Category: Sci-Fi Café


Review by C.J. Bunce

A new cookbook has the recipes to get you through your travels wherever you are in the ‘Verse.  Firefly: The Big Damn Cookbook pulls together foods seen throughout the series and some just inspired by it with lots of good in-universe commentary from Mal Reynolds and his crew.  I’ve been a fan of the sci-fi series since the San Diego Comic-Con 10th anniversary reunion (discussed here), and have reviewed every tie-in from the series released so far here at borg.  Banter of the crew is a great feature of many of the Firefly books published in the past ten years, and author Chelsea Monroe-Cassel gets all the characters right in her latest cookbook.  Firefly: The Big Damn Cookbook is now available for all Browncoats from Titan Books–you can take a look at a preview of recipes below courtesy of Titan Books, and order a copy here at Amazon.

Among all the tie-ins, this is the first foray into the food of the series.  A great focus is placed on the types of meals that make sense in the ‘Verse for a ship’s crew, as well as Joss Whedon’s incorporation of a future filled with Asian influences.  Five-spice is a common seasoning incorporated into the recipes, along with ginger and soy sauce, and that simplicity of nomadic life that underscored the travels of Serenity come through, too, with everyday ingredients, like honey for a sweetener, and white sauce, brown sauce, and biscuits a key component.  You’ll find foods discussed on the series by the crew of Serenity, other foods tangentially seen on screen, with some added in a creative way to fill in the blanks in between.  The author includes appropriate specs for meals with simple ingredients but also some dishes from more extravagant fare (like you might find at a formal shindig on Persephone).  The only way to tell if a cookbook is good is to dig right in.  So I tested four of the recipes that appealed to me the most on paper.

First I made Simon’s Eggy Oat Mush from the Recipes for Shipboard Living section.  This turned out to be a hearty breakfast concoction, a savory oatmeal cooked with veggies, egg, and garlic.  The egg brings the flavors all together and it will fill you up for the day.  It had a unique flavor profile for anyone only accustomed to oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon or other sweeteners–different enough that you could see being stuck on a ship and coming up with this as a staple.  It took only 15 minutes to prepare, and would also make a good dinner side dish.

The prep for River’s Meat Pie could hardly have been simpler.  This recipe was in the Recipes from the Core Worlds–Underbelly section (as opposed to an “upper crust” item).  The result was a tasty dish, highlighted by the right amount of fennel, onion, and garlic, and a perfect pastry dough crust (pictured above, top).  I halved the cookbook recipe and it made four perfect hand pies, great for carrying to lunch any day of the week (think Hostess fruit pies, but savory).  The crust was well-suited for a hand pie, sturdy enough to hold everything in, yet nice and flaky.

Next up was the Blue Sun Canned Peach Cobbler:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his new novel Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, author James Lovegrove embarks on his next journey with the crew of Serenity following his highly successful launch point for the first ever novel series for the franchise, last year’s Firefly: Big Damn Hero (reviewed here at borg).  It’s been thirteen years since we last saw a Firefly story like these two novels, which each contain the contents of about an entire movie.  Along the way creator Joss Whedon has authorized some shorter tales via the comic books (discussed here).  Firefly: Big Damn Hero was the Firefly event of last year, and this year we’ll have two novels competing for that honor, with Tim Lebbon′s contribution to the series of novels coming this fall in Firefly: Generations So how did Lovegrove’s Firefly: The Magnificent Nine compare to his Firefly: Big Damn Hero?

