Friday, 1 April 2011

Firefly Week - Symbolism, conclusions, and a sneak preview

Rabid Lit Major
Mood - about to keel over

Watching - "Radamisto"

Excerpt - None...I haven't seen it yet. If you live anywhere near Liberty, Missouri (That would be most of you. My followers as yet do not extend much beyond my immediate circle of friends and family.) you should all come up to William Jewell tonight at 7:30 to see it with me. I'm good friends with many of the players, and I can tell you now that they are extremely talented. It promises to be a great show. If you are one of those players, I will see you there: break a leg!

Honestly, everyone, I don't know that I'm up to creating a post to my usual standards for length and in-depth-ness. I'm not even capable of coming up with a better word than "in-depth-ness". I had a hard-core week: a lovely combination of a broken-down car necessitating a lot of driving back and forth to give/receive rides, a rather large paper being due, my normal load of payed work and school work, and a host of other small duties.

I will, therefore, be brief...and I apologize for any lack you feel.

The use of symbolism is important in literature. In some cases, it can add layers of meaning. In others, it can create a subconscious feeling. Whedon uses all forms of symbolism. One of the best examples I can offer is in the color schemes. If you watch the DVD extra that gives you a tour of the ship, you'll hear how he purposefully made the colors of the rooms transition from cool blues and greys to warm oranges and reds. Colors carry a lot of subconscious weight. In advertisement, color theory is heavily used to evoke certain feelings from us. Yellow, for example, evokes hunger. Now think of how many fast food chains utilize yellow in their color schemes. To prove the subconscious impact, now think of how many kitchens you've seen that use yellow.

The costumes of the characters follow this pattern. Inara wears sensuous silks in reds, peach, copper etc. Kaylee's look is similarly warm in color, but has a more bright tone - evoking sensuality and cheer. Jayne's clothes are reminiscent of camouflage colors but shot with bright oranges and reds: militaristic and violent. Mal and Zoe wear brown shades, not only to honor their cause but as a symbol of humility and simplicity...and note! Zoe's shades tend to be slightly more lustrous and sensual. River typically wears busy patterns and floaty fabrics, indicative of her scattered mind.

Etc. etc. etc.

Did I mention this post wasn't going to be very thorough? I think I've given you an idea.

So! Conclusions for Firefly week: It's a brilliantly written show. Give it a chance if you haven't yet, I promise you you will not be disappointed.

Aaaaand I think I promised a preview in the title. So here we go:

In the next couple of weeks, look forward to some nice random posts. I plan to do a film review. I may explain to you all why sometimes I root for the villain no matter how evil he is. If I can convince him, I'd like to do a he said/she said style post with my brother on what comedy entails, (which in a very meta way will probably be pretty funny). Who knows, I may even post a bit of my original writing.

I hope you're looking forward to it. Once again, best wishes to the "Radamisto" cast. And that's it. I give up. I'm hungry and tired and I still have so much to do tonight. Wish me luck!

*Note - I apologize for any careless errors. I will regret it if my writing is less than clear...but not enough to change it. Too tired.

Oh! And a Happy April Fool's Day. Watch out for pranks.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Firefly Week - I like "quirky"...quirky's cool.

Rabid Lit Major
Mood - geekier than usual

Watching - Firefly, of course

Excerpt - "I aim to misbehave."

Reason - Today is "Unification Day", a Facebook-organized protest in which Browncoats wear brown coats to show their support of the well as their general displeasure at its cancellation. See my previous post for a picture of my own coat. :)

Alrighty then...on to today's reason that this is one of the greatest shows ever.

From the very beginning, "Firefly" shows that it is not a cliche. I mean, come's a space western. That's not a very big group...I can only think of "Cowboy Bebop" and Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" ...some people call me the space cowboy...when I try to come up with others.

There's the utter lack of a classic sci-fi future look. The costuming remains fairly traditional and practical, in both the rich core-bred and poor rim-bred. Joss seems to have taken into account that fashion tends to work in a cyclical fashion...things come back into style all the time. You see little details are different. Odd fabrics or combinations...yet, at the core, the clothing remains logical and there isn't an inch of shiny plastic or neon color pallets to be found. The weaponry is a mixture of classic gunpowder and futuristic lasers...and the lasers function logically. (I love that one episode features a laser-gun running out of batteries and that even high-tech weaponry require oxygen to function properly.)

