Alien: Colony War Review

Posted by Corporal Hicks on May 24, 2022 (Updated: 06-Oct-2023)

Political tensions boil over on Earth, spreading to the outer fringes of known space as the UK colony of New Albion breaks with the Three World Empire. When an oil-drilling facility on nearby LV-187 is destroyed, its French colonists slaughtered, the British are blamed. Military forces arrive from the Independent Core Systems and combat erupts.

Trapped in the middle are Cher Hunt and Chad Mclaren. Cher is trying to find out who was responsible for the death of her sister, Shy Hunt (of McAllen Integrations from Alien: Into Charybdis). At the same time Mclaren, accompanied by the synthetic known as Davis, follows in the footsteps of his late wife, Amanda Ripley, seeking to stop the weaponization of Xenomorphs. When a horde of the deadly aliens overwhelms both groups, however, their only hope may lie with Royal Marine Corps unit known as “God’s Hammer.”

In April of 2022 Titan Books released Alien: Colony War. Written by David Barnett, Colony War is a continuation of the story established in Alex White’s Alien: The Cold Forge and Alien: Into Charybdis and also begins to tie into the events of Free League’s Alien: The Roleplaying Game.

Author David Barnett has previously written for the Alien franchise, with the short Hotel Mariposa in the recent anthology Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey. In Hotel Mariposa Barnett crafted a wonderful narrative that merged the tropes of a classic horror story into the science-fiction realm of Alien and Predator, along with a new and interesting take on how mental health was handled in Predator culture.

But like many of the shorts within Ultimate Prey, the Aliens did get short-changed. However, it was still my favourite short in the anthology and I had confidence going into Alien: Colony War that David Barnett would capture my interest. However, to paraphrase Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, I was wrong. I was so wrong.

Alien: Colony War is easily my least favourite Alien novel that Titan Books has released in their 5 years publishing Alien books. We’ve had some ups and downs, with the game related tie-ins disappointing me, but we’ve also seen some of the best fiction Alien has to offer with the aforementioned novels from Alex White, as well as Aliens: Phalanx from Scott Sigler.

However, Alien: Colony War managed to let me down and frustrate me far more than any of the other books – and you all remember how much Aliens: Infiltrator’s Timothy Hoenikker infuriated me – and I have some things to say on it.

Before I work myself into a fervour by talking about where I think Alien: Colony War failed, I do have to shine a light on where I think David Barnett really excelled. There is some phenomenal descriptive imagery in terms of how the Aliens are depicted in this book. I wish more authors would actually describe the Alien with the same Hell-bound reverence that David Barnett does.

 Alien: Colony War Review

But that is unfortunately where my fondness for Alien: Colony War ends. I think my biggest problem comes from the fact that the majority of the novel’s page count is just parody. It is Titan’s Alien: Resurrection. And it feels as if it’s Barnett attempting to keep himself entertained while writing, hitting the bullet points of the checklist that Titan handed him.

I nearly threw the book at the wall when I came to a squad of elite British Royal Commandos, all named after the firefighters from the 1960s British show Trumpton, complete with both Pughs. What.An.Absolute.Joke.

Alien: Colony War feels like a cynical tie-in novel where the author is trying to accomplish specific plot elements that have been asked of him, all the while infusing it with some “humor” so he didn’t get bored while working on it.

This is primarily seen in the Colony War’s allegory to Brexit. Actually, calling it an allegory is too kind. The influence isn’t veiled in the slightest. My dislike has nothing to do with the inclusion of events mirroring current events – science-fiction has and always will be the place for social commentary – but in how it’s handled. Once again, I refer to the word parody. Barnett’s disdain for the Leave voters is so obvious in the way the topic is handled in Colony War, right down the caricature of Boris Johnson as the Prime Minister of the Three World Empire colony New Albion.

The majority of the colonist are painted as caricatures of raging racist leave voters. There is absolutely no nuance or subtly in the way secession is handled in this book. There is no exploration of the benefits or detractions of the idea of secession. It’s just everyone who wanted to was a clown. Even the reference to Brexit in the story is groan inducing, with the event in the novel referred to as 3WExit.

At least Brexit is a play on words that mildly works. 3WExit just dates the novel in the way that the colonialism commentary in War of the Worlds doesn’t. And I say this as someone who quite clearly sat on the same side of that decision as David Barnett did. Not only was it a ridiculous distraction, but it was an absolute waste of the Three World Empire’s introduction into the novel universe.

