Author: Alex White
Narrator: Michael Braun
Audiobook Length: 11h 52m
Pages: 320 (Mass Market Paperback Edition)
With the failure of Hadley’s Hope, Weyland-Yutani has suffered a devastating setback–the loss of the Aliens they aggressively sought to exploit. Yet there’s a reason the Company has risen to the top of the food chain. True to form, they have a redundancy already in place… the facility known as The Cold Forge.
Remote station RB-232 has become their greatest asset in weaponizing the Xenomorphs. However, when Dorian Sudler is sent to RB-232 to assess their progress, he discovers that there’s a spy aboard–someone who doesn’t necessarily act in the company’s best interests. For Dorian, this is the most unforgivable of sins. When found, the perpetrator will be eliminated with extreme prejudice. If unmasked, though, this person may be forced to destroy the entire station… and everyone on board. That is, if the Xenomorphs don’t do the job first…
This book has been a real treat over the last couple of months, a highlight of my working day. I’ve never been more happy to have my windscreen frozen and spend an unexpected 5 minutes in the car before work.
I’m lucky enough that my commute is only ten minutes, so I’ve only had 20 minutes listening time each working day, but that’s contributed to my attachment to this story!
I tend to dislike tie ins and books based off TV shows/films etc. as the author’s creative vision is often hindered by the canon and by the work of other creators whose ideas might be quite different. What Alex White does so well here is to respect the Alien universe with the core foundations following what we’d expect, before layering their own personal touch and creativity over the top. I imagine that White has to be an Alien fan, such is the respect and knowledge shown, plus a few small nods to the films. Despite this, the storytelling is so well done that this book would still serve well as a standard space thriller; it doesn’t need to rely on the pedigree of the Alien name as it is so good on its own merits.
Something that absolutely screams out to be highlighted is the character of Dorian Sudler, a Weyland-Yutani auditor sent to the Cold Forge to check on the status of the company’s interests. He also happens to be a completely fucked up psychopath and one of the best villains I’ve ever read. He’s certainly the most sinister of all the human characters I’ve encountered in this universe, with a strong subscription to social Darwinist ideology both corporately and in life itself. In spite of his complete lack of redeeming features, his chapters are captivating and you want to be in his presence, delving into his twisted mind.
Our main character is Blue Marsalis. I was going to call her our hero, but though we root for her she’s not completely infallible. We can certainly sympathise with her and understand some of her actions though – such as putting her own genetic research above all other considerations in the search for a cure or treatment for her condition. She has phsyical disabilities due to a degenerative illness and most physical actions she has to take whilst connected to the body of the android, Marcus. This is done well and something new that feels fresh. It also raises conflict because Marcus is programmed to do and not to do certain things, while Blue has free reign to act as she wishes while inhabiting Marcus’ body. He’s fully aware and conscious of what she’s doing so there are moral questions raised too which I find really intriguing. It’s not the place to develop the point further in this review but it makes you think carefully about the potential for androids in our world and what rights they should have.
White manages to recreate that claustrophobic tension on the ship that we are accustomed to in the Alien universe. When we first enter the Kennels where the aliens are kept, there is an enormous sense of foreboding and even hearing about the lockdown procedures and failsafes in place (and how on edge some of the crew are) helps to build that sense of fear and dread. It will come as no spoiler that the Xenomorphs (or Snatchers as they are referred to here) inevitably escape and this breakout and the ensuing panic is done to perfection. It is my favourite scene in addition to the control room chapter later in the book, which is very sinister but one that I won’t spoil in the review.
Being very slightly in preference of the original Alien over it’s sequel Aliens (only very slightly!) I sometimes feel that having multiple of the creatures sometimes takes away their formidability. Alien and Alien³ feel more like horror movies due to the growing dread of the creature – where is it? What is it doing? Having multiple creatures perhaps makes it more dangerous to leave a locked room but gives more of a hive impression if that makes sense, where the focus isn’t on one target and they feel more expendable. The Cold Forge however manages to maintain that feeling that these are creatures you can’t kill very easily at all and really presses home their enjoyment for death and pain, further adding to that feeling of dread whenever one could be in the vicinity.
I’m so thrilled that Alex White has done such a fine job with a franchise I’m very fond of, while keeping things fresh with their own cool ideas. There are perfectly stored and monitored facehugger eggs, captive chimpanzees for testing (that first scene especially made me feel so unomfortable!) , Silversmile – a malicious & sophisticated computer virus, Kaufmann – a dwarf star lethal to anyone that falls under its rays, conveniently hiding the facility. My favourite introduction is Blue’s transferred consciousness to Marcus and the possibilities that provides.
This is my first fiction audiobook and was a fantastic introduction to the world of audio reading (listening?) – I’m not sure how well the present tense format translates to a physical book but it works perfectly in audio form, with a sense of immediacy to the events that unfold. I think the narrator did a brilliant job and his tone fits the story excellently.
All in all, if you’re a fan of the alien universe you HAVE to read (or listen to) this, but it will be just as enjoyable for fans of space thriller/horror, sci-fi. I’m really happy I found this book and it will go down as one of my favourites!