BOOK REVIEW: ALIENS: Bug Hunt by Jonathan Maberry

Have you ever entered a supermarket and picked up one of those large packets of crisps that combine an assortment of ‘mixed things?’ You know the ones; you might find a blend of Monster Munch, French Fries, Wotsits and Doritos cranking up the calorie count of a normal packet to artery clogging quantities. They usually have several secretly mingled flavours too, that are as spicy as the sun to keep the ‘fun’ factor involved. In the end though, you feel like you’ve just palmed a mish-mash of different textured cheese into your gaping mouth hole. The effects leave you a little nauseous and discombobulated.

Aliens: Bug Hunt is a lot like that.

Titan Books gives us a slew of compelling new tales set in the Aliens universe. There are 18 short stories in all, a smattering of them good but the majority of them not. Which is a shame because as an Alien fan, I really feel that the stories presented in this collection could have broken the mould a little, could have opened up the universe slightly to new and exciting things, but more often than not the stories edited by Jonathan Maberry follow generic ‘grunts get into a fight,’ with little lasting memory after reading them.

There are some stand out stories on offer though, each in their own right offering a glimpse of a new and refreshing look at the Alien world: Heather Graham’s ‘Darkness Falls,’ feels removed from the conventions of the book itself; there are colonial marines in the story, but they remain in the background, fodder for the alien menace in this particular tale. The main character (a former Captain) is actually someone I wanted to invest more time to get to know. Graham decided to be different and bestowed different animal species that have been impregnated by face huggers, in this case Blue Moon space centipedes. It brings an innovative perspective to the Alien universe, and opens up possibilities to what other animals could be used in the future with Geiger’s monsters. What would an Elephant Alien hybrid look like, for instance? Or a giraffe? The story reflects that centipedes with enhanced predatory skills could burrow into the earth (working well with the theme of the story) and conjured new images to the reader’s mind.

Broken,’ by Rachel Caine focuses on the android Bishop from his conception to a mission that doesn’t involve any bugs at all, but reads with heart and integrity, giving the reader a nuanced definition of the character and subsequently paving the way for his involvement in the film and there’s ‘Reclamation,’ by Yvonne Navarro, a tale that involves Hicks, the surviving marine from Aliens that will place readers into the Marmite Zone. You’ll either love it or hate it. In this installment, it turns out that Hicks was previously married to a marine before the events that occurred on LV-426 and that he’s actually encountered the aliens before. Now, it’s fine to tinker with characters from the film universe (Dietrich is in two of the stories, Bishop in one) to flesh out their backstories a little, or give us a better perspective on the character as a whole, but when you purposefully skewer the canon of the films to fit in with a fan fiction story (because really, that’s what this is) you have to work within the parameters already established beforehand. Purists might not like the fact that he has contact with the aliens before the events of the film. I can get behind that Hicks was married before, sure. It lends a depth to the character and the overall trust and respect he gains for Ellen Ripley in the film (his wife is a determined, takes-no-bullshit kind of person) but when you state that he’s encountered aliens before the events of Aliens and joins a platoon for the sole purpose for revenge is stretching things a little too far.

There’s also a painful editorial mistake in the book itself, involving a story (Dark Mother) with Carter Burke, the Weyland-Yutani company man from the film. The story picks up from the last shot of Burke in the film, (in a deleted scene of Aliens, Ripley comes across him as she returns to the complex to find Newt and discovers he’s cocooned in the sub basements – she gives him a grenade to end his life and the baby alien that resides inside him) and I could see what the author was trying to do here – it’s a great idea and had potential to become a redemptive story of a man knowing full well that he doesn’t have much time left in this world, but the tone starts jarring as we read further into it. We get a brief background to Burke’s upbringing, to a point where (possibly unrealistically) he tries negotiating with the alien to let him go. It seems laughable to think of someone trying to reason with the Alien, and it dissolves any tension that the film/story made up until that point, but there seems to be a segment (amusingly and quite unbelievably) where the editor cut out a portion of the story itself. Maybe the tale needed to be trimmed down, or there was a paragraph or two that was accidentally deleted, but on one page he’s imprisoned in the resin, cocooned with no way out, with no weapons at hand and then three quarters of the way down the page he has the grenade, running after Ripley and Newt. I had to re-read the part to make sure I hadn’t skimmed across it, but no – it just looks like a section has been removed. There’s also a sentence saying “He heard a huge Xenomorph pounding through the tunnels, charging towards him and he realised that the chance to kill it, to get it off Ridley’s tale,” instead of “…get it off Ripley’s tail.” Did they actually leave an author’s note in the finalised product?!? He seems to be making a note of the timing of the scene with an incident that follows in the movie, but it’s glaringly obvious that this isn’t supposed to be there. There’s also another spelling mistake in an earlier story.

In one story, ‘Episode 22,’ it reads as if the author had devoured the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual and simply wanted to write about the hardware that the soldiers use. As informative as this is, it left me feeling cold and I felt that there was a space that could have been used for a fictional story expanding the Colonial Marines philosophy down a different path.

There are also a few other mistakes that I’ll note here, intrinsically aware that this type of book is for one niche demographic in particular: fans. If you’re collecting short stories celebrating the colonial marines, then you need to know the lore, the mythos of the franchise. The aliens are CONSTANTLY called Xenomorphs. This was a name coined from the Aliens film when Gorman briefed his platoon on the Sulaco ship. He calls them Xenomorph because he doesn’t want to look stupid in front of his men talking about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life being on Hadley’s Hope – he wanted to look clever and competent in front of these soldiers that had more combat experience than him so used a word that he thought would sound smart…thinking that they would respect him. In the book it’s being used as an actual technical term for Geiger’s monster, but it’s not being used in the correct context. As I said before, this is intense nit picking, but there’s an overbearing sense that this book was rushed out to cash in on the imminent release of Alien: Covenant.

I love anthologies. STORGY are looking to print one soon, celebrating the short story form with our EXT EARTH contest. In the best kind of short stories, you get to experience different styles of writing, find an author that you can look up and find out more about – and in Aliens: Bug Hunt, there is that…albeit in small packages. It pains me to say that there was an opportunity here to make a great anthology based around the colonial marines from the Aliens film and with a little more finesse, this could have been something special.

Jonathan Maberry

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Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times best-selling and five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning suspense author, anthology editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer.

Aliens: Bug Hunt was published by Titan Books.

You can purchase a copy of Aliens: Bug Hunt from FoylesWaterstones, or The Book Depository:

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Review by Anthony Self

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