November 12, 2012

Take Me Where I Cannot Stand: A Review of THE KILLER ANGELS

It's the book that inspired Joss Whedon to create Firefly, and in many ways, Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels shares a similar tone with the show in many ways....but first and foremost, it's one of the best reads not just in the historical fiction genre, but as a solid, literary read in its own rite.

Most of the action takes place during the Battle of Gettysburg, which was a great turning point in the war. However, the novel's perspective is with the generals of the South in the days before the major battle. Shaara provides us with near-insider's view of the Southern leaders, providing multiple insights into just exactly what principles the South was fighting for and about. Interestingly, there are one or two unique takes on states' rights, but ultimately, the novel seems to suggest two major philosophical approaches around respecting past history versus the perception of abandoning the "old ways."

Ultimately, it's the idea not just about being on the "losing side" of history - but of respecting the past versus embracing a "new way - that underlies much of Firefly/Serenity. It is easy to see why this novel was so influential on Whedon's writing - the dialogue is very literate and intelligent, reflecting refinement amongst the "common people." Much of Whedon's skill in crafting characters who are sympathetic despite being on the "wrong side" easily reveal similarities with Shaara's skill in portraying soldiers of the south. When the end comes, even though we "know" it was inevitable, there is a palpable sense of tragedy, with the feeling that these characters deserved much better than they received.

It would be easy to claim that The Killer Angels had as much of an influence on Firefly/Serenity as, say, H.G. Welles' The Time Machine had on Doctor Who. But it's much more than that - it's not just a great novel for fans of Whedon's show.

It's a great novel, period.

Read it. Now.

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