Futuristic technology exists, but it is taken into account that people wouldn't necessarily afford it. There's clear evidence of slowly progressing social norms...both positive and negative: a higher view of homosexuality and sexuality in general as normal, an increase in social class even see that indications that some are more conservative than others, such as Mal's disdain for Inara's otherwise respected profession.

It's also refreshing that a show taking place entirely in entirely different galaxy even...shows no indication of their being alien life. Not that I mind aliens or think they're's just different.

The characters defy cliche as well. No one character can be boiled down to one stereotype. They are entirely complex and more like real people. Kaylee is a prime example. In spite of acting innocent and being the bright-and-sunshiny character she is anything but naive. She's incredibly socially adept, very self-confident and is not shy at all when it comes to sex. I still die laughing at her cheerful call out to Inara to "Have good sex!", using the same tone as "Have a nice day!" She's also a female mechanic...who is NOT Asian.

Let's also note that neither of the black characters is the comic relief, have a background that involves race-specific enslavement or prejudice, or indeed have their race mentioned at all. Simon, the rich boy on the run, does not look down on his privileged life or present rebellious attitudes...but instead displays a logical amount of prejudice for a theoretically open-minded character who had never truly been exposed to those in a different social class.

Of course there are some classic elements...especially the dystopian ones. (Evil, corporate government, illegal and immoral experimentation for money and power etc. etc.) However, the details that go into the writing defy the cliche at every turn...and I love it.

Today wraps up Firefly month, tomorrow wraps up Firefly week...if you haven't seen the show I hope you will and that I had a small part in that. You can't stop the signal...even if the show never returns the fans will forever hope: what better testament to good writing is there?

Firefly Week - Second-viewing love

Rabid Lit Major -
Mood - torn...I'm irritated that the fire alarm in my building went off at 5am, but I'm thrilled by how wonderful the "Castle" episode I just watched is.

Watching - "Castle"...starring the lovely Nathan Fillion, which makes it very topical. (Obviously, posting every day that I'm still reading the Fry autobiography is silly.)

Excerpt - They make references to "Firefly" constantly in the's a good example. (After Nathan Fillion as Rick Castle walks out in his Malcolm Reynolds costume.)

His Daughter: (laughing) Hey.
Castle: Hey. I was just trying on my...Halloween costume.
Daughter: What exactly are you supposed to be?
Castle: Space cowboy.
Daughter: Ok, A: there are no cows in space. B: didn't you wear that like five years ago?
Castle: So?
Daughter: So, don't you think you should move on?
Castle: I like it.

What a wonderful tie-in, eh? Let's latch on to that transition and move on...

I'm a little worried about today's post. You see, I wanted to write about the masterful grasp of foreshadowing in the show. It is a thing of beauty when a writer can literally state what is going to happen in a way that we don't even notice it.

I could give you so many examples! Whedon does it beautifully...sometimes boldly stating what's going to happen, sometimes couching it in cryptic terms...and I can't tell you any of them. Really, I can't. Those would be spoilers. I don't want to ruin it for you.

The only thing I can say is: take my word for's well done. If you've only watched the series once, go back and watch it again and pay attention. You will notice all kinds of hints to later episodes...big hints. It's amazing. A lot of River's babbling, if you take the time to unravel the aphasia-like speech and analyze the various metaphors, is incredibly significant. And she's not the only one who makes surprisingly prophetic statements. There's a line of Kaylee's early in the series that is some of the most blatant foreshadowing I've ever seen...and you completely miss its significance until you watch it again.

Already I fear I've said too much.

Let's try this: Yesterday I gave a quick run-through of the I'll give you the main cast of characters, because I suddenly realize that I've mentioned several character names without explaining who they are...which is a baaaaaad mistake for a lit major to make. After, I'll try to give a rundown of how Joss Whedon uses foreshadowing and why it enhances the experience.

