The Firefly series of books is the closest we will ever get to living in a world where the TV series wasn't canceled after just one season. Each book feels like a new episode of the show and Life Signs is the best one so far. Inara has not been aboard Serenity for a few books now and we finally find out why. Inara is dying. She has a terminal illness, Kiehl’s Myeloma, which is an incurable form of cancer and she has little time left. Therefore, she finally decides to let the crew of Serenity in on her secret and say goodbye. Of course this is devastating news to Mal and hard for him to accept. So hard, in fact, that he is willing to risk his own life, and the lives of his crew, on an impossible mission to save her. Mal decides that the crew needs to travel to an Alliance prison planet and break out a disgraced scientist on the slim chance that he might be able to help Inara. Pure madness.
James Anderson Foster
This one gets off to a strange start. You will be witnessing a series of ill events, each of which befalls the next person to come into possession of a mysterious star map. That cursed map changes hands often, and in doing so claims many a victim. The map itself is not even readable by any who are unfortunate enough to own it. That remains true until Captain Malcolm Reynolds manages to win it in a card game on an Outer Rim moon. Of course trouble follows anyone who owns the map, and things are no different for Mal once he takes possession; however, he does have an advantage that the previous owners did not. That advantage is River Tam. River claims that the map reveals the location of one of the legendary Arks, ancient generational ships that traveled from Earth-That-Was to the Verse, and carried humanity across the stars with them. Everyone living in the Verse is a descendent of those that came on the those ships and the technology that made it possible no longer exists. That means if River is right then the salvage potential of finding such a ship is enormous. This looks like it could be the big score the crew has been waiting for; however, River isn't telling the entire truth. There is something else waiting at the end of that map, something the Alliance wants kept secret at all costs.
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.
In the first book of the series, Firefly: Big Damn Hero we got a glimpse of Shepherd Book's mysterious background before he became a man of the cloth, and this time around we get a lot more than just a glimpse of the past of the man they call Jayne. Jayne's past catches up to him when an old flame, Temperance. reaches out to him in dire need of assistance. Her small town on a dusty planet in the middle of nowhere is under threat from a band of thugs and she is desperate enough to reach out to Jayne even though they didn't part on good terms. This does sound like a job for Jayne but he also knows he can't go it alone so the entire crew winds up risking their lives for someone they don't even know. Not to mention this isn't even a paying gig.
I have never had a desire to delve into the plethora of books related to existing sci-fi franchises, like Star Trek or Star Wars, but Firefly's cancellation remains such a sore spot for me that I couldn't resist a chance to experience more of the characters I fell in love with and didn't get enough of. Big Damn Hero is the first novel set in the world of the short-lived TV series created by Joss Whedon and it reads like it could easily have been an episode of the series. Set in a time before the movie Serenity, as evidenced by all of the characters being present, Big Damn Hero offers up a chance for you to return to the Verse and spend more time with Mal and the crew as they try to make a living under the watchful eye of the Alliance.