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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

Firefly: The Ghost Machine Firefly
The Ghost Machine
Written by James Lovegrove

(The page numbers come from the first printing, trade paperback edition, April 2021)


A prototype pacification device made by Blue Sun incapacitates the crew of Serenity, leaving each trapped in their own hallucinated fantasies of life that turn to nightmares.


Notes from the Firefly/Serenity chronology


    The events of this novel take place sometime after Inara and Shepherd Book have left Serenity, so it presumably takes place shortly after the events of "Those Left Behind" Part 3.

   Page 93 of this novel implies that the story takes place a few weeks after the events of The Magnificent Nine, but that doesn't leave much time for a whole passel of events in the chronology that should take place in between. However, Wash's musings of "a few weeks back" that suggest this timeline occur while he is hallucinating due to the effects of the Ghost Machine, so his estimate of "a few weeks" may be said to be a bit off.


Characters appearing or mentioned in this novel 


Hoyt Koestler (dies in this novel)



Callum Trinder, Jr. (dies in this novel)

Callum Trinder, Sr. (mentioned only, deceased)

Cicero "Nine Toes" O'Malley (dies in this novel)



Inara (in Mal's hallucination only)

Shepherd Book (mentioned only)



Radiant Cobb (in Jayne's hallucination only)

Matty Cobb (in Jayne's hallucination only)



Stanislaw L'Amour (mentioned only)

Celeste (mentioned only, child of Wash and Zoe in Wash's hallucination)

Ulysses and Uriah (mentioned only, baby twin children of Wash and Zoe in Wash's hallucination)

Aloysius Frye (in Kaylee's hallucination only, deceased)

Jemima Frye (mentioned only, deceased)

Earnest MacMurray (mentioned only)

Gabriel Tam (in Simon's hallucination only)

Regan Tam (in Simon's hallucination only)

Grampa Tam (in Simon's hallucination only)

Nana Tam (in Simon's hallucination only)

Silas Buckingham (in Simon's hallucination only)

Zelda Buckingham (in Simon's hallucination only)

Holden Buckingham (in Simon's hallucination only)

Aunt Isabelle (in Simon's hallucination only)

Cordelia Buckingham (in Simon's hallucination only)

Flavia Buckingham (in Simon's hallucination only)

Bryce Tam (in Simon's hallucination only)

Audrey or Aurora or something like that (in Simon's hallucination only)

Madame de Tocqueville (mentioned only, in Simon's hallucination)

Jip (Matty's dog, in Jayne's hallucination only)

Gospel Cobb (in Jayne's hallucination only)

Beavertail gang (in Jayne's hallucination only)

Samadhi Serra-Reynolds (in Mal's hallucination only)

Jackson Serra-Reynolds (in Mal's hallucination only)

Atherton Wing (mentioned only, in Wash's hallucination)

Marnie (in Zoe's hallucination only)

Katrina (in Zoe's hallucination only)

Shepherd Driscoll (mentioned only, in Kaylee's hallucination)

Chad-Michael Wu (mentioned only, in Jayne's hallucination)

Adelai Niska

Master DaSilva (in Mal's hallucination only)

Reavers (in Mal's hallucination only)

Caleb Dahl (in Kaylee's hallucination only)

Wilhelmina Ascot (mentioned only, in Wash's hallucination)

Sir Warwick Harrow (mentioned only, in Wash's hallucination)

Durran Haymer (in Wash's hallucination only)

Colonel Hiram Tregarvon (in Zoe's hallucination only)

Hannah Hsiao (in Zoe's hallucination only)

Butcher of Beylix (Derrial Book, in Zoe's hallucination only)

Bester (mentioned only, in Mal's hallucination)

Ottoline Beavertail (in Jayne's hallucination only)

Mr. Calabash (an alias for Caleb Dahl in Kaylee's account records, in Kaylee's hallucination only)

Mrs. Darlington (an alias for Caleb Dahl in Kaylee's account records, in Kaylee's hallucination only)

Evans (in Kaylee's hallucination only)

Gerard (in Kaylee's hallucination only)

Jared (in Jayne's hallucination only)

Nate (in Jayne's hallucination only)




Didja Notice?


On the book's dedication page, Lovegrove includes a quote from The Tempest. This is a play written by William Shakespeare. In the final chapter of the novel itself, River will quote the entire stanza the line is from.


After they've finished business with Mal, Hoyt and his men plan to drink at Mama Rosebud's on Canterbury. This appears to be the first mention of both the world of Canterbury and Mama Rosebud's bar.