Serenity - a "Firefly" class spaceship, named after the battle of Serenity Valley, which was the turning point in the war which secured victory for the Alliance.

Malcolm Reynolds - captain of Serenity and veteran of the war. At times roguishly charming, at others intense and jaded, he still wears the brown coat he wore as an Independent and clearly is still very affected by the war even six years later. Since the war, he has carved out a living as a smuggler and thief.

Zoe Washburne - second in command and old army buddy of Malcolm, having served under him in the same unit. Generally cold and sarcastic, she loosens up around her husband.

Hoban "Wash" Washburne - pilot of Serenity and husband of Zoe. He's a great pilot and extremely goofy. (The first time you see him, he's playing with plastic dinosaurs.)

Jayne Cobb - the "public relations specialist" of Serenity...which is a polite way of saying mercenary. He states clearly that he was never involved in the war. He's big, undereducated, crass, and violent. (And, believe it or not, is one of my favorite characters.)

Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye - super-chipper genius mechanic of Serenity. Kaylee is obnoxiously cheerful and kind, which contrasts nicely with a bold attitude and a complete lack of shyness when it comes to sex. She has a thing for Simon.

Simon Tam - the ship's medic and a current fugitive of the Alliance. Born in the core, he's a lot prissier than the rest of the crew, who were all born in the rim. His family was extremely rich and he himself is highly educated. He became wanted when he broke his sister out of a government facility.

River Tam - sister to Simon and fugitive of the Alliance. According to Simon, she was a super-genius as a child and was sent to a government "academy" to learn. She started sending him coded messages claiming they were hurting her, which prompted him to break her out. Whatever happened to her there, she is now mentally unstable, tends to speak in riddles and has violent episodes.

Shepherd Book - a preacher who accidentally falls in with the group at the same time as the Tams. He attempts to be the voice of morality in the den of thieves.

Inara Serra - a "companion" who rents one of the shuttles on Serenity. Companions in the Firefly 'verse are like courtesans: highly respected, legal prostitutes whose job description seems to be more along the lines of sexual therapy. She's extremely businesslike and is always trading barbs with the captain in some of the most painful sexual tension I've ever seen in a TV series.

And with that out of the way, I'll return to the main point of today's post: foreshadowing.

So far I've managed to do this without spoilers, (the character descriptions only hold info you can glean from the first episode), and I will endeavor to keep it that way.

Joss Whedon's use of foreshadowing is brilliant. The true mark of a truly good piece of foreshadowing is that it alludes plainly to something that happens later while being completely unobtrusive. If done correctly, the people who actively look for these things will notice it and will either appreciate the joke or be able to predict what will happen and amaze their friends. The people who prefer to take everything in in a relaxed way, however, should notice noting whatsoever and be spared any spoilers.

Joss's use is completely masterful. He employs two major techniques for his foreshadowing. One involves characters saying something off-hand that turns out to be significant later on. The other involves letting River...who speaks in crazy, twisted riddles, tell the viewers EXACTLY what's going to happen, but mired in a web of crazy allusions and metaphor.

What's really impressive about all of this is that Joss does not waste one iota of dialogue. Every scene, every line has a great deal of importance. There are no throw-away bits. He uses every second of screen-time given to him. If a scene doesn't seem to reveal anything new about the plot or character, you should probably look closer.

As always, check out HNBF's facebook page! Oh! And today is "Unification Day"...a bunch of us Firefly fans are wearing our brown coats in support of the show. Check out my sweet coat and my homemade "Fruity Oaty Bars" shirt.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Firefly Week - Science fact in science fiction

Rabid Lit Major
Mood - Giddy

Book - Same book...I'm more excited that I'm buying "Tangled" today. If you haven't figured out my love of Disney by now...

Excerpt - (song from Tangled) "Seven AM: the usual morning lineup. Start on the chores and sweep 'til the floor's all clean. Polish and wax, do laundry, and mop and shine up. Sweep again...and by then it'"

Moving on.

Let's start off with a new literature rule, shall we?

Literature Rule 3
Those who write fiction should pay even more attention to realism than those who write non-fiction.

