Review: “Alien: River of Pain,” Christopher Golden

Pros: Great depiction of the lead-up to the Aliens movie
Cons: Doesn’t really conclude the trilogy
Rating: 5 out of 5

I’ll get this out of the way first. If you’ve read the first two books in the trilogy, you’re probably going to be disappointed by the fact that this book in no way concludes the trilogy. Apart from an allusion to Ripley’s buried memories from book one, it has nothing to do with the first two books and is basically a standalone writeup of what happened on LV-426 (Acheron) before Ripley and the marines show up in the movie Aliens. I found this kind of annoying since book two left off with a great setup for a follow-on, but it doesn’t change the fact that this book is actually quite good when taken on its own merits.

Christopher Golden’s Alien: River of Pain (Novel 3) introduces us to planet LV-426, also known as Acheron–the planet where the Nostromo discovered the Xenomorphs in the movie Alien. Frankly it’s a crappy planet (technically a moon) for terraforming and colonizing, but Weyland-Yutani has hopes of finding evidence of alien life there, so they influenced things such that a colony, Hadley’s Hope, was settled there. The colony is still fairly new, and young Rebecca Jorden, better known as Newt, was the first child born on-world, to parents Anne and Russell Jorden. Anne and Russell are wildcatters, who explore the surface of the planet looking for any kind of find that would appeal to the company. Captain Demian Brackett is the new CO of the Colonial Marines stationed on the planet–and Anne was his first love, many years ago. When the company questions newly-discovered Ripley (who’s been in stasis for 57 years) and finds out about the aliens she fought on LV-426, they get coordinates and send the Jordens out to the crashed spaceship. When a facehugger attaches onto Russ’s face, he’s brought back to base by a rescue team and everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

This is a rollicking good time of a science fiction/horror crossover. It has everything you could want: plucky characters and devious characters. Creeping horror and all-out firefights. Noble marines and troublemaking marines. Xenomorph critters and facehuggers. Conflict among the marines, the scientists, and the marines vs the scientists. The vicious guiding hand of Weyland-Yutani, always searching for more and easier profit, determined to turn the aliens into a weapon.

There’s plenty of gore and acid blood and firefights. There are all the various stages of trying to save the colony. And even though we know from the start of Aliens how this has to end, it’s still fascinating to see how the book gets there. It’s also making me want to go watch the movie again, to try to see how well the book matches up with what we see of the colony in the movie.

All in all, if you’re looking for a fun bit of military sf/horror, this is a great option. Now what I really want to see is a crossover between the Lucky’s Mercs saga and the Xenomorphs…

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