I wanted to love this book and with so many positive reviews posted, I fear my expectations were a bit high going in. In reality this is an average book on its own merit and above average in the realm of ALIENS franchised publishing.
While I haven't had the pleasure of reading any of John Shirley's previous works, it becomes immediately apparent that he is passionate about sci-fi and has carefully studied the films before setting off to craft his novel after reading the first few paragraphs.
However, this is where some of my complaints begin to unfold. For starters it appears as though he may have integrated his attraction to the first film (ALIEN) a bit too heavily in the beginning. The scale of the derelict ship and the descriptions of the interior sound eerily similar to the HR Giger inspired efforts of the Space Jockey ship in the Ridley Scott masterpiece. The face-hugger impregnation sequence is also nearly identical (except for the fact that three people are infected in the book opposed to one in the movie). Reynolds is a near splitting image of Ash and the rest of the characters can only be described as "typical". There's even a Parker clone named Dix.
I do appreciate the author's attempt to flesh out a little character development through the captain and Ashley's flirting but overall it is far too easy to simply not care what happens to the humans. Which brings me to my next complaint. While Shirley did a great job in describing the gore, I fear he has gone a bit too far in the opposite direction with the xenomorph's strength.
Don't get me wrong, the adult aliens are no joke in the films either, but do expect them to be shot several times, blasted with flame throwers, and hit with missiles only to turn and escape into a shaft in Steel Egg. I suppose this has to do with which movie you base your beliefs on. While Aliens and Resurrection prove that a Xenomorph can be killed with a single square gunshot, 1 & 3 made a single alien seem nearly invincible. In that line of thinking, perhaps Shirley simply combined the multiple threat-dynamic of the second and fourth films with the unbeatable nature of the alien in 1 & 3.
I'm also not sure how well the Communist enemy angle works here. I realize that Shirley needed a human-based antagonist without the benefit of Wayland-Yutani or "the company" as it is often referred to in the films (since this book takes place before the company's formation), I feel that much of the interaction with CANC is stiff and forced. What's worse is it puts a bitter taste in the mouth of those of us who like to think that humanity has progressed as a civilization on earth in the future, rather than regressed to a sort of post modern "Cold War" era.
Overall this is an enjoyable read, if for nothing else, thanks to some incredible gore scenes. I personally would rather have had less human characters to keep track of in exchange for fewer, better-developed ones. It is, however, refreshing that Dark Horse is still taking the ALIENS franchise seriously with new original works like this.
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About the reviewer
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing. … more
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Someone on Earth knew about the aliens. Someone battled them, and survived. Before Ripley, there was a first encounter. Aliens and humans have fought before! When a human spaceship discovers a vast egg-shaped vessel in Saturn's orbit, the crew powers in to investigate. Thinking the ship might contain usable metal for Earth, they force their way aboard. Three teams split up to explore the ship. Already the aliens have awoken. The first of all the battles unfolds.