I have never had any desire to read or write fan fiction. (Unless you count the Star Trek roll playing game my friends and I made up in High School.) However, when said fiction is written in the “Firefly” universe by a respected fantasy author it becomes much more tempting.
Steven Brust has been writing fantasy for decades. When the television show Firefly was cancelled he, like other fans, wanted to do something to help it live on. Being a writer of novels he sat down and wrote a Firefly novel. Since Firefly was not his franchise he couldn’t sell the novel so he posted it on his website for free. For somebody who makes his living by the words he writes this is a tremendous sacrifice of time and energy.
The book is brilliant but it takes a while to see it.
It reads much like a television script with sparse prose pasted in to tie the dialogue together. Each new section starts with a character’s thoughts or reactions without specifying who the character is – using ‘she’ or ‘he’. At first I thought this was an annoying quirk. Then I began to catch on. Not only does it fit the style of the frontier setting but also Brust did such an amazing job of getting inside these characters heads that you know who they are in the first two sentences without him telling you. Each of them thinks and reacts in such different ways that you know them immediately.
This only works if you are already familiar with the characters. If you have not seen Firefly or Serenity much of this book will make no sense to you.
The other complaint-that-wasn’t that I had was the lack of description of any kind. Mal and Zoe visit a bar and other than the word ‘bar’ there is no description of what it looks like inside. Then I realized that I had a clear picture in my head of each location, despite its having never been described. I started paying closer attention and found that the descriptions are all hidden within the dialogue. For example the bartender remarks to Mal that he’s hoping to replace the plastic bar with a real wooden top. It’s just casual conversation while Mal tries to surreptitiously extract information from him but it tells the reader what the bar is made of and what it looks and feels like.
Perhaps the best part of the book, however, is the dialogue – as any story featuring the characters from Firefly must be. All of the characters sound just like they did in the show, which is a monumentally difficult task – these characters each have a unique way of speaking that is very distinct.
If you love Firefly and can’t wait for more I would recommend reading this novel. It won’t cost you anything and you’ll certainly enjoy it. It is possibly the only way a story could be told in this universe and feel as sharp and clear as the show is. I’m not convinced anybody else could have pulled this off.