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Old 02-15-2009, 03:02 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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Firefly and Robert Heinlein

In the Dollhouse thread, we started a discussion of the Heinlein influences in Firefly. Rather than continue to hijack that thread, I thought I'd start a new one.

Basically, the idea is that Heinlein's work had a large influence on the writing of Firefly, and that the show contains many Heinleinesque characters and themes.

Tim Minear, one of the creative forces behind Firefly, is a big Heinlein fan. So much so that he has penned a screenplay for "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". So it's not surprising that Heinlein would have worked his way into Firefly's writing.

(Btw, googling this, I just found that Minear has put the script [url=http://socalbrowncoats.com/?p=28]online[/ur]).

Let's look at the similarities:

- A continuing theme in Heinlein's universe was the notion that even in the space age, far-away colonies would resemble the old western frontier. Tractors break down and need gas - horses can breed and replenish themselves. Advanced technology needs an advanced society to maintain it, and travel between planets is expensive. So, you get stories like Heinlein's "Tunnel in the Sky", where the colonists are equipped with Conestoga wagons (suitably upgraded with titanium frames and such), pulled by mules.

- Heinlein's female characters were typically smart, beautiful, and often more competent than the men. Oversexed, yet practical to a fault. River Tam could be Friday.

- Heinlein's male characters were world-weary, sometimes battle scarred, and usually libertarian in outlook. Mal would fit right into a Heinlein novel.

- Open weaponry. Heinlein's characters often wore sidearms, even in a technological culture. Just as the characters in Firefly do.

- The wise old man. Heinlein's books often had a character or two who defied appearances and turned out to be someone with a very deep past, and who knew a lot of things about just about everything. Shepherd Book could easily pass for one of those Heinlein archetypes.

- The spaceship. Many Heinlein stories centered around small spaceships operated by a crew of traders, or a family (The Rolling Stones, for example).

- The Dialog. Heinlein had characters on the more backwards planets that spoke in simple dialects similar to the western dialect the spoken by Mal and his crew.


Basically, when I first saw Firefly, it immediately struck me as familiar because it felt so much like something Heinlein would have written. Did anyone else come away with the same impression? Any other parallels we can draw? Any similarities between the specific episodes and anything Heinlein wrote?
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  #2  
Old 02-15-2009, 03:42 PM
Irishman Irishman is offline
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While it didn't jump right out at me, I agree with everything you've said. I did particularly pick up on the frontier world using old western tech angle.
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Old 02-15-2009, 03:55 PM
ExTank ExTank is offline
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One of the most common objections to Firefly I've seen is the "Old West" flavor of a spacefaring society.

Was Joss Whedon and Tim Minear trying to tell us that the "rural, frontier colonists" of said spacefaring society would literally devolve to an American Western culture?

Or was that merely the theme and trappings they (Whedon & Minear) latched onto to show a largely American audience how such rural, frontier colonists might be culturally, at least as compared to the "civilised" Alliance core-worlds, in their (strongly) Heinlein-influenced tale?
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Old 02-15-2009, 04:06 PM
Offkenter Offkenter is offline
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I don't think that there is much question of Heinlein's influence in "Firefly." The first time I watched "Firefly" I immediately though the same thing. When I heard about Tim Minnear's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" screenplay, I was not at all surprised. But I was a little surprised when I looked at the Serenity Visual Companion books and found that there is officially a moon or planet (I forget which) in the 'Verse named "Heinlein." When I saw that I actually managed to love "Firefly" even more than I already, and I didn't think that was possible.

Everything that you say is true. But I think that "Firefly" took a lot of ideas from Heinlein's work and used them to make something very different. "Firefly" has some tribute to classic sci fi, Heinlein included, but Joss Whedon's particular strengths and weaknesses make "Firefly" very much its own thing.

I think Heinlein actually handled exposition better than Whedon ever does, but all of Joss Whedon's characters ring more true than Heinlein's characters do. The flip side of this is that Heinlein's work is not particularly visual or visceral. That may be why no good visual media has been made from his work. While he handles emotion reasonably well, his books take place entirely in the reader's mind. Even when Heinlein writes from the first person, the world the character is in is made up of sights and sounds.

Joss' work on the other hand is very visual and very visceral. We feel the characters and the characters create a distinct impression of the world for us. Joss' worlds are made up of the feelings of his characters. For Joss the characters are the story and plot is almost secondary.