 Alien: Colony War Review

Aliens: Colony War is Titan’s first novel where it’s trying to connect to a wider story going on alongside Free League’s Alien: The Roleplaying Game. I love this idea! I adore a franchise that tries to keep everything connected and relevant to each other. It was something I missed in the earlier comics and novels, because outside of the first 4 stories the expanded universe remained largely standalone.

So to see Titan and Free League try to connect is something I’m all for, especially with the inclusion of short scenarios for the RPG in the back of the book. I’ve not had the opportunity to play it yet (and as a player, I wont read it to spoil it) so I can’t comment on it, but I think it’s a fantastic idea to try to capture a new audience, to get the readers interested in the RPG.

And to that end, I think it’s a terrible idea to not build into that connection better. Instead, we get random peppering’s of events from the RPG’s last Operations Manual that mean nothing to readers of the novel who haven’t already played or read the Ops Manual. I’m a huge fan of both Alien and the RPG, and even I haven’t gotten around to reading the Colonial Marines Operation Manual so I was a little lost with these events forming a huge backdrop of what is going on in the early parts of the novel that received only random and off-handed mentions.

There were several broadcasts early on that I felt would have made a nice platform to explain it a little better without spoiling the events of the RPG scenario. One of the book’s main characters was a journalist so there was a perfect delivery system there that would have felt organic. I understand some of the intent of the partnership between Titan and Free League is to get people who read the novels but haven’t played the game to get interest. I think getting them lost in the book is a bad marketing move.

 Alien: Colony War Review

Speaking of how Alien: Colony War handles random drop in’s like that, I really didn’t like how we were introduced to Chad McClaren. Fans will know the name from the Special Edition of Aliens, of course, but the way Barnett handles Chad’s actual introduction into lore makes it feel like I should have known all about him before. Like I was missing a previous novel or comic. We do get more backstory as we progress, but just that introduction is so jarring and poorly handled.

While there were glimmers of something in Chad, I also didn’t find him particularly engaging as a character. His motivations are no different to Amanda Ripley or Zula Hendricks, to the point he feels like a clone, and the only interesting elements in Aliens: Colony War came around what he knew about the fates of both of them. And ho boy. That retcon.

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

And there was something potentially interesting in that angle. Chad was a scientist. I would love to see him take a darker turn of actually pursuing the Aliens to meet those ends. We just don’t see enough of the expanded universe exploring those other aspects of the Alien, and when we do we get some fantastic results! Alex White’s Into Charybdis is a case in point right there. There’s something there with Chad, but it’s not here in Colony War.

There’s lot more I could say about Cher Hunt, or the decisions made with Davis too, or the rat Alien, or the random Queen mind-controlling (though I like the concept, but it’s not led into it properly, like a lot of little elements in the book) but I’m starting to get genuinely exhausted with just putting my dislike of this book into words so I’ll start to wrap up.

Before I do I just have to mention Colony War’s Pulse Rifles. With the novel’s intentions to tie into the wider world-building I was disappointed to see all of New Albion’s forces using Pulse Rifles. We eventually saw some Weyland-Yutani weaponry show up in the hands of the Trumpton Firefighters, but it would have been better world-building had we seen more weaponry that we’re now starting to see associated with the 3WE in Aliens: Fireteam Elite and the RPG instead of the typical Pulse Rifles everywhere.

And the Pulse Rifles! What an absolute foul-up. It seemed like David Barnett had forgotten to re-watch Aliens prior to starting work on Aliens: Colony War. Throughout this novel the Pulse Rifles are referred to as firing “pulse blasts” and running off batteries. It brought to mind this quote from Larry Correia’s excellent Episode 22 in Aliens: Bug Hunt.

 Alien: Colony War Review

I can’t bring myself to dig any further into the issues I have with Aliens: Colony War. It’s just not enjoyable. It’s not a worthwhile piece of the Aliens expanded universe and it is quite easily the worse thing that Titan has published for Alien.

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Comments: 18
  1. Yep, just finished this one and it was pants, sadly. Literally the only thing I enjoyed was the easter egg use of the Kenner Evac Fighter and Stinger as in-universe real vehicles, but even then it’s wasted as Barnett makes the clearly atmospheric Evac Fighter a space fighter. A real shame.

