Pros: Rollicking good action!
Rating: 5 out of 5
At the time I bought Tim Waggoner’s Alien: Prototype (set in the universe of the Alien and Aliens movies), it wasn’t at all obvious on Amazon that this was a follow-on to a specific other book (I believe it’s Alien: Isolation). So I was a little confused by a bunch of alluded-to background on the main character, Zula Hendricks, who apparently used to fight aliens with Amanda Ripley (Ellen’s daughter, I believe). However, once the story picks up you won’t feel left behind. Tamar Prather is a corporate spy pretending to be a space pirate, and she just found the mother-load: a stasis pod containing an alien egg. She works for Venture, a rival of Weyland-Yutani, and it’s worth a lot of money to her to get this treasure to her corporate masters. She takes it to the Lodge, or station V-22, where Dr. Millard Gagnon, a psychopathic piece of work, sets about experimenting on his new find. A live Xenomorph is a lot more valuable than an egg, so he pays someone to volunteer for an experiment (not an unusual way of doing things for Venture). Of course the resulting larval Xenomorph doesn’t stay penned up for long–and it incorporated something special from its host into its DNA: an extremely virulent disease. It has weaponized the disease, and incorporated a new instinct into its drives: to spread the disease. Gagnon dubs the new species a Necromorph. Zula, who used to be a Colonial Marine, is on-station teaching a bunch of trainees protective duty. She’s had experience with Xenomorphs, and when things go south she rallies her inexperienced troops to do whatever they can.
As usual, corporate scientists are totally psychopathic and care about discovery at the cost of whatever human lives might be necessary. I guess I’m used to that with Weyland-Yutani, and it makes sense that they have a consistent corporate culture, but I would have liked to see a little variation in dealing with a rival corporation. On the other hand, that element is sort of part of the structure of Alien tales, so maybe it would be a bit weird if it weren’t present. I really like the character of spy Tamar, because she’s charismatic and it’s hard not to like her, but she’s utterly and completely self-serving. Zula is also great. She’s tough but has her own issues, and she does a great job dealing with needing her trainees’ help against the Necromorph but also trying to keep them alive.
The advent of the Necromorph itself is fantastic. I love seeing the ways in which the Xenomorph’s adaptation to its host’s DNA changes the Xenomorph. This is a really interesting variation on that, and it introduces some irregularities into the Necromorph’s behavior.
As usual there are a couple of synthetics in the mix, obvious from the start. Zula’s friend Davis is currently lacking a body, so he’s acting much as an AI in a computer, only much more human. He’s trying to stay under the radar while still helping Zula out by making things happen within the station computer system. Brigette is another synthetic who works for Dr. Gagnon; there’s some question as to how much free will she has, as she seems to disapprove of his methods but carries them out anyway.
I’m enjoying reading Alien novels this week. I’d almost forgotten how much I love that franchise.