As with Firefly: Big Damn Hero, Lovegrove writes the voices of the entire crew perfectly.  This is another space Western, the core of the original series, and both books feel like natural progressions following the original 14 episodes (Firefly: The Magnificent Nine fits between the last episode and the 2005 film Serenity, allowing the inclusion of two fan-favorite characters–and they’re all fan-favorite characters–Hoban “Wash” Washburne and Shepherd Book).  In a significant way the challenge of writing new Firefly stories is that writers only have 15 “canon” stories to build from, along with any notes from Whedon’s story development.  The potential pitfall is mining the original episodes too much for throwback references.  At 336 pages that’s not anything to worry about for Lovegrove.  Yes, fans will appreciate the Easter Eggs throughout the tale: Jayne Cobb’s famous hat (“a giant piece of candy corn gone wrong”) does not get ignored here, and neither does his weapon of choice, Vera.  But the framework of the story allows for plenty of opportunities for Lovegrove to do more with the characters.  It’s hard to beat his ability to get inside the head of River in Firefly: Big Damn Hero–a difficult character who didn’t get enough time to get fleshed out in the series.  But this time River takes a backseat and Jayne gets the spotlight.  As a completely original story Firefly: Big Damn Hero wins, but not by a lot.

As the title should indicate, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine is an homage to the classic, epic Western The Magnificent Seven, its source Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and countless adaptations since.  It’s notable and important that this isn’t another actual adaptation or full retelling of the story, as Lovegrove takes his own tangent from the story after setting up the novel’s first act.  But he peppers the story with familiar references, like using actors’ names and Kurosawa himself for new characters in his story.  He also has plenty of Louis L’Amour tropes and references.  One thing this novel makes clear is there are at least as many opportunities for new novels in the series as there are Kurosawa movies and L’Amour novels to pull good ideas from.  So this isn’t merely another take on The Magnificent Seven so much as establishing that the nine heroes of the Serenity are worthy of that title.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new encyclopedic view of Firefly rounds out a big year for Firefly fans.  First there was the release of two in-universe books, The Serenity Handbook followed by the Hidden Universe Travel Guide, then more recently we saw the first novel in the series, Big Damn Hero Rounding out a year of great books for Browncoats is Firefly Encyclopedia, by Monica Valentinelli.  Fans of past books for Firefly and the Firefly Loot Crate magazine will be familiar with the tone and design of this series overview.  From the cover to the layout of Polaroid-inspired snips, the book is part scrapbook, part in-depth look into the story in an in-universe style, part behind the scenes photographic essay.  You’re likely to find new images of the ship and crew, even if you’ve amassed all the previous Firefly books.

If this isn’t the biggest assemblage of ships, weapons, props, and sets, it comes close, plus the large photographs makes this the best designed look at the production so far.  The concept artwork for several characters is something we haven’t seen before, and here many designs for each character are showcased.  And at long last, fans have a Chinese-English translator tailored to the extensive use of the Chinese language in the series.

Part one of Firefly Encyclopedia presents the Firefly story, the complete in-world tale seen in the series, as you may find in an encyclopedia.  Next is a look at the characters, each crew member–both in-universe and the actors behind the character, followed by a brief look at secondary characters.  The next section is a geography of the ‘verse, comparative looks at planets, tables, astronomy, and ships along with an interview with artist Ben Mund.  A table looks at the technobabble of the show, followed by a treatment of futuristic medicine in the series.  A wider chapter looks at even more costume designs.  A final chapter digs into the scripts for the series, including analysis and commentary.

Here is a brief view inside the Firefly Encyclopedia:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s an event to make a Browncoat teary-eyed.  Firefly fans have not seen a story that rivaled the original series episodes, until now.  Tomorrow a new era in the Firefly universe begins as the first novel arrives in bookstores, carrying on from those revered 14 original episodes.  Firefly: Big Damn Hero is the big, bold story fans have been waiting for, and it’s even better than the Serenity movie or any other tie-in since the last episode first aired 15 years ago.  Fans will find here a story that would make a great roadmap for a movie, a great radio drama, or a new episode.  That’s probably not going to happen, but put on the soundtrack as you read it and you’ll feel like you’re right back with the crew again.

