Okay so DH Press graced me with an Aliens novel by my favorite Star Trek author, Diane Carey and I loved it. Then they gave me another one from her straight after. Could she pull off another hit with me? Well, we’re gonna find out aren’t we? Author of the second Aliens novel, DNA War, Diane Carey returns to us with her second Aliens outing, Cauldron. Unlike DNA War, Cauldron was a return to the confined corridors of spaceships which helped give the franchise some of it’s defining qualities.
Cauldron is very much two parts of one story. The first half of the book is dedicated to the crew of the Virgina, a transport ship with a very important mission. You see, the Virginia is transporting supplies to a new colony. But not just any supplies, entire livestocks of animals and plants all the way from Earth. So throughout the first half of Cauldron, we stick around with the Virginia and it’s crew. We learn