It’s a shame that so many Alien-related novels fall back on so many obvious tropes or rely on familiar characters to spin their tales. Though Alien: Prototype is loaded with a few neat ideas, it can’t escape the feeling of deja vu.
An Alien egg is stolen from a spaceship by pirates, one of whom is actually a corporate spy working for the Venture Corporation – a rival to the all-powerful Weyland-Yutani. She delivers the egg to a Venture facility on a remote colony world, whereupon the head scientist enlists a human test subject to find out exactly what it is the egg contains – leading to an outbreak of more than just the familiar, Xenomorph-shaped kind…
Featuring prominently in the novel is ex-Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks, who first appeared in the underwhelming comic series Aliens: Defiance – in which she was a fairly uninteresting protagonist (and doesn’t particularly redeem herself here). Along with her AI companion Davis (also from the comic series), she leads a team of trainee Venture soldiers to kill the beast – but there’s so many of them and they’re so thinly sketched that they all just feel like cannon fodder. Early attempts to flesh them out in a training exercise gone wrong just ends up making Zula look reckless and stupid; it’s difficult to believe that the Venture Corporation would be so cavalier with the machinery and the human lives in their care, despite the fact that they’re just as insidious and amoral as Weyland-Yutani, just on a smaller scale.
Other characters don’t fare much better, drifting in and out of the somewhat disjointed events of the story – such as an entire chapter devoted to a couple of colonists in order to, presumably, build some rapport with them for later events, but which turns out to be completely unnecessary.
The Xenomorph itself is an interesting, if overpowered, creation though – thanks to a genetic quirk, it’s blessed (or perhaps cursed) with the ability to rapidly spread airborne and direct infections, giving the threat an added dimension that we don’t usually see. There’s also a number of sections that are written from the Xenomorph’s point of view that work quite well to give a bit of insight into its rampage.
The unique name the creature is given isn’t as original as writer Tim Waggoner may think, despite it being original within the Alien universe – any time it was mentioned, all I could think of was the video game Dead Space (minor spoiler there if you know what I’m talking about).
Waggoner’s prose style does the job and the Infected Alien twist does add quite a bit of graphic, gory horror to proceedings – but after a strong, unusual start with the pirates and note of corporate espionage, it’s unfortunate that we slip back into a somewhat formulaic story. The B-Movie style epilogue just feels like an open ended thread that’s unlikely to be picked up on either. Ultimately, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Alien: Prototype is a disappointing read – and it buries some neat ideas underneath layers of familiar tropes and dull characters.
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