BOOK REVIEW: Alien: Inferno’s Fall

Title: Alien: Inferno’s Fall
Authors: Philippa Ballantine (Story by: Philippa Ballantine and Člara Carija)
Publisher: Titan Books, 20th Century Studios
Release Date: July 2022

To see our review of the related novel Alien: Colony War, click here. The following review contains mild spoilers.

The latest Alien novel from Titan Books and 20th Century Studios is the second novel in a loosely connected trilogy. Alien: Inferno’s Fall comes after the events of Alien: Colony War and leads into the upcoming novel Alien: Enemy of My Enemy, written by Mary SanGiovanni, set to release in February 2023.

Fans may also enjoy reading Alien: Prototype, which fills in the backstory of Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks and her synthetic partner Davis.

Synopsis

Zula Hendricks fights a Xenomorph. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics

After the events of Alien: Colony War, conflict rages among the settlements of the Weyland Isles Sector. On the planet Shānmén, the Jùtóu Combine (a corporation-like entity within the UPP) owns a mining operation, harvesting the valuable fuel material Eitr from deep beneath the ground. The mine is largely operated by indentured workers who lack basic freedoms and are forced to pay exorbitant fees for necessities, essentially keeping them indebted forever.

The novel focuses on two main story arcs:

  • the fate of “the Knot,” a family of choice group from all walks of life, forced to work for the Jùtóu Combine
  • the journey of self-discovery for Mae, a synthetic person who is the unexpected daughter of the synthetic Davis and Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks

As the tension ramps up, an Engineer ship appears in the skies of Shānmén, hovering over the city of New Luhansk. The pathogen bombs fall, and all hell breaks loose as the planet is overrun by pathogen creatures. The novel follows the fate of the Knot as they fight for survival while Zula Hendricks and her team of Jackals attempt a daring rescue.

What the Novel Does Well

This is quite simply one of the best written novels in the Alien franchise. Philippa Ballantine’s highly skilled narrative techniques maintain tension within the story while allowing readers to form emotional bonds with the characters whose lives become endangered. The combination is powerful and one that yields fruit as the novel unfolds.

This task was no simple one in that Inferno’s Fall follows a large number of individuals. In the hands of a lesser writer, the characters would have become indistinguishable from one another and readers would struggle to care as the protagonists meet their various fates. However Ballantine masterfully develops these interests, setting the plights of individuals desperate for connection and belonging against the sociological forces of greed and inhumanity.

Ballantine’s skill is most apparent with the handling of the Xenomorph (and its pathogen forms). Certain other novels within the franchise missed the mark by treating the creatures as overgrown pests or troublesome bugs. Not only does Ballantine avoid doing so in the novel, but she is highly selective and intentional in her descriptions of the creatures, often limiting the reader’s glimpse to a tail whip or reaching claw. The effect is not unlike the franchise’s original horror film, which largely hid the Xenomorph from viewers until the very end. The effect in Alien: Inferno’s Fall is powerful and instills a fear in readers, rightly connecting the novel to its horror roots.

It’s clear from start to finish that the story is well planned out by Ballantine and Carija. The two are a powerful team that creates character-centered narratives, using the terrifying creatures as tools for crafting story rather than cheap drivers of plot.

She’d never planned on being a mother, but [they] were everything to her now. That she hadn’t birthed them from her own body didn’t negate the love. It was magic. Maybe the only kind in the universe.”

Jīn Huā, member of the Knot.

Perhaps the most compelling aspects of the novel are the explorations of family. Mae’s struggle to form her own identity and win the approval of her human mother, despite facing constant judgement from humans and other AI’s is moving. It represents the best of what science-fiction can do, exploring our own humanity through the guise of what’s not yet possible.

Similarly, Ballantine and Carija explore the notion of family through the Knot, a collection of individuals from different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The Knot accept one another as family and protect each other at all costs, often putting the needs of the group above self. Like the exploration of synthetic life, the Knot represent the best of what’s possible; humanity has the ability to overcome artificial boundaries and divisions, even if we often fail to do so. The result is incredibly moving.

A Connected World

Colonel Olivia Shipp examines a dead facehugger.
Col. Olivia Shipp in Aliens: Fireteam Elite

Fans of all things Alien will appreciate the way Inferno’s Fall connects with the larger narrative universe. Ballantine and Carija continue to expand the storytelling horizon, building off the political turmoil in the Weyland Isles Sector, featured in David Barnett’s Alien: Colony War.

In Barnett’s novel, the mysterious Black Goo bombings in the colonies existed as rumors floating at the edge of the conflict. Ballantine and Carija dive deep into the chaos of the weaponized pathogen and in so doing develop the reader’s sense of immersion while expanding the narrative universe in a satisfying way.

In fact, Alien: Inferno’s Fall feels like a love letter to the rich history of the franchise, containing iconic lines and situations from the early films while embracing the recent explosion of content. Perhaps most exciting for me personally were the ties to Aliens: Fireteam Elite. The authors specifically thank Cold Iron Studios in their acknowledgements for “helping [them] discern the finer details in Olivia [Shipp]’s history and arming [the] UPP soldiers with the latest weaponry.” That Titan Books and 20th Century Studios remain committed to building canonized stories while developing the lore of the pathogen and Engineers is thrilling.

Like Alien: Colony War before it and the upcoming Alien: Enemy of My Enemy, this novel also contains a bonus scenario for the ALIEN tabletop role-playing game from Free League Publishing. Sure, the inclusion is ingenious marketing and capitalistic at its core, but what an absolute treat for longtime fans of the franchise. For those of us who have been here since the beginning, we’ve endured the dry years; having an abundance of content across mediums is a reality to be savored.

Final Score

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios

In the name of professionalism and honest practice, I always reserve a section for where the particular novel falls short. But in this review, I omitted that section entirely; the truth is that Alien: Inferno’s Fall is as close to a perfect novel as I’ve read from this franchise. There are a few moments near the end when the action might have been paced differently, but that’s really nitpicking.

Alien: Inferno’s Fall is a welcome addition to the growing franchise and Philippa Ballantine and Člara Carija are the fresh voices needed to take the narrative universe forward. I cannot wait to see what these two do next and certainly hope Titan Books recruits them to do more novels. (Can we take a moment to appreciate how good this novel would be as a film? Disney are you paying attention?)

Boss Rush Network is proud to score Alien: Inferno’s Fall a perfect five stars.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tell us what you think! Have you read Alien: Inferno’s Fall? What do you think about the focus on the pathogen from Prometheus and Alien Covenant? Share your reactions in the comments below or join in the conversation on Boss Rush Network’s Discord and Facebook.

Featured Image: Titan Books

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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