  2. You forgot the bald face rip off of the starwars movies, Solo and Star Wars where the Chad guy gets a ship by gambling and it is in imround, then they repeat the Death Star scene in the Prison and use “Mary Poppins” references. I could not finish this steaming mess. Worse book ever

  3. As a preface, Im not British (Im American) so the 3wexit stuff only seemed anachronistic to me. I have a certain level of distance between myself and Brexit. I knew the Author was British, so I was surprised he handled so, not carelessly, but maybe he forced it into the story because when it wasn’t necessary.

    I like how the book introduces us to Cher Hunt. Although she like everyone else, doesn’t have much development. And although I love Amanda Ripley, Im with you Hicks in that her inclusion is nothing but a name drop at this point and I think the books should move on from the Ripley’s and give us new characters to love and root for.

    I am not as negative on this book as you are. I thought it was better than Prototype, but after reading what Alex White has done with Cold Forge and Into Charybdis, they should be brought back. Hell, I think Alex White should be in the writers room for Hawley’s show.

  4. I love the part where someone shoots a ‘pulse rifle’ at a dead alien for half a minute. And they never seem to get splashed with acid, even when they empty shotgun into the aliens’ maws.

  5. While I didn’t dislike it nearly as much, I will say that I totally feel the “checklist” comment. It felt more like an Alien “fill in the blank” type book. It also had the problem of doing stuff other books had already done, but not as well. Specifically there’s a big reveal in the book that was done far better as the central plot point in Alien Echo, which was also a book about a Xeno outbreak on a colony. And I totally agree with the points on Chad. I had a moment wondering if I had forgotten about a character. In fact Chad is also an example of another weird thing about this book. It felt kinda like the book of “sidekicks”. Davis is Zula’s sidekick. While Chad and Cher aren’t sidekick’s exactly, they’re in the book as connecting tangents from other characters.

    All that being said, I still enjoyed reading it. I agree with all the criticisms above, but I walked away from it feeling the book was just mediocre rather than straight up bad. I’ve read other stuff that I would rate way way lower than Colony War.

  6. It was a struggle to read, the brexit references constantly shoehorned in, ‘Boris Johnson’ as the PM of New Albion etc… I’m no fan of Brexit and the Tories and I get that Sci-Fi has always had political references but at least be subtle. It was also quote ironic that the British characters seem to be painted as xenophobic, brexit supporting little Englanders but are basically caricatures of British stereotypes, ‘enough grenades for an over of cricket’ 🙄.

  7. As an average American dipshit who knows little about UK politics, I don’t know how much that stuff will bother me. But it sounds like there’s plenty of other annoyances to go around.

    I’ve lost motivation to open the book… Maybe I’ll take in the audio version.

  8. Ugh. I normally find some way to enjoy any and every installment in the series but I have to agree with your review here. Too much politics, not enough Aliens. Also the spelling McLaren? Come on!

  9. Completely agree with these points. Another observation I made while reading:

    In terms of tone, Colony War felt strangely off. It read more like a typical Marvel movie with a slight more emphasis on horror than something that would belong in the Alien franchise. And a minor gripe: since it’s a continuation of Alex White’s work, I expected it would at least follow a similar writing style, but it didn’t. It chose past-tense over present.

  10. I completely agree with this review, social commentary as the reviewer states should always be part of science fiction, however you can feel the venom about the result of the Brexit referendum from the author every time it is mentioned that it induces a immersion breaking whiplash effect. The ham-fisted shoving of the Brexit allegory into the colony secession introduction was the exact point I closed the book and will not return to finish it.

    I also couldn’t stand the mind-boggling decision to have all the Albion colonists speak in an almost 1940’s-esque cockney working class accent, I wonder if the authors obvious disdain for the working class (the majority of whom voted leave in the Brexit referendum) is why.

    Thank god I never got to the trumpton-squad or I might have torn the book up. This was my first Alien novel since reading Earth War back in the early 2000’s and has unfortunately made me gun-shy of purchasing others.

  11. Not pulling any punches here! Can’t really argue with any of the complaints, but strained Brexit references aside I enjoyed it reasonably enough – certainly more than Infiltrator, which I hated as much as you did this one.

    Some interesting bits, the (non-British) characters were OK and the story was essentially an Aliens retread with just enough changed to make it readable. My personal low point was a character described as being from Blackburn constantly saying ‘Guv’…I’m from Burnley and I’ve literally never heard anyone say it in this part of the country!

    Thought I actually had missed some sort of backstory concerning Chad, so good to know it wasn’t just me.

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