Tag Archive: Firefly


Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the year’s best military sci-fi novels awaits you in the next Gears of War tie-in novel, Gears of War: Bloodlines Author Jason M. Hough creates a gritty tale of an unthinkable mission by current lead game character and former Gear soldier Kait Diaz and a forgotten, impossible mission by her father, Lt. Colonel Gabriel Diaz.  The story begins in the future at war, after the destruction of Settlement 2.  Kait’s comrade J.D. Fenix is severely wounded.  While Kait awaits his outcome, she is approached by an old man who claims he fought with her father years ago.  The man slips her a secret file, which recounts a mission that determined the fate of her father, marked a turning point in his life, and may influence who she may become.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Now that everyone has seen it who likely was going to watch CBS All Access’s next Star Trek incarnation, Star Trek: Picard, it’s time to delve into the series.  If you haven’t yet, take advantage of the free CBS All Access offer while you can.  Series star Patrick Stewart has said he decided to bring his character back to the screen because of the role he performed for even more years than Picard–Charles Xavier in the X-Men series–specifically because of the strong finish he was able to give the character in James Mangold’s Oscar-nominated finale Logan, possibly Stewart’s strongest performance in his film and TV career opposite Old Man Logan as Old Man Charles.  Stewart succeeded, as Star Trek: Picard, already expecting at least another season, showcases the beloved character as Old Man Picard and wraps far better fans’ last meeting with not only Picard, but Data, Riker, and Troi, too.  And surprisingly it does that for Star Trek Voyager, specifically for Jeri Ryan′s Seven of Nine, who also had a rather anticlimactic finale in the last episode of that series.  Her new take is very different from before, but still lots of fun.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fifteen years after the last time we saw the crew of the Serenity, the next novel of Joss Whedon’s space Western universe is here to quench your thirst for more Firefly.  James Lovegrove’s third Firefly novel, The Ghost Machine, again takes place between the events of season one of the TV series and the Serenity film, but unlike his first two novels (Big Damn Hero, reviewed here, and The Magnificent Nine, reviewed here), which felt like movie prequels to the 2005 film, this new story feels like the next episode of the TV series.  It borrows a lot from the series, which will make Browncoats feel like they’re nestling back into familiar territory, while also tapping into tropes fans of science fiction will be familiar with.

The first act finds the crew on one of its trademark jobs to pick up for none other than Badger, the man in the bowler hat, certain strange cargo, that unknown quantity sealed in a can that we’ve seen the series pursue in episodes like The Train Job and The Message, and outside the stories of the ‘Verse in films like The Transporter (it’s not a person this time).  The second act reveals what is inside the crate with the Blue Sun label, which Captain Mal Reynolds ultimately decides is too risky to even take aboard his ship, and then wraps readers in a whirlwind of activity as the ramifications of the cargo are played out–sort of.  Recall that niggling feeling of the crew–and the viewers–from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect,” and the trapped in a parallel world vibe of the Voyager two-parter “The Killing Game” and dreamscape of “Bliss”?  But The Ghost Machine really kicks in with the third act, as everything you’ve read is taken to a different extreme, and a ticking clock propels the reader headlong into a gripping climax.  What will it take, and who is the right choice from the crew, to break the spell and reveal the truth behind this unusual Pandora’s jar?

Lovegrove, whose novels we’re reviewed previously here at borg–both from the world of Firefly and his Sherlock Holmes mysteries–is really good at endings, and that’s what makes this story a winner.  Along the way the author investigates each crew member’s ideal worlds–and their worst nightmares.  This is one of the darker tales from the Firefly ‘verse, on par with the episode “Objects in Space.”  Peppered throughout the novel, as you’d expect from anything sourced from the mind of Joss Whedon, who serves as consulting editor on these books, are the Easter eggs, particularly from the Western genre.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How many sci-fi and outer space tropes can you pack into one hour of TV?  You’ll find out in the first episode of Syfy’s new space fantasy series Vagrant Queen It’s like Firefly and The Fifth Element as if they were directed by Sam Raimi.  Star Wars elements meet Doctor Who aliens with effects that feel a lot like The Last Starfighter.  And humor that’s a cross of Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Or maybe it’s just sci-fi created by Canadians.  Whatever it is you’ll be all-in with the crew of the spaceship Winnipeg as it takes off into adventures in some galaxy out there that is… not ours.

