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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

Firefly: Life Signs Firefly
Life Signs
Written by James Lovegrove

(The page numbers come from the first printing, trade paperback edition, September 2022)


When the Serenity crew discover that the departed Inara is dying from a terminal illness, Mal decides they will stop at nothing to help her recover.


Notes from the Firefly/Serenity chronology


The events of this novel take place some time after the events of "Those Left Behind" Part 3 (when Inara leaves Serenity) and before "Triggered".


Didja Know?


The author, James Lovegrove, dedicates the book to Cat Camacho. Cat Camacho is a senior editor at Titan Books, the publisher of this novel. In Big Damn Hero, Lovegrove used this editor's name as the name of the owner of Camacho's Grain and Feed in the town of Seven Pines Pass on the planet Shadow. 


Characters appearing or mentioned in this novel 


General William Hubert Cole (mentioned only, deceased)


Desmond Rouleau (dies in this novel)

Durran Haymer (mentioned only)

Saffron (mentioned only)





Haymer's servant

Stanislaw L'amour


L'amour's majordomo



Oscar Navarre (mentioned only)

Shepherd Book

Dr. Esau Weng (dies in this novel)


Commander Victoria Levine (dies in this novel)

Levine's XO (dies in this novel)

Slugger driver

stubble-chinned man

scarred-face woman

Bartholomew O'Bannon (dies in this novel)

Meadowlark Deane (dies in this novel)

Gabriel Tam (mentioned only)

Regan Tam (mentioned only)

Otis (dies in this novel)

Ornery Annie

Tattoo Head


Badger (mentioned only)

Adelai Niska (mentioned only)

Lt. Womack (mentioned only)

Mattie Cobb (mentioned only)

Radiant Cobb (mentioned only)

Stevie (mentioned only)

Billie (mentioned only)

Georgia (mentioned only, deceased)

Commander Marvin Ransome (dies in this novel)

Commander Walton (mentioned only)

Commander Goldsmith (mentioned only)

unnamed shepherd on Salisbury (mentioned only, deceased)

shepherd's mistress (mentioned only)

bum (mentioned only, deceased)

Pops (dies in this novel)

Michael Pale Horse


Annie's father (mentioned only)

Belinda Hobhouse (dies in this novel)

Matilda Hobhouse (dies in this novel)

Hands of Blue agent (mentioned only)




Didja Notice?


The book opens with two quotes. The first is from a real world poem by Robert W. Service (1874-1958), "The Heart of the Sourdough". The second is a quote about war from the Browncoat General William Hubert Cole discussing the Battle of Serenity Valley; this is the first mention of General Cole in the 'Verse.


Page 8 mentions the town of Lonesome Rock on the planet Odessa near the Uroborus asteroid belt. This appears to be the first mention of Odessa. According to The 'Verse in Numbers, Uroborus is a large asteroid belt in the Blue Sun system.


On page 10, Mal learns that Durran Haymer has hired Rouleau to kill him. Haymer was a rich collector of Earth-That-Was antiquities on the planet Bellerophon and from whom Mal's crew stole the antique Lassiter laser pistol in "Trash".


Haymer's "wife", Yolanda, is more commonly known as Saffron by the Serenity crew from her appearances in regard to a few of their past adventures.


On page 11, Rouleau remarks that his knife is made from the finest Regina steel. Regina is a planet in the Georgia system of the 'Verse.


On page 15, Jayne is cradling Vera, the Callahan full-bore autolock rifle seen in a number of Jayne's adventures with the crew.


River's recitation of the myth of the ancient Greek hero Bellerophon on page 18 is correct.


On page 23, Mal receives a communication from Stanislaw L'Amour. The crew was previously assisted by him in The Magnificent Nine.


On page 24, Mal tells L'Amour that Inara is no longer on the crew because she went back to House Madrassa. House Madrassa is a training school for Companions on the planet Sihnon.


L'Amour reveals that Inara has a form of cancer and, at the time he contacts Serenity, she is estimated to have only about a month to live. In the 10th anniversary reunion special Firefly: Browncoats Unite, which aired on the Science Channel on Sunday, November 11, 2012, it was revealed that Inara had a terminal disease that would have been introduced into the storyline if the TV series had continued past its single season. There are hints in a couple of episodes that something may be wrong with her medically (such as Inara's response to Simon's lament in "Out of Gas" that he doesn't want to die on Serenity, where she says, "I don't want to die at all."). This novel finally clears up that dangling thread.


Inara says the cancer she has is Kiehl's myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer. It appears to be fictitious.


On page 34, Inara makes mention of a time a client of hers let slip a plan by the Independents for an offensive against the Alliance during the Unification War and gave away the location of a base at Fiddler's Green. Mal remarks that she already told him about it once. As far as I know, this earlier interchange is from an unrevealed previous occasion. Fiddler's Green is a moon of the gas giant Elphame in the 'Verse.


