Review by C.J. Bunce
The Alien and Aliens series has seen some great science fiction stories in recent years, even better than the scripts that made it into movie sequels. Count Aliens: Bishop as the next great novel in the franchise, harnessing all you loved about Alien and Aliens, while adding new characters and subplots to keep the Alien universe moving forward. This is a 488-page two-day read, the kind of thrilling storytelling that will keep you glued to your seat. Colonial Marines? Check. Xenomorphs? Check. Corporate and galactic politics? Check. The first two subjects may seem obvious, but it really is the third that sets Ridley Scott and James Cameron’s world apart, and the category where writers often stumble. Not so here. Aliens: Bishop is more like The Hunt for Red October—Aliens if it could have been interpreted by Tom Clancy.
While the Firefly novels are trying to find their footing within the strictures of their characters and setting, Alien/Aliens is taking off in varied directions with each new book. This story catches up with Lance Henriksen’s popular synthetic/cyborg Bishop–the character the audience wished Ellen Ripley didn’t hate so much in the movie Aliens–following his appearance and disconnection in Alien 3. But who is the real Bishop? Napper takes the events in the anthology Aliens: Big Hunt, specifically the best story I reviewed (here) in the book–Rachel Caine’s story “Broken”–and turns the characters into some compelling prospects for the future of the series.
But the risk the franchise took back in Alien 3 for fans was overlapping the development of Bishop very similar to Star Trek’s previous detailed, well-known creation of its leading android-turned-brief cyborg, Brent Spiner’s Lt. Cmdr. Data, including his creator Dr. Noonian Soong, and evil counterpart Lore and almost-Data, B4 (there’s also the repeated trope with the EMH and Lewis Zimmerman in Star Trek Voyager!). Of course Star Trek doesn’t have the trademark on mad scientists building robots a la “in Thy image” referenced in the Bible, but you’ll probably experience some deja vu via trodden territory a few times here. Does the title Bishop mean only the original synthetic, or also Michael Bishop of Alien 3, maybe Charles Bishop Weyland of the movie Alien vs. Predator, or maybe Karl Bishop Weyland in the video games Aliens vs. Predator and Aliens: Colonial Marines, or does it include other synths? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Just as the original Bishop in Aliens illustrated how complicated human-cyborg relations could be in the future, this story takes that discussion a step further, while tapping into a classic sci-fi trope I’ll refrain from identifying for now, one that Napper leaves wide open for future Aliens novelists to run with. When is a cyborg to be treated as equal to human? Will that ever be appropriate?
But is Bishop really what the 488 pages are about? Napper crashes together two factions of the struggle for power, so that the most exciting battle isn’t between man and Xenomorphs, but between humans and humans. Private Karri Lee is well down the ranks in the Colonial Marines. She’s an Australian gambling her future to protect the lives of her family back home, serving aboard the Il Conde, on a sort of rescue mission searching for the USCS vessel Patna. Xuan Nguyen comes from a different place. She’s a Vietnamese crew member on the flying coffin Nha Trang, who finds herself confronting a powerful new warship, the Xinjiang, built secretly under the Chinese Command, a contingent of the Union of Progressive Peoples that Aliens readers will be somewhat familiar with. What do Lee and Nguyen have in common? For one, they’re both scrappy.
What are the Chinese up to?
If you are a Marine or know any, consider Aliens: Bishop a particularly necessary read. Even more than Michael Mammay’s Planetside novels, Napper pins down what it really means to be a Marine, the obligations historically, the duties to each other, all that is encompassed in every oorah grunt and Semper Fi chant. If you’re sitting around a campfire arguing over the finest, most badass Marine in science fiction, you’re going to want to add Captain Marcel Apone to the debate (up there with some Predator and Starship Troopers contributions, no doubt). Some of the best characters in literature are the supporting heroes that seem to come out of nowhere. Apone takes that role in this novel.
It’s easy to suggest a tie-in novel would make a good movie. In its favor Aliens: Bishop has a great story and its characters could realistically be spliced into the sequels following the first two movies. That science fiction trope I referenced above would have been a welcome addition to a character in Alien: Covenant, and it still could be used cinematically. The heretofore best Alien/Aliens tie-in novel, Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows (reviewed here at borg) would be practically impossible to make into a movie. Aliens: Bishop joins Alien: Out of the Shadows and this year’s Alien: Enemy of My Enemy (reviewed here) at the top of the pack.
borg is your source for Alien franchise news. Check out my reviews of previous books and tie-ins in the franchise:
Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon
Alien: Sea of Sorrows by James A. Moore
Alien: River of Pain by Christopher Golden
Alien: The Cold Forge by Alex White
Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner
Alien: Into Charybdis by Alex White
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
Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, by Roger Christian
Aliens: The Set Photography, by Simon Ward