Title: Aliens: The Female War
(The Complete Aliens Omnibus Volume 1)
Authors: Steve Perry, Stephani Perry
Publisher: Titan Books, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release Date: July 1993
Aliens: The Female War is the third and final novel in the Earth War trilogy, authored by Steve Perry and Stephani Perry. The father-daughter duo have enjoyed significant success within the science-fiction and fantasy genre; previously Steve authored stories for Batman: The Animated Series and The Real Ghostbusters, while Stephani has published stories for Alien, Alien vs. Predator, Star Trek, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After Steve wrote the first two novelizations, Stephani joined in finishing the trilogy by co-authoring The Female War. While it does contain some deviations from the original comic run upon which it is based, the trilogy closely follows the major story arcs.
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.
In the followup novel, Aliens: Nightmare Asylum, Wilks, Billie, and Mitch are trapped aboard a secret military base stationed 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 builds a Xenomorph army, a force lethal enough to take back Earth and launch him into the halls of military greatness; upon return to earth, Spears is proven a fool and his gruesome death is broadcast to the remaining survivors orbiting earth.
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline from Nightmare Asylum is the one delivered in the novel’s final pages: the return of Ellen Ripley; and it is here that The Female War begins. Sheltering in Gateway Orbital Station, Billie and Wilks find an unlikely partner in their war against the Xenomorphs; in Ripley they find an ally who understands the rage and horror they have experienced, along with the unrelenting motivation forged in loss.
For humanity, the situation has never been worse. The few humans remaining cling to life aboard Gateway Orbital Station, and the military is unwilling and unable to spare any resources for the trio of characters hellbent on a revenge war. Tension builds as occasional broadcasts from the Earth’s surface reveal that religious zealots are serving the Xenomorph hive, enslaving fellow humans and delivering them as food and future hosts for the Aliens. A few of the broadcasts show a young girl, Amy, and her father desperately trying to survive the nightmarish conditions. Billie and Ripley are moved with compassion, but no rescue mission is possible.
To make matters worse, a significant portion of the remaining human population experiences regular nightmares via psychic nocturnal visions from a Xenomorph Queen. The dreams have everyone on edge, but also provide a unique opportunity. Ripley, Billie, and Wilks determine there is a Queen Mother, older and deadlier than any Xenomorph previously encountered, transmitting these psychic signals from elsewhere in the galaxy. The team hatches a plan to pursue this Queen Mother and use her to rescue Earth.
The following two sections contain major plot spoilers. If concerned, skip ahead to the section “Final Score” or return to read our review when you’ve finished the novel.
What the Novel Does Well
Ripley’s appearance at the end of the second novel is perplexing. Given that the novel changed the names of Hicks and Newt (as they appear in the original comics) to Wilks and Billie in order to align with the canon of David Fincher’s Alien 3, it is initially shocking that Ripley is alive and well. This would seem to be a major plot hole and a near-cardinal-sin within the Alien(s) community.
However, the novel delivers big time in this regard. Patient readers will appreciate the way the novel (by the end of the story) accounts for Ripley’s existence. The solution to this apparent problem beautifully explores the definition of life, how we make tough choices, and the meaning we attach to our actions. Indeed, these themes are touched upon at times within the films when the subjects of genetic cloning, artificial personhood, and the Engineers are explored. In many ways, Aliens: The Female War feels like the spiritual companion to the films in terms of Ellen Ripley’s story.
The novel also shines when exploring the development and growth of Billie.
Billie transforms from being a little girl who survived an infestation to a fully-developed adult, who herself pulls off an improbable rescue of a traumatized child. She faces down her biggest fears, learns to handle herself with a carbine, and defies the wise orders from those in charge; one might venture to say Ellen Ripley would be proud. Seeing this transformation take place is immensely gratifying and gives longtime fans a chance to see what might have happened had Newt survived that fateful crash on Fiorina 161.
Where the Novel Falls Short
My biggest frustration with the novel is that too often it asks readers to suspend disbelief. Obviously, science-fiction requires this in the best of circumstances; but even the most outlandish stories should remain consistent within the rules of the narrative universe if they are to be taken seriously. Aliens: The Female War simply makes too many concessions to convenience.
This is most clearly seen in the moments when Billie, Wilks, and the other stars of the novel are faced with overwhelming numbers of Xenomorphs. Tens of thousands of Xenomorphs cascade toward the surviving humans, only for the bugs to be put down like cockroaches beneath a shoe. It’s enough to make me wonder, “Did IQ’s just drop suddenly…?”; because as Ripley famously noted, “just one of those things managed to wipe out [her] entire crew in less than twenty-four hours.” I understand that some liberties have to be taken in creative storytelling, but within the Alien(s) universe, the Xenomorph must always be respected. Encounters with the Perfect Organism should cost dearly, even when survived. The moment the Xenomorph becomes another generic beast, the fire loses its light.
In other places within the story, similar issues arise. The mechanism upon which the narrative turns is the notion that bringing the Queen Mother to Earth will gather the Xenomorphs together where they may be taken out by a network of nuclear bombs buried beneath the ground. Again, this presents problems within the lore of the Alien(s) universe. Time and again, a single Ovemorph, a lone Facehugger is enough to destroy entire colonies or military installations. Yet when Earth has been overrun by Xenomorphs, which have formed countless nests across the planet, a series of explosions gets every last one? At best, such a plan would delay the problem or give the Colonial Marines a beachhead to marshal their forces and begin retaking the planet (never mind that the nuclear blasts would make the environment uninhabitable).
Most of the time, these gaps in consistency disappoint because a bit more work in planning or a deeper commitment to the writing would have resolved the issues. Had the novel simply acknowledged the difficult road ahead, or even focused the story on the notion of revenge, sacrificing humanity’s future for one last death blow to the enemy, the story would have reached a more fitting conclusion. Indeed, a dark outlook like that would have fit well within the narrative universe. Instead, The Female War‘s clean resolution shortchanges readers and feels like a missed opportunity.
Aliens: The Female War provides entertaining reading. Fans who wish things would have worked out differently for Hicks, Newt, and Ripley will find this parallel story eases the wounds created by the fate of these characters in the cinematic universe. The novel also provides a satisfying third act to the Earth War trilogy and gives fans the chance to enjoy a rare novel series within the Alien(s) universe.
The novel does just enough to warrant reading and provides an entertaining experience for longtime fans of the franchise. Weaponized Xenomorphs, an overrun Earth, and religious zealots that worship the hive: these storylines are key elements only hinted at by the films over the years. The opportunity to see these come to life is both satisfying and welcomed.
Unfortunately, the necessity of suspending disbelief leaves the reader with dissatisfaction at the novel’s end and with musings about what could have been. If readers have read the first two novels of the Earth War trilogy, Aliens: The Female War is worth the read.
Aliens: The Female War earns 3 / 5 stars from our staff.
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.