    Page 15 loosely relates that Shepherd Book has left Serenity to set up residency at a settlement on Haven and Inara has returned to House Madrassa on Sihnon, where she had been trained as a Companion. No mention is made that the Haven settlement was essentially established by Serenity's crew as a safe place for a number of their acquaintances who bristle under Alliance authority in the "Blue Sun Rising" storyline of the BOOM! Studios Firefly comic book. Most of the crew stays behind on Haven, at least temporarily, at the end of that storyline in "Blue Sun Rising" Part 7, with only Mal, Jayne, Kaylee, and Leonard Chang-Benitez, staying on the ship to answer the call of adventure. Even Inara stays on Haven at that point, not going to Sihnon yet.

   But the gang is all together again aboard Serenity by the time of "Those Left Behind" Part 1, with Inara preparing to leave "for good" (which she does in "Those Left Behind" Part 3). Also in "Those Left Behind" Part 3, Shepherd Book informs Mal that he is leaving Serenity, setting up his absence from the ship and residency on Haven. These two leavings set up the situation aboard Serenity just as seen in the Serenity feature film (beginning in "Triggered").


On page 24, Hoyt tells Mal the case he's to deliver to Badger is from a Blue Sun research facility outside of Riverbend, a city on Canterbury.


On page 30, Hoyt says that Mal "has a solid pair of brass cojones" on him. Cojones is a Spanish term for "testicles".


On page 36, Mal reminds Jayne of the time he nearly dumped him out Serenity's airlock. This occurred in "Ariel".


On page 57, Mal says, "Et tu, Wash?" Et tu is Latin for "and you". Mal also asked this exact same question in The Magnificent Nine.


On page 63, Inara's old shuttle on Serenity still has the faint smell of incense in it, roses and what Mal guesses might be patchouli. Patchouli is a flowering plant native to the Southeast Asian islands.


On page 65, Mal reflects on River's presence on Serenity and whether he can find a suitable role for her to fulfill on the ship. At the end of "Living Weapon", she'll become the ship's pilot after the loss of Wash.


On page 85, Badger asks Mal why he hasn't received word from Hoyt about the cargo pick-up, "...not a gorramn dicky bird." "Dicky bird" is British slang for "word", from the term "dicky bird" used to describe any little, cheeping bird.


On page 90, Wash steers Serenity into the shadow of a moon to mask the ship from the sensors of a passing I.A.V. cruiser. I.A.V. is the prefix used for Alliance military vessels, standing for Interstellar Alliance Vessel.


In his hallucination on page 93, Wash realizes he's the pilot of a Carshalton Spaceways Seraphim pleasure cruiser and that he had previously quizzed Stanislaw L'Amour about the one he owned a few weeks back on Thetis. This would have been during the events of The Magnificent Nine.


In his hallucination on page 94, Zoe tells Wash he buys his shirts tailor-made by Zhuoyue on Osiris. This is the first mention of Zhuoyue in the 'Verse. Osiris is a wealthy world of the central planets of the Alliance.


Page 94 reveals that Wash, when he was a boy, had a cache of scale-model spaceships he'd play with, including a Carshalton Spaceways Paradise-class Elysium he'd named Comet.


Page 99 reveals that Kaylee's father had lost the tip of his thumb when an inspection port lid had slammed on it in the repair shop when she was three years old.


Page 99 mentions an Autry-McCrae 8-Series hovercraft. This is the first mention of this craft in the 'Verse.


    A joint called LaRue's Bar is mentioned to be on Kaylee's homeworld on page 99. Her father liked to have a drink with his friends there. Page 102 has her father saying the homeworld is New Virginia, but all other Firefly sources say her homeworld is Kowlonshi.

    Her father also states they live in the town of Tankerton, "Jewel of the Coastal State". This is likely a joking reference by the author to the name of the actress who portrayed Kaylee, Jewel Staite.


On page 100, Kaylee tells her hallucinatory mother about the time she wore a beautiful pink dress at a shindig on Persephone. This occurred in "Shindig".


In her hallucination on page 101, Kaylee is assisting her father with fixing a Hendry six-wheeler. This is the first mention of this vehicle in the 'Verse.


On page 101 Kaylee says that the first Mule bike they had on Serenity was replaced with another one when the first was destroyed in a battle with Niska's henchmen. The first Mule was badly damaged, presumably beyond repair, in "War Stories". The Magnificent Nine reveals that Mal purchased another to replace it.