In Firefly: Big Damn Hero, author James Lovegrove found his way into the core of each character, their motivations, and most importantly their voice, to create a novel set in the years the series takes place, well before the movie Serenity killed off two key characters.  Joss Whedon served as consulting editor of the book, which was written from a story concept by Nancy Holder.  Lovegrove brings readers back to what made the series great–the interaction of the crew of the Serenity–and then he splits them off on a couple of missions that go sideways.  One by one he focuses on each of the nine as Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Kaylee, Book, River, Simon, Inara, and Wash each get a focal subplot that hits the spot for fans who have their favorite or love them all.  But best of all is Lovegrove’s treatment of River, the erratic and seemingly confused young genius who always seems a step ahead of everyone.  Here she practically speaks through the story and across the other characters directly to the reader.  We know what she’s up to even if her friends don’t.

The story itself is part science fiction, part war novel, part Louis L’Amour Western, all rolled up together as one rip-roaring space Western story, just like the series was known for.  Fans who know the ‘verse well, particularly its warring factions that were fleshed out in the series and tie-in comic books, will feel right at home in this story that spans the era before the series, with callbacks to events in the series, and right afterward as if it were a 15th episode.

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First announced earlier this year, the Firefly universe is going to expand beyond the television series, the film, and the comics, with a new series of novels expanding the story of the Serenity crew, headed up by creator Joss Whedon.  Three novels are on their way:  Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove and Nancy Holder, Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove, and Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon.  Titan Books has released the first two cover images.  Shiny.  Man walks down the street carrying a book like that, people know he’s not afraid of anything.

The first two original novels of the ‘Verse tying into the critically acclaimed and much-missed Firefly series are now available for pre-order at Amazon.  You can pre-order Big Damn Hero here and Magnificent Nine here, with Amazon’s Pre-Order Price Guarantee.  Firefly: Generations has not yet been listed for ordering just yet.

In Big Damn Hero we’ll see an early Mal and Zoe story: The Battle of Serenity Valley was the turning point that led the Independents to their defeat at the hands of the Alliance.  Yet the Browncoats had held the valley for weeks against all odds, before being ordered to lay down their arms.  Command stated they refused to send in airpower because the ground war was “too hot.”  But the soldiers who were there insist that was not true… While picking up a new cargo on Persephone, Captain Malcolm Reynolds is kidnapped by a bunch of embittered veteran Browncoats who suspect him of sabotaging the Independents during the war.  As the rest of the crew struggle to locate him, Mal is placed on trial for his life, fighting compelling evidence that someone did indeed betray them to the Alliance all those years ago.  As old comrades and old rivals crawl out of the woodwork, Mal must prove his innocence, but his captors are desperate and destitute, and will settle for nothing less than the culprit’s blood.

The second novel, Magnificent Nine, hones in on Jayne Cobb: An old flame of Jayne’s, Temperance McCloud, sends a message to Serenity, begging him for help.  She lives on the arid, far-flung world of Tethys, and bandits are trying to overrun her town to gain control of their water supply: the only thing standing between its people and dustbowl ruin.  Jayne tries to persuade the Serenity crew to join the fight, but it is only when he offers Vera, his favorite gun, as collateral that Mal realizes he’s serious.  When the Serenity crew land at a hardscrabble desert outpost, they discover two things: an outlaw gang with an almost fanatical devotion to their leader who will stop at nothing to get what they want, and that Temperance is singlehandedly raising a teenage daughter, born less than a year after Temperance and Jayne broke up.  A daughter by the name of Jane McCloud…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Celebrating the 15th year of the end of the Firefly series, later this month Insight Editions will release the next travel guide in its Hidden Universe series.  This time writer Marc Sumerak and artist Livio Ramondelli are taking on the whole ‘Verse itself in Firefly: A Traveler’s Companion to the ‘Verse Who knew the backstory of the 14-episode television series was filled with more than 70 worlds and nearly 150 moons?  Yet all of that worldbuilding became the realism that made so many fans wish they could ride high in their own Firefly-class ship in a future beyond Earth, and it provides plenty of material to add another dimension to the Firefly experience for Browncoats everywhere.