Heinlein was the opposite. Plot and ideas were the foundation of his work and he build his characters to fit. This approach made Heinlein a master of the mechanics of storytelling. But his characters were weaker. I think Heinlein built his characters upon common notions of how people are and then made what ever changes were necessary to make the story work.

Watching "Dollhouse" on Friday night, I was struck by all of the exposition that he put in, much of which was not really necessary. I think he could have afforded to let more of the world-building come out of the story, which is something that Heinlein did masterfully. All of Joss' series had the same flaw at the beginning, including "Firefly." All of his work takes some time to gel. Firefly didn't really grab me until the end of "The Train Job." Neither "Buffy" nor "Angel" really came together until their second season. Heinlein was so good at fabricating stories that as a reader I was always pulled in right away. I think Joss needs a zombie Heinlein on his writing team. Exposition would go much more smoothly.

I guess the largest similarity between the two works is the Libertarian bent that both have. Heinlein and Whedon both seem ambivalent about government and authority. But I need more time to think about their relative opinions before taking a swing at commenting on that.
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Old 02-15-2009, 04:15 PM
ExTank ExTank is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Offkenter View Post
Firefly didn't really grab me until the end of "The Train Job."
"Darn!"

:Kick:

:Crunch:

"Now this is all the money we took from Niska-"
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Old 02-15-2009, 04:27 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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Quote:
I don't think that there is much question of Heinlein's influence in "Firefly." The first time I watched "Firefly" I immediately though the same thing.
So did I. It made me think of the opening of the juvenile Tunnel in the Sjy, which open with what seem to essentially be cowboys and herds of cattle being transported to colonized worlds, and Heinlein explaining exactly why that made sense. The same idea showed up in Fartmer in the Sky and Time Enough for Love. Although the idea of "Space as Western Frontier" (with settlements acting a lot like cattle towns of the Old West) waas a common meme in the 30s and 40s and into the 50s, Firefly definitely recalled Heinlein more than others.

That said, the characters don't feel as Heinleinian as they do to the OP. The influence is there, but the series didn't feel like Heinlein's fiction translated to the TV.
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Old 02-15-2009, 04:45 PM
Offkenter Offkenter is offline
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Originally Posted by ExTank View Post
"Darn!"

:Kick:

:Crunch:

"Now this is all the money we took from Niska-"

Yep. That's the one. I'm a big fan of creative problem solving.
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  #8  
Old 02-15-2009, 04:54 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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One other similarity that just occurred to me: Heinlein's future often had the Chinese and Americans coming out 'on top', and the culture tended to amalgamate the two together. This is especially prominent in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".
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Old 02-15-2009, 05:06 PM
Offkenter Offkenter is offline
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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
One other similarity that just occurred to me: Heinlein's future often had the Chinese and Americans coming out 'on top', and the culture tended to amalgamate the two together. This is especially prominent in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".
That may be the only instance of that in Heinlein's work. I know in the Future History series, Lazarus Long explicitly says that it's too bad that China's government kept its people from emigrating from Earth. I think that was towards the end of "The Number of the Beast."

