Title: Aliens: Nightmare Asylum
(The Complete Aliens Omnibus Volume 1)
Author: Steve Perry
Publisher: Titan Books, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release Date: April 1993
To see our review of the first novel in the trilogy, Aliens: Earth Hive, click here. The following review does contain mild spoilers.
Continuing the story where Aliens: Earth Hive left off, Steve Perry’s second Aliens novel follows Wilks and Billie, two stand-in characters for fan-favorites Corporal Hicks and Newt.
For those unfamiliar, Steve Perry’s Aliens novels are based upon the spin-off Aliens comic Outbreak, which features the two characters from the 1986 film. However, when Alien 3 released in theaters, the two met a darker fate. As a result, the novel, which released at the same time as the third film, instead follows Wilks and Billie. As such, the story exists within the canon of the films, but essentially plays out a fan fiction wherein the two survive.
In the first novel of the trilogy, Aliens: Earth Hive, Wilks and Billie are sent to the presumed home world of the Xenomorphs in order to collect a sample for the military. As expected, the mission doesn’t go well, and the two barely escape, along with the synthetic Colonial Marine Mitch Bueller. When the trio return to earth they find that containment has failed in a secret lab in South America where a Xenomorph Queen was being held; as a result, Earth has become overrun and humanity is forced to flee the planet. Wilks, Billie, and Mitch escape on a military vessel departing to an unknown destination.
Aliens: Nightmare Asylum doesn’t waste time before jumping into the action. Wilks, Billie, and Mitch awake from hypersleep to discover something has gone wrong on the military vessel they have hitched a ride on. They survive the crisis and arrive at a secret military base on a planetoid in deep space.
The base is run by General Spears, who has gone mad with power now that few human authority structures remain since the fall of Earth. Spears holds a Xenomorph Queen captive, threatening her with the destruction of her eggs if she doesn’t force her drones to cooperate. Spears’ plan? Build a Xenomorph army under his command, a force lethal enough to take back Earth and launch him into the halls of military greatness.
What the Novel Does Well
The novel is rather unusual in the Aliens franchise in that it features very little Xenomorph action. Sure, the aliens are present in the backdrop of the story and remain a presence that can be felt throughout the narrative. But the focus of the novel is the chess match between the brilliant (and insane) military tactician in General Spears and the courageous, unrelenting Colonial Marine Wilks.
Spears is ruthless, efficient, and always three steps ahead. He disposes of those he no longer finds useful, often ending them by the cruelest means. He is a man unmatched in power, that is until he comes up against Wilks. Readers will find themselves easily caught up in this battle, rooting for Wilks and hoping someone will finally put an end to Spears.
In many ways, however, the central conflict of the novel is really within Wilks himself. Torn between a cynical view of life (born of his PTSD and betrayal from the military) and the temptation to believe that a better life is possible, Wilks struggles with how to conduct himself. This is particularly clear in his relationship with Billie.
Like Corporal Hicks, Wilks rescued Billie from an overrun colony when she was just a girl. Now that she has reached maturity, Wilks feels split between a father role in her life and something more. The moments when he feels the weight of letting Billie make mistakes, the burden of overstepping with unsought advice, are perhaps the most compelling and humanizing moments in the novel.
The novel builds tension at a thrilling pace and reaches a satisfying conclusion, while laying the ground work for a larger story in the third book of the trilogy, Aliens: The Female War.
Where the Novel Falls Short
To put it simply, Aliens: Nightmare Asylum is fantastic. There isn’t a lot to criticize, so my comments here are a bit nitpicky. There are a few moments in the narrative that require too much suspension of belief by the reader (even for a sci-fi novel). While these moments are mostly insignificant, I did find myself frustrated that they weren’t simply avoided.
An example: without giving too much away, there’s a need for one of the characters to seduce some soldiers in order to move the plot forward. The attempted seduction happens in the middle of an emergency, with dangers everywhere and alarms blaring. It requires characters to behave in a manner that just doesn’t seem believable.
Thankfully, these moments are few and far between. Perry’s novel is on the whole an excellent experience.
If Steve Perry was getting his feet wet with Aliens: Earth Hive, he takes the full plunge with Aliens: Nightmare Asylum. His comfort with the narrative universe and insight into his own characters are sharper than the first novel, and it leads to a better product. Fans of the franchise will thoroughly enjoy this foray into the narrative universe and will find it well worth their time.
Aliens: Nightmare Asylum is a strong 4.5 / 5 stars.
Featured Image: Marvel
David Lasby is the Editor-in-Chief for Boss Rush Network. His favorite video games are The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and the Aliens franchise. You can find him on Twitter to talk all things Nintendo, sci-fi / fantasy, and creative writing.