Traveling from Hancock to Paradiso?  Whether you’re paying your respects in the Serenity Valley or Du-Khang, dropping some cargo on Whitefall, attending a shindig on Persephone, rescuing friends on Jiangyin, finding any excuse not to visit Canton, breaking into a hospital on Ariel, or getting Companion training on Sihnon, the Traveler’s Companion to the ‘Verse should be your starting point.  As with past volumes in the series, this guide is set up in sections by destination location, and includes the same kinds of breakdowns you’d find in any Earthbound guidebook: a little history and culture, sights and activities, etiquette, getting around, shopping and entertainment, dining and nightlife, lodging, and what to wear (Wash’s Hawaiian shirt is always an option, too).

The best sections feature “Tips for a Fun Trip,” including dos and don’ts and inside advice specific to each location.  Another bonus introduced in this volume is the addition of “handwritten” commentary by Mal Reynolds and the rest of the crew of Serenity.  As we previewed in our borg.com review of the new The Serenity Handbook here last month, the Traveler’s Companion to the ‘Verse is full of attitude from the crew, written in the familiar dialogue of Mal, Zoe, Wash, Inara, Kaylee, Jayne, Simon, River, and Book, and tucked into each section of the guide.

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Insight Editions is returning to San Diego Comic-Con this coming weekend with lots of books, swag, signings, giveaways, and more to check out at the publisher’s booth (#3721).  We have their signing schedule below as well as their giveaways.  Anyone with a Comic-Con badge can get their badge scanned at the Insight Editions booth and pick up a free, limited edition poster and be automatically entered to win one of several giveaway sweepstakes.  The five posters to choose from feature Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Power Rangers 25th Anniversary, Firefly, and DC Comics, all representing current and forthcoming books from the publisher.

The Harry Potter poster features the upcoming release: Harry Potter: Creatures: A Paper Scene Book.

For the first giveaway, Insight Editions is partnering with the art collectible studio, Mighty Jaxx.  They have provided six of their latest DC Comics XXRay collectibles including Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Deadshot, Catwoman, Robin, and Supergirl.  One winner will be selected to receive all 6 figures.

For the second giveaway, Insight is partnering with Sideshow to give away a Chewbacca Premium Format 1/6th Scale Figure.  This premium format figure (valued at $500) is limited to 1,500 units.  Only one winner gets to walk away with this limited edition prize:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Despite its single season, despite the series going off the air 15 years ago this month, Firefly fans eagerly await the latest access to Malcolm Reynolds and his crew, and know that something new is always around the corner.  That’s because Joss Whedon and the licensees of Firefly continue to oblige, producing some of the best offerings of any fandom.  Whether it’s the Loot Crate Cargo Crate, or Firefly games, or the incredible variety of in-universe and making-of books available, Firefly is at the top of its game for providing new ways to keep the fans excited for their show.  That quality content continues this month with the release of The Serenity Handbook: The Official Crew Member’s Guide to the Firefly-Class Series 3 Ship, by Marc Sumerak.  A bit like The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual and the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Tech Manual in its hardcover presentation, design, and style, The Serenity Handbook is a new close-up look at the inner workings of Serenity for your favorite Browncoat.  It’s also the first in-universe book for Firefly and Serenity (keep reading borg.com later this month for a first look at the next in-universe book for the series and film).

This is an in-universe guide to the famous Firefly class ship, complete with graphics, schematics, and ship features, with margin notes from the Serenity crew, pointing to the ship’s quirks and best features, and contrasting the ship with other vessels.  Its best feature?  The volume of photographs, which seem like production continuity photographs of the set and props from the series re-purposed to become part of the reality of the show’s story thanks to inclusion in this Handbook.  So readers will find views they haven’t seen before of the ship’s bridge section, control panels and switches, the armory, the cargo hold, the galley and common areas, the infirmary and crew quarters, plus views of those vents, pipes, tubing, and display screens that make the ship feel so real.  The photographs look very much like the Polaroids that crew members of any production take on-set, as opposed to the usual screenshot you might find in a book like this (a feature I also loved in Princess Bride: A Celebration).  Set decorators use these images behind the scenes to ensure everything stays in the same place from take to take.  Since they were practical shots, they weren’t intended to be reproduced or seen by anyone else, so they are perfect for a book like this.

