Titan Books’ bold experiment of a fresh series of original Firefly prose novels is peppering our planet with a meteor storm of thrilling adventures, expanding Joss Whedon’s ‘Verse since the first release hurtled into our orbit back in November.
The second starbound novel, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, is inspired by the cult space western and again written by The New York Times bestselling writer James Lovegrove, with Joss Whedon acting as consulting editor. Arriving on Mar. 26, this rousing tale takes place between the beloved short-lived TV series and the 2005 movie Serenity, and SYFY WIRE has roped in an exclusive chapter excerpt and a saddle-bag of insight from its author.
The charming plot finds our charismatic Captain Mal Reynolds in a terrible fix. He’d love nothing more than to find respectable smuggling work that remains under the Alliance’s vigilant radar and keeps the good ship Serenity up amid the stars. But when an old romantic entanglement of Jayne Cobb’s sends a cosmic cry for help screaming across the galaxy, his faithful crew suddenly has other ideas.
On the remote, arid world of Thetis, the vicious bandit Elias Vandal is threatening to victimize the town of Coogan’s Bluff with his trigger-happy army. He wants control of the most precious resource standing between its citizens and dusty ruin: their water supply.
When the Serenity crew land at the forlorn desert outpost, they discover two things: a fearless outlaw gang who will stop at nothing to gain their watery desires and that Jayne’s former flame, Temperance, is a single mom raising a teenage daughter, born nine months after she and Jayne separated. A daughter named Jane McCloud.
With The Magnificent Nine, Lovegrove tried to channel all the elements he loves about the Western genre, with a nod to the classic film, The Magnificent Seven, while staying true to the cherished characters and lore of Firefly.
“The story is very Jayne-centric, and that’s on purpose, because Jayne is a terrific character to write,” Lovegrove tells SYFY WIRE. “He says what he thinks, and he does what he reckons is best for Jayne Cobb and no one else. That kind of straightforwardness is refreshing, and it means that even though he may not be the sharpest tool in the box, he has an edge. The story delves into his past and presents him with a dilemma that can’t necessarily be solved by gunplay and the application of brute force.”
Lovegrove promises that although this plotline revolves around Jayne, everyone else gets their moment to be shiny too.
“There’s one scene of River badassery I’m especially pleased with. Firefly is, above all else, about family,” he adds. “Serenity’s crew are one big rambunctious, makeshift family. Like any family, they don’t always get along but they’re always there for one another when it counts. For Jayne, however, the meaning of family takes on a whole new dimension…”
Now gather ’round the cosmic campfire for an exclusive chapter excerpt from Titan Books’ Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove and let us know if you’ll hitch your star to this latest Firefly prose novel when it arrives Mar. 26.
“Quite a rumpus we have going on here,” said Shepherd Book, entering the cargo bay. With him were Kaylee Frye and River’s brother, Simon. Moments earlier these three had been in the dining area playing Tall Card, and Simon had been losing badly. For a holy man, Derrial Book was a remarkably good bluffer, while Kaylee’s winsome, heart-shaped face masked a deviousness which she wouldn’t have dreamed of using to her advantage except when it came to something harmless like a card game. It didn’t help Simon— but helped Kaylee a lot—that he was besotted with her. He had been losing hands to her pretty much on purpose, just so she’d like him that bit more.
“What seems to be the problem?” Book continued. His warm baritone voice was so mellow and reasonable, you could easily imagine yourself sitting up and paying attention as he delivered a sermon in church, and not just that but enjoying it.
“Her,” said Jayne. “Hat.” He had gotten himself so fired up, he was having trouble getting his words out.
“Jayne’s got a burr under his saddle ’bout River wearing his chapeau,” said Mal.
“You’re her gorramn brother,” Jayne sputtered to Simon. “You know better’n any of us how she works. Can’t you just, I dunno, switch her off or somethin’?”
“She’s not some machine, Jayne,” Zoë chastised.
“She was, we’d have dumped her out the airlock a long time ago,” Jayne muttered.
“River? River?” Simon Tam approached his sister, hands held out pacifyingly. Much as he loved River, he was also wary of her. The sinister medical experimentation that had been carried out on her at the Academy—the Alliance’s bogus school for gifted students, from which Simon had rescued her—had left River very different from the girl he had grown up with. At times he scarcely recognized her. At times she even frightened him.
River paused briefly in her dance to fix Simon with a penetrating gaze. Those large brown eyes of hers didn’t just look at him. They seemed to look into him, as though she knew his every secret. Then she whirled away from him, resuming the sequence of sinuous, athletic moves which, in another life, could have earned her a place in any ballet corps on the central planets.
