It’s with a flood of emotion that just finished reading the new Firefly novel “Big Damn Hero” by James Lovegrove. Why mixed emotions? It’s a compelling page turner that brought me happily back into the ‘verse, but like all Firefly stories since the show’s cancellation it’s telling a story that probably never would have been told had the show been allowed to evolve naturally throughout the 7 or so seasons it deserved.
Much like the graphic novel “A Shepherd’s Tale”, this now-canonical novel isn’t afraid to dig into the secrets and back stories of our characters. So many elements about why the characters are the way they are find full reveal. Often secondary works such as this go in one of two directions: deifying the characters to make it technically perfect, but so rigid that it’s boring; or taking the Star Trek: Discovery route and cherrypicking from all that’s come before, and creating something new and trendy. This book falls into neither of these traps. A person who’s never seen Firefly before could pick this up and be perfectly comfortable with the story, but those of us who love the series, now have a much deeper understanding of the characters, seeing what’s made them tick in a way that’s perfectly consistently with the show.
My biggest frustration with the book isn’t it’s fault. I feel a sort of post-Christmas ennui that some of the reveals I now understand have taken some of the mystery away from the characters. This isn’t a problem though, it succeeds in humanizing the characters who have always been presented to us warts and all. No-doubt over the course of a Firefly full run we would gotten backstories such as these since all the characters were deliberately designed to have their respective pasts haunting them. Still, once the Christmas gifts have been opened, we can’t help but feel nostalgia for the intrigue they once had.
Ultimately, Big Damn Hero is a book written by a true fan who probably has more guts in exposing the pasts of the characters while I might have treated certain things more as sacred cows. While much is revealed, it does so opening up new options, and I caught myself fantasizing about a potential followup that was hinted at on the last page. I suspect that story will never happen, but either way, it allowed me to once again explore new stories in my mind, which is definitely the mark of a good book.
The writing is excellent, carefully striding the clever language and Whedonesque humor of the show without falling into parody. For some reason Zoë didn’t always sound natural to me, but pretty much everyone else did. Certain characters were featured far more than others, but that’s natural and probably for the best. I expect they’ll be focused on more in upcoming novelizations. For the record, this was the Captain’s story, although each character had their own moments here or there, including a couple moments where Jayne actually comes through for the crew in unexpected ways.
As far as complaints with the plot, the biggest one I’d have is Zoë. Her past is so intertwined with Mal’s vis-à-vis the war of Independence and they spent most of the novel apart from each other. I had no problem with Zoë’s story except that it was largely in the form of searching for the Captain whereas her war history was the more powerful part of the plot. The end of the story happened rather suddenly and while mostly everything was resolved, we didn’t fully see Zoë’s reaction to why the full events of the story had happened. While I like that her loyalty to the Captain was never in doubt, I think the big climax should have stretched out for several chapters. The author went for action whereas I would have went for drama. The climax is a major event which has serious ramifications for Zoë as well as the captain, but the story was so focused telling Mal’s story, that his first mate’s reaction was one merely of loyalty and stoicism when we know she would have been feeling serious feelings I would have liked to see a bit more. On the other hand, I don’t know how serialized these new novels are going to be, and perhaps the next one will pick up right where this one left off.
Will I read that next one? Faster than you can spit. The Magnificent Nine is due out this month.