On page 103, Kaylee's father mentions the nearby town of Patricksburg on New Virginia/Kowlonshi and that there was a rival repair garage on Larkhill Road owned by Earnest MacMurray.


Zoe relives the Battle of Serenity Valley, including moments with Independent Army soldiers Graydon, Lt. Baker, and Bendis in the battle. Graydon, Baker, and Bendis were seen during the flashback battle in "Serenity".


Simon thinks Zoe's hallucination was an instance of hypnagogia. His description of hypnagogia is accurate, a state of transition between wakefulness to sleep that can include realistic hallucinations.


Simon and River's family live in Rochester Peak on Osiris.


River's ballet instructor was Madame de Tocqueville.


In Simon's hallucination on page 119, River attends college at Tiancai University. Tiancai is Chinese for "genius"!


In Simon's hallucination on page 120, his uncle Bryce remarks that Simon is saving lives every day at AMI. It is not revealed what AMI stands for, but possibly Alliance Medical Institute.


In Simon's hallucination on page 121, he and his father drink New Canaan brandy. This is the name of the brandy that Simon and his father drink in the teaser of an early draft of the script for "Safe".


In Simon's hallucination on page 122, Gabriel Tam mentions a love for composers such as Bach, Brahms, and Xiaosong. These are all real world classical music composers: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), and Qu Xiaosong (1952-).


In Simon's hallucination on page 125, the Tam family sings several songs, including “The Ships That Sailed From Earth-That-Was,” “My Darling Dwells On Dyton (But My Honey’s Home Is Hera)” and “Blue Sun, Bright Future.” These are all, of course, fictitious songs.


Page 127 begins another hallucination for Jayne, taking place on his homeworld of Sycorax.


Page 129 states that Jayne's father was Gospel Cobb, a lay preacher. His body is buried in Gospel Acre, the patch of land he'd settled on Sycorax and where Jayne's mother, Radiant, and brother, Mattie, still live.


On page 130, Jayne mentions a town near Gospel Acre called Beacon Levels.


On page 131, Mattie Cobb carries a pair of Van Heflin 9mm pistols. Van Heflin appears to be a fictitious brand of firearms, but possibly named for actor Van Heflin (1908-1971).


In Mal's hallucination on page 137, he flies his son around in his arms like a spaceship, "landing" on the planets Lilac, Santo, Greenleaf, and Silverhold. These worlds have all been seen or mentioned in previous adventures.


Page 141 mentions Atherton Wing. Wing is a former client of Inara's, last seen in "Shindig".


In Wash's hallucination on page 141, he imagines he has founded his own transportation company called Pteranodon Incorporated.


Page 143 mentions the worlds of Beaumonde, Bellerophon, and Ariel. These worlds have all been seen or mentioned in previous adventures.


In Zoe's hallucination on page 145, she has bedded a beefy, broad-shouldered hunk from the 19th Sumbeamers of the Independent Army on Londinium. This is the first mention of the 19th Sumbeamers. Zoe and Mal were members of the 57th Overlanders Brigade in the war. Londinium is the capital planet of the Alliance and is the most like Earth-That-Was.


In Simon's hallucination on page 149, he lives in a penthouse apartment in Merriweather Heights on Osiris.


In Kaylee's hallucination on page 153, she and her mother are shopping at the Belle Reve mall in Tankerton.


In Jayne's hallucination on page 158, it is said that his father once shot up the Happy-Go-Lucky Casino in Wilmington County on Sycorax.


On page 162, we learn that the person who contracted to get the stolen Ghost Machine is Adelai Niska. Niska is a nasty individual who previously appeared in "The Train Job" and "War Stories".


During his call with Badger on page 164, Niska tells his cronies to stop torturing a woman with a Scorpion device because her screams are interfering with the communication. He tells Badger the Scorpion is a new toy similar to his Spider, but next generation. The Spider is probably a reference to the Spider torture device mentioned in the 2009 Firefly role-playing game supplement Six-Shooters & Spaceships.


On page 167, Niska tells Badger of an attack on his skyplex not too long ago. Badger had previously heard about this attack and the rumors that it was Mal's crew who instigated it in order to rescue him and Wash from Niska's sadistic clutches. These events occurred in "War Stories". Badger also recalled hearing of this incident in Big Damn Hero.


On page 171, the town of Tiantang on Londinium is mentioned.


In Mal's hallucination on page 172, he and his son watch a movie called Serenity about the Battle of Serenity Valley during the Unification War. It's not clear whether this is a real movie in the 'Verse or made up in Mal's mind for the hallucination.


