone wants to be the significant minority, which doesn't make for a realistic world. Sure, you can be a dancer or a shopkeeper but there's not much incentive. Firefly, on the other hand, was always about a bunch of ordinary people in an everyday world, eking out a living same as everyone else: the potential thrill is from just being you, not being special or powerful, just getting by in Joss Whedon's extraordinary universe.

There was a snarky comment in Eurogamer's boards responding to this news, suggesting that the respondent was sure lots of people will be enthralled shipping cows between planets while trying to avoid being raped to death by Reavers... Well, actually, yes. If, as I like to believe, the afterlife is getting to choose what fictional world to live in for all eternity then that's what I'd choose. A tall ship and a navcomp to steer her by... who doesn't dream of that?

1 comment:

Kavey said...

Oddly, I hadn't heard much about Firefly when I finally saw it back in 2005, even though I'm a huge watcher of sci-fi and also a Joss Whedon fan.

I loved it instantly and most completely. And, despite the huge, huge affection I have for Stargate (and now for SG Atlantis), despite the great admiration I have for Babylon 5, despite my enthusiasm for Star Trek, Buffy and all sorts more... I loved it so much more than any of these other shows.

Gutted, GUTTED, G U T T E D that it was pulled before the first series was completed. The film made up for some of that but there are so many unanswered questions, some of which I'm sure would have been covered in the missing episodes.

Truly, it's a fucking tragedy.