Adriyan Rae (Atlanta) plays the scavenger Elida, a mix of Marvel’s Valkyrie and Rey from Star Wars, who stealthily has masked her former persona as Queen Eldaya, being pursued by the dreaded Republic, led by Commander Lazaro, played by Paul du Toit (remember Gary Oldman’s Zorg in The Fifth Element? He’s like that guy).  Tom Rozon (Lost Girl, Wynonna Earp) is Isaac, a frenemy from Elida’s past (part Han Solo or Jack Harkness or Lone Starr from Spaceballs or Bruce Campbell in… anything).  They come together with a Kaylee-inspired ship mechanic named Amae, played by Alex McGregor, to save a space station’s bartender, get a ship back, and rescue the queen.  And that’s just the first episode.

It’s light-hearted, campy fun a la Xena: Warrior Princess featuring a group of actors who seem to be competing to see who has the most fun.  It’s a little bit… everything… that you enjoy about space travel, with a cool lead like Killjoys and alien makeups reminiscent of Farscape.  Goofy banter and situations, you’ll find yourself calling out the inspiration from nearly every scene, beginning with an opening rif on The Mandalorian.  This is the escapism you’re looking for right now.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For every new movie you watch, you need to go back and see a classic, right?  If The Hunt for Red October is Star Trek in the ocean, then Outland is The Sand Pebbles in outer space.  A predecessor to science fiction staples like Total Recall, Blade Runner, and Firefly, Outland is still one of the best depictions of what life actually may be like working aboard a space vessel, once modern technology figures out how to get past that zero gravity issue.  Isolation rarely has been portrayed as believably as directed here by Peter Hyams (Timecop, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, The Star Chamber, Amazing Stories).  The 1981 Academy Award-nominated classic, Outland is now streaming on Starz, Hulu, Amazon, and Vudu.

Audiences never saw Sean Connery so average as he was playing Marshal William T. O’Niel.  In a very low-key role more frequently seen played by someone like Steve McQueen, Connery is a federal cop in space, assigned to the titanium ore mining outpost Con-Am 27.  He was selected because he was likely to phone in his job, and not ruffle feathers.  But he finds himself when he learns the outpost is a haven for drug smuggling and worse, using drugs to work crews to their deaths, all part of a cover-up.  The film’s own predecessors were any number of cop shows, and it has themes from Westerns, too, especially High Noon, another lone lawman trying to take out a local band of ruffians–and another man with marital problems.  Critics accused the film of being thin, but it’s exactly why the film works so well and holds up well still today.  In many ways the film is better, and even scarier, than Alien and Total Recall, proving you don’t need monsters to be truly alone and unprotected from life-threatening elements in space.

O’Niel’s only help is from Frances Sternhagen (Doc Hollywood, Cheers, The Closer) as Dr. Marian Lazarus, a no-nonsense crewman who is sympathetic to O’Niel as the newbie having to dodge the unfamiliar “way things are done.”  Dr. Lazarus is one of sci-fi’s least known but toughest sci-fi heroines, and her chemistry with Connery as comrade-at-arms is superb.  Another crew member is played by sci-fi and Western veteran James Sikking (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Hill Street Blues, Doogie Howser, MD), who would continue for decades to play similar roles.  And the baddie of the bunch is played by your favorite film Frankenstein, Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, Johnny Dangerously, The X-Files, Everybody Loves Raymond).

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Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best Books of 2019.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, the Best in Television 2019 here, and the Best Comics of 2019 here.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t print reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year:

Best Read, Best Fantasy Read, Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood (St. Martin’s Press).  The first book in one of the most read books of all time finally makes its way to the U.S. after its premiere in Great Britain.  Readers will learn why George Lucas pulled its concepts for his Skywalker saga, and why generations of Chinese fans of fantasy of flocked to its heroes and villains.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Read: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (Tor Books), The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers).

Best New Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Mystery Novel – The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  A truly literary work combining a smart Holmesian adventure and the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft.  Readers will love Lovegrove’s approach, Holmes and Watson’s journey, and all the creepy surprises.

