Riding the Gap with Mal and Yuri

The television show Firefly, from the inimitable Joss Whedon, is widely regarded by geeks as one of the best sci-fi series ever made. It is basically a space Western, where the main character is a former rebel leader whose faction lost the war against the forces of central authority, and who now makes a living smuggling goods on the edges of space. Along for the ride are a colorful cast of secondary characters.

The spaceship captain in Firefly, Mal Reynolds, is one of those thieves with a heart of gold that make for charming heros. In his universe, misfits and outlaws are the good guys, and conventional society with its power and wealth and security is oppressive and corrupt. Well, sometimes outlaws can be really evil, but the nice outlaws can beat them with cleverness and determination.

Mal lives in the frontiers of settled outer space, in a realm that can be likened to the non-integrated Gap of Thomas Barnett's strategic theory. In fact, the worlds where the central authority rules are even called "the Core". Mal and his crew prefer the freedom of the Gap, despite the risks, living by a code of honor and by dint of personal will and strength.

The movie Lord of War also contrasts life in the Gap with life in the Core, but in this case the setting has more basis in reality. The protagonist who makes a living in the Gap is gunrunner Yuri Orlov, and there isn't much to like about him. His greed and ambition fuel the violence in the lawless frontiers of planet Earth, where there is no honor and strength means the ability to predate on the weak.

So these two stories present two different men who fit the archetype of the rogue, living on the fringes of ordered society. They could be called Gap-riders. Spaceship captain Mal is the idealized romantic version from the fantasy adventure stories. Gunrunner Yuri is the cruel and selfish counterpart, much too close to the reality of what it means to prevail in the Gap.

Year: 2002
Director: Joss Whedon (Generation X, born 1964)
Starring: Nathan Fillion (Generation X, born 1971)
Year: 2005
Director: Andrew Niccol (Generation X, born 1964)
Starring: Nicolas Cage (Generation X, born 1964)

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