“River!” Simon called out, vainly. His sister was sunk in some strange fugue state, beyond the reach of his influence.
He turned to Jayne with a hapless expression on his face. Jayne’s fingers were twitching. He looked of a mind to come up onto the catwalk and settle things with his fists. Simon gulped, thinking that in the event of him and Jayne engaging in fisticuffs, one of them would end up bruised, battered, bloodied and quite probably unconscious, and it would not be Jayne.
To Simon’s relief, Inara Serra now arrived on the scene. It seemed that even all the way over in her shuttle, which was docked snugly on Serenity’s starboard flank, she had been able to hear the furor in the cargo bay.
Simon felt that Inara, as a Companion, pretty much the epitome of tact and poise, would surely be able to soothe tensions in the cargo bay. Not for nothing was she nicknamed “the Ambassador” by the crew. She was as subtle in the ways of understanding people’s characters as she was skilled in the arts of bringing physical pleasure.
Inara took in the situation at a glance.
“River,” she said, and immediately River halted. “My love, that hat does not go with that dress.”
“I could have told her that,” said Kaylee.
Book looked at her.
“What?” Kaylee protested. “Just because I wear overalls all day, doesn’t mean I don’t know fashion.”
“Why not take it off?” Inara continued. “I’m sure, if you came to my shuttle, we could find you something more suitable.”
River gave a quirky smile. “They can’t even look at each other sometimes. It gets so it’s what they don’t say is more important than what they do. They’re two suns in a binary system, orbiting each other. Both bright, both brilliant. But they’re going to burn out on each other if they don’t ever get together, and it may be too late anyway.”
River was prone to making oblique announcements like this. Inara frowned, as though she did not understand what River was saying. A quick reflex glance in Mal’s direction, however, suggested that she did.
“The hat, River,” she said. “Jayne’s upset that you’ve got it. Give it back to him, and then you can carry on dancing to your heart’s content.”
River weighed up the proposition. Then she grasped the catwalk railing and hurdled over, landing on the cargo bay floor below as lightly as a cat. She strode across to Jayne, plucking the woolen hat from her head. She held it out to him.
Jayne hesitated, looking at River askance, suspecting a trick. He snatched the hat off her, clutching it close to his chest.
“‘Thank you,’” said River, like a schoolteacher reminding her class to mind their manners.
“Thank you,” Jayne intoned grudgingly, wondering why he should be the one to have to show gratitude.
“This is what happens when we spend too long off-planet with too little to do,” Inara said to Book.
“Captain Reynolds says we’re ‘between jobs,’” Book replied.
“What most other people would call ‘unemployed.’”
Book nodded. “Let’s stick with ‘between jobs.’ We should give the man a fig leaf of dignity.”
River was still standing in front of Jayne, staring up at him. Then, seemingly apropos of nothing, she said, “She wasn’t ever yours.”
“Who wasn’t ever mine?” said Jayne, taken aback.
River’s voice was soft and toneless, akin to that of someone half-asleep. “She never belonged to you.”
“Mal,” said Jayne out of the side of his mouth. “Girl’s talking crazy. Again. I don’t like it.”
River reached up and tenderly stroked Jayne’s cheek. “But you should treat her like she does.”
Then she pivoted away, disappearing off to the passenger quarters as swiftly and fluidly as her namesake.
The silence that followed was broken by a voice over the ship’s comm.
“Good day to you all, my merry band of shipmates. This is Hoban Washburne, your dashingly handsome yet surprisingly modest pilot. We’re receiving a wave. Originating from a private sourcebox on Thetis. Recorded message. It’s been pinging back and forth across the Cortex for some while, node to node, to judge by the delivery path record. Named recipient is one Jayne Cobb.”
“Jayne?” said Mal. “You been expecting a wave?”
“Not as I know of.”
“Named sender,” Wash continued, “is one Temperance McCloud.”
“Temperance who now? I don’t know no…” Then Jayne’s face paled. “Nah. Nah, it couldn’t be.”
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Zoë observed.
Jayne nodded noncommittally, as though he had not really heard what she said.
“Presume you’d like it patched through to your bunk,” said Wash. “Doing that now. Beep! Thank you for choosing Washburne Telecommunications Incorporated. We appreciate your custom.”
Jayne, still clutching his hat, hurried off.
“Sir, any idea who this Temperance McCloud is?” a bemused Zoë asked Mal.
Serenity’s captain shook his head. “Not a notion. But seeing how spooked Jayne is right now just from hearin’ that name, I got me a powerful hankering to find out.”