Review by C.J. Bunce
Last month I reviewed Alien: Colony War, a novel in the Alien universe that finds hated corporation Weyland-Yutani weaponizing Xenomorphs for an all-out interplanetary war. Xenomorphs are weaponized in an entirely new way in Philippa Ballentine and Clara Čarij’s next Alien novel, Alien: Inferno’s Fall, and this time nobody knows who is behind it. This is not another political story unpacking and unraveling Earth’s future, but a gritty and down in the dirt tale of survival from the vantage of three interesting heroines. One you know, one you sort of know, and the other is all new. The Colonial Marines battalion known as the Jackals are in prime form in this sci-fi blend of elements from Armageddon, Aliens, and Blade Runner.
Davis was dead to begin with. Actually, being a Synthetic he was never alive, but he’s become one of the franchise’s best characters. Supposedly killed in the form of a Synth dog in Alien: Colony War, he’s basically a Tron-type program, so it should be easy for writers to pull up his code at any point. In backstory Davis has created a new AI in the form of a young female entity called Mae. Implanted in the chassis of a combat synthetic, she’s a combination of the attitudes and behavioral elements of Davis and key franchise character Colonel Zula Hendricks. Mae even refers to the strong-willed and cynical Zula as her mother, and “hears” the “memories” of Davis in her programming (like Ben Kenobi mentoring Luke in Star Wars) as the story progresses.
Digging into Mae’s itinerant body existence and her sense of place in the world is the best element of Alien: Inferno’s Fall. Mae is Data’s daughter Lal of Star Trek: The Next Generation had she been allowed to live. The story provides a fine examination of what it may be like to be quasi-cyborg. Zula and Davis’s relationship is one of sci-fi’s most interesting romances, and Davis created Mae to protect Zula after he was gone.
In addition to Colonel Hendricks and Mae, the story introduces a group of miners straight out of the Bruce Willis movie Armageddon (along with a storyline that parallels that movie). The miners are based in Svarog on the Union of Progressive Peoples mining planet Shānmén and led by a New Zealand ex-patriate named Toru McClintock-Riley, whose expanded family followed her to the planet. Toru is grizzled, exhausted, and exhausting, the first to put out the next fire, and the jack-of-all-trades leading every charge when something breaks.
As the war detailed in Alien: Colony War continues, a giant horseshoe-shaped vessel descends on Shānmén, depositing a black goo on the port town of New Luhansk. The goo is mixing with toxic environmental conditions and local wildlife to create a new kind of red-tinged Xenomorph hybrid. These are quick moving monsters, faster than previous types, who move in waves and immobilize and destroy humans, instead of implanting themselves to expand their numbers.
The mission to rescue Toru, her family, and a union of workers called the Knot provides the opportunity for Hendricks, Mae, and the Jackals to embody that kind of brazen military unit we’ve seen before led by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator and Michael Biehn and Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. These guys don’t know what they are getting into specifically, but taking their ship the Righteous Fury onto a planet to kill Xenomorphs is what they live for. The relationship of mothers and daughters, as in previous Alien entries, is a theme of this novel.
Nathan and Carter are surprisingly good supporting characters. The Jackals, whose loyalty is to the woman who trained them–Colonel Hendricks–have a superb chemistry with cyber-daughter Mae. The banter among them brings life to Mae’s character, despite her more rigid, robotic manner.
As with the most recent novel in the series, Synths are becoming more and more indistinguishable from the Replicants of Blade Runner. Of the past three novels, each progressively has been better, digging deeper into the mythos, expanding some of the lore from Giger’s art and Ridley Scott’s early ideas as infused into the sequel film Prometheus. This is the second novel in the series to feature an all-new bonus chapter from Free League Publishing’s Alien: The Roleplaying Game (the new game reviewed here at borg). Keep an eye out there for Easter eggs, including a throwback to Blade Runner’s Replicant played by Brion James, here in the not-so-veiled form of a Synth.
Another good entry in Titan Books’ series of Alien novels, fans of space marine stories and the franchise will want to read Alien: Inferno’s Fall, available now here at Amazon and at other bookstores.
borg is your source for Alien franchise news. Check out our reviews of previous books in the franchise:
Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon
Alien: The Cold Forge by Alex White
Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner
Alien: Into Charybdis by Alex White
Aliens: Infiltrator by Weston Ochse
Aliens: Bug Hunt by various
Alien3: The Unproduced First Draft Screenplay by William Gibson and Pat Cadigan
The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, by Owen Williams
Alien Covenant: Origins, by Alan Dean Foster
The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler
The Art and Making of Alien Covenant, by Simon Ward
Alien Covenant: David’s Drawings by Dane Hallett & Matt Hatton
Aliens: Bug Hunt, anthology
Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report, by S.D. Perry
Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, by Roger Christian
Aliens: The Set Photography, by Simon Ward