In Kaylee's hallucination on page 178, Caleb Dahl asks about reconditioning an Ellison Z-type vintage spaceplane, also referred to as a slingshotter. This is the first mention of this type of craft in the 'Verse. Page 237 suggests that the full name of the manufacturer is Ellison Manufacturing. There are a few real world companies by this name, but they are not builders of air- or spacecraft.


In Kaylee's hallucination on page 179, the location of Caleb's Import/Export business (which actually turns out to be an illicit organ-harvesting operation) is on Harmsworth Avenue in the Clearcrest Bay district of Tankerton.


    In Wash's hallucination on page 183, Wash reads an interview with himself and Zoe in the Azure Illuminator by Wilhelmina Ascot. The article states that he and Zoe and their family live in the upscale Westborough enclave, not far from Cadrie Pond on Persephone. This is the first mention of Westborough, but Cadrie Pond is where Mal had his sword duel with Atherton Wing in "Shindig".

   The article also mentions Wash's friendship with Sir Warwick Harrow. Harrow previously appeared in "Shindig", though he was a client of Mal's, not a friend of Wash's.


In Wash's hallucination on page 185, propoxin and psilomelane are mentioned. Propoxin is a common medical drug in the 'Verse and psilomelane is a real world name for hard black manganese oxides.


In Wash's hallucination on page 185, a couple of the smaller freight hauling companies Pteranodon Inc. has acquired are Astrocline and Konglong Shipping. This is the first mention of both companies in the 'Verse.


In Wash's hallucination on page 189, Durran Haymer is one of Pteranodon's clients. Haymer (and his collection of Earth-That-Was artifacts) previously appeared in "Trash".


In Zoe's hallucination on page 195, Colonel Tregarvon is said to have been the Alliance mastermind behind the Cooper's Hollow massacre during the war. This is the first mention of such an incident.


In Zoe's hallucination on page 195, she considers taking on the bounty for the infamous Alliance interrogator known only as the Butcher of Beylix. This is the first mention of the Butcher of Beylix, but Beylix, a planet in the Kalidasa system, has been mentioned in several previous stories.


In Mal's hallucination on page 199, Mal mentions a worthless engineer named Bester he'd hired to keep his Firefly running. Bester was seen in a flashback in "Out of Gas", where he was replaced by Kaylee.


In Jayne's hallucination on page 206, Ottoline Beavertail lives in Bitter Hampton on Sycorax. A quarter of Ottoline's cattle have succumbed to a respiratory disease called redspot; this appears to be a fictitious disease.


In Jayne's hallucination on page 206, the nearest sheriff's office to Gospel Acre is said to be half a continent away in Grover City.


In Jayne's hallucination on page 209, Jayne tells Mattie to take the 30-caliber Heyes and Curry. Heyes and Curry appears to be a fictitious firearms manufacturer. Possibly the author got the name from those of the two main characters of Heyes and Curry in the 1971-1973 western TV series Alias Smith and Jones.


In Jayne's hallucination on page 211, Ottoline remarks that Jayne's gun, Vera, is mounted with a Harwood laser-calibrated scope. This is the first time the scope on Vera has been named. Harwood appears to be a fictitious company.


Page 226 reveals that Kaylee's father had died from heart disease.


In Kaylee's hallucination on page 237, she orders a part for Dahl's Ellison spaceplane delivered from Athens, a world in the Georgia system.


In Kaylee's hallucination on page 238, she rides a 170 bhp Silver Scout sports-tourer motorcycle. "Bhp" generally stands for "boiler horsepower" in engines powered by vapor, suggesting Kaylee's motorcycle is powered by steam. Silver Scout appears to be a fictitious brand.


In Kaylee's hallucination on pages 240-241, a Series 3 Firefly-class vessel lands at the spaceport where Kaylee is working on the Ellison spaceplane. This is the same series of Firefly vessel as Serenity. As the ship lands, it is noted that its tail end glowed with coruscating amber light, indicating the gravity drive is running. This would not normally be the case in atmosphere, the ship relying on its wing-mounted outrigger engines for thrust during landings and takeoff. Of course, this is Kaylee's hallucination, so it may be an indication of her brain trying to show her something's wrong.


In Kaylee's hallucination on page 243, Dahl remarks that his ship made good time from Whitefall. Whitefall is a world that has been seen or mentioned a number of times in other Firefly stories.


In Simon's hallucination on page 252, Holden mentions the Archimedes Club. This is the first mention of the club in the 'Verse. There are a number of real world social and civil clubs by that name, named for the Greek mathematician, astronomer, and inventor who live 287-212 BCE.


