Mal and crew have taken a transport job from Badger and something about it doesn't feel quite right. They need to pick up an unknown crate from a distant planet and deliver it to Badger on a tight schedule, no questions asked. However, Mal does have questions and he plans to ask them. When they finally arrive at the pickup point a little bit late, it puts both sides on edge. When Mal asks the other group what's in the crate it just escalates the situation. The well armed individuals with the crate aren't talking and their guns are ready to back up their silence. Mal's gut tells him this is a bad deal so he decides they need to pull out. Then in a very Firefly fashion, one thing leads to another and it all goes sideways. Mal's instincts were right, but they were also too late, as the Ghost Machine is already starting to affect him and the crew and they may not survive the experience.
The nature of the Ghost Machine is that it creates alternate realities based on a person's deepest desires and worst fears. Then it engulfs those people into a custom artificial world and they no longer experience the real one. These artificial worlds allow us to gain insight into the deepest desires and fears of our favorite Firefly crew members, but since the circumstances aren't real it just doesn't carry the same impact as a normal story would have. Any reason to spend more time in the Verse is still a good time, so who can complain about that, but you could just as easily skip this book and happily continue on in the series without it. It's good, but not great, so I am hoping the next book in the series returns to the level of the prior books which were both better than this one.
For the audiobook version James Anderson Foster continues to do the same excellent job bringing these beloved characters to life so listening is a good option as well.