I believe I may have stated this before, but it bears repeating: writing fiction does not give you the right to avoid research. Quite the opposite in fact. Writing fiction constitutes a delicate balance between the fantastical and the realistic. Fiction, good fiction anyway, should always use the fantastic to accentuate and emphasize truth. At the very least, fiction should provide an escape to the reader...a new world to get lost in.

The more fantastic the story, the more the writer needs to make sure it conforms to rules.

This is for a very good reason: the fourth wall. For those unfamiliar with the term, the fourth wall is the wall between the audience and the work. "Breaking" the fourth wall occurs when the suspension of disbelief is destroyed and can be put to good use. (A good example is in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" whenever Matthew Broderick speaks directly to the camera, temporarily destroying the illusion that these are real people living out their life unaware they are in a movie.)

Despite some creative, deliberate breaking of the fourth wall, it does exist for a reason. As a writer, you want to immerse the audience in your work. You want them invested. You want them to feel for your characters, as if they were real people. You want them to gasp in genuine shock when Darth Vader reveals he's Luke's father.

This will not happen if, the entire time, the audience is thinking "these are just characters, it's not real."

To make the audience forget the falsity of the story, it is important to maintain enough realism to not throw them out of the story and say "Wait a second...that didn't make sense."

Hence, the reason realism is important.

(Brie...Brie? This is a post about Firefly. Get to the point?)

Right. Right. Sorry.

Joss Whedon, writer of Firefly, agrees with me on this topic. This is clear in his careful adherence to science fact within science fiction.

The show takes place in the future. General premise is that humankind left "Earth That Was" due, presumably, to overpopulation and exhaustion of resources. We now live in a new solar system full of terraformed planets made to simulate Earth. This was ages ago. When we catch up to our characters it is six years after a war between the "Alliance" and the "Browncoats/Independents". As their names suggest, the war was between those who wanted to Unite the various planets under a central government and those who wanted to remain independent.

Those of you who have heard of Firefly may have heard it described as a "space western". If this seems like a weird genre to you, let me explain. Joss Whedon put a lot of thought into what would happen if we were to "move" to a new galaxy. The "central" planets of the system, those close to the governmental center (yes, the Alliance won) look like a classic sci-fi world. Shiny metal, gleaming towers, wealth and technology. The "rim" planets, however, are rough. The people are obviously poor and as a result of their lack of resources, they function more like old Western towns than cities of the future.

Another logical leap he made when constructing the politics of his world is in the language and culture of these worlds. While many cultures are seen and represented, the two that seem to have held on are China and America. Everyone in the world speaks both English and Mandarin fluently. This, aside from being a logical leap given that they are the two most spoken languages, was a choice based in practicality. It's a gritty show, obviously meant for adults, but it aired on Fox. So while it seems weird for the characters not to curse, they simply would not be able to per television standards. So the solution was to have all of the cursing in Mandarin. It gets the point across and avoids the censors. However, I still give Whedon huge bonus points for taking into account that just because it's an American show, not everyone in the world speaks English.

Then there's the science. Due to the rugged Western feel, tech is pretty low key. You see small nods to it here and there. Guns represented are a mixture between ammo-and-gunpowder and laser weaponry. Hovercraft and spaceships are common for transport between worlds, but on-world tends to be dominated by trains and horses. One of the little details I love is that you still see duct tape used as a universal repair tool.

However what's really impressive is that Whedon does not sacrifice scientific facts in his writing. Much of the show takes place in space...and space in "Firefly" actually does function as a vacuum. Whenever the characters are "in the black" and not in the ship, there is complete silence aside from their communicators. In one episode, there is a fire in the ship which they get rid of by sealing off the areas on fire and opening up the air lock. As the oxygen rushes out, so does the fire...which dissipates the moment there is no air to burn. Even the design of the ship is carefully thought out to make its movements logical.

No sound here.

These are not things that most people notice...that's the idea. If you notice them, they grab your attention away from the story. They are logical and would work in the real world, so we file them away as "normal" and ignore them. That is a sign of a well-constructed fictional world.

HNBF note - One of the many wonderful charities supported by Nathan Fillion is "Kids Need to Read"...who can't get behind that? Join the fine folks at Help Nathan Buy Firefly in supporting the charity and showing that Browncoats care!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Browncoat Love

Before I launch into the post I have a few quick notes.