After seeing the bad shape Inara's in, Mal wants to smash something and eyes a sculpture of L'amour's by Oscar Navarre. This is the first mention of this apparently famed artist in the 'Verse.


On page 39, Zoe waves Shepherd Book on Haven. Book left Serenity after "Those Left Behind" Part 3.


On page 41, Shepherd Book remarks that maverick oncologist Dr. Esau Weng had contravened Alliance Medical Association rules in testing his alleged universal cancer therapy on living people and is serving a prison sentence. This is the first mention of the Alliance Medical Association in the 'Verse.


Dr. Weng is serving his life sentence on the prison planet Atata. This is the first mention of this world.


Simon remarks on having read about Dr. Weng in the Hippocratic Chronicle a couple years ago. This is the first mention of this magazine in the 'Verse.


On page 49, the list of the Eight Cold Hells of Buddhism given by River, as far as it goes, is accurate.


Commander Victoria Levine commands the Alliance Hornet-class corvette IAV Constant Vigilance. This is the first appearance of her and her ship. The other ships mentioned as part of the patrol around Atata are the Freedom to Choose, Madame Xiang's Dream, and The Forge of Vulcan. In The Magnificent Nine, Madame Xiang is said to have been the principal architect of the exodus from Earth-That-Was. The Forge of Vulcan is a reference to the god of fire and forge, Vulcan, in Roman mythology.


Page 58 states there are about 35,000 convicts on Atata.


When Commander Levine contacts the approaching Serenity, Mal identifies his ship as the Tranquility and himself as Captain Ray Malcolm.


L'Amour owns a transport company called L'Amour Lines.


On page 75, Simon explains that a terrafreak is a genetically anomalous species that can arise when terraforming on a planet does not work properly. In this case, he, Mal, Zoe, and Jayne have just seen a creature like an opossum with enormous ears on Atata. Later in the novel, they also encounter a pack of terrafreak wolves.


Pages 75-76 describe a tracked vehicle called a Slugger.


Meadowlark tells Simon she's was sentenced for her graffiti protests on Aberdeen. This planet was previously seen in Big Damn Hero.


On page 90, River describes her own brain as "wibbly-wobbly". This may be a nod by the author to the term often associated with the time travel adventures of the Doctor in the British TV series Doctor Who, "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey" affairs.


Wash uses the alias Jed Race when the Constant Vigilance stops them after Serenity/Tranquility leaves Atata.


Wash has set the audio alarm for the sensor that tells when an active weapons lock is on Serenity to the sound of a quacking duck.


On page 104, Wash performs an Immelmann maneuver with Serenity to lose the third missile bearing in on the ship. This is a half-loop and a half-roll out of it at the top, named for its inventor, Max Immelmann, a German WWI pilot.


On page 113, River takes over piloting Serenity from the injured Wash, telling Kaylee in the engine room, "I have the ship and I'm getting us the heck out of Dodge." The phrase "get out of Dodge" is generally attributed to the long-running (1955-1975) TV series Gunsmoke, a western set in Dodge City, Kansas.


On page 116, Mal reflects that he'd never spent time in jail, though he'd been in police custody a number of times, particularly after his youthful run-ins with Sheriff Bundy in his old hometown of Seven Pines Pass on Shadow. Bundy previously appeared in flashback in Big Damn Hero and was possibly the unnamed sheriff in flashback in "The Outlaw Ma Reynolds".


On page 122, in Correctional Unit #23, Mal sees one inmate applying a tattoo to another using a paperclip and ink of what he guesses is probably a mixture of soot and shampoo. Soot and shampoo is an actual improvised ink used in real world prisons for illegal tattooing.


Meadowlark tells Simon she is from Salisbury. This is a world in the Kalidasa system of the 'Verse.


On page 134, Simon reflects that if he had a motto he tried to live by, it was "Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated." This is also known as the Golden Rule, dating back to the time of Confucius (551–479 BCE), if not longer.


After the confrontation with the Constant Vigilance, River hides Serenity in the debris of an old Leviathan-class freighter wreck in space far out from Atata. This is the first mention of the Leviathan-class. Later in the novel, the freighter is named as Angel of Enterprise.


On page 162, Annie tells Zoe she used to be with the Independents' 42nd Skylancers.


Zoe tells Annie she was sentenced for continued insurgency against the Alliance after the end of the Unification War, as a member of the Dust Devils. We learned Zoe had once been a member of this organization in "Better Days" Part 3. Annie remarks that the Dust Devils were known for setting off a bomb at the Unification Congress on Beylix, hitting a Blue Sun munitions plant on Lilac, and taking out a Fed refueling base on Bernadette.


Before meeting Mr. O'Bannon, Zoe mentally compares him to other criminal types she knew like Badger, Niska, and Womack. These are all male criminals the Serenity crew has encountered in previous adventures (Womack a corrupt Alliance lieutenant).


Seeing how attracted Meadowlark is to Simon, Jayne refers to Simon as Romeo on page 175.  This is, of course, a reference to the character of Romeo in Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet.