Best Sci-Fi Novel, Best Thriller – The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (HarperCollins).  Wilson successfully conjured the spirit of Michael Crichton for this smart, creepy, and oddly current sci-fi sequel to The Andromeda Strain.  A cast of characters just like Crichton would have put together, and a must-read.

Best Franchise Tie-In Novel – Firefly: Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  One of the best authors around crafts a worthy story to expand the Firefly canon and give fans their own new movie of sorts for the franchise.  Runner-up: Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner (Titan Books).  Honorable Mention: Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska (Titan Books).

Best Retro Read – Mike Hammer: Murder, My Love, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books).  Collins continues to bring Spillane’s characters to life with thrilling prose and all the best pieces of noir drama and action.  Honorable mention: Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).

Best Genre Non-Fiction – Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow (Harry N. Abrams).  Bredow’s unique access to the production made for a rare opportunity in any production to see details of the filmmaking process.  Every movie should have such a great deep dive behind the scenes.  Honorable mention: The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books).

There’s much more of our selections for 2019’s Best in Print to go…

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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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The annual Star Wars Day, May the Fourth, is back again–an excuse to watch the movies again and meet up with friends and talk all things of a galaxy far, far away.  And again it is overlapping with Free Comic Book Day, a good excuse to visit your local comic book shop and get re-introduced to some series you may have missed.

You can’t beat the “gold line” of comics this year, with Jody Houser writing two free comics, Doctor Who and Stranger Things Jason Aaron serves as a writer on the Avengers issue (including a great Wolverine story), which is always a good FCBD title.  Archie Comics has a new Riverdale Season 3 FCBD story.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman is back writing the featured TMNT issue.  And fans of the Whedonverse won’t want to miss their copy of the BOOM! Studios twofer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, complete with a great cover by Moon Knight cover artist and Vampironica creator Greg Smallwood.  And for adults, Vampirella fans should check out its Issue #0/FCBD issue, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the character, complete with art by Bruce Timm and work by the late Forrest J. Ackerman.  Two other interesting titles for the older crowd worth checking out are Antarctic Press’s Punchline with great art by Matthew Weldon, and Shout Comics’ Midnight Sky.

 

The above issues are also good choices for kids, but some other titles are more targeted at the younger set including Casper the Ghost in Casper’s Spooksville.  Dear Justice League lets kids go one-on-one with their favorite superheroes.  Go Fish! is a great looking fish tale.  You can never go wrong with a new Little Lulu story.  Lumberjanes is back with another campfire story.  And last but not least, Star Wars Adventures is a great pick for any Star Wars fan this May the Fourth.

Take a look at some covers and previews to books available free (supplies may be limited) at Elite Comics or your local comic book shop today only:

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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

An overlooked 2018 sci-fi adventure mini-series is making its way to a trade collected edition tomorrow.  The six-issue story arc in Image Comics/Skybound’s Stellar is a mix of good sci-fi concepts and action-adventure imagery.  You’ll find big-eyed aliens similar in design to the villainous hunter Zando-Zans of The Last Starfighter, a rundown future world bent on destruction like in Firefly, fast-paced action and characters like that of Syfy’s Killjoys, and a lead heroine called Stellar who is stuck out of time, with a past and future hidden from her, evoking recent years’ Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel stories.

Writer Joseph Keatinge (PopGun, Shutter) takes on a surprisingly complex idea created by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) and Marc Silvestri (Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine) and delivers the kind of story that belongs in the graphic novel format.  Stellar moves from place to place, from time to time.  She pursues the evil Zenith, an alien monster she believes to be the cause of destruction in her future.  Or is he pursuing her?  She’s moving through time, encountering those who may be able to help her unravel the twisted time loop she seems to be stuck inside.

The pretty, futuristic stylings and color choices by artist Bret Blevins result in a standout read visually.  And Keatinge pulls elements in from all kinds of sci-fi stories to create uncertainty and doubt.  Readers will ask “what’s going on here?” more than once, with an ending that is both satisfying and interesting.  It’s not the kind of tale that needs a sequel, the complete story is right there.

Here are some preview pages of Stellar, courtesy of Image/Skyborne:

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