Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove, Narrated by James Anderson Foster

With Life Signs, James Lovegrove addresses one of the well-known–though never overtly stated–elements of the Firefly narrative. Had the show been allowed to flourish–beyond the abbreviated single season–it would have become a plot point that Inara was dying before she’d ever joined the crew of Serenity. There were hints and allusions in the existing episodes, setting the stage for that revelation, but Firefly didn’t have sufficient time to delve into the assorted elements it was establishing.
When it came time to create Serenity as a follow-up to the series, the fat had to be trimmed, to make a story that would appeal to both the disaffected fans of the original series as well as a new audience not already immersed in what had come before. There was no time to dig into the more obscure details that only the most die-hard fans were aching to see as the filmmakers’ focus. Thus, a whole narrative thread was snipped and allowed to drift away like a leaf on the wind.
Thanks to a team of writers who never stopped fleshing out the world of The Verse, there have been graphic novels as well as these supplemental novels providing us with answers to questions we had as well as some we’d never thought to ask.
This book, more than the other four, satisfies the Firefly fan by addressing Inara’s sickness. It also provides a much-desired glimpse into the story that was taking place between the conclusion of Firefly and the opening scenes of Serenity.
Because this story relies on the reader having been previously introduced to characters who weren’t set up during the television series, it makes sense that Life Signs is the fifth of these releases.
Learning of Inara’s terminal cancer, Mal is desperate to find some way to restore the woman he loves to good health. The knowledge that there is a scientist who might have developed a cure sends Mal and the crew of Serenity on a trajectory that leads to a distant, frozen prison planet where The Alliance deposits only those they most want out of sight and out of mind.
In the frigid wastes of Atata, the crew faces impossible odds as Mal’s desperation to save Inara endangers everyone. Alliance forces, dangerous inmates, mutated predators brought about by failed terraforming, and an environment unsuitable for human life might be less hazardous than the quixotic pursuit Mal leads Zoe, Jane, and Simon on as he drives them toward unknown dangers.
As with all of the previous installments in this series, James Anderson Foster does a superb job of bringing the characters to life with his expert narration.


Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove, Narrated by Dennis Kleinman

James Lovegrove writes himself into the narrative with The Cthulhu Casebooks, in a fictionalized account of his own life in the preface to this tale. As a distant relation to the former H.P. Lovecraft, a parcel finds its way to him upon the passing of another member of the Lovecraft family.
Contained within is a trilogy of manuscripts penned by Dr. John Watson, confidant and partner of Sherlock Holmes. In the tale that unfolds, we learn that the meeting of Watson and Holmes did not transpire as we’ve come to believe. Additionally, further elements of Watson’s previously available documentation of the cases he and Holmes investigated have been fictionalized to protect the world from forbidden knowledge of things best left unknown.
From the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan to long-forgotten catacombs beneath London, a global tale of unspeakable horror emerges. Upon meeting one another, Holmes and Watson find themselves in pursuit of answers to a rash of ritualistic deaths occurring during the new moon. What they discover will leave the pair, as well as other familiar characters from the Holmes’ archives, changed in ways never hinted at within the released accounts from Watson.
All-in-all, this was a worthwhile mixture of the Lovecraftian mythos and the characters developed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The writing style emulates Doyle’s prose surprisingly well, and the insertion of creatures like Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu into the narrative was performed seamlessly. The story itself didn’t impress me quite as much as I’d hoped, but it was decent enough to nudge me toward checking out the additional two volumes in this series.
Dennis Kleinman’s narration of Watson was quite fantastic, as was his performance of Holmes’ dialogue. Sadly, the other characters felt perhaps a bit less set apart from the background. This is not to say that they weren’t distinct enough to tell them apart, because he managed that quite well, just that they weren’t brought to life in quite the same way the two protagonists were.

Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove, Narrated by James Anderson Foster

It was bound to happen, but I sort of hoped I would be wrong. Firefly: The Ghost Machine wasn’t the best of the tie-in novels following up the abruptly terminated Firefly series. I’m not suggesting it’s not a good story or that it’s something I’d recommend skipping over, but it wasn’t as good as the previous two books from James Lovegrove.
This third installment of the series of books filling in the gap between the Firefly finale and the continuation provided by Serenity falls into the interval after both Inara and Shepherd Book have left Serenity. The loss, relatively recent, leaves a discernable and tender hole in the lives of the remaining crew. Lovegrove’s writing succeeds in capturing that despondency without being heavy-handed about it.
At the request of Badger, the crew of Serenity heads to a distant location for recovery of a case containing an unknown device to deliver it to Badger for a client. Unhappy and unsettled by the lack of information provided–as well as Alliance patrols in that region of space–Mal determines he doesn’t like the deal and opts to pass on the money. The supplier doesn’t take kindly to Mal’s repudiation, and bullets fly.
Unbeknownst to Mal and the rest of the crew, Jayne sneaks the parcel onto Serenity, and everything goes sideways. The device was designed as a form of mind control and crowd suppression, triggering those in proximity to lapse into hypnogogic states. As the crew of Serenity finds themselves trapped in dreams they can’t rouse themselves from, River is the only one aware of the problem and hopes she’s capable of breaking her family aboard the firefly from their respective trances before it all ends in tragedy.
Naturally, we know they come through the other side since Serenity takes place…but we do catch glimpses into the dreams and nightmares of the remaining crew members along the way. Unfortunately, there’s not much more to the story than that.
As with the previous books, the narration from James Anderson Foster is spot-on. Aside from a full cast reading of the scripts, I don’t think they could have found a better narrator for these books.

