Dec 7 2010 3:38pm

“The journey is the worthier part”: Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale

Serenity: The Shepherd’s TaleA month after the fact, I finally received my copy of Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale. I had been warned with mixed, vague reviews from friends, but I will wholeheartedly say: this story is amazing. Written by Zack Whedon from a loose outline from Joss, and with art by Chris Samnee, The Shepherd’s Tale would, in my opinion, be a perfect retroflection of the series to end on.

Yes, mild spoilers, but I will not get into the biggest reveals about Book’s life. See, I would not want to steal that from you. I will not rob you of the eye-widenening, “Wait, did what I thought just happen really happen?” type moments. For those in the know already, I think you can figure out what I’m talking about in the origin story of Derrial Book, and “I can live with that.”

I had been warned that my complaint about brevity would be equally voiced here, and I had prepared myself for having to say “well, it is a comic book, it is a different format, and you just can’t fit as much in since action and dialogue take up twice as much room instead of going together.” Yeah, I didn’t need to do that. I was almost worried in the way it started off, doing so with an almost Memento-like backwards moving plot. (Although, without the whole short-term memory loss thing.) Jumps are always of a few years back, all the way to a young boy running from home. By the end of the story, you realize that the narration of Book’s life truly does reflect his wise words about the journey verse the destination.

A note on the art style...it is much more simple and abstract, especially on things that aren’t in Book’s focus, which makes total sense. See, part of the mild spoiler’s here, this novel is written basically as Book’s life flashing before his eyes, going backwards through his life as a Shepherd and then his career in the Alliance, et cetera, each time touching on a critical, life-altering moment. And, as such, that the faces are indistinct in the sidelines, well, it has the feeling of a fading memory. I loved it.

More to the length. The main problem I had with Float Out was that they were three completely unconnected stories that told us nothing new about Wash. Neither of these are the case for Book. We start with the day of his death at Haven, have a scene on Serenity, and then a scene that isn’t hard to imagine of him leaving the Abbey and seeing Kaylee for the first time. After that, “it” hits the fan. It was fast and informative, and I drank it up much as I would an amazing wine, quick to taste and long to savor. The end of each page had me rapidly turning to see what was next before going back and actually reading the page slowly, taking in the impact of what was being said, the way it interconnected. This wasn’t just a book of anecdotes about a man, this was his life.

We have waited a good long time to know exactly how Book knew what he knew. So often, in cases like these, the fans are let down as theories they feel were better end up being debunked for something rote or blasé. The Whedons buck that trend with The Shepherd’s Tale. Derrial Book was everything I wanted him to be, and more.

Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and according to his older son, a Water Bender. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short fiction on his website, and you can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Teresa Jusino
1. TeresaJusino
I completely agree with you. Float Out (indeed, all the Serenity comics) did nothing for me, because it told me nothing new, and just seemed - to put it crudely - like a moneygrab. But The Shepherd's Tale actually serves the narrative of the Firefly universe and serves it WELL. Zack Whedon is an awesome writer, and completely did this character justice!
Evan Langlinais
2. Skwid
I disagree. The primary Book-related plot hole, IMO, was why the Alliance would have given him the VIP response they did. This book makes that response even more inexplicable.

I also disagree on the brevity issue. This is so thin it made me quip to a friend "Does he realize 'working from an outline' doesn't mean you are limited to the outline?" I mean, really...there's almost no narrative here and practically no dialogue; it's just a depiction of events, and only moderately interesting for its backwards reveal.

I was, obviously, definitely disappointed.
3. insectivorous
I have a very hard time believing the narrative flow when viewed in the other direction. It's difficult to think of anything to say without dropping spoilers all over the place, but when I look at what supposedly caused each big change in Book's life, I can't help thinking, "naahh".

Then, enlightenment in a bowl of chicken soup. Makes as much sense as a bo tree, I guess. But telling this story chronologically, where you don't already KNOW what's going to happen next, how it's going to come out, the story just doesn't seem to work.
Richard Fife
4. R.Fife
@2 Skwid I think the discussion between the officers explained why Book became so high ranking. He was in command of an entire IAV, and from the sounds, as a flagship, since he orchestrated a mutli-world attack and was held responisible for the loss of a different IAV. Think in terms of modern navy, that is like having mutliple aircraft carriers under your command. Meaning that, in his years, he rose to a flag officer position, albeit perhaps only the equiv of a one star Admiral/General. In a time of extended war, not completely impossible for someone with the motivation and a commission.

As to why he was welcomed in the TV show, remember the Alliance swept him under the rug. His IdentCard wasn't take from him, and it either said he was an admiral/general or a retired admiral/general, and from the war at that. Those kinds of people get the red carpet treatment when they're in a bind (or at least, it seems they do in the Firefly whedonverse.)

On the brevity, perhaps it was there and I was reading into things quite a bit (such as I'm about to prove in the rest of this post), and perhaps also I had already prepared myself in expecting it to be even less enlightening.


@3 While I might see where it seems extrordinary, I don't quite see the suspension-of-disbelief-breaker. He ran from an abusive dad, became a street urchine and was recrutied into the browncoats, which he lept at after almost getting picked up by the feds. He ate it whole hog and, because he had no ties to speak of from his loner-style life, he was willing to volunteer to be the mole. There, his fanatascism and natural cunning escalated him to the position of a lower admiral/general, where he pulled off his masterstroke of sabotaging a massive Federal Operation with his spy-eye.

The Alliance swept him under the carpet, just like Miranda, and left him for dead. He managed to survive but the war was over before he could do much more Browncoat type stuff, so he became a drunken drifter, where he finally found his way to the abbey via the soup. After the Abbey, he felt the ingrained itch to keep moving, and ended up on Serenity.

So, three things. 1), he has been raised in a world with a strong need to believe in something. Abandonment issues much? 2) He has a need to roam, which also come from above issues. Explains why he can jump from fanticism to fanticism (self-surving urchin, browncoat, convincing federal, consumate drunk, shepherd.)

And the third, the soup. This device actually resonates with "Objects in Space" very strongly. Joss is an amateur existentialist, so the entire opening of that about how the soup is just soup and doesn't care what meaning you put upon it, is very near to River's little speech about the stick-gun. That Book has his moment of enlightment over such a mundane thing just screams Joss, so it works thematically, but I personally found it just as believable. Book is well read (he knew about the torture-king dude), and we know he is considered not just smart, but brilliant. That his mind finally awoke from it's stupor and found some reconciliation of his two halfs of his abandonment issues worked for me. Just saying.

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