First, I am very sorry for the intermittent posting. As stated before, I have less computer access than I am accustomed to. I will do my best to post at least two or three times a week.

Second, I have decided that, as this is a literature blog, I should start posting a bit about what I'm reading currently. This is also because it is my literature blog, and therefore it should center around me anyway.

So! Here we go.

Rabid Lit Major:
Mood - sleepy but cheerful

Current book - "The Fry Chronicles - an autobiography" by Stephen Fry

Book excerpt -
"If a thing can be said in ten words, I may be relied upon to take a hundred to say it. I ought to apologize for that. I ought to go back and ruthlessly prune, pare and extirpate excess growth, but I will not. I like words - strike that, I love words - and while I am fond of the condensed and economical use of them in poetry, song lyrics, in Twitter, in good journalism and smart advertising, I love the luxuriant profusion and mad scatter of them too. After all, as you will already have noticed, I am the kind of person who writes things like 'I shall append a superscribed obelus thus'. If my manner of writing is a self-indulgence that has you grinding your teeth then I am sorry, but I am too old a dog to be taught to bark new tunes."

Additional note - I don't care if that excerpt was ridiculously long...I love words too.

Additional additional note - Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend for buying me this book. <3 Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Those of you who are facebook friends with me have likely already realized that I am a huge browncoat. Browncoat - n. - 1. Slang term for the rebel army in the short-lived television show Firefly, in reference to the brown coats worn by members of the army. 2. A person who is a fan/obsessive of said short-lived science-fiction show.

(Hint: I fall in the realm of the second definition.)

If you are already a browncoat, you can skip this part. If you're confused…here's an explanation.

Joss Whedon's space-western epic aired in 2002 on Fox. It lasted one season before it was cancelled due, according to Fox, to low ratings. Fans contend that had the episodes been aired in a regular time slot, and in order, the ratings would have been much higher. Regardless of whether this is true, when the show came out on DVD it sparked a huge fan following. Enough interest was generated that a feature film sequel, Serenity, was successfully pitched, produced and hit theaters. However, rather than satisfy fans, the sequel merely sparked hope that the show could be resuscitated…and nine years later the hope remains strong.

The reason my obsession has been particularly visible lately is part of a giant awareness-raising campaign sparked by the show's lead actor - Nathan Fillion. In an interview, the actor made an offhand comment about wishing he could just buy the rights and start the show up again. The fans immediately rallied behind the idea, pledging money and creating press-garnering stunts.

Now…I suspect that Fillion was not 100% serious. (Although, having been a geek icon so long he really ought to know better.) It does not change the fact that this simple statement had…impressive results.

At time of writing, the group has ceased collecting pledges from hopeful fans due to a request by Fillion. However, its supporting facebook group still holds an astounding 117,000+ members (including myself), people all over the world have changed their facebook profile pictures to firefly characters for the month (including myself), and many plan to end this month by wearing a brown coat to show their loyalty (including myself).

By the way, if you are interested, the group is now collecting donations for various charities supported by Fillion. The pledges were discontinued because Fillion didn't want to create a ruckus without promise of results. However, the fundraising continues in hopes that we can raise awareness of the show and support some good causes along the way. You can reach their facebook page here:

Help Nathan Buy Firefly

So why the hubbub? What's so impressive about this specific show that the followers are…dare I say…rabid?

Who better than the Rabid Lit Major to analyze the show's literary merits to solve the mystery of Firefly's appeal?

(That was rhetorical. Please keep your answers to yourself.)

All this week, I will be analyzing the show, explaining what makes it so great, and hopefully I'll win a few converts to the Browncoat ranks. Will it help Nathan to buy Firefly? Likely not. But if I can introduce more people to one of the best written shows of all time, drum up a little bit of press, and talk about a subject dear to my heart…then I'll be happy.

So what literary areas does the show excel in?

1. Realistic fiction in a fictional reality
2. A masterful grasp of foreshadowing
3. Avoidance of cliches
4. Symbolism

It also has a wickedly excellent, and largely attractive, cast.