Despite feeling at times – with Ripley shoehorned into events between Alien and Aliens – like little more than fan fiction, the supposedly canonical Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon definitely had some great moments. Lebbon’s writing was pretty damn good and the main characters – again, Ripley aside – were impressively detailed and nicely handled.
It’s good to see Lebbon go beyond the comfortable confines of the original Alien trilogy’s timeline, a few hundred years into the future – and without the need to include any familiar characters at all. Though billed as a Predator book, Incursion is actually the first part in a trilogy (collectively named The Rage War) which features both Aliens and Predators – and even starts with an action/horror scene featuring Xenomorphs.
Pushing the timeline forward means that the position of humanity in the universe is very different to the situation we’re used to seeing, though the omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent Weyland-Yutani still seem to be just as all-powerful and nasty as they have been shown to be in other franchise stories.
Predators and Xenomorphs are known, familiar but still deadly threats in the universe – and it seems that the Yautja (which is the canonical name for the Predator species) are appearing in human-occupied territories in greater and greater numbers. What could be so terrifying that even the Yautja are fleeing from their own outposts and risking intergalactic war by encroaching into human-claimed space?
There’s interesting galactic politics at play here and plenty of gory action sequences, but there’s the sense that there are a few too many characters and it all feels like set-up, rather than a book with a satisfying beginning, middle and end. A late-stage, sustained torture sequence (followed by a bit of Stockholm Syndrome-esque loyalty switching) leaves a bad taste in the mouth too, with a few unnecessarily sadistic details thrown in for good measure.
Still, it is good to finally break the cycle of Weyland-Yutani/dodgy scientific experiments/Colonial Marines-style shenanigans and into a much more spacefaring tale, on a much bigger scale than is usually seen in Aliens fiction (and, again, despite the Predator’s top billing, it still feels more like an Aliens-led story which Predators happen to be in, rather than a tale 100% focused on the Yautja and the effects of the titular Incursion). As the first part of a trilogy, it does its job – though it doesn’t, at this stage, feel as if there’s enough going on to truly justify three whole books on the same story. Time will tell if the three book structure ends up being a blessing or a curse.
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