Title: Aliens: Bishop
Authors: T. R. Napper
Publisher: Titan Books, 20th Century Studios
Release Date: December 5, 2023 (USA / CA) / December 12 2023 (UK)
Price: Hardback only– US $24.95 / CA $33.95 / UK £15.09
To see our reviews of other Alien novels and coverage of content within the franchise’s narrative universe, click here.
The following review contains mild spoilers.
For those who grew up with the Alien films, the iconic science-fiction and horror franchise represents the pain of a promise squandered, the sting of Icarus flying too close to the sun. The first two films each left an indelible mark on cinema. Ridley Scott’s Alien practically wrote the book on claustrophobic horror, withholding sight of the monster for most of the film and allowing the terror to build. James Cameron took a bold risk shifting the genre of the second installment to action; while some lamented the shift from unkillable beast to bug infestation, the film won over critics and audiences while defining the genre for the next forty years. From the Halo video games series to James Cameron’s reimagination in Avatar, Colonial Marines have dominated the storytelling landscape.
Following up these two masterpieces was always going to be difficult, but the third film suffered terribly under the shifting leadership decisions at 20th Century Studios. Despite near constant interference from the powers that be, director David Fincher did manage to craft a fitting, albeit dark conclusion to the trilogy, exploring the bleakness of hyper-capitalism and human cruelty. The film has aged well and has looked better with the passage of time, particularly with the Assembly Cut.
Alien: Resurrection however was a disaster. The studio insisted on bringing Ripley back; and while Sigourney Weaver turned in another masterful performance, the decision eroded the power of Ripley’s sacrifice at the end of Alien 3. Add to that the bizarre Newborn Alien, and many fans would rather the film was never made; indeed most pretend it wasn’t.
For years, hardcore Alien fans have wondered if the magic could be recaptured, if the franchise might be saved by going back and building off of the original trilogy or even pretending the third film never happened. Thankfully, T. R. Napper has given fans the best of both worlds in his soon-to-be released Aliens: Bishop. The novel brings together the best of the original trilogy and integrates it beautifully into the new storytelling universe brought together by Titan Books.
In a true continuation to the story of the Alien film trilogy, Aliens: Bishop begins in the days following the events on Fiorina 161, the prison planet where Ellen Ripley died killing the last-known Xenomorph specimen and where Weyland-Yutani recovered the remains of synthetic Lance Bishop, whose “death” locked away priceless research on the Xenomorph XX121 species.
While Ripley was lost, the terrifying creatures she fought were not. The company had always known more specimens existed; and the knowledge possessed by Bishop is now priceless, a surefire competitive advantage for unlocking the potential of the Xenomorph biology and its technological applications.
But the Weyland-Yutani Corporation isn’t the only one seeking Bishop’s remains; a contingent of Colonial Marines has located the USCSS Patna, the Conestoga-class troop transport ship, owned by Wey-Yu and converted to a medical frigate. Colonial Marines Captain Marcel Apone, brother of the fallen Master Sergeant Alexander Apone, arrives at the USCSS Patna via the USS Il Conde as the novel begins. For Apone, finding and reactivating Bishop is the only chance at discovering what really happened to his brother and exacting revenge; beyond that, Lance Bishop served the Colonial Marines–for Apone, that means leaving him behind is not acceptable.
Xenomorphs Stalk the Pages of this Well-Paced Drama
From the opening pages of the novel, Aliens: Bishop reunites readers with the beloved world they left behind in the 80s: fans are caught up once more in a “chicken-shit outfit,” guided by the firm hand of Apone. The instant nostalgia is an effective hook for the story while characters are established and set pieces are placed. Readers don’t have to wait too long for the action to begin however as the marines are soon riding “an express elevator to hell.”
From there, the novel is structured around three distinct storylines that intertwine to create razor-sharp tension: Colonial Marines, the Union of Progressive Peoples, and the Bishops. Indeed, within each of these groupings are rather compelling subplots that give a depth to the story and deliver to the reader a sense that very real lives hang in the balance.
The introduction of the Xenomorph in the novel is one of my favorites in recent memory. I won’t give away major spoilers here, but by including more nations and interested parties than the original films did, we get a fresh experience. This isn’t your typical “marines stumble into a hive” moment. The terror that these characters feel as they suffer shock from what’s happening and struggle to survive is damn compelling. Napper also utilizes fresh language to describe the various phases of XX121, much in the same manner that Scott Sigler did in Aliens: Phalanx when he referred to them as demons. These altered lexicons deepen the mystique of the Perfect Organism and add to its mythos.
Napper also works to develop empathy in readers for his characters far before they play cat and mouse with the Xenomorph; as such, there is an intense longing for these characters to survive these encounters, beyond just the typical “rooting” for the humans win. Character such as Private Karri Lee, who joined the Colonial Marines to win housing for her refugee-camp-bound family; Xuan Nguyen, a Vietnamese smuggler betrayed by her comrades, a victim of both racism and classism that have rendered her little more than livestock in the eyes of powerful nation states; these characters are easy to root for, and we feel their pain radiate from the novel’s pages.
