Review by C.J. Bunce
The benchmark for me in reviewing the more than a decade of Alien franchise tie-in novels has been Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows (reviewed here at borg). It was a thrilling read that benefits from splicing between movies a new Ellen Ripley adventure. Mary SanGiovanni’s latest Alien novel, Alien: Enemy of My Enemy, is a hefty read with straight-forward storytelling and ideas faithful to the sci-fi/horror of the movies. And it lands as the best of the Alien expanded adventure tie-ins, filled with all-new characters. SanGiovanni uses all the key elements: a powerful woman in the vein of Ripley but also very different, Colonial Marines on a life-or-death mission, Weyland-Yutani corporate antics, Xenomorphs in all their forms, marooned humans, and many strange, new, dark and scary places.
No character is safe, and that may be the best part, as the author isn’t afraid to sweep away anyone at any moment. More than any prior Alien novel, she demonstrates she understands that the rules of sci-fi storytelling go out the window when a nasty monster can swing down from the ceiling and pluck away even the most interesting characters with no notice. And that’s different than most of the franchise stories, which tend to follow a protagonist from page one to the very end. It also has less slasher-horror gore and more Michael Crichton Jurassic Park-esque demises.
The author also skips the origin story and background bits, diving right into the vile nature of the story’s villain, a mad scientist named Dr. Fowler. Fowler may remind followers of the horror genre of the vile doctor over Michael Myers in the 2018 Halloween. Fowler is running a bio-weapons lab on Hygieia, an Outer Rim colony, built on a moon of the dead planet Hephaestus, and the moon is on a collision course with the planet. He has conned “volunteers” into testing his latest weapon, which involves the implant of a Xenomorph–the kind of thing we’ve seen before in Alien stories. The twist here is that it’s part of a serum he’s developing for his program ultimately designed to make super-soldiers.
Without hesitation the story delves in with the inevitable, out-of-control experiment, and the colony quickly becomes a “run for your life,” “every man for himself” scenario. Characters on the colony are introduced, then written off the page just as quickly. Which ones get to stay? You can’t predict it, although one rises as a more likely potential survivor. But that doesn’t mean anyone necessarily makes it out alive.
Meanwhile a few days travel away on United Americas colony LV-846, a major meeting of rival political, military, and corporate factions are scheduled to discuss the simmering hostilities, and the very type of program of biological warfare being developed on Hygieia. And there may not be only one villain. Some characters are thrown in as red herrings. A little girl is alone and relying on others to get her off planet. A pregnant woman struggles to get somewhere safe. A synthetic seems to be the perfect companion when trying to escape the toothy terrors. Who is the title’s “enemy of my enemy”? Theres a reason it sounds like humans are stuck again in a scenario like Aliens vs Predator.
I love that this novel takes a break from the often Tom Clancy-deep political machinations and technobabble. Every character who has a chance to survive only focuses on survival, and only once does a Colonial Marine go a little gung-ho with his comments. One character is conscientious enough to return to a facility to get any survivors on the way out, which arrives at a rare glimpse of nobility when you can imagine everyone probably would be screaming. Likewise some expressions of compassion are filtered in, but no time for tears and discussions of the future or reminiscences of day’s past with monsters breathing down their necks, unlike what we’ve seen in other Alien novels. It’s close to the vibe of the original movies–think of it as the Rogue One of the Alien franchise. It even has a rewarding, surprise ending, and only one denouement.
It’s one of the best sci-fi reads so far this year. Just released from Titan Books, order Alien: Enemy of My Enemy now here at Amazon.
Note: The novel includes a Free League RPG scenario tie-in. If you missed it, check out our discussion of the Alien RPG here.
For more Alien novels and tie-ins, check out the below links:
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
Alien: Enemy of My Enemy by Mary SanGiovanni
Aliens: The Shadow Archive Collection by various
Aliens: Infiltrator by Weston Ochse
Aliens: Bug Hunt by various
Aliens vs Predator: Rift War by Weston Ochse and Yvonne Navarro
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
Aliens: The 30th Anniversary Edition
Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, by Roger Christian
Aliens: The Set Photography, by Simon Ward
The Movie Art of Syd Mead, Visual Futurist
Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo