by Chris Tobias
Firefly: Generations is the fourth original Firefly novel from Titan Books, and the first by an author other than New York Times bestselling author James Lovegrove. For this novel, Titan called upon award-winning British horror and dark fantasy author Tim Lebbon, whose novelization of the film 30 Days of Night, along with three of his original works, also landed him on the New York Times bestseller list. Generations was originally scheduled to be the third Firefly novel to be released by Titan, but saw its publishing date pushed back for reasons that were never explained. For Browncoats, though, the wait was well worth it, as this latest tale of the adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity is Titan’s best offering to date.
Generations begins as many Firefly episodes do, with the crew of Serenity desperate to find work. While in search of a job on one of the moons of the Outer Rim, Mal ends up in a card game in which he wins an old map covered in mysterious symbols. The map’s former owner insists it’s worthless, but when Mal brings the map aboard Serenity, River Tam is able to interpret it, and claims it will lead to one of the legendary ships that originally brought humans from Earth-That-Was to the ‘verse.
Knowing that the salvage potential alone is staggering, Mal and the crew can’t pass up the chance to find the ship. And find it they do, but when they approach the aged, floating hulk, they quickly discover that it is not the derelict it had initially appeared to be. Not only that, but the closer they get, the more agitated River becomes. She keeps saying that someone is on board, and that she and he are somehow connected.
Lebonn’s reputation as a horror writer might lead one to expect this novel to be a suspenseful thriller with a tone reminiscent of the Firefly episode “Bushwhacked.” But while there are definitely suspenseful moments, as well as more than a few creepy elements, readers might be pleasantly surprised to find the pages filled with action. Throughout the story, Mal and the crew find themselves “trading injuries” with local gun thugs on a border moon, security drones, Alliance soldiers, and even those mysterious Alliance agents who appear two by two with hands of blue.
Lebonn takes Browncoats closer to those enigmatic blue-gloved agents than they’ve ever been before, and he expands their role in the Firefly mythos in ways that are clever, innovative and unexpected. Fans who have always wanted to learn more about who these agents are and how they operate will probably be far more satisfied with their role in this tale than they were with what little was offered by Joss Whedon himself in the Dark Horse Comics series Serenity: Those Left Behind. (As with all of the Titan novels, Whedon is credited as the consulting editor of this book.)
Perhaps Lebonn’s greatest strength, though, is his understanding of the various members of Serenity’s crew and their individual voices. The dialogue in the novel sounds so similar to the original series that it’s almost uncanny, and the thoughts, actions and motivations of the crew are always consistent with what Browncoats have come to know from the series and the movie.
The plot doesn’t leave room for the full crew of nine, and very early in the novel Lebonn sends Inara and Shepherd Book away in one of Serenity’s shuttles– Inara to meet with a client and Book on an errand to try to generate a little bit of cash in a manner more befitting a shepherd. Fans who have read all of the Titan Books Firefly novels might find this a bit odd from a continuity standpoint, since the two had already left the crew more permanently in the previous novel, James Lovegrove’s The Ghost Machine, which was originally scheduled to be released after this one but ended up on bookstore shelves eight months earlier instead.
For the most part though, Generations is a page-turner that starts out interesting and gathers momentum with each passing chapter. There may not be any doubt as to the fate of our big damn heroes, since this story takes place pre-Serenity, but Lebonn’s deft handling of plot and skillful development of the ancillary characters he’s created still make the book very difficult to put down as the story progresses.
If there is a weak spot in this novel, it would have to be the way the story fits into the overall continuity of Firefly and Serenity. The events of this story, if taken as canon, would make it highly unlikely that Mal and the rest of the crew would still be as in the dark with regards to the full extent of River’s abilities as they seemed to be at the start of the motion picture Serenity. But then, both the Titan Books novels and the most recent Firefly comics published by Boom! Studios create a bit of a conundrum with regards to the continuity of the Firefly ‘verse just by virtue of the sheer volume of storytelling that is going on in what is supposed to be the period of time between the conclusion of the TV series and the start of the movie. At one point in the movie Serenity, Mal reminds Simon that he and River have been aboard the ship for eight months. That means that if they are to be regarded as canon, then all of the events of the TV series, the Boom! Studios comics and the Titan Books novels have to have taken place in a span of time that is less than or equal to eight months in duration. Given all of the events in these various stories, it’d be a minor miracle if the crew had time to eat or sleep, let alone have any “down time” between adventures!
After being starved for any additional stories from the ‘verse at all for years after Serenity’s release, we’ve now reached the point where Browncoats are literally inundated with Firefly stories and ultimately need to decide for themselves which ones they believe to be reasonable within the larger canon and which ones just make for entertaining yarns. (This may soon become even more necessary, as rumors of a more family-friendly, PG reboot of the Firefly series for the Disney+ platform have recently surfaced, much to the chagrin of many Browncoats, this one included.) As these stories go though, Browncoats would be hard-pressed to find better ones than the Titan Books Firefly novels, all of which read like lost episodes of the original series (and don’t need to be read in sequence like Boom! Studios’ ongoing comics series does). And of these novels, Generations has set a new standard. This Browncoat gives it an A+.
Firefly: Generations has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $24.95, and is available now from major booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The hardcover edition is packaged attractively, with shiny ‘verse-themed cover art on the dust cover and a built-in bookmark of a brownish color.
The next Firefly novel in Titan’s series, James Lovegrove’s Life Signs, is scheduled for release in March of 2021.