While the Xenomorphs may not lurk on every page of this story, their presence is always felt. In this sense, Napper accomplishes the art of horror and tension mastered by Ridley Scott in Alien. Napper, like many of the newest contributors to the Alien storytelling universe, does an excellent job of balancing the power of soldiers and the terrifying nature of the creatures. Badass marines let their pulse rifles do the talking, but even then, the Xenos are resilient and damn hard to kill. A blown off limb or fractured piece of chitinous armor won’t stop their relentless charge. I’ve come to really appreciate writers who can balance these forces in the Alien novels, and T. R. Napper does this well.
The beast was black, and monstrous, and had no eyes. No eyes, by the heavens, no eyes, and below the place its eyes should be, a demon maw filled with razor-sharp teeth, dripping, drooling, seeking.Aliens: Bishop, T. R. Napper
The novel is officially divided into three acts. While the first focuses on world building, the desire to reunite with characters from the films and explore familiar places carries the story in a way that never feels slow or monotonous. By the time the second and third acts get going, readers will feel like they don’t know which story arc they want to read most–a mark of a true page-turner. I found myself yelling at the end of chapters only to remember how much I wanted a resolution to the next character’s chapter.
Questioning the nature of life and whether artificial persons deserve the rights and respect of “real people” aren’t new ideas in science-fiction; but T.R. Napper’s Aliens: Bishop goes far beyond these philosophical quandaries in ways that are deeply satisfying and feel like the next evolution of the discussion.
Lance Bishop isn’t just a synthetic person. He’s a synthetic suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Bishop closed his eyes, involuntarily, for a moment. In that blink he saw friends terrified, confused, wounded from acid burns. He saw a moon colony, its infrastructure disintegrating under an imminent nuclear explosion. He saw a black curved blade connected to the tail of the Xenomorph Queen, sticking out of his chest. Felt it. He put his hand where it had pierced him.Aliens: Bishop, T. R. Napper
Fear that stays with us; the sense that we’ve failed some crucial task and try as we might, cannot fix what’s broken, cannot save those we’ve lost; these are the experiences that mark our humanity, the legacy of primates standing upon the edge of the evolutionary knife. That Bishop feels these pains too makes him one with humanity and marks the next step in our evolution. Some indescribable essence has been passed from organic life to synthetic. It is ironic then that Michael Bishop seeks this very accomplishment as he pursues immortality even as his greatest accomplishment sits unappreciated in front of him in Lance Bishop.
These lines cross in all kinds of interesting ways in the novel. Michael becomes less human as he seeks to upload his consciousness into the cloud while Lance draws near to the essence of humanity as he faces his own trauma. It is in his willingness to grapple with the deaths of his friends on LV-426 and Fiorina 161 that he achieves the best of our own humanity.
An Expanded Universe Befitting an Era
If Alien was truckers in space and Aliens an allegory for Vietnam, Aliens: Bishop is a beautiful and fitting amalgamation of late cold-war politics and twenty-first century cynicism. Napper both captures the natural progression of the narrative told in the original trilogy while integrating the fears and new threats of the 2020s, a world bursting with international tensions alongside the nearly limitless application of artificial intelligence–a world where everything must be questioned: our loyalties, our politics, our definition of life itself.
I had a chance to chat with T. R. Napper about his novel and the expanded universe of the story. He noted that the geopolitical aspects mattered to him as much as the philosophical questions about life and human nature.
“I think it’s fair to say I wanted to give readers what they would expect, in terms of Bishop (and what it means to be human) and the terror of the Xenomorphs,” Napper explained. “But also explore corners of the universe they were unfamiliar with, such as China, Vietnam, Australia, the Australia Wars, the Dog Wars.”
Prior to his career as a writer, T.R. Napper served as a diplomat and aid coordinator, securing humanitarian assistance in Southeast Asia for a decade. He even received a commendation from the government of Laos for his work. These experiences give his storytelling a mark of authenticity in Aliens: Bishop; the collisions between the Chinese and Vietnamese, Eastern and Western nations, and the people who guarded refugee camps and those who fought to survive. These add depth to the novel’s overlapping conflicts. The narrative tension succeeds at each level from the desperation to survive the Xenomorph to the indictment of twenty-first century global politics.
Perhaps most poignant is Napper’s critique that we consider the possible rights of artificial intelligence and synthetics while ignoring the rights of marginalized human populations. As humanity barrels forward into the twenty-first century, Napper’s concerns seem not only relevant, but prescient.
It gives me a strange mixture of anguish and joy to reflect on T. R. Napper’s novel. If I could journey back in time and give this book to my younger self, the one who waited decades for this epic to continue, I know there would be elation. But it is also true that the lost years for this franchise cultivated an ownership in the Alien community that might not otherwise exist.
To persist as a fan during the brutal years following Alien: Resurrection, one had to live in their own imagination, to take sustenance from rewatching the original trilogy or from pouring over the Dark Horse comics and wondering what could have been, what still might be. Those decades of yearning made Aliens: Bishop hit home in a way that’s special. This is the story I’d been waiting for, the continuation all of us in the community deserved. And some part of me, a large part if I’m being honest, hopes that the powers that be will consider adapting it into a proper film. So thank you T.R. Napper–not bad for a human.
Boss Rush Network is proud to give Aliens: Bishop a perfect five-star rating.
Featured Image: Titan Books
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.