Book Review: Firefly, Big Damn Heroes, by Nancy Holder & James Lovegrove.

HOT TAKE: Getting canceled was the best thing that happened to Firefly.

firefly box set

And yeah, it sucked for the cast and crew that Fox screwed them over, but that’s Hollywood for you. At least Nathan Fillion’s still getting cast in stuff, right? But the irony is, since Firefly was a scant 13 episodes (and later a movie), Firefly is a really easy show to get into. Add in a ton of quotable dialogue from a talented, charismatic cast, and you’re set. If Firefly had lasted three or four seasons, I dare say it would’ve lapsed into mediocrity– and perhaps obscurity, destined for early-afternoon reruns on Comet TV or something. I mean, there’s a reason nobody goes around quoting Dollhouse.

So whenever somebody starts going “bring back Firefly!” I just kind of shrug and move on– as honestly, I don’t want more episodes of Firefly. Sometimes you just gotta let things go, y’know? Not to mention we’re living in a golden age of sci-fi/fantasy television, to the point where the latest goings on in a swords & dragons TV show is front-page news.

This said, I actually rather enjoyed Firefly, and still have the box-set sitting on my DVD shelf. And when I stumbled across Big Damn Hero (or is it Firefly: Big Damn Hero?) at the library, I got curious. I was in the mood for something light, and … well, here we are.


And, uh. Here’s the thing.

Big Damn Hero isn’t very good.

A lot of it comes from the fact that the stuff that made Firefly work as a show were things that are really hard to convey in text: cool visuals and chemistry between the cast members. On top of that, the Firefly universe never really bothered explaining itself– just how big is the Verse, exactly? And how does interplanetary travel actually work? If everyone’s swearing in Mandarin, where are the Asian people?  It’s the sort of thing you can sorta handwave away on a short-run TV show, but there are certain questions even the fluffiest of space operas need to figure out.

On top of that, James Lovegrove doesn’t put his best foot forward with the writing. The prose is clunky and cliche ridden, and the authors make it a point to work in references to the TV show in just about every chapter. So they mention Jayne’s hat (repeatedly), Kaylee’s dress (repeatedly), and work in other none-too-subtle bits that refer to every episode of Firefly. Well, except for that one ep where space-rednecks capture Simon and try to burn River as a witch– or, wait, that’s the ep the book’s title comes from. Dang. And the real kicker is, Lovegrove can write better than this– his xenophobic vampire novel Redlaw wasn’t exactly good, but at least it had a whole bunch of novel ideas.

Sidenote: Big Damn Hero is notably set between the end of the Firefly TV show, but before the movie, so certain characters are still alive and kicking. Which is fine, I guess, especially if you like those characters– but it also means the book doesn’t really have anywhere to go.

Though to their credit, Lovegrove & Holder try to add a little bit to the Firefly canon– in a couple of flashbacks to Mal Reynolds’ teenage years. Yeeeah. Oh, and spoiler alert, but there’s a dead love interest in there. Because of course there is. Go ahead and roll your eyes in unison with me now.

In any case, the plot of Big Damn Hero revolves around Mal getting captured by a bunch of other former Browncoats who accuse him of treason for, uh … reasons. The rest of the crew faffs around trying to find him for most of the book, until they finally do, and rescue him. Weee. There’s also some business with a load of volatile space-nitroglycerin, mostly thrown in so there’s a big explosion at the end.

One of my biggest problems with Big Damn Hero is that it keeps separating the characters– Mal gets captured and spends most of the book with a bag over his head and/or inside a jail cell, and the rest of the crew splits up in ones and twos as they go in various directions to track him down. Considering the reason people love Firefly is because they love to watch the characters bounce off of each other, this is a huge mistake. Sure, there’s nine main characters to juggle, which is a challenge for an author, but at least they all fall into neat archetypes so they’re easy to work with, y’know?

It’s easy to write off books like Big Damn Hero as ‘glorified fanfiction,’ but … well, that’s kind of what tie-in fiction is. But honestly, the terrible irony is, I am dead certain that you could find far better, far more entertaining Firefly fanfiction without too much trouble. And not just the sexy kind of fanfics where Inara and Kaylee have a slumber party or something.

But yeah. Unless you are the hardest-core of Browncoats, avoid Big Damn Hero. It doesn’t capture the magic of the show– and heck, it’s not even cringingly bad in the manner of a lot of the schlock I’ve read. It’s just … boring.

And sometimes “boring” is worse than “awful.”


  1. I’d agree that being canceled quickly gave Firefly, for lack of a better word, a “martyrdom” value that it wouldn’t have gotten if it had stayed a few seasons. It’s the same reason why Preston Tucker inspired an underdog story movie while Henry Kaiser’s more successful (for a time) attempt to enter the auto business didn’t.

  2. L. Raymond

    I’ve just begun reading back through your posts and having hit on this one – and seeing you’ve mention Steven Brust’s work in such glowing terms – I was wondering if you knew he has written a Firefly novel:

    I’m always one to plug his work when I can.

    Out of curioisty, what used book stores do you favor? I used to know of a dozen or so to visit while living in Alief, but I am a bit out of touch right now and would love a few pointers, assuming you don’t just hit the bargain shelves at Half Price.

    • I used to go to a place up on Highway 6 that had a pretty solid selection of old sci-fi, but that place closed a couple years ago.

      And, uh, here’s a secret: I kiiiiinda don’t live in Houston anymore. Oops. But at least there’s always Half Price?

  3. L. Raymond

    I totally understand you wanting to keep the glamor of having a rep for living in Houston, so I won’t tell. And I do hope you enjoy Brust’s Firefly book.

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