Tag Archive: space Western


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

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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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

Maybe you don’t need the Old West to have a great Western after all.  Bringing back the feel of the first third of the original Star Wars: A New Hope with a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid level of fun and humor, Solo: A Star Wars Story is finally in theaters with something for every Star Wars fan.  The saloons may be different and so are the sidearms, but this is the story of a young gunfighter, complete with the related outlaws and mercenaries, partners and betrayals, card playing, and gunfights.  With the sweeping adventure of The Empire Strikes Back, the perfectly rebuilt and repackaged nostalgia of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and a jumping off point for a galaxy of possibilities for beloved characters we only thought we knew, director Ron Howard delivers.  Not weighted down by the gloom and doom of the Dark Side in Rogue One or the rest of the Star Wars films, this Star Wars story creates new and original locations and situations for a few familiar characters plus many new ones and still ties into the overall episodic stories, taking place after Revenge of the Sith, but before Star Wars Rebels and Rogue One.  Yet we meet many new characters and questions are raised in the film that beg for one or more sequels to this branch off the main Star Wars saga–we can now have many new tie-in novels, comics, TV series, and maybe even movies to keep it all going.  If you didn’t think The Last Jedi captured the nostalgia or fun of earlier Star Wars films, then Solo is for you–not since The Empire Strikes Back has an entry in the saga been such a rollercoaster ride.

Surprises?  In a film that could have just filled in the blanks, the surprises were dished out from beginning to end, including some big ones we won’t mention here.  The overall tone is something out of Amazing High Adventure, and it makes perfect sense: It’s Silverado in space.  Screenplay writer Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the screenplay with son Jonathan Kasdan), known for writing Westerns Silverado and Wyatt Earp, prior Star Wars entries The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, and that greatest of adventure movies Raiders of the Lost Ark, was the perfect match to veteran director and movie icon Ron Howard.  The Western inspiration is supported visually in the Frederic Remington-inspired colors and landscapes.  You can spot the World War II movie references along the way, too, that Kasdan and Howard no doubt enjoyed as moviegoers over the years, like Von Ryan’s Express.  The relationships between characters evoke gangster movies and even pirate tales like Treasure Island.  Science fiction fans will see parallels to Han’s band of mercenaries in both the crew of the Ghost in Star Wars Rebels and Joss Whedon’s Serenity crew in the Firefly television series.

The Kasdans smartly injected those scenes every fan has thought about, pulled from passing references throughout the original trilogy to become fully realized plot threads, and then they folded in so much more.  Without the religion and mysticism of the Force, Solo: A Star Wars Story breaks the precedents of the saga as space fantasy to become arguably the first end-to-end science fiction movie of the franchise.  And it’s not just a fun movie.  Viewers will get plenty to think about.  Characters here are sometimes swapped into positions taken by other characters (and beasts) in prior movies in a way that will make moviegoers want to take another look at the prior films again.

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