Review by C.J. Bunce
If you’re like me and you’ve read nearly all of the adaptations, novelizations, sequels, and spin-offs to the Alien and Aliens movies, you might be surprised at how different these sci-fi horror tales play out when you add the sci-fi hunters of Predator and Predators to the mix. Husband and wife writers Weston Ochse and Yvonne Navarro take up the challenge in Aliens vs Predators: Rift War, hot on the heels of the Hulu prequel movie Prey. This story is for anyone who wanted to see more of the third Predator movie: 2010’s Predators, as it could easily take place right after that movie.
In Predators–the movie–the audience didn’t get anything by way of explanation, watching as individuals presumably from all over the galaxy are deposited on a planet, solely for target practice by Predators. In Rift War, the authors give a voice to the Predators (called Yautja outside the movies from a 1994 comic book series), and it’s neither like the stilted dialogue of warrior races we’ve seen before (like the Klingons), nor a primitive dialect. Predators speaking like humans takes some adjustment for the reader. At the same time the Xenomorphs speak like someone without a language, rudimentary and using only a few words. Somehow that makes them endearing, which is a strange reaction to those fearsome monsters.
Maybe its instinctive that readers and moviegoers are drawn to side with the bipeds without built-in body armor over the arthropods with it. Maybe Predators are just not so much that H.R. Giger brand of freakish and disturbing as Xenomorphs. But the authors begin to develop a detailed military structure for this group of Predators. What do the rest of the Yautja do? We’re not told, maybe they are like Spartans, maybe back home there is a leisure class?
The set-up for the story assumes substantial backstory between the Predators and the Xenomorphs, as the Predators have figured out how to use Xenomorphs as a weapon. But that’s not what they do here. Here they are depositing Xenomorph eggs on a planet (with a revved-up evolution) so they inhabit local species. This is all for the purpose of bringing warrior recruits to get “blooded,” or certified for various battle-ready uses. It’s a big open-world Thunderdome where they fight Xenomorphs to the death to prove which Predators are worthy to move on.
You can tell the authors must have had fun playing in these two sandboxes, as they create a new human-sized flying creature called riftwings for this planet, which soon gets infected by the Alien beasts to become ferocious Xenowings. Ultimately they get around to crossover battles and mash-ups and team-ups of all varieties, with the added levels of Xenomorph biology as more fodder for ugly ends for mostly unlikeable and unsympathetic humans, but also noble and not-so-noble Predators.
The action–and it is mainly action in Rift War–follows several beats from Jurassic Park, including bumbling humans as an embarrassment to our species. The leaders in charge of the setting (where we’d normally find Weyland-Yutani) belong to a drug cartel employing drug addicts who are locked to their duty machines as they collect addictive pollen that they aren’t really supposed to be consuming (happily the authors reject the typical ethnic constructs in their story). These poor souls are sitting ducks for both the Xenomorphs and the Predators, except for one thing: the Predators aren’t interested in the humans (they call us oomans) because we clearly are a threat to no one. And those Xeno-hybrids could easily be cousins to Velociraptors.
This brings us to the genre mash-up here. You’d probably expect Aliens as horror in a sci-fi setting, and Predators as sci-fi with some horror elements. In Rift War the authors lean into the horror, with both those typical graphic conflicts from both franchises, and the kind of psychological brand you won’t always find in these kinds of tie-in novels. The stoned human workers are really screwed and die in slow, agonizing ways. And one of the better written humans, a lead foreman called Shrapnel, has an imagining of what he’d like to do to his boss Murray involving some killer ants, which is a classic co-worker moment of the darkest fantasy horror variety. This all feels more like Guillermo del Toro fantasy horror than the Ridley Scott/James Cameron sci-fi horror you might expect.
Names like Ptah’Ra make the Predators have an ancient Earth vibe. Keep an eye out for a Predator warrior named Ca’toll, the best character introduced in the story. This follows the tried-and-true horror format of plucking off humans one by one to get the last man and/or woman standing on the final page. Personally I was disappointed in who the authors chose to save from the human side. You win some, you lose some.
“More action. More hunt. More tales of glory.” That sums it up. A candidate for the year’s best tie-in, best sci-fi, and best horror novel, Aliens and Predators and Aliens vs Predator fans will want to read Titan Books new Aliens vs Predators: Rift War, available now here at Amazon and at other bookstores.
borg is your source for Alien and Predator franchise news with Predator just beginning. Check out our reviews of previous books in the franchises:
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