As you may or may not know — and how could you not? — when Pocket Books announced last year they would be publishing two original Serenity novels a number of authors jumped at the chance and submitted their proposals. Keith R.A. DeCandido (author of the Serenity novelization) was one, and Jamie Chambers and Margaret Weis (creators of the Serenity RPG) put in another. Those submissions and others are still in a holding pattern with Pocket Books and Joss, for whatever reason, and the longer the delay the less chance we’ll ever get to read any new Serenity novels.
Except for one: Steven Brust’s, because he went and wrote his already and plans to get it out to the public one way or another.
Brust, author of the Dragaeran Series, “Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille,” and many others, skipped the proposal thing and wrote an entire Firefly book because, as he said, “I couldn’t help myself.” Since finishing it last year he has been reading the first chapter at conventions, and as he was the guest of honor at Oasis 19 in Orlando this weekend I went hoping history would repeat itself.
Brust looks like someone you would see in a border worlds bar, probably on a tiny stage singing defiant Browncoats songs. The long black hair, disreputable mustache, and black cavalier’s hat distract you from the easy grin and self-deprecating humor. He was introduced and presented with a letter from Orlando’s mayor and with a Jayne hat, which bemused and delighted him respectively. Brust began his talk with, “Speaking of Firefly…” and he offerered to read either from his upcoming new book “Dzur” or from his Firefly book. Firefly won, by a comfortable margin, and he pulled the entire manuscript out of a purple folder which I abruptly coveted more than any given bank vault.
“My Own Kind of Freedom” is a Brust book so it has 17 chapters (if you don’t understand, you haven’t read his work and you should go buy them all now — they ain’t Firefly but they’re the next best thing). It occurs between the end of the show and the movie (he finished the first draft before seeing “Serenity”). While transporting cut maple to Hera, Mal realizes he’s not quite himself; asking Wash dumb questions, being nice to Jayne. Clearly something is up. Could be because Inara’s gone, could be because this job is taking them back to where he led the fight in the last, losing battle of the war, could be something else. But he’s distracted and jumpy. Zoe is edgy because Mal’s jumpy. Kaylee is worried because of Mal and Zoe. Jayne is impatient to get some time for himself to get drunk and sexed. And River is hearing from ghosts, some more solid than others…
It’s hard to judge a book based on, essentially, a chapter and a half, but Brust is a self-proclaimed “wordy son of a bitch” and we got plenty of chances to see everyone. Now, I judge fan fiction (and “media tie-in novels,” which is fan fiction someone got paid for) by how well the author captures the characters. It’s an especially tricky thing to do here because each of Serenity’s crew has his or her own very distinctive voice and a different way of relating to every other character. I am pleased to say that Brust nailed them all. I could hear Jayne muttering, could feel the easy partnership between Mal and Zoe, could see Kaylee smiling fit to beat the band. I could hear Alan Tudyk coming through in Wash. Simon was the perfect combination of attentive skill and befuddled confusion, and River… Few writers handle River well. They make her too coherent, or too incoherent, or too ninja-y. Brust’s River is dealing with different parts of her brain running at different speeds and more sensory input than most folks deal with, and knowing what the problem is doesn’t help her any. What comes out is always relevant, but not always terribly useful. She knows it and her frustration is palpable, although she still manages to embarass Simon without much trouble.
It may help you to know that the audience broke out laughing more than a few times. Brust is known for his sarcastic dialogue and his cheerful violence, and it serves him well here.
An audience member asked if Brust could get rights to publish it. Brust: “Good question. I’m workin’ on it. It’s a complicated question because of the question of, Universal having the rights, Joss having ideas on what books he wants, if any. Latest rumor is that there aren’t going to be any books because the movie didn’t do well enough. So I have no idea. What I am hoping, what I am sort of expecting once I figure out how this works is to publish it as fanfic. Just cuz I like it, I wrote it, I wrote it because I wanted to, and I’d like to have it out there for people who want to read it.”
I asked him the million-credit question, how long before he’ll give in and stick it online? “I’d like to get a definite answer from the publisher. I had some contact with the editor there, months ago, when I asked would you like to see it and she said yes, and I sent it in. And I have no idea how things are since then and what I need to do is get off my ass and get hold of the editor… what’s her name, Jennifer Huddle?… and say nay? Yes? And once I get more or less definitive word… you know, obviously a book like that, it isn’t like something I’ve just written on my own. If Universal, if Pocket Books doesn’t want it, it’s dead. I don’t have the option to say, ‘Well, I’ll just take it somewhere else! Mua ha ha!’ At that point once I get a definite answer I’ll look into what’s involved in publishing it as fan fiction.
“People who are serious about writing media books, which I’m not, submit proposals so you don’t have to put in the work of writing a book before finding out if the thingll sell. I didn’t do that, cuz I didn’t care. I just wanted to write it, cuz if I didn’t write it, I wouldn’t be able to read it.”
If you get the chance to see Brust at a con, go. He’s fast and funny, he plays a mean guitar, and he has a large repertoire of folk songs that are at turns sad, occasionally filthy, and usually hilarious. I was fortunate enough to talk to him at length Friday night and Saturday and had a great time talking about music, other writers and their work, and all the other things that kept me from remembering to pump him for more Firefly info. Sigh. I did give him a print of this picture to help remind him we’re out here, waiting.