Firefly: Generations begins with the story of a map. This star map changes hands many times, through treachery or happenstance, but this is no mere map, and those who take it into their possession seem to somehow recognize that fact without being fully conscious of it. The truth of the map only reveals itself when it finds its way into the hands of River Tam, where hidden machinery embedded in the material activates. From there, we find ourselves following most of Serenity’s crew into the outer reaches of the verse, where deadly secrets await them amidst an awe-inspiring relic of the history before mankind reached their new homes on the planets and moons the Firefly crew is familiar with. This novel falls somewhere after the prematurely canceled television series, though before Inara and Book had permanently left the crew and retired to the locations where we meet them again in the movie Serenity. Tim Lebbon takes the helm in this fourth Firefly novel, telling us a story that fills in gaps in the mystery that is the life of River Tam, the secret experiments conducted by Alliance scientists, and the centuries-past journey from Earth that was. Generations is a far different tale than those contained in the three previous Firefly novels, focusing on the more science fiction elements of the property rather than on the land-based adventures of the crew. It’s a nice transition, receiving this glimpse into the less western-themed exploits of Serenity and the family that calls her home. Foster’s narration seems only to be improving with each subsequent audiobook release. As he more firmly captures the nuances and patterns of speech for the individual characters, one could almost close their eyes and envision the cast playing their parts.
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.
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.
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.