Book - The Complete Aliens Omnibus: Volume #1

Chris Smith settles down with his pet face-hugger to read The Complete Aliens Omnibus Volume #1 from Titan Books...

First some history: The three stories contained within Aliens: Omnibus Volume 1 originally appeared as comics published by Dark Horse in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Earth Hive, the first story - originally entitled Outbreak - was adapted into a novelisation as a tie-in to the 1992 film Alien 3 although Earth Hive (and its sequels, Nightmare Asylum and The Female War) is actually a continuation of the story started in 1986's Aliens, except Newt and Hicks are now known as Billie and Wilks. Still with me? Good.

Earth War has Wilks and Billie still coming to terms with what happened on Rim although Lt. Ripley is curiously absent from Billie's recollections. While she languishes in a mental hospital, Wilks is serving a sentence for stoned-and-disorderly before being Shanghaied into a secret mission. It appears the Xenomorphs' home world has been discovered and - as people seem intent to do when uncovering the birth place of a race of inhuman killing machines - multiple organisations are desperate to acquire a "specimen". One of these groups is led by a self-proclaimed prophet who sees the creatures as the messiah. When one of the aforementioned inhuman killing machines is brought to Earth, gore-drenched hilarity ensures.

Nightmare Asylum continues immediately after with Wilks, Billie and Bueller on a robotic freighter fleeing Earth to regions unknown. After dealing with some toothy stowaways, they arrive at a remote military base run by General Spears who believes he has the secret to reclaiming Earth...

The Female War has the famous Lt. Ripley making a re-appearance. Wilks and Billie have discovered a modicum of safety on Gateway Station but a suicidal plan involving the Matriarch of the Aliens sees them head out into space for the final battle.

The trilogy is written by Steve Perry although his daughter, Stephanni, co-wrote Female War. As a result the prose remains consistent throughout the Omnibus. Chapters are numerous and short, keeping the action moving forward. This helps to skip over those more-than-a-few passages Steve Perry obviously didn't have much to work with, although what is offered is enjoyable. The story follows the original comic but the reader would still be better off treating the Omnibus as a separate entity rather than as an adaptation.

Annoyingly, in many places there's little information to bulk out the original comic in the "juiciest" places bar a few short scenes. If, for example, you wanted to know more about the last moments of Earth, you're going to be disappointed. It's limited to a few paragraphs about Jakarta being nuked, mass murder and soldiers playing Whack-A-Xenomorph Hive. Ok, so the destruction of Earth isn't the main focus of the trilogy but it is a main feature and, you know, one of the titles. Snippets of the aftermath of Earth's destruction are sprinkled throughout Nightmare Asylum and The Female War to good effect. Here less is more but still one can't help but feel that there was more that could have been written, especially around the trials faced by the family of survivors who increasingly feature towards the end of the book.

Unfortunately in Earth War, little space is spent on really exploring the characters and their motivation. Yes, greed can make people do stupid things, like bringing an inhuman killing machine to Earth, but is that it? Where's the recognition that it might have been a stupid idea? What about their families? Or tales of heroism and/or cowardice in the final moments of our home world? Nope. Not an alien sausage.

Where time is spent is on fleshing out Wilks and Billie although, even here, they end up a little skinny. Wilks is the world-weary soldier who can see disaster coming a mile off but he cares for Billie, who's his only link to what really happened. Billie cares for Wilks for the same reasons and stays with him because, hey, the alternative is a lobotomy. When she falls for a lonely, young marine, there's a sense to it because it's comfort in an uncaring universe. As a trio (well, a duo-and-a-half) it sort of works provided you don't question it or think too hard about the reasons behind a young, emotionally unstable woman falling in love with the first soldier who shows her some compassion 12 years after another soldier saved her life... This dynamic gets even creepier in The Female War when some of Billie's Alien Queen-influenced dreams become sexualised/slightly rape-y and Wilks starts noticing Billie is now a woman (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).

The depiction of Billie's relationship with Bueller is OK but hardly enthralling. In truth, Perry has a tendency to make Billie incapable of talking about anything other than men. Things are a little better in The Female War when she becomes determined to save a young girl stranded on Earth but it isn't enough to make her sound and feel like a fully-rounded character. In many ways, the books are a product of their era but, at the same time, it's difficult to not feel a little cheated.

Characterisation aside, the trilogy admittedly does its job very well. Grounded in the cinematic Aliens universe, it's science-fiction soft enough to almost be pulp, the action doesn't stop moving. Characters are there to either shoot Xenomorphs or be eaten by them (or worse). The prose doesn't try to do anything fancy and the three stories can be burned through in a few evenings. Perry's idea that the aliens communicate by telepathy isn't original but well-implemented and becomes a central part of the story. While Earth War and Nightmare Asylum are obviously the Alien 3 we never had, the Perrys weave the actual Alien 3 into the story rather well although - again - you can't help but feel there's a longer, more interesting story being hinted that.

Earth War is a little weak in places but the concept behind it is enough to retain interest until Nightmare Asylum, which is more than capable of standing on its own (mad scientist) legs. The Female War is by far the best of the three and delivers a satisfying, if ambiguous, ending - or at least until the other omnibuses are released.

A fun trilogy for fans of the Alien franchise, The Aliens Omnibus is still well-worth a read over two decades later.

Image - Titan Books

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