Wait! The Chinese are also mentioned as emigres in "Tunnel in the Sky" because they point out the complete impossibility of ever getting emptying China of its people, because of high birth rates.
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Old 02-15-2009, 05:58 PM
MEBuckner MEBuckner is offline
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There are also Chinese immigrants on Venus in Between Planets.
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Old 02-15-2009, 06:20 PM
Offkenter Offkenter is offline
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There are also Chinese immigrants on Venus in Between Planets.
That rings a bell. I may have to dig that out and refresh my knowledge of that book.
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  #12  
Old 02-15-2009, 06:25 PM
Hello Again Hello Again is online now
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Originally Posted by Offkenter View Post
I don't think that there is much question of Heinlein's influence in "Firefly." The first time I watched "Firefly" I immediately though the same thing.
See, I thought it was ripped off wholesale from "Cowboy Bebop" but there's no reason both might not be true.
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  #13  
Old 02-15-2009, 06:42 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
colonists are equipped with Conestoga wagons (suitably upgraded with titanium frames and such), pulled by mules.
I wish he'd done more of that in Firefly. Jumpsuits instead of jeans. 1911As instead of Navy Colts.
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  #14  
Old 02-15-2009, 06:58 PM
Ephemera Ephemera is online now
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What jeans? I don't remember anyone wearing anything resembling denim.
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Old 02-15-2009, 07:00 PM
Offkenter Offkenter is offline
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And Kaylee wore jumpsuits.
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Old 02-15-2009, 07:20 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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What jeans? I don't remember anyone wearing anything resembling denim.
I thought most of the locals wore cowboy stuff. A good excuse to watch again.
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  #17  
Old 02-15-2009, 07:25 PM
ExTank ExTank is offline
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Originally Posted by Hello Again View Post
See, I thought it was ripped off wholesale from "Cowboy Bebop" but there's no reason both might not be true.
Well, when you account for the lack of Jazz/Blues music, and that no one on Serenity was a bounty hunter (Jayne came the closest, and Spike would eat him for lunch), then yeah, maybe a case could be made for some similarity between Bebop and Firefly, in that they both had spaceships, were in a futuristic setting, and had distinctive visual and musical stylings.
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  #18  
Old 02-15-2009, 07:33 PM
mswas mswas is offline
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Originally Posted by MEBuckner View Post
There are also Chinese immigrants on Venus in Between Planets.
I'm skeptical that ethnic divisions would maintain over time on other worlds.
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  #19  
Old 02-15-2009, 09:11 PM
Zakalwe Zakalwe is online now
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I'm skeptical that ethnic divisions would maintain over time on other worlds.
Why would that surprise you? They sure managed to maintain here, at a time when America was as far from the "old" countries as the various worlds are from each other in most sci-fi stories (weeks or months).
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Old 02-15-2009, 09:36 PM
carnivorousplant carnivorousplant is online now
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Poul Anderson has Walt Disney brown (R) people at the core of the Empire as I recall, but some colonies where racial, ethnic, cultural groups moved.
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Old 02-15-2009, 09:40 PM
DWMarch DWMarch is offline
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What jeans? I don't remember anyone wearing anything resembling denim.
Mal and YoSaffBridge both wear jeans in "Trash."
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  #22  
Old 02-15-2009, 09:54 PM
Cat Whisperer Cat Whisperer is offline
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I don't know if this is too obvious (or too usual in tv shows), but Heinlein's stories often had a core group of very close, die-for-each-other people, very much like the Serenity crew. Lots of group sex (and taboo sex, like incest) in Heinlein's worlds - not much of that on Serenity (that we knew about) but prostitution as a respected career is very Heinleinian.

As I said in the other thread, I can see River as a Valentine Smith-type - human but foreign, with many strange abilities. I agree with Shepherd Book as maybe an amalgam of a few Heinlein archetypes - definitely having a deep past, and also having unexpected abilities. I see Zoe as more of the Friday character, though.
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Old 02-15-2009, 10:13 PM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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Originally Posted by ExTank View Post
"Darn!"

:Kick:

:Crunch:

"Now this is all the money we took from Niska-"
Hear, hear.

It was a pretty weak episode, and Fox aired it instead of the pilot proper, which didn't make much of an impression...and that one moment is what kept me around to watch the next episode.
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Old 02-16-2009, 12:13 AM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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Originally Posted by featherlou View Post
I don't know if this is too obvious (or too usual in tv shows), but Heinlein's stories often had a core group of very close, die-for-each-other people, very much like the Serenity crew. Lots of group sex (and taboo sex, like incest) in Heinlein's worlds - not much of that on Serenity (that we knew about) but prostitution as a respected career is very Heinleinian.
That's a very good one - in Heinlein's universe, prostitutes were often portrayed very much like Companions - ladies of high stature, very well educated, very proud of what it is that they do. I suppose Heinlein and Whedon could have independently taken that from the Geisha tradition, but I suspect the influence was more direct.

Quote:
As I said in the other thread, I can see River as a Valentine Smith-type - human but foreign, with many strange abilities. I agree with Shepherd Book as maybe an amalgam of a few Heinlein archetypes - definitely having a deep past, and also having unexpected abilities. I see Zoe as more of the Friday character, though.
Could be. I don't think there are any direct correlations, though. More of a similar tendency towards a certain type of portrayal of women, not a direct copying of a character.

Although I swear Inara shows up in "Time enough for Love". Or her alternate-world twin, anyway.
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Old 02-16-2009, 09:47 AM
E-Sabbath E-Sabbath is offline
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You know, I kind of thought it bore some resemblance to Gunsmoke.

