BOOK REVIEW: Alien: Colony War

Title: Alien: Colony War
Author: David Barnett
Publisher: Titan Books, 20th Century Studios
Release Date: April 2022

It’s a good time to be a fan of the Alien franchise. Since Disney purchased the rights, a television series has been in production, a stand-alone film is set to release in 2023, and a steady stream of books have been released in conjunction with publisher Titan Books. David Barnett’s Alien: Colony War is the latest to join the franchise’s expanding narrative universe.

Synopsis

Trapped in the middle [of a colony war] are journalist Cher Hunt, scientist Chad McLaren, and the synthetic Davis. Seeking to discover who caused the death of her sister, Shy Hunt, Cher uncovers a far bigger story. McLaren’s mission, fought alongside his wife Amanda Ripley, is to stop the militarization of the deadliest weapon of all–the Xenomorph.

Source: Titan Books

Alien: Colony War builds off of the work of previous novels, Alien: Into Charybdis, Alien: Isolation, and Alien: Prototype, connecting its complicated story with the events experienced by Shy Hunt, Zula Hendricks, Amanda Ripley, and Davis the synthetic. Central to the plot of this story is the desire by Cher, Chad, and Davis to make right the unresolved conflicts of their loved ones. To that end, the novel explores what happens when the three converge on LV-187, a colony that has suffered from a mysterious cataclysm.

Chad McClaren’s wife is Amanda Ripley, made famous by Alien: Isolation.

What the Novel Does Well

As a career journalist and writer for the British news outlet, The Guardian, David Barnett has a nuanced and masterful understanding of global politics, of the dangers posed by nationalism and imperialism. Simply put, Barnett’s novel shines when navigating the highly complex and dynamic political realm of human space colonization.

The dynamic interplay between the Union of Progressive Peoples (UPP), the United Americas (UA), the Colonial Marines, the Three World Empire, and the Independent Core Systems Colonies (ICSC) is thrilling and immersive. Indeed, the greed of political powers and corrupt corporations are the bedrock of the Alien franchise dating back to the original film in 1979. Barnett’s novel fits well within this universe.

Perhaps the most compelling moments in the novel, however, come with Barnett’s pondering of artificial intelligence and synthetic life. Without revealing spoilers, it’s worth noting that synthetic life plays a central role in the story, and with that come the deepest and most emotionally moving passages in the novel. Barnett’s love of philosophy and the human condition ring true and clear.

Where the Novel Falls Short

Unfortunately, anything involving the Xenomorph itself is woefully inadequate. The problem manifests in several ways, the culmination of which leaves the horror genre’s greatest monster bland and tame. As such, the novel fails to earn its place among the other works within the narrative universe, particularly those published by Titan Books.

Image Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

The novel lacks pacing and rhythm. On multiple occasions, during what should be the height of narrative tension and action, Barnett’s characters become lost in philosophical musings, somehow shielded from the raging Xenomorphs crawling the room, instead bantering with one another like pals at the pub. The effect pulls the reader out of the conflict and defangs the danger posed by the creatures.

To make matters worse, the dialogue is nearly unbearable at times, particularly during moments of dramatic tension. Typically, as danger increases, the length of character dialogue should shorten, pacing itself with the urgency of the moment. In contrast, Barnett’s characters often slip into full speeches during these critical junctures, with the characters failing to even use contractions or other forms of speech that often mark the need for haste. The effect makes the situations feel laughable—not exactly the desired tone for horror fiction.

But the worst offense is the novel’s treatment of the Xenomorphs. Ironically, one of the characters in the story feels distraught over a pompous soldier’s description of the creatures as “an uncoordinated mob of blood-crazed animals.” If only Barnett shared the disgust of such an assessment of science-fiction’s perfect organism.

Sadly, nearly every encounter with the Xenomorphs presents the creatures as slow, stupid, and easily disposed of vermin. Characters with no military experience or weapons training causally pick up rifles and blast the aliens without so much as a sweat. Xenos stumble around rooms dazed and confused, unable to decide how to attack. At one point two women pin an attacking Xenomorph to the wall by merely pushing a table against it and holding it suspended there until help arrives. It’s sacrilegious.

When combined with the poor pacing and quality of dialogue, Barnett’s disrespect of the Xenomorph makes the novel nearly unreadable.

Final Thoughts

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I wanted to like this novel. I’m a huge fan of the franchise and have read nearly every Alien and Aliens novel written, own the comics, and played through the many video games published over the decades. The idea of a novel building upon the stories of characters I love, while also adding in layers of political intrigue and the tension of imperialism seems tailor made for someone like me.

Sadly, Barnett broke the cardinal rule of content creation for Ridley Scott and James Cameron’s masterpiece franchise—always respect the Xenomorph. As such, I hope the powers that be at Titan Books pay close attention to the reception the novel has received and think twice before entrusting Barnett with another novel. That said, I do think Barnett’s skills in thinking big, along with his understanding of politics and international conflict would make him an ideal partner for planning future novels, so long as they are ghostwritten or assigned to another writer.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

David Lasby is the Editor-in-Chief for Boss Rush Network. His favorite video games are The Legend of ZeldaMetroid, and the Aliens franchise. You can find him on Twitter to talk all things Nintendo, sci-fi / fantasy, and creative writing.

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