A direct sequel to Alien: Out of the Shadows, albeit set 200 years later, Alien: Sea of Sorrows mostly takes place on LV-178, site of the abandoned mines that featured so heavily in the previous book. When Decker – officer for the Interstellar Commerce Commission – is injured in an accident on LV-178, he’s suspended from his job after placing the blame for the accident squarely on the ruthless Weyland-Yutani corporation. The company kidnap Decker and coerce him into returning to LV-178 when it’s discovered that – during the accident – he had an episode in which he unwittingly formed a psychic bond with a hive of Xenomorphs beneath the toxic sands of the book’s title. Even after hundreds of years, numerous failed missions and countless casualties, Weyland-Yutani are still determined to capture and weaponise the Xenomorphs for their own gain…

James A. Moore’s book starts off strongly, with some excellent world building – particularly in relation to the state of Earth at the time the story takes place – that we don’t often see in the Alien novels. It’s a little odd that another alien race is mentioned as having been discovered by humans (Arcturians) in a very brief, off-hand comment and it’s especially strange that the Xenomorphs are then mentioned by some characters as the first alien life that humanity will be encountering, when the Arcturian contact seems like common knowledge), but other than that there’s some really interesting stuff about humanity’s position in the future.

Decker is a pretty well fleshed out character too, which is very refreshing indeed. One complaint I do have about him, however, is his connection to the two Ripleys (Ellen and Amanda) – with him being descended from them. Though this leads into the fact that he’s specifically targeted by the Xenomorphs due to his familial link to the Ripleys, it just feels like a very tenuous and unnecessary plot contrivance. The same can be said of his empathic abilities, which don’t really fit very well in the gritty, more grounded universe of Alien; they’re not put to very good use anyway, with him often just feeling rage and anger from the Xenomorphs (as if that isn’t obvious just by looking at them).

Talking of things that don’t really fit into the Alien universe, the addition of plasma rifles to the arsenal of the humans just feels like a convenient way to deal with the Xenomorphs without the traditional issues with acid damage, and beyond a few scenes isn’t particularly well used in any case. It just adds a layer of space opera to the more grounded and militaristic tone that we’re used to.

That said, there’s a lot of action after the build up at the beginning of the book and though it’s a little frustrating that, hundreds of years after the events of Alien and Aliens, we’re still seeing characters completely caught off guard by the Xenomorphs and their life cycle, it’s well written and fast paced, if a little repetitive in terms of feel to the action in James Cameron’s classic Aliens. How many times can the reader – who clearly wouldn’t be picking up an Alien novel without prior familiarity of the franchise – be expected to read about the Alien life cycle as if we’re discovering it for the first time?

The climax at least seems to move the situation forward, however – at last – which should hopefully lead us into a much more interesting and unique conclusion to the trilogy. The elements are in place for there to be a story in which the Xenomorphs are finally known to the characters involved; there’s even the possibility of characters returning, if the narrative doesn’t take another long leap forward chronologically. It’d be good to see the series move away from unnecessarily shoehorning one or both of the Ripley characters into the narrative at least; let’s hope that’s the case. Sea of Sorrows certainly isn’t a bad book – it’s entertaining and full of nicely written action, with some unusually strong characterisation for a few of the story’s personalities – it’s just a shame that, like Out of the Shadows, there isn’t the confidence to let it stand on its own too feet without the unnecessary links to Ripley.

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