As far as science fiction having always been a western on TV, as mentioned in the other thread, you know what five words have to be said, right? "Wagon Train To The Stars." That's the elevator pitch for Star Trek.
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  #26  
Old 02-17-2009, 10:32 AM
Irishman Irishman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ExTank
Was Joss Whedon and Tim Minear trying to tell us that the "rural, frontier colonists" of said spacefaring society would literally devolve to an American Western culture?

Or was that merely the theme and trappings they (Whedon & Minear) latched onto to show a largely American audience how such rural, frontier colonists might be culturally, at least as compared to the "civilised" Alliance core-worlds, in their (strongly) Heinlein-influenced tale?
A little of both.

Heinlein's premise, one shared by Whedon and Minear, is that a frontier world is going to be undeveloped. It takes time to build infrastructure like power plants, sewage treatment plants, factories to build machinery, etc. So the colonists going to the frontier worlds are going to need tech that can be serviced easily, with less support. Ergo, as has been stated, horses and cows instead of tractors. Similarly, the open carrying of guns is two-fold. First, frontier worlds are more prone to natural threats, like large predators, venomous snakes, and their analogues. Firearms are still common on rural farms for precisely those reasons. The second reason is that law, legal systems, and police departments are types of infrastructure. Move away from the established society, and it is a long ways from help. Makes being a bad guy easier. So firearms are for defense against human predators as well.

So Whedon was interested in conveying a Western-like feel for the culture - rural, armed, less educated and more practical, low tech and hard working. Add to that the fact that most of the colonists we see tended to be American types - very few Chinese types. That was an odd condition given the premise of Chinese influence. But anyway, the rural colonists probably would draw upon historical cultural influences, and the American west would be a very good analogue.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranchoth
[The Train Job] was a pretty weak episode, and Fox aired it instead of the pilot proper, which didn't make much of an impression...and that one moment is what kept me around to watch the next episode.
Yeah, there were glimmers of what was to come, but it didn't do the job of introducing the characters and why they were together, it did more talk than show, and it just didn't connect. But that one scene was a doozy. Even though I like the sentiment of Mal, I just can't see someone deliberately throwing a large piece of FOD into his engine. The emergency plane landing a couple weeks ago shows the reason why that is a dumb idea. But that one scene did give us a sense of Mal and his attitude, and that made it worthwhile.
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  #27  
Old 02-17-2009, 11:55 AM
Kolga Kolga is offline
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One difference I can identify from my (admittedly weak) memory of Heinlein's female characters and Firefly's female characters is that I always got the impression, in Heinlein, that women who didn't want to sleep with any male character that wanted them were somewhat denigrated.

I remember getting the feeling from reading Heinlein that a truly liberated woman would sleep with any male who expressed interest, and if she didn't, it wasn't that she was in charge of her own sexuality but that she was still wound up in old-fashioned mores. I see that a lot in the hippie/pagan community - if a woman doesn't want to have orgies or rampant sex with anyone, she's still "trapped in the mundane world" of sexual restrictions. Many of the members of that community are Heinlein fans.

Whereas in Firefly, it's clear that Inara can and does decide who to sleep with and who she will NOT sleep with, and the other women also seem to be able to have control over their sexuality without being portrayed as old-fashioned or uptight. They can have sex, or not, without the "not" part being seen as less valuable.
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  #28  
Old 02-17-2009, 12:05 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is online now
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Originally Posted by E-Sabbath View Post
You know, I kind of thought it bore some resemblance to Gunsmoke.

As far as science fiction having always been a western on TV, as mentioned in the other thread, you know what five words have to be said, right? "Wagon Train To The Stars." That's the elevator pitch for Star Trek.
Right. Look, I see nothing of Heinlein in Firefly. Not that you can't find a bit of one book or the other and show a similarity, but you could do the same with Star trek.

And, it was the real BattleStar Galactica that "Wagon Train To The Stars." was used as a pitch for.
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  #29  
Old 02-17-2009, 02:35 PM
E-Sabbath E-Sabbath is offline
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Uhm. Deth? I, uh, hate to contradict someone about things geeky, but it was Star Trek. http://www.startrek.com/startrek/vie...icle/3289.html
http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/R/...oddenberry.htm

Also, there's a _load_ and a half of RAH influence here. It's certainly not Asimov, and it's certainly not Clarke...

I see a good amount of The Rolling Stones, a good amount of the other juveniles, too. Not so much the Howards, though.
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