In Wash's hallucination on page 264, Wash's blackmailers tell him he is one of the crème de la crème. Crème de la crème is literally French for "cream of the cream", an idiom meaning "best of the best".


The two moons of Canterbury are called Luna Major and Luna Minor.


In Simon's hallucination on page 314, Kaylee remarks that she should play tall card with him since he is such a bad liar. Tall card was invented by script writer Jane Espenson for the episode "Shindig", including rules for play. An actual card deck and rules is available for purchase from various online vendors.


In Mal's hallucination on page 349, DaSilva announces his intention of reporting Mal's mistreatment of him to the Sihnon Union for Private Tuition Professionals. This is the first mention of this institution in the 'Verse.


At the end of the novel, River makes Mal promise and cross his heart that if they ever come across another Ghost Machine or anything like it, they will do all they can to stop it. Mal promises and crosses his heart and this makes River happy, though Mal is not able to foresee such a circumstance ever happening again. But it is a bit of a foreshadowing of events in the Serenity movie (covered here on PopApostle in three parts, "Triggered", "A Better World", and "Living Weapon").


Chinese translations
Page # Chinese English
11 Hoyt mutters, "About gòu cào de time." gòu cào de = "dog fucking"
27 Mal says, "That's his tough gŏu shĭ." gŏu shĭ = shit
41 Jayne thinks of Mal as a qīng wā kao de liú máng "frog-humping son of a bitch"
50 Zoe calls Mal one devious gè zhēn de hún dàn gè zhēn de hún dàn = "genuine bastard"
66 Mal thinks, Wŏ de tiān a upon looking in Inara's eyes again. "Oh my God."
69 Simon refers to the Academy doctors who messed with River's head as tiān shā de è mó "God damned killers."
70 Simon says "méi méi" "little sister"
81 Mal refers to Canterbury as a zhēng qì de gōu shī duī world zhēng qì de gōu shī duī = "pile of shit"
96 Wash wonders "What in the name of Wŏ de mā hé tā de fēng kuáng de wài sheng is going on?" Wŏ de mā hé tā de fēng kuáng de wài sheng = "Holy mother of God and all her wacky nephews."
112 Zoe exclaims, “Xióng māo niào!” "Panda piss!"
132 Jayne says, "We’ve scared the gŏu shĭ out of the fella." gŏu shĭ = shit 
157 Radiant Cobb says, "Who in the name of wŏ de mā do they think they are? Hé chù sheng zá jiāo de zāng huò!" Wŏ de mā essentially means "Mother of Jesus" and Hé chù sheng zá jiāo de zāng huò means "Filthy fornicators of livestock!"
179 Kaylee says, "...zhēng qì de gŏu shĭ duī." "neat pile of shit"
187 Wash says niú fèn "cow shit"
196 Zoe calls Colonel Tregarvon a liú kŏu shuī de biăo zi hé hóu zi de bèn ér zi "stupid son of a drooling whore and monkey"
199 Mal refers to Bester as a "tā mā de hún dàn." "fucking bastard"
240 Kaylee exclaims, “Nĭ tā mā de! Tiān xià suŏ yŏu de rén dōu gāi sĭ!” "Everyone under the heavens ought to die!"
245 Zoe thinks, gu yang zhong de gu yang "motherless goat of all motherless goats"
254 Simon calls his father and uncles wang ba dan essentially "sons of bitches"
262 Wash calls his blackmailers "xī niú leeches" "cow-sucking leeches"
290 Zoe says "bù huĭ hèn de pō fù" "remorseless harridan"
293 River says "Zhēn dăo méi" "just our luck"
296 Zoe calls Book a bèn tiān sheng de yī duī ròu "stupid inbred sack of meat"
308 Ottoline Beavertail calls her underlings "useless wáng bā dàn" wáng bā dàn = "sons of bitches"
312 River says to the Beavertail Gang, “You really are a shabby bunch of niào shĭ de dŭ guĭ.” ???
316 Simons tells his uncle Bryce, "Qù nĭ de!" "Go fuck yourself!"
333 Aloysius Frey calls Caleb Dahl a yān guò de hún dàn bastard
346 Mal says, "Tī wŏ de pì gŭ!" "Kick me in the ass!"
358 Mal says, "...all I’m hearing now is fēng le talk." fēng le = insane
371 Mal says, "Jayne, you fèi fèi de pì yăn." fèi fèi de pì yăn = baboon's ass-crack


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