Aliens: Infiltrator by Weston Ochse
Titan, pb, £6.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Dr Timothy Hoenikker takes a job on a Weyland-Yutani facility to study genuine alien artefacts. However, his actual role is researching the effect of Xenomorph bio-materials on living creatures. Hoenikker’s misgivings of his new job are further compounded. The station has been infiltrated by an industrial spy working for a rival of Wayland-Yutani, and suspicion falls on him. Witnessing the warped and petty bureaucracy on the station first hand, Hoenikker quickly realises how badly things could go if the creatures he’s been experimenting on escapes.
As a former Colonial Marine, Victor Rawlings can also see which way the station is heading. When he hears about the imminent arrival of Xenomorph eggs on the station, he sets about creating backup plans for a future he hopes never comes; an adult Xenomorph free on the station.
When approaching an Alien novel, the reader will already have some expectations about what will happen. However the story starts, whatever confidences the characters have that they have contained the Xenomorph, we, the reader, know it won’t be enough. We know the Xenomorphs will escape; what we want to know is who, if anyone, will survive. Managing the Aliens fans’ expectation and keeping them guessing until the end is not an easy task. Ochse expertly manages this balancing act by giving us a cast of engaging characters of varying skill sets and hits us with the tension from the very beginning.
Hoenikker is a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. He takes a job researching alien artefacts only to discover the job is really conducting experiments on rodents and insects with alien goo. In my opinion, if there is anything worse than a Xenomorph, it is an arachnid Xenomorph. As if the uncomfortableness of experimenting on living beings wasn’t enough, Ochse also ramps up the awkwardness. There is bureaucratic infighting among the different sections aboard the station and a few scares with escaping experiments. All this demonstrating Pala Station is not the tightknit organisation it must be to survive an escaped adult Xenomorph.
Then, there is the infiltrator. When it becomes apparent there is a spy on board, suspicion falls on Hoenikker because he is the newest person. Isolated and a very long way from home, it’s hard not to sympathise with him because we all know what is coming. Especially when it is announced the station is expecting a delivery of Xenomorph eggs.
Rawlings is the opposite of Hoenikker. An ex-Colonial Marine, he’s friendly with everyone on the station, meaning he can go places and see things he shouldn’t. In essence, he is us, the reader, seeing the signs and putting two and two together. He is also a prepper from his time as a marine, and when things go wrong, he is the most prepared.
One of the things I have always enjoyed about the Aliens franchise is that people don’t automatically become fearless when things go wrong. Cowards and still cowards, and drunks will still run for a drink. Rawlings can prepare all he wants, gather as many ex-marines together as he can. He cannot avoid human weaknesses, and that is what elevates the Aliens franchise from other horror and monster stories. Rawlings and Hoenikker give us both end of the survival spectrum in all their desperation and weakness.
The close paranoia on the station mixed with the fallibility of human nature and the horror of live experimentation on humans with Xenomorphs is nail-bitingly challenging to deal with. It is almost a relief when things finally go wrong, and the ex-marines do what they do best and with extreme force. Aliens: Infiltrator is a nerve-wracking build to an explosive end that keeps faithfully to the franchise we all love so much and is a strong prequel to the latest game Aliens: Fireteam.