Pros: Characters, deep biological exploration, description, worldbuilding
Rating: 5 out of 5
When I heard there was an Alien novel coming out, I was cautiously intrigued. When I heard it was being written by Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire) I immediately bought Alien: Echo: An Original Young Adult Novel of the Alien Universe and sat down to read it. One of my favorite horror franchises together with one of my favorite, most consistently excellent authors–I knew it was going to be good! It managed to be every bit as amazing as I dared to hope it would be.
Olivia Shipp is the 17-year-old daughter of two xenobiologists. She has an identical twin Viola who has a mysterious autoimmune disease. The family has lived on the planet Zagreus for a short time; the parents were hired by the colony to survey the flora and fauna of the local ecosystem. Olivia helps out by locating and sketching newly-discovered species, getting a small payment in return. She’s also falling in love with Kora, a young woman from her class in school. She and Viola decide they want to have a party. Their father is going to be gone for a day surveying a salvaged scientific ship in orbit just to make sure there are no biological contaminants aboard, and their mother will be away in the field for long enough that they can get away with it. During the party, an emergency communication comes in from their father: something has gone horribly wrong on the science vessel. The students can’t help but notice when the colony shuttle crashes nearby, and Viola runs off to find their mother. Olivia, horrified at the thought of her sick sister alone in the wilds of Zagreus, goes after her with Kora and several others in tow. That’s when they find out that something terrible came back with the shuttle–and it survived the crash-landing.
I love the fact that Olivia’s intensive life-long exposure to her parents’ xenobiology work has left her able to comment on and theorize about the aliens’ biology, providing possible explanations for things like the secondary “mouth”. It also enables her to convey a fascinating amount of information about the planet Zagreus both before and after the aliens show up. The flora and fauna are wonderfully detailed and original. Since the citizens of Zagreus make a big deal about not pillaging their environment (although it isn’t as simple as that), it sets the scene for some interesting musings on Earth-like worlds:
Every inch of land that humans settle on worlds with their own preexisting biospheres is stolen.
The writing is extremely vivid, from the orange sky to the color of drying blood on the walls. I had no trouble “seeing” exactly what was going on, whether I was reading about Olivia setting out bait to attract new wildlife, or a tense chase scene through a variety of local terrain.
…[T]he lion-worm–a sightless, ground-dwelling predator that’s sort of like a mole, if moles were made of knives and hatred and cilia…
The characters are wonderful. I particularly liked Olivia and Viola’s parents, who aren’t always perfect, and don’t always have a perfect relationship, but who are nonetheless nifty people doing interesting things. The kids in this book interact with adults in very natural ways–they aren’t artificially made to be the heroes. They just do their damndest to stay alive and save their loved ones. I particularly loved the burgeoning and possibly fragile relationship between Olivia and Kora, which is a delightful young romance. It’s threatened first by a classmate who’s also in love with Kora, and then of course by the appearance of the aliens themselves.
Ahh, the aliens. This book is a part of the franchise, so we knew they’d show up. They’re handled really well, and are absolutely as scary as in the movie(s). (In fact, the book was so tense that I kind of welcomed pausing to make dinner.) Using Olivia’s experience and knowledge to explore them kept Grant from having to shoehorn in explanations of the various aspects of their biology that we’ve seen so far. There’s also a great little bit of foreshadowing here:
And there are so many bugs. Almost every world that has life has bugs, something chitinous and quick and impossible to eradicate.
As a fan of the Alien franchise, I gobbled this book up. As a fan of Mira Grant, I loved it. I knew as soon as I heard she’d written this book that she was the perfect author for it, and I wasn’t disappointed!