Review by C.J. Bunce
Three years ago here at borg I said no book or film has portrayed the people behind the Weyland-Yutani Corporation as more vile and despicable as author Alex White has envisioned them in the novel Alien: The Cold Forge, a sequel to the second film in the franchise, James Cameron’s Aliens. In that story the Company is proceeding to fulfill one of its initial ideas: to weaponize the Xenomorphs for military use. Alien: The Cold Forge was Aliens as if written by Michael Crichton, a blend of Congo and Jurassic Park with aspects of the modern Planet of the Apes trilogy tie-ins and Project X. As vile, greedy corporate types go, White upped the ante. White’s sequel, Alien: Into Charybdis, is different, but a must-read for fans of the first chapter in what could have been a trilogy of novels, as this book is nearly twice the length of the first at 560 pages. A mix of Office Space (without the comedy) meets Rogue One and Dungeons & Dragons, this is a dark adventure in a giant research facility of international IT and network guys duking it out over what goes where and why that just might make readers feel like someone is flipping a die before the characters enter the next room.
It’s also very “first person shooter,” the kind of endless game you might find in Gears of War. Its strength is its dialogue, which almost masks its weakness: a story written entirely in present tense, which has the feel of a long roleplaying game. The best of writers would struggle to make present tense work, and at 560 pages readers will be likely to get worn down long before that. So it’s certainly ambitious, and to back that up White points to several experts, readers, and other people in an afterward that helped put the behemoth story together. That same brand of corporate rep White used in the first book is back, but with more of them and they are worse here (Alien is, of course, partly defined by Stupid Corporate Wonks), plus there’s a new level of political dynamics for the franchise, along with those mindless military trooper types that bog down other stories (and movies) in the Alien catalogue. The Crichton-esque bits are back, and for at least the first half of Alien: Into Charybdis White wisely controls his appearance of Xenomorphs. The first third of the novel has a political component that makes it as good as White’s Alien: The Cold Forge. Some of the technical components feel like The Black Hole or Fantastic Voyage or The Predator, or even like an Irwin Allen 1970s disaster (think Towering Inferno with Xenomorphs). Readers who don’t realize this is a sequel will be confused with the last half of the story, as characters from that tale enter without adequate context.
The Charybdis is an ancient Greek whirlpool sea monster that is mimicked here as a giant geological feature on a distant colonized planet–not surprisingly a dark and temperature changing environment that serves as a nice breeding ground for the franchise’s key beasties.
The Dungeons & Dragons comparison is warranted because of all the turns the characters must make in 560 pages. Characters readers may want to survive may not, and those that do may grate on the nerves. It really feels like the decisions of who lives and who dies in a given scene were, indeed, based on a roll of dice. So that lack of predictability will be good for some readers. Also, a major franchise choice was made in the first novel carried out here that doesn’t feel like it would ever get subsumed into the film/canon universe of the franchise. As to action White has the universe figured out. But the story needed another major edit as it doesn’t warrant the length–too much explanatory, talking head sequences and technobabble, a slate of characters that are single-minded drones, and no single character that is likeable for the reader to feel passion about, to cheer on. Yet so much works.
Yes, count this toward the top of the stack of Alien tie-ins with Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows. Alex White’s Alien: Into Charybdis is a must-read for Alien completists (like myself) because it’s so ambitious. White gets many things exactly right, but the length leaves room for a lot of scenes not as strong as the rest of the narrative. Get it in advance of Alien Day 2021. Not one to skip, order it now here at Amazon.