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove: Narrated by James Anderson Foster

The Magnificent Nine confirms the placement of these Firefly novels–or at least this particular installment–as falling between Objects In Space and the Serenity motion picture. The previous book hadn’t made any specific mention of the events in that episode and thus could have fallen before or after that final episode of the tragically short-lived series.
The crew of Serenity is floating adrift, between jobs and looking for work to keep themselves afloat when a message arrives from an old friend of Jayne’s. There’s trouble on the distant, dry–almost desert–world of Thetis. Jayne’s former lover, Temperance, is desperate to find help for her small village. A cruel, savage bandit going by the name of Elias Vandal threatens the survival of all residents of Thetis who won’t bow to his reign or join his cultish band of raiders and criminals.
Though there’s no money in the job, it’s the right thing to do, and the crew of Serenity naturally makes their way to Thetis. This group of nine mismatched compatriots is hardly the collection of soldiers or heroes Temperance was expecting, but they might be precisely the heroes the planet needs.
While the previous installment, Big Damn Heroes, provided us with a fair bit of additional backstory for Captain Malcolm Reynolds, this book supplements what we know of Jayne Cobb before his time with the crew of Serenity.
It’s a satisfying story that could have made for a pretty fantastic episode or two of the series.
The narration from James Anderson Foster is just as good as it was for the previous book–and hopefully will be for the remaining handful of Firefly supplemental novels.

Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove: Narrated by James Anderson Foster

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to pick up James Lovegrove’s Firefly: Big Damn Hero as an audiobook. That uncertainty and fear of disappointment directly led to the title sitting in my Audible library for an extended period before I chose to give it a listen.
The graphic novel mini-series hadn’t been a disappointment, but Joss Whedon was credited with at least co-author status on those titles, with other writers from the television series being his compatriots. In the case of this novel, Lovegrove was not affiliated with the television series, nor was Nancy Holder, the individual who developed the concept behind Big Damn Hero…though Holder had written media tie-in novels associated with other Whedon properties such as Buffy and Angel. So, naturally, I was a little bit iffy about diving into this title…concerned that it might be a letdown.
From the beginning of James Anderson Foster’s narration, I knew I’d made a mistake by letting the title sit for so long. This man thoroughly captures the tone and cadence of the characters in such a way that it’s obvious he’s watched Firefly and Serenity more than a time or two…or at least he comes across that way. Mal and Jayne are particularly well-narrated, with Badger, Wash, and Book coming in just a little bit behind those two. His narration of female characters leaves a bit to be desired, but that’s not at all uncommon, so I’m not going to worry altogether too much about it.
The story of Big Damn Hero falls somewhere in the timeline after Episode 12 of the Firefly series, The Message, wherein Mal and Zoe put to rest a former comrade-in-arms from the war. There are references to the absurd knit hat Jayne received from his mother, the experience with Tracey (the comrade-in-arms I’d previously mentioned), as well as other threads of the story from earlier in the series. I suspect this story falls not long after The Message and a little while before Heart of Gold, the 13th episode of the show. It definitely takes place before Objects In Space, the final episode.
Big Damn Hero centers around Mal and his life before and during the war. As such, it provides a good bit of backstory and character history we’d never encountered during the television show or subsequent movie.
The crew arrives on Persephone to take on a hazardous job from Badger, while Mal has arranged a secondary job contact to supplement their cash flow. Pursuit of this second job leads Mal, Zoe, and Jayne to a bar on Alliance Day. If you’ve watched the show, you know what sort of things happen when Mal finds himself in an Alliance-friendly bar on that day of celebration…and that he somehow always seems to find himself in that situation.
When Mal disappears, it initially looks like he’s been captured by Alliance loyalists seeking to root out any traitorous Browncoats foolish enough to be out and about on Alliance Day, but the truth is far more painful.
As the rest of the crew attempts to solve the mystery and locate their Captain, Mal finds himself confronted by ghosts of his past and the memories, both good and bad, associated with those not-so-friendly faces.
It could be that I’m biased by my love of all things Firefly, but this was an excellent way to spend close to ten hours. I recommend this for any fan of the show.