Olivia and her twin sister Viola have been dragged around the universe for as long as they can remember. Their parents, both xenobiologists, are always in high demand for their research into obscure alien biology.
Just settled on a new colony world, they discover an alien threat unlike anything they’ve ever seen. And suddenly the sisters’ world is ripped apart.
On the run from terrifying aliens, Olivia’s knowledge of xenobiology and determination to protect her sister are her only weapons as the colony collapses into chaos. But then a shocking family secret bursts open—one that’s as horrifying to Olivia as the aliens surrounding them.
The creatures infiltrate the rich wildlife on this virgin colony world—and quickly start adapting. Olivia’s going to have to adapt, too, if she’s going to survive…
Released in April 2019, Alien: Echo is the franchise’s first foray into the Young Adult genre and while I always intended to read the book, it wasn’t one I intended to review for the site. I was not the target audience for Alien: Echo so I felt it would be disingenuous of me to share my opinion on it.
But the more I spoke about the book, the more I realized there was a lot in it that I thoroughly enjoyed and that there were other people in the same situation as myself, outside of the Young Adult demographic, that were interested in the novel.
Though she hasn’t written for Alien before, author Seanan McGuire (using the pen-name Mira Grant) has previously written for Predator, contributing the short story Blood and Sand to the fantastic anthology Predator: If It Bleeds.
Like the majority of the shorts in If It Bleeds, I thoroughly enjoyed Blood and Sand and was more than ready to read McGuire’s debut Alien novel!
Before we get too far into the review, I wanted to start with the elephant in the room and address the Young Adult genre. When it was first announced I saw concerns about this meaning the book was going to be neutered and none violent. Apparently people are unaware of young adult books that revolve entirely around children killing each for the entertainment of a nation!
Alien: Echo is no less violent than any other Alien story. The particular shade of red that the blood is might not often be described in vivid detail, but heads are cut off, colonists are ripped to pieces and entrails are spilled.
If anything the young adult genre only shines through in the protagonist being a 17 year old colonist and that there’s a heavy romantic element in Alien: Echo. Unfortunately, the romantic element was actually my main issue with Alien: Echo.
Not because there is one, but because it’s quite prominent in situations that I don’t believe it should be. While I enjoyed reading through Olivia Shipp’s first date with Kora and her concerns with the burgeoning romance, what I couldn’t get on with was the pair stopping to passionately kiss while surrounded by walls soaked with blood, nor the frequent mind-wondering to how perfect Kora was or how her kisses tasted like motor oil while in similar life-or-death situations.
While I may be closing in on my 30th birthday, I still have memories of being that hormonal teenage boy whose mind often wandering off to my romantic interests. I’m just not sure those hormones would have been capable of distracting me like Olivia often was when surrounded by imminent death. Now I understand the romance element is actually seen as something of a staple of the Young Adult genre and is aimed specifically at those who read it but really, that was my only issue with the book.
Alien: Echo is the debut of Olivia Shipp who is set to return in Dark Horse Comic’s Aliens: Colonial Marines – Rising Threat and in Cold Iron Studio’s persistent online Alien shooter. And I absolutely loved her.
From the very opening pages I found myself endeared to both Olivia and her twin sister Viola. Alien: Echo is told entirely through first person and present tense perspective and so all of the text in the book is from Olivia’s personality and I just found her such a fun character to experience this story with.
I especially loved that the twins’ parents, John and Katherine Shipp, were expert xenobiologists and that Olivia was their apprentice (of sorts) as it meant she had the knowledge to assume things about the Aliens and not slow the pace of the novel down with the characters having to play catch-up with the readers.
Her mother was also attached to the Colonial Marines as an adviser at one point and learned some skills which she was then able to pass down to Olivia as well. I loved that Seanan gave her a background that meant she came with the skills necessary to survive an Alien novel and it all felt very natural.
When the shit hits the fan and the jokey and easy going nature of Olivia has to disappear, and she discovers certain secrets, Olivia’s reaction to them only made me love her even more. She came across as a very genuinely good person, and someone I wanted to stick around.
Another aspect of Alien: Echo that I also really enjoyed was just how much world-building was in it. As opposed to the usual Alien story setup, Zagreus was not a corporate colony. Weyland-Yutani wasn’t funding, Seegson wasn’t involved with it anyway. It was an entirely private colony that was trying to make it by on its own.
Zagreus also came with its own culture which I thought was an interesting element that I don’t think gets explored too often in Alien media. The Zagrean colonists put a lot of emphasize on reusing material from off-world and not encroaching on the planets own natural resources. They wanted to make as little impact on the actual planet as could be.
In the same vein, Olivia also made references to some of the previous colonies the Shipps had lived on and how their cultures differed. Granted, it was more in-line with the Young Adult genre in that it specifically targeted on how children were treated there.
I found Zagreus itself to be a huge breath of fresh air too. So many Alien stories take place on barren worlds, but Zagreus was this wild jungle world with all sorts of alien life-forms and plant-life. In particular, I thought the blood drinking plants were fantastic, as if the planet itself was literally capable of eating its inhabitants.
Zagreus was also home to strange predator species, the lion-worms being the ones that had the biggest impact on the story itself. They’re a pig sized creature that is described as being “made of knives and hatred and cilia.”
We run into them a few times early in the story and they make themselves known to be worth the title of apex predator. There’s a sequence towards the middle of the book where Olivia tracks down the Aliens’ hive and uses lion-worm hormones to draw one to their location to distract the Aliens and though we don’t get to see the outcome of the fight, I loved what we saw of the fight.
But the lion-worms have a bigger presence in Alien: Echo as they also serve as one of several native hosts for the Aliens, and we get to see the resultant hybrid in the book’s climax. For those of you who want to see more of the DNA reflex, Alien: Echo plays with it big time!
It’s hinted at earlier in the book when Olivia is in the hive and I had been worried it might come across as being too Kenner-ish but I felt it worked pretty well. It seemed natural given the variety and diversity of Zagreus’ eco-system that we’d get a new hybrid and since it’s not something that tends to get focus, it brought a smile on my face to see it play a big part in Alien: Echo.
I’m really glad I gave Alien: Echo a chance despite the genre. It didn’t feel neutered in the slightest, and it served as a hugely enjoyable introduction to the Shipp family.