I’m a nerd. Between my reading habits and my video game obsessions, most of you are probably acutely aware of this fact. One of my many interests includes the early 2000s cult-classic television show Firefly, including the movie Serenity and a few of the graphic novel tie-ins. I read Mike Brooks’ Keiko series because the cover blurb sold it as “A Must Read for Firefly Fans”, and I loved it. It touched on what Firefly did so well: amazing world-building and characters that were impossible not to love.
Big Damn Hero is the first of a planned series of Official Novels™ written by James Lovegrove and edited by Joss Whedon. The books take place after the show but before the movie, which is the sweet spot that all fans want to live in. So, I had a moderate level of excitement when I saw this book come through the library.
Goodreads Rating: 2/5 Stars
As you might have gathered from the star rating, that excitement didn’t last long. Now, a quick word about how I rate things on Goodreads. I am a very generous reviewer. Ratings of three stars aren’t common, and anything below is really unusual. I rate based on my overall entertainment level and enjoyment of the book, whether that’s plot-based, characters, narrative style, or what-have-you.
So, let me start with the good. The characters felt true to themselves as based on the show. Mal, Jayne, and Shepard Book were particularly well done and I enjoyed my time with all of them. Particularly Book, because we FINALLY got to learn a little bit more about his past. The world-building was decent, but I feel like the majority of that work-load fell to the show and my familiarity with it. This is fanfiction. It might be printed and hardbound, but it’s still fanfic, and that means the bulk of the world- building is already done by the reader and their knowledge of the franchise.
The plot was all right. It felt true to form for the show, but was also really predictable. There were no surprises. Not one. Obviously, this might differ from reader to reader, but for me it was very disappointing. Also, the plot hinged on a character from Mal’s past, but they weren’t foreshadowed or even introduced until well into the last half of the book. I think that was intended to allow for Red Herrings, but all it really did was make the plot feel slow and plodding.
But the worst part, to me, were the tropes. So many tropes. Zoë’s in trouble with the law? Why not just unbutton her shirt a little and seduce her way to safety? (Side note: As a fan, I felt that this was wildly out of character for Zoë, which only made things worse. She actually referred to her breasts as her “bosom”. Zoë Washburne.) A dead woman was the villain’s motivation, and she only existed in the story to act as such. Yes, death of a loved one is sad, and it does change you, but that doesn’t mean you should create and then kill off your female characters just so your men can have some sort of purpose. In general, the female characters were two dimensional and just sort of blank. Kaylee may be the exception here, and River had some good moments, but Zoë and Inara definitely did not.
Knowing your tropes is so so so important. You need to know them so you can avoid them, or, better yet, so you can subvert them. When you know your tropes, you can twist them into something infinitely better and more interesting. For instance, instead of Zoë just accepting that she had no alternative but to flirt with the Alliance officer, to the point where she actually seems sort of proud and maybe even a little exhilarated with her success, the narrative could have shown how disgusted she was that this was the only option she had. She’s hurt, she’s desperate, and she has to do something so utterly against her own ethical code. Just some internalization and we could have had so much more insight into Zoë’s character and a much more intense and impactful scene.
I know I’m barking up this Feminism tree again, but damn. I am so tired of seeing caricatures of women in fiction. I am tired of men writing as if they’ve never actually noticed that women are people too. I am sick of female characters existing solely to serve a role for the male characters. It’s exhausting.
I’m also angry because I know, without a doubt, that there are better Firefly novel length works posted on Archive of Our Own right now. FOR FREE. Written by fans, for fans. But this book gets added to the canon and snapped up off shelves while Titan Books and Joss Whedon make a pretty penny.
So, yeah. I won’t be coming back for the sequels. Which is a shame. They had such potential. I do sincerely hope that Lovegrove enjoys his time in the ‘Verse. According to the book’s average Goodreads rating, there are readers who like his interpretation of it. I’m just not one of them.
I’ve moved on to Lies Sleeping now that it’s back in my hands. Hopefully I’ll finish it sometime next week, since the Rivers of London books usually read quick. Barring any other important news/events, I’ll talk at you all on Monday.
Until then, Bloggos.