In Review: Aliens: Bug Hunt

If you're a fan of the films, this is one to pick up. If you're new to xenomorphs, read with the lights on.

Aliens: Bug Hunt edited by Jonathan Maberry

Published by Titan Books, April 18, 2017. Paperback of 360 pages at $16.99 Hardcover available with same pages at $22.95. 

The cover: The head of the iconic xenomorph emerges from the left side of the cover, drool coming out of its mouth before it makes its next kill. Above, to the right, it states, “All-new tales from the expanded Alien Universe”. Below that the text proclaims “Heather Graham, Scott Sigler, Rachel Caine, David Farland, Larry Correia and many more.” Just at the creature’s bottom jaw, the title of the book appears, followed by Editor Jonathan Maberry’s name. This is an effective cover that will instantly catch a reader’s eye with the definitive space monster dominating. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “When the Marines set out after their deadliest prey, the Xenomorphs, it’s what Corporal Hicks calls a bug hunt — kill or be killed. Here are fifteen all-new stories of such “close encounters,” written by many of today’s most extraordinary authors: DAN ABNETT*RACHEL CAINE*LARRY CORREIA*KEITH R.A. DECANDIDO*DAVID FARLAND*MATT FORBECK*RAY GARTON*CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN*HEATHER GRAHAM*BRIAN KEENE*PAUL KUPPERBERG*TIM LEBBON*JONATHAN MABERRY*JAMES A. MOORE*YVONNE NAVARRO*WESTON OCHSE*SCOTT SIGLER*MIKE RESNICK AND MARINA J. LOSTETTER Set during the events of the first four Alien films, sending the Marines to alien worlds, to derelict space settlements, and into the nests of the universe’s most dangerous monsters, these adventures are guaranteed to send the blood racing — one way or another.” I recognize several names on this list and am eager to see what scares they can create. I’m a fan of the franchise and I’m looking forward to seeing how much variety can be done with the premise of Marines versus Aliens. Overall grade: A

The stories: After the brief Introduction by Maberry, who states how the book came to be, the stories start. “Chance Encounter” by Paul Kupperberg starts this collection off well, introducing not only a new type of xenomorph, but a fascinating creature for it to feed upon, until the Marines get involved. “Reaper” by Dan Abnett is a tense tale of Marines who discover that threats come in all sizes. Rachel Caine is up next with “Broken.” This is a must-read story as it features the activation of Bishop, played famously by Lance Henriksen in Aliens and Alien 3. Caine has done an incredible job in creating his backstory and giving him terrific depth. Another character from one of the films gets spotlighted in “Reclamation” by Yvonne Navarro. Fan favorite Dwayne Hicks, played by the late Bill Paxton, is revealed to have had a romantic past that makes him a strong soldier for all the wrong reasons. This, like Caine’s tale, is a must-read. Christopher Golden continues the focus on famous characters in “Blowback.” Several of the Marines from the second film appear in this and it’s got all the action and terrific dialogue one could want. “Exterminators” by Matt Forbeck features two Marines that go into a bar and come upon a situation they weren’t expecting. This story was too far outside the Alien cannon because the creatures were more in line with Robert Heinlein’s creations. “No Good Deed” by Ray Garton took me by surprise by having two unexpected original characters experiencing the terror of xenomorphs and it was a winner in every way. It was brutal and funny, which is extremely difficult to pull of with these creatures. I would love to see Garton’s characters appear in a full length novel. Weston Ochse’s “Zero to Hero” follows, focusing on a group of Marines whose tale was too similar to the second film’s plot, making for a predictable outing. Carter Burke, one of the most evil profiteers in science fiction cinema, acted to perfection by Paul Reiser, is the focus of “Dark Mother” by David Farland. This story starts with his final appearance in Aliens: he wasn’t killed.  Fun story, but some of his dialogue seemed far fetched for the situation. “Episode 22” by Larry Correia is a fantastic tale written in a specific style that I can’t go into without spoiling. This was excellent! One of my favorite writers, Keith R.A. DeCandido contributed “Deep Background.” A reporter is assigned to a unit of Marines and learns something of great value. I loved the portrayal of the corporation. “Empty Nest” by Brian Keene starts as a typical bug hunt, but changes when a survivor is found. Not going in the expected direction made this tale stand out. Heather Graham is responsible for “Darkness Falls,” which features a terrific setting, but didn’t work because of what the xenomophs had bonded with. “Hugs to Die For” by Mike Resnick and Marina J. Lostetter, which is my choice for best title in this collection, starts in one of the most terrifying, twisted settings and, naturally, things go wrong. This was great reading. The wake of Ripley’s adventures is causing Marines issues in “Deep Black” by Jonathan Maberry, which features some good scary scenes, while “Distressed” by James A. Moore is okay, with expected Aliens versus Marines thrills. The strongest story is “Dangerous Prey” by Scott Sigler, which is told from the Aliens’ point of view. How is this possible? You’ll have to read it to find out, but Sigler knocks this out of the park, being true to the characters and absolutely chilling. The final tale is “Spite” by Tim Lebbon. This is another tale with xenomorphs that didn’t come off as believable, both in their look and their special ability.

The final line: A solid collection of Aliens tales, with only a few that didn’t work, and that’s only because of my predilection for the monsters to be in line with those seen in the films. Several of the stories are must-reads that expand well known characters from the franchise. If you’re a fan of the films, this is one to pick up. If you’re new to xenomorphs, read with the lights on. Overall grade: A-

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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