by Monica Valentinelli

Titan Books


160pp/$21.95/April 2016

The Gorram Shiniest Dictionary and Phrasebook in the 'Verse

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Monica Valentinelli may have produced more work regarding the cult classic Firefly than any other person with the exception of Joss Whedon. While Valentinelli did not work on the television series or the film based on it, she has coordinated the several volumes released as part of the Firefly Role Playing Game from Margaret Weis Games. Valentinelli has also published The Gorram Shiniest Dictionary and Phrasebook in the ‘Verse.

The Dictionary lists, in alphabetical orders, as one would expect, terms that describe items in use in Whedon’s twenty-sixth century, from the Crybaby, a decoy, to a neural imager. Some of the terms remain the same as they are now, like skedaddle, so their inclusion, although it captures the feel of the language from the show, seems a little odd. Other terms are slang that the Firefly writers came up with, like the reference to a chin wig for Monty’s beard. Similarly, the book also contains definitions for people, like Monty, as well as locations, such as Isis Canyon.

Although the book doesn’t note where each phrase was initially used in the series, the book does give the feel for the language of the series. Although writers and fans often talk about the characters, the settings, and the ship, the use of language is important to the series as a whole. In the introductory essay, Valentinelli points out that characters on the show very definitely speak in different ways, and use words differently, depending on whether they are from the civilized core planets or from the more unruly border worlds.

Firefly properties have always had an issue with rights. When the original Serenity Role Playing Game was released, it couldn’t directly reference things that were only part of the television series and not in the movie. The Dictionary seems to have similar rules. While minor characters and locations from the television series are included, there are no references to Miranda or the twins, Mingo and Fanty, in the book. As the cover proclaims, this is Firefly, not Serenity.

In addition to being a glossary of words and characters found in the television series, the book also includes a listing of all the Chinese used in the original episodes, along with their translations. These translations were done for the original show by Jenny Lynn, a creative executive at Whedon’s company, Mutant Enemy, who happened to know Mandarin. The book includes an interview with her about the process for translating the phrases into Mandarin and trying to get the actors to learn to say their lines.

The book’s other strength, which it shares with many of the ancillary works associated with Firefly is the inclusion of photos, not just stills from the episodes, but sketches which show the work and planning that went into the show. Readers can compare costumer designer Shawna Trpcic’s drawings of Mal and Zoë’s costumes from the battle of Serenity to the actual costumes they wore in the opening scene of the series.

As it should, the Dictionary compiles information that we already know about the Firefly universe. The interview and essay add a little more knowledge than has previously been released. For what is essentially a glossary, Valentinelli has done a remarkable job of capturing the feel of the show, making this volume a nice addition to any Browncoat’s library.

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