Review by C.J. Bunce
You already know Colonial Marines soldier Private Vasquez from her doomed mission to Hadley’s Hope on LV-426 via the USS Sulaco in the year 2179 in James Cameron’s sci-fi classic Aliens. A unique character among the Alien franchise, she was a tough Latina, a fighter of the Xenomorphs. Along with a woman dropship pilot and woman medic on board, these were very different–but no less heroic–kick-ass women than franchise star Ellen Ripley. But Private Vasquez is a character that would influence later sci-fi warriors in movies, including Sgt. Major Rita Vrataski and the marine Nance in Edge of Tomorrow, Starbuck of the reboot Battlestar Galactica, “Dizzy” Flores in the Starship Troopers movie, and the women Spartans of Halo.
Aliens: Vasquez is one of several expansion novels in the tie-in series of novels we’ve reviewed over the past decade at borg, including Aliens: Phalanx here, Aliens: Infiltrator here, Aliens: Bug Hunt here, and Aliens vs Predators: Rift War here. Readers will find Aliens: Vasquez similar to these stories, especially in their efforts to expand the franchise with all-new characters. The best of all of these remains Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows, reviewed here, which bridges the first two Alien movies.
Surprisingly most of Castro’s 423-page novel is not about Private Vasquez, but about her twins, which she had in conjunction with getting out of jail and making a deal to become a marine instead of serving her jail term. Since none of this is sourced in the movie Aliens, Vasquez didn’t need to have such a dark background. The story could have been Private Vasquez on missions previous to 2179 as she developed her badassery, something like a portrayal as a woman Schwarzenegger on a mission like in Commando or Predator. Instead she’s an ex-con, portrayed as a victim of the system, which seems unfortunate and unnecessary. And we don’t get to see how she became the tough marine that could hold her own with a squad of cocky, loudmouth male grunts.
From the get-go the novel suffers from timing issues. The story goes from 2166 to her kids’ role in a Xenomorph incident well after the 2179 death of Private Vasquez, and yet all the references of Private Vasquez–virtually all of her influences–are from the 20th century, with some slang phrases that are very 2020s. The references include Bruce Springsteen, Guns ‘n’ Roses, etc., music, a Pee Wee Herman TV show reference, Carmax lip balm, and Dickies pants, as an example. There just aren’t any influences at all for her in the story that are speculative, concocted details that reflect the future of culture, art, music, or events from the 2100s that someone in 2170 would experienced–whatever those things may end up being–let alone anything from the 2150s or 2160s. So this feels more like a character whose past really doesn’t fit the woman we saw in the movie Aliens. The analogy would be a character in a story set today only quoting in casual exchanges with family and friends song lyrics, popular references, and cultural events from 1822. Private Vasquez’s background is also very U.S.-centered, and this future U.S. is exactly like 2022 U.S. instead of the expansive international, inter-world setting we know from the earlier novels. Ethnic references seem inserted more as stereotypes than traits or influences that would build the character of someone two centuries in the future. Private Vasquez is considered from an “immigrant” family in the 2160s, the horrible implication being racism isn’t addressed over the coming 200 years, which hasn’t seemed to be part of Aliens canon before this. Even if there is a hint of this in Cameron’s movie, did it need to be carried over into the novels?
But the bulk of Aliens: Vasquez is about Private Vasquez’s children, Leticia and Ramon, raised by one of Vasquez’s sisters. Leticia follows the idea of her mother into military service and Ramon becomes one of those franchise soulless corporate types within Weyland-Yutani. The purpose seems to be to develop another Vasquez marine for future stories, which isn’t a bad thing. A coincidence puts both Leticia and Ramon together when some of the franchise’s mad scientists try again to experiment on weaponizing Xenomorphs. If you’ve read any of the previous Alien tie-in novels, you can guess how that will go down.
For anyone interested in keeping up with the expanded universe, or anyone looking for a new Latina tough heroine to watch being created from the ground up, Aliens: Vasquez is now available in hardcover, digital, and audiobook here at Amazon.