Title: Aliens: Vasquez
Author: V. Castro
Publisher: Titan Books, 20th Century Studios
Release Date: October 2022
The following review contains mild spoilers. To see our other reviews of Aliens novels, click here.
“Let’s rock!” might be one of the most iconic and oft-quoted lines from James Cameron’s 1986 action sci-fi film Aliens. (That and about every line spoken by Bill Paxon’s Hudson.) Janette Goldstein’s role as PFC Janette Vasquez remains a fan favorite almost forty years later. A badass Colonial Marine, Vasquez displays courageous defiance in the face of overwhelming odds and terrifying Xenomorphs, before meeting her end in an air duct on LV-426.
While her performance stands the test of time, Goldstein’s casting as a Latina character has elicited some criticisms, with some calling the casting “brownface.” Goldstein addressed this head-on in a 2016 interview with the outlet TooFab, noting “I have never been cast, or given the opportunity to audition for a short, freckle-faced Jewish girl who is half-Russian and half-Moroccan and Brazilian. So, I don’t think I would work very much if that’s all I was able to read for.”
In a 2022 exclusive interview with paulsemel.com, V. Castro, author of Aliens: Vasquez, notes that Janette Goldstein provided inspiration during her formative years, explaining that “growing up there were so few Latina characters in the media. I clung to her despite [Goldstein] not being Latina.” Getting to write a novel about Vasquez as an official part of Aliens canon was likely a dream come true for Castro.
The novel unfolds in five distinct sections, beginning with the childhood experiences of Janette Vasquez and following her journey into the Colonial Marines and eventually to LV-426. Before her career in the marines can begin in earnest, Vasquez has twin babies, a boy and a girl; for reasons detailed in the novel, she is not able to care for the children and obviously doesn’t return to raise them.
The novel continues by following the early childhood experiences of Leticia and Ramón Vasquez, each of whom possess aspects of their mother Janette’s character. Ramón excels in school and finds himself steeped in the power of global corporations; Leticia pursues a career in the Colonial Marines, facing incredible hurdles due to her background and identity.
The final portion of the novel focuses on the Weyland-Yutani colonial settlement and research station Olinka. As fans of the franchise would expect, the company is up to its old tricks, attempting to weaponize the Xenomorph. When things eventually fall apart, the Vasquez twins are brought together to decide the future of Olinka and perhaps the human species. This time it won’t be as simple as knowing “where they are.”
Praise for the Novel
Character-driven narrative. That’s the magic. V. Castro is simply masterful at creating characters that readers will care about deeply. Whether it is taking a beloved and sacrosanct character like PFC Janette Vasquez and adding depth that somehow makes her more endearing and badass than before or enriching the narrative web of characters within the broader franchise universe, Castro excels at character building.
V. Castro also brings a freshness to an otherwise stale convention of Weyland-Yutani building a secret lab to weaponize the Xenomorph. Without spoiling the reveal, I’ll simply observe that Castro adds much-needed variation into the biology of the creature and just what can be done with it. My only disappointment in this regard is that these changes aren’t leveraged more by the end of the novel—a missed opportunity, I believe. However, these creative wrinkles are strong enough to merit exploration in sequels, something that may very well be in the plans of Titan Books and 20th Century Studios.
Perhaps where the novel shines most is highlighting the injustices of the policing and criminal justice system while doing so in a meaningful and story-driven way. Aliens: Vasquez never feels preachy, doesn’t editorialize over storytelling; but it does explore ways the current power system (upon which the fictional world builds its story) marginalizes communities of color. For Janette and her daughter Leticia, joining the military is the only path out of bad encounters with the law; and while serving in the armed forces is held as a profound tradition within the Vasquez family, it’s also one that comes without many other viable options. V. Castro’s novel provides a nuanced examination of the ways the US government and corporations (the real topics behind the fictional ones) sometimes exploit marginalized populations and can both benefit and damage communities of color.
Criticisms of the Novel
Aliens: Vasquez is a fantastic piece of literature, so offering criticism of the work raises many conflicting emotions for me. Ultimately, the framework I chose to examine the novel through is its intended audience: Aliens fans. It is in this sense that I offer some modest critiques.
It is as an Aliens novel that V. Castro’s work falls somewhat short of the mark. The actual scenes in which Xenomorphs are present are largely of quality. As mentioned above, the creature designs add some variety to the narrative universe, and the action is well-written and engaging.
I would voice one gripe with the pacing of these combat scenes, something that has become a pet peeve for me within the franchise and genre. There are moments when the tension is at its peak, with Xenomorphs barreling down upon the characters, that the dialogue doesn’t match the sense of urgency and danger within the text. Characters slip into long explanations or talk as though they have all the time in the world to explain their motivations. Fortunately, these moments are infrequent and do little to detract from the novel as a whole.
The main thrust of my criticism regarding the Xenomoprhs is that the novel simply takes too long to include them, at least for a novel published with fans in mind. To be clear, I don’t think this makes Aliens: Vasquez a bad novel—far from it. The novel functions as a “universe expanded” story; and in this sense, the novel is highly successful. We learn so much more about a beloved character and her legacy. For those seeking every bit of knowledge the franchise has to offer, this novel is a treasure. But fans seeking a classic Aliens experience will likely be disappointed.
As a standalone novel, Aliens: Vasquez is excellent. V. Castro is clearly a talented writer and a welcome voice in the narrative universe. Her development of characters is top notch, deeply satisfying in a way that brings the reader enjoyment with or without the Xenomorph. In many ways, the novel would work as simply a story about the Vasquez family—it’s really that compelling.
But it is that “without” part that might trouble some readers, those who read Aliens: Vasquez hoping for a proud member of the Vasquez family wielding a Smartgun, mowing down Xenomorphs while yelling “Let’s rock!”. The novel takes its time getting to the action, saving the majority of combat for the final portion of the story. Often, the Xenomorph is an afterthought in the narrative tension. That may come as a disappointment to those looking for hardcore Aliens action rather than a beautiful novel that methodically builds rich characters. For those seeking a traditional Aliens experience, I’d have to give the novel three stars out of five.
However, in the end, I’m scoring Aliens: Vasquez four stars out of five, a combination of a five-star rating as a traditional novel and a three-star rating as a strictly Aliens novel. While it may not have as much action as the typical Aliens experience, it is a fantastic addition to the expanded universe and well worth a read.
Tell us what you think! Have you read Aliens: Vasquez? How would you rate it compared to other novels in the franchise? Share your reactions in the comments below or join the conversation on Boss Rush Network Discord and Facebook.
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.
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