ALIENS: BUG HUNT Book Review: Xenomorph Tales To Mildly Thrill And Astonish

Like any short story collection, this Colonial Marines-themed tome has its up and downs.

Alien: Covenant lands in Drafthouse theaters today. Get your tickets here.

As Birth.Movies.Death.'s resident Alien fanboy (see here for recent proof), it only made sense that I'd be the one to review Titan Books' Aliens: Bug Hunt, a short story collection centered around the ongoing adventures of the Alien franchise's Colonial Marines.

First introduced in James Cameron's Aliens - both as a concept and as a collection of names the Alien fanbase would come to memorize over the years - these characters factor into some, but not all, of the tales found in Aliens: Bug Hunt. As it turns out, this is also the case with Alien's real star, the Xenomorph: some of Bug Hunt's stories put that gnarly ol' Star Beast front and center, while others introduce new (and sometimes interesting!) varieties of alien life form to the mix. 

This took some getting used to, if I'm being completely honest. The collection opens with a fairly generic "Colonial Marines encounter a nest of xenomorphs, bad shit happens" tale that left me expecting more of the same for the remainder of the book's ~350 pages, but the next story knocked me down a peg when it introduced a massive, kilometer-high wall of nano-aliens sweeping across the face of a Weyland-Yutani-owned planet. I was intrigued! I could work with this! 

What can I tell you? Like any short story collection, Aliens: Bug Hunt is a mixed bag. Some of the stories contain familiar characters (the specific crew from Aliens pops up as a group and in smaller factions, as in a story where PFC Frost finds himself trapped in a remote colony's bar with a bunch of chittering, Facehugger-like crabs milling around outside), some of them feature characters you've never met. Some of the stories shade in the early backstories of characters you already know (one reveals what kind of parents Burke had, and it's a very dark hoot), while others introduce strange new beasties we've never seen in an Alien movie (one particularly memorable tale finds the Marines taking on a sky full of kite-shaped, propane-filled creatures that explode on impact). 

A few of these stories deserve a special shout-out: Westone Ochse's "Zero To Hero" revolves around a Marine who's managed to get himself assigned to the most remote outpost in the galaxy (apparently, the fact that it's called LV-666 doesn't give him pause), only to find himself at the center of a massacre he's long lived in fear of. Larry Correia's "Episode 22" provides an interesting history of the Alien franchise's M41A Pulse Rifle. Jonathan Maberry's "Deep Black" has a direct connection to David Fincher's criminally-underrated Alien 3, and frequent readers of this site will know how much I must've appreciated that.

But the highlight for me - for a variety of reasons, which we'll explore shortly - was David Farland's "Dark Mother". I mentioned this one in passing earlier; it's the one about Paul Reiser's Burke, and picks up right where Burke's story left off in Aliens: having locked himself in a storage room to escape a Very Mad Offline™ Ripley, Burke immediately encounters a xenomorph drone, which promptly knocks him out and steals him away to the Alien Queen's chamber. Hilariously, Burke attempts to negotiate his way out of the encounter (also hilarious: the xeno responds by hitting him against a metal wall "like a baseball bat"), and then attempts to wriggle free when he finds himself staring down the barrel of an alien egg. 

All of this is interspersed with flashbacks to Burke's childhood (I won't spoil that surprisingly dark upbringing here, but rest assured that we're finally let in on why Burke is such a scumbag), and then - about three quarters of the way through the story, just after Burke proves unsuccessful in his attempts not to be facehugged - something truly strange happened: right smack dab in the middle of a paragraph, the author seemed to be arguing with himself:

"Burke woke to blaring sirens with a throat rubbed raw. They fall off of their own accord. ALSO - and shit, this doesn't work. The facehugger stays on for a few hours. The amount of time between when Burke is "taken" and the end of Alien (sic) is a ticking clock. And then it blows up. The room had grown blistering, and sweat poured from him, too much sweat. It was in his clothes, enasing him beneath the cocoon."

I read and reread this paragraph several times before shrugging it off and moving on. My first guess was that the author might be attempting to pull off some kind of meta trick, arguing with himself in the text as to why a Burke epilogue story just wouldn't work. But then, just a few pages later, another weird editorial error cropped up: Ripley was referred to as Ridley. A page or two later, this happened:

"He dropped to his knees, too weary to flee anymore, and gave birth. The alien ripped from his chest. Blood and fluids gushed out with it, his guts and stomach spilling onto the metal floor like afterbirth. NO. It takes 12-18 hours to gestate!"

It was here, on the final page of the story, that I keyed into what was happening: an editorial pass had been made of the text - either by the collection's editor, the aforementioned Jonathan Maberry, or by the author himself - and these notes had somehow been incorporated into the text...and then glossed over during the next pass. 

Now, your mileage may vary on this. Maybe you'd be annoyed. Maybe you'd tsk-tsk the fact that a 350+ page book centered around a gigantic Hollywood franchise might escape into the wild with such glaring editorial errors firmly in place, but I was delighted. I've read many books over the course of my three decades on this planet, and I have never encountered something quite like this. It was charming in a way, and certainly funny. 

More importantly, this weird detour was memorable, and that's more than I can say for a handful of the stories in Aliens: Bug Hunt. On the whole, this is a mixed-bag of a collection, one that will appeal more to die-hard Alien fans than anyone else, but - in between one thing and another, and especially considering the bizarro editorial snafu that pops up three quarters of the way through this collection - I can't help but give it a recommend. If you love Alien, the Colonial Marines and/or the universe they inhabit, this is a solid collection that'll keep you reasonably entertained through a few sittings. And, as an added bonus, you get to point out a bonkers publication error to your friends.

That's a win-win in my book.

Alien: Covenant lands in Drafthouse theaters today. Get your tickets here.