Coming out this month, published by Titan Books, is Firefly: The Ghost Machine – James Lovegrove’s latest tie-in novel set in Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe. Lovegrove, a self confessed fan of the show who was upset by its cancellation, has now written three out of the four novels already published by Titan, including 2019’s Firefly: The Magnificent Nine. In a recent interview for Sci-Fidelity, Lovegrove said of himself, “Essentially what I’m doing is fan fiction but by a professional writer, I couldn’t believe I got the opportunity.” He clearly loves writing the continuing adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity and it shows in his books.
Lovegrove manages to capture the feel of a Firefly episode in each book that he writes. The chapters are short and snappy, which makes them read like television scene transitions, but there is not a lack of depth to his plots or to the character developments. Picking up the baton of writing for established characters, especially ones so expertly portrayed by the likes of Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk and Gina Torres, must be a daunting task knowing that there are fans out there who will be studying every word, but Lovegrove need not worry. His Serenity crew step off the page, you can hear their voices as you read their words, even if you cannot translate the Pinyin Mandarin expletives, and you are pulled into the action along with them.
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Like the other novels, The Ghost Machine is set between the end of the television series and the movie Serenity. This allows for all sorts of madcap hijinks without a fan having to accept the losses of Wash and Shepherd Book (damn you, Whedon!). Although both Shepherd Book and Inara Serra have left the crew prior to the events of the book, they are still featured in what starts off as a routine pick-up job for the crime lord, Badger. As always, for Mal Reynolds, things don’t go smooth!
Without giving too much of the plot away, most of the characters find themselves living out their dream lives, each filled with their own ideas of happiness and success. Each of them get exactly what they want, but as always with ideal situations like this, cracks start to show and it becomes up to River Tam to save the day.
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The genius of Lovegrove’s plot is that he gets to give us deeper insights into the characters, exploring details that the show only briefly touched upon or hinted at, such as Jayne’s relationship with his family, what life could have been like if Simon had been able to stay on Osiris had his sister not been experimented on, and what if Mal had been able to tell Inara how he really felt about her. It also allows for a number of callbacks to episodes of the show, but at no point do they feel overloaded; there is fan service but you are not drowned in it for the sake of it.
The Ghost Machine is an enjoyable read and another worthy edition to the Firefly ‘Verse that, due to a change in Titan’s scheduling, has allowed Lovegrove to make almost completely his own. If there had been a second season of the show, he certainly would have made an excellent candidate for showrunner. We look forward to being able to explore more in his next Firefly novel.
Firefly: The Ghost Machine is out on 15th June from Titan Books.