When the movie Alien was made in 1979, it sent shockwaves throughout the public. Whereas Star Wars featured a universe teeming with adventure for every daydreaming farmboy, Alien was a cold icy void where a horrible death was all but inevitable.
Had Hollywood moved on, I think Alien would have been thought of as one of those revered cult favorites that surf just over the crest of obscurity. But as we know, that’s not what happened.
Rather, one of the best and worst things happened to it. It acquired a sequel and because of that sequel, the legacy of Alien lives on. In this case, by a book written by Alex White, author of what I consider the best Alien book of all time, The Cold Forge. (I’ve read a few of them). Does this book hold up? Keep reading to find out in my Alien: Into Charybdis review.
About Those Colonial Marines …
Before going further, let me qualify a statement. That is, Aliens is the best and worst thing to happen to Alien franchise. Aliens is an amazing movie that combined the best of action with excellent horror beats. It also built upon the original movie as a foundation.
Unfortunately, it also codified the idea of the Colonial Marines. In that movie, the marines were a joke to the Xenomorphs. All but one of the marines was killed. Yet, these marines became a defining feature of the franchise, standing alongside the Xenomorph itself.
The Colonial Marines have since been emulated so many times that I roll my eyes when I encounter them. Words such as ‘stay frosty’, ‘game over, man’, and ‘bug hunt’ never fail to produce a groan from me. It’s always the same cliche and cliches are boring.
Needless to say, Alien: Into Charybdis does features Colonial Marines but thankfully, it’s not all stomach-churning. At least, not as much as it could have been.
I understand that for some readers, the marines are a genre requirement. For me, they are an exercise in patience. This is why I’ve avoided the short story collection Aliens Bug Hunt edited by the great Jonathan Mayberry because I can’t stand to spend any more time with these fictional soldiers.
Okay, enough dilly-dallying. After all, you are here to read about my Alien: Into Charybdis review.
The book starts with a repair crew landing at an Iranian colony to upgrade their computer systems. It was a very interesting start because there’s a lot of negotiation and trickery occurring from both sides.
Eventually, things grow heated from both sides and the repair crew is detained by the Iranians. The crew calls in the colonial marines and suddenly a mysterious ship is discovered which in Alien speak means bad things.
Eventually, the Xenomorphs do show up. Or rather, they just appear. One moment the book is all about political tension and work conflicts, the next moment, it is Xenomorph heaven.
In a lot of these books, there is a slow buildup that punctuates with an outbreak. In this case, they just appear on the scene which was a little too jarring for me.
Once the Xenos appear, hilarity ensues in a fight for survival where the good guys aren’t necessarily who you think they will be which was somewhat refreshing.
If this Alien: Into Charybdis review sounds disappointed, well, unfortunately, you’d be right. The Cold Forge was an amazing read from an obviously very talented writer. While I appreciate the world-building in this book as well as some great character moments, the book falls a little flat.
This isn’t to say it is a bad book. It has an intense third act which surprised the cynical part of me and there are some good individual moments of suspense that caught me by surprise. Alex White knows his craft.
Unfortunately, there are some weird things as well like a great deal of current-day politics transposed into the future with lots of talk about various countries vying for power. This felt weird being that nationalism isn’t really a part of the Aliens universe. Corporations are the big players so it felt “off” to me.
Also, it’s weird to read about email addresses being a thing in the far-flung future. It felt too contemporary for a story that takes place in the far future. It is the same regarding some flashbacks that take place in Afghanistan.
I listened to the audiobook version and Shiromi Arserio does a decent job at narrating it. She does great in the beginning when the story focuses on the small crew. She also manages to pull off the villain with ease.
My verdicts range from a skip, meh, to read. I put this as a meh because while the narrative does produce some interesting moments, at the end of the book, the story feels a little tired and a little forced. There is a connection to The Cold Forge, but it doesn’t work for me.
If you are a fan of the genre, it’s a fair book worth reading. Otherwise, read the far superior The Cold Forge that tells a much better story but also elevates the genre in the process.