Sumerak’s writing in The Serenity Handbook takes this all a step further, creating a conversation between each crew member and the reader, much like a tour, as when Shepherd Book was first brought onto the ship.  All the commentary is true to the personalities on the ship, especially for ship mechanic Kaylee, who you would expect to have a key role in this book.  Many new or reproduced in-universe elements are peppered throughout, like brochures advertising the Series 3 class ships, a ship bill of sale for Serenity, maps, and a mock-up of Wash’s pilot’s license and flight school scorecard.  The ship diagrams provide the sort of detail that Star Trek fans have enjoyed over the years from concept artist Rick Sternbach–each similarly poster worthy.

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Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy Summers is an ageless heroine.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one series you can revisit, find something new, and marvel at the dialogue of Joss Whedon’s greatest character, greatest writing, and greatest production, over and over.  And yet somehow Buffy, the series, turned 20 this year.  Twentieth Century Fox is rewarding fans of the series by releasing a new boxed set of all seven seasons of the series next month.  The 39-disc DVD set contains all 144 episodes of one of the smartest, funniest, and action-filled series, featuring arguably the greatest heroine of all.  Unfortunately, no Blu-ray release appears to be in the works yet.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Series 20th Anniversary Edition DVD Boxed Set will include some extra features, which might entice fans who have purchased previous editions of the series.  It includes a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book from Dark Horse Comics featuring an exclusive variant cover and “coloring sheet.”  Seasons 1-7 also include special features material from prior releases.

But Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not the only series from Joss Whedon celebrating an anniversary this year and getting a new boxed set.  Firefly turned 15 this year, and Twentieth Century Fox is issuing a Blu-ray anniversary edition for Browncoats everywhere.  This boxed set will also be released next month and it features some new inserts, including a Firefly poster and collectible character cards.

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Joey Spiotto is an artist whose works are immediately recognizable.  He has his own whimsical take on characters fans know and love–unique, but much like comic book cover artist Skottie Young he makes popular characters his own.  Spiotto is well known for his parody covers for Little Golden Books–his Storytime series takes sci-fi, fantasy, and other pop culture favorites and uses a Muppet Babies-type change-up to show us characters as wee ones on the cover of their own little kids’ book.  He’s taken on every franchise from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator 2, Robocop, and Lost, to the Hamilton musical, from Mad Max: Fury Road, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, They Live, and Tron, to Donnie Darko.  How often do you see one series of anything include homages to both Mr. Rogers and Donnie Darko?  Individual prints of his Storytime series can be bought here and many have been compiled in his book available here at the artist’s Etsy store.

Now in stores is Spiotto’s latest book, Firefly–Back From the Black, a look at the characters of the fan favorite sci-fi series in the artist’s style and brand of humor.  A latecomer to the Firefly series, Spiotto counts himself a fan, and he shows it through his many obscure references in page after page of single panel drawings.  This is one where those who aren’t Firefly fans probably won’t understand what’s going on, but for those who are fans all the key characters are covered–spoofed, parodied, and maybe poked fun at more than a little bit.  You’ll find plenty of images of Jayne sporting his cunning hat, including one of his Mom sewing his hat for him–an off-screen scene every Firefly fan has imagined.  Fans of Spiotto’s first movie tie-in, 2015’s lovable look at Ridley Scott’s Aliens, Alien Next Door, will also like what the artist does here with the Firefly crew.  The kind of book you’d see getting as a Christmas stocking stuffer for those dreaming of a return of Firefly, or a nice add-in to a future Firefly Cargo Crate, Firefly–Back From the Black is now available here from Amazon.

   

Spiotto fans also have just under a day left to take advantage of the artist’s Kickstarter campaign to launch a compilation book of his High Fidelity series of prints–it’s fully funded, but some great deals and incentives are still available.  In this series he takes a similar twist on popular films and series as with his Storytime prints, but with High Fidelity the format is vintage 33 1/3 vinyl LP record album covers, and the characters become bands.

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