By James Lovegrove

Titan Books


333pp/$24.95/April 2020

Firefly: The Ghost Machine
Natasha MacKenzie

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Firefly: The Ghost Machine is James Lovegrove's third original novel set in the universe created by Joss Whedon for his 2003 television series. Set after the series ended, but prior to the film Serenity Lovegrove has found a structure for the novel that essentially allows him to write a novella for each of his main characters which thread together to form a cohesive novel.

Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity have agreed to pick up a package on an outpost and bring it back to Badger, although Badger is coy about what is in the package and when Mal's contact refuses to give any information, Mal decides he isn't interested in fulfilling his part of the bargain. Things go south and Jayne winds up smuggling the package aboard Serenity in contravention of Mal's orders. The package contains the titular device which sends almost the entire crew into a dream state, bringing them their every desire and then making each scenario go horribly wrong. Lovegrove switches between these dreams, showing the deepest desires for Mal, Simon, Kaylee, Zoe, Wash, and Jayne. Only River is spared, but she has been sedated by Simon when he noticed that she was having a negative reaction to something aboard the ship.

This relationship on Serenity. Lovegrove sometimes surprises with his choices for these alternatives, but all of them are within reasonable expectations and add intriguing views of Whedon's universe.

Lovegrove makes sure there is plenty of details for Firefly fans. Characters from the television series like Adelai Niska, Atherton Wing, and Durran Haymer make appearances and he also includes oblique references to the actors who played the characters. Since all of this happens in what are essentially dream sequences which have separated out from the world at different points, Lovegrove can disregard much, if not all, of the events that have occurred in the television series, movies, comics, or other novels.

Although the solution to the crew's problem is telegraphed early on, the joy of the novel is getting a glimpse into the lives than might have been for the characters. Lovegrove does draw on the various auxiliary media as well as the original series for some of his inspiration. And while the solution is obvious, the way it plays out, while completely logical, also brings its own surprises.

With the third original Firefly novel, Lovegrove shows that he has a handle on the characters and the universe, expanding his range beyond the relatively focused first two novels. Lovegrove offers glimpses of Sihnon, Persphone, Osiris, and other moons and planets which have been mentioned but never fully explored. At the same time, the dream-quality of much of the novels gives him and other authors and excuse if they need to depict those places in other ways. Of course, planets are big places, so what we've seen might actually be a partial reality.

So far, none of the novels or graphic novels have truly captures the characters, language, or feel of the original show. Unfortunately, with Firefly and Serenity fifteen years or more in the past, novels like The Ghost Machine are the only way to continue to experience Whedon's world and learn more about the characters and to enjoy their interaction.

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