by Monica Valentinelli
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The title of Monica Valentinelliís Firefly Encyclopedia is unfortunate because it sets certain expectations about the bookís content which arenít met, although the book certainly exceeds the expectations that the title brings to it. Firefly Encyclopedia, which has been issued shortly before a new series of comics and novels based on the 2003 television series, serves to provide information about Joss Whedonís worlds based on both the television show and the comics by an author whose work on the Firefly RPG has steeped her in the lore of the Firefly universe.
Valentinelli has divided the book into four parts. The first section, is a recap of the adventures of the crew of Serenity, the spaceship that is central to Whedonís story. Told in the folksy manner so much of the Firefly universe uses, Valentinelli not only summarizes the thirteen episodes of the television series and the film based on it, but she also incorporates the events of the various comic books set in the universe, further encoding those stories as canon. Their inclusion also means that fans who have only watched the series and film will learn new things about their favorite anti-heroes from this section.
The second section focuses on those anti-heroes, providing short biographies of each of the character, again relying on the events of the comics to flesh them out, as well as some of their allies and antagonists. The book is heavily illustrated with images from the television series as well as props. This section also talks about the actors who created the characters, and Valentinelli includes two moving looks at the late Ron Glass, one by herself and the other by author Maurice Broaddus.
The third section of the encyclopedia moves away from the recaps of events and individuals by looking at the worlds, society, and technology that make up the Firefly systems. Valentinelli again reaches out to others for their expertise and author/astronomer Mike Brotherton offers a lengthy look at the physics of the universe, basing his commentary on the way we see things work in the various stories told by Whedon and his band of authors. While some of this section is recap, it is also filled with conjecture, taking what has been shown and trying to get it to fit into a complete universe.
Despite Brothertonís essay and the various maps, published both within the Firefly Encyclopedia and the various boardgames and RPGs, the exact physical set up of the five major stars never really seems to fit together. Some of the stars also seem to be in multi star systems, even as all of the major stars appear to orbit around each other in a complex cosmic ballet. At the same time, the text looks at individual planets and moons and tries to bring them to life. Often the celestial bodies visited by the crew seem homogenous, which the text explains by pointing out that the terraforming efforts are not that old and not entirely successful.
The final section of the book takes a look at dialogue from various episodes, generally focusing on specific characters. Valentinelli intersperses commentary to discuss what the dialogue reveals about the characters and their situations, pointing out that while the viewer was often distracted by the pace of the dialogue or the activity on the screen, Whedon, Tim Minear, Ben Edlund, Jane Espenson, and the other writers, were providing deep knowledge about the characters on the screen which the audience may have missed, but which helped inform the actors on their decisions of how to portray the characters and provide them with depth.
Firefly Encyclopedia is not made up of short entries about every niggling aspect of the Firefly universe. Instead, it offers an in depth look at the universe created by Joss Whedon, offers rationales for what has been shown to the audience, incorporates information, particularly about Shepherd Book, Zoe, and Inara from the comics and Keith R.A. DeCandidoís novelization of the film Serenity and provides a way station to set a baseline before the new Firefly comics from Boom and the novels, starting with Nancy Holder & James Lovegroveís Big Damn Hero begin the next wave of Firefly.
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