by Chris Tobias
Firefly: The Ghost Machine is the third original Firefly novel from Titan Books, and the third by New York Times bestselling author James Lovegrove (The Age of Odin). Much like Lovegrove’s previous two novels set in the Firefly ‘verse, 2018’s Big Damn Hero and 2019’s The Magnificent Nine, this latest effort reads for the most part like a lost episode of the series. Unlike the previous two books, however, this novel takes a unique and somewhat bold approach in that the vast majority of the story takes place only in the unconscious minds of Serenity’s crew, in alternate realities of their own design.
This story, which takes place after the events in Firefly but before the events of Serenity, begins as most tales of the ‘verse do. Malcolm Reynolds and his crew (minus Shepherd Book and Inara Serra, who at this point have both already left the ship) are hired by Badger to retrieve illegal cargo from Canterbury and transport it to Persephone, where a buyer is waiting. When the crew arrives at the rendezvous, Mal sees that the cargo is a flightcase stamped with the Blue Sun logo that likely contains Alliance-funded tech that was stolen from a nearby R&D facility, and decides to scrub the mission. He and his crew are desperate, but not desperate enough to risk smuggling an item this hot out of an area that’s swarming with Alliance ships that are almost as keen to regain the stolen property as they are to find the two fugitives that have been hiding aboard Serenity for several months.
Unbeknownst to Mal, Jayne Cobb isn’t willing to pass on the potential payday, and sneaks the cargo aboard Serenity in the hopes of bringing it to Badger and securing the payment for himself. When Jayne stows the case in a secret compartment in his cabin, however, its contents begin to have a strange effect on the crew.