I already have "Finding Serenity" and started reading "Serenity Found." Both are chock full of insighty goodness about the shows. And because they're essays, I'm not reading them in order. The ones I liked best are:
1. Girls, Guns, Gags: Why the Future Belongs to the Funny by Natalie Haynes. It's about how the women on the show also get to be funny and how that's a mark of gender equality.
2. River Tam and the Weaponized Women of the Whedonverse by Michael Marano. Starts from Alien: Resurrection, which I did not know that Whedon worked on, to Buffy/Angel and Firefly. Dollhouse not included since DH hadn't come out yet, but clearly the dolls continue the theme of women being made into weapons by a patriarchal power.
3. A Tale of Two Heroes by Shanna Swendon. Talks about the parallels between Mal and Simon as both being heroes with their own missions.
4. I, Malcolm by Nathan Fillion, which is about his experience playing Mal. There's a link to read the essay for free, over at www.whedonesque.com.
5. Firefly and Story Structure, Advanced, by Geoff Klock. It dissects the episode Out of Gas into the different scenes of the three timelines told in the episode and how they link, overlap, and reinforce each other. There's also a schematic of the ship which helps map out the story. Out of Gas is one of my favorite episodes so that was really nice.
6. The Bonnie Brown Flag by Evelyn Vaughn. I read this first because it really addresses the issue of the American Civil War angle of the show. The heroes of Firefly are people on the losing side of a civil war. Most people hear that and think Confederates and thus slavery and why would the protagonists be pro-slavery?
The essayist unpacks the Southern reasons for resisting the North, and many of them were not about slavery, and yes, we all know that slavery is bad. And in the Firefly 'verse, the Alliance (North) won and slavery still exists. So that issue is taken off the table.
I think looking at it from solely the view of the American Civil War is very narrow. There's always a losing side to every war, and every war is about one side trying to impose their way of life upon the other side.
And slavery still exists in our own world, right now. It's called human trafficking and globally it's the third most lucrative criminal activity behind arms and drug trafficking. And it's still going on in the US. My friends at www.tapestri.org could tell you all about it and it happens domestically across state lines as well as internationally.
Interestingly, human trafficking will be part of the theme of the next episode of Dollhouse, where we see how Sierra ended up being a doll, against her will.