The "Mr. O'Bannon" who runs Correctional Unit #23 (Hellfreeze) has the full name of Bartholomew O'Bannon.


On page 178, O'Bannon quotes the Bible as saying, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." This is from Hebrews 13:2.


On page 179, Zoe tells O'Bannon she could become his MVP. This stands for "Most Valuable Player."


On page 200, Mal remarks to Zoe that Wash is a heck of a pilot and she responds, "He is, until the day he's persuaded to do something totally reckless and his luck runs out." This is likely meant as a retroactive foreshadowing of Wash's crash landing death in "Living Weapon".


As Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Simon, and Meadowlark push the Slugger through the snow, the ordeal is described as a Herculean labor. This refers to the mythical Twelve Labours of Hercules in Roman mythology.


On page 306, Kaylee tells River she needs at least a couple more hours to get the ship space-able again, but River says they don't have that long until the IAVs' search pattern finds them and she asks Kaylee to make it an hour. Kaylee responds, "I'm an engineer, River, not a miracle worker. But okay, I'll try." Her response seems to be a combination of Dr. McCoy ("I'm a doctor, not a...") and Chief Engineer Scott (known as a miracle worker in the engine room) on the TV series Star Trek.


On page 307, River wonders if she would replace Wash's dinosaurs on the helm console if she became official pilot of Serenity. Then she wonders why she would ever think about becoming the pilot. It seems she is having a premonition of Wash's death in the not too distant future (in "Living Weapon").


On page 318, River recalls Zoe once saying, "If you're in a jam, the best course of action is think what Mal Reynolds would do and then do the exact opposite."


The Kessler syndrome River plans to use to create a cover of debris to cloud Serenity's escape from the IAVs is an actual theory that was proposed by American astrophysicist Donald Kessler in 1978.


Page 327 states that River is a trained ballerina. The Ghost Machine reveals that her ballet teacher was Madame de Tocqueville. The moves of pirouette, jeté, and entrechat mentioned are actual ballet dance moves. "Reel and hornpipe and gavotte" are real world non-ballet dance styles.


On page 357, Meadowlark lists all the planets she's been on where she killed people she determined were liars. All of these worlds (Salisbury, Deadwood, Whitefall, Jiangyin, and Aberdeen) have been seen or mentioned in this or previous stories.


Simon and Kaylee share their first kiss on page 392.


At the end of the novel, Inara has been cured of Kiehl's myeloma and decides to recuperate at L'Amour's estate and then return to House Madrossa for a time and then, possibly, return to Serenity.


Chinese translations
Page # Chinese English
16 Mal refers to Rouleau as a gè zhēn de hún dàn gè zhēn de hún dàn = "genuine bastard"
29 Inara says, "tian xiao de" "name of all that's sacred"
32 Inara says, "ren ci de fo zu" "benevolent Buddha"
32 Mal says, "Buddhist le se" "Buddhist garbage"
36 L'amour treats Mal to a bottle of Jinse De Mengxiang single malt. Jinse De Mengxiang is Chinese for "Golden Dream".
44 Mal says, "Da xiang bao zha shi de la du zi." "An elephant's explosive diarrhea."
92 Kaylee says, "Tā mā de!" Essentially means, "Oh, fuck!"
103 Wash says, "wo de ma he ta de feng kuang de wai sheng" "holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews"
106 The XO says, "qing wa cao de liu mang" "frog-humping son of a bitch"
109 Kaylee exclaims, "Ti wo de pi gu." "Kick me in the butt."
144 Mal says, "gou shi". crap
160 Zoe says, "gou shi". crap
165 Annie says, "gou shi". crap
175 Simon tells Jayne, guan ne zi de shi "mind your own business"
197 Mal says, "Tai kong suo you de xing qiu dou sai jin wo de pi gu." "All the planets in space are stuffed up my ass."
246 Zoe says, "Gorramn bai chi." bai chi=idiot
248 Zoe says, "Ye su, ta ma de..." "Jesus, fucking..."
257 Wash says, "Da xiang bao zha shi de la du zi." "An elephant's explosive diarrhea."
258 Wash says, "gou shi". crap
267 Simon refers to River as his mei mei. mei mei=little sister
315 Commanders Ransome and Levine both say, cao ni ma. A slang expression meaning "fuck your mother."
323 Ransome calls Levine a bu hui hen de po fu "remorseless harridan"
327 Kaylee exclaims, "Wang ba dan de biao zi." "Bastard bitch."
332 Levin refers to Ransome as liu kou shui de biao zi he hou zi de ben er zi "stupid son of a drooling whore and monkey "
333 Wash says, "Zhe zhen shi ge kuai le de jin zhan." "What a happy development."
352 Mal hisses, "Gu yang zhong de gu yang." "Motherless goat of all motherless goats."
380 Annie realizes everything has turned to gou shi. crap
390 Simon refers to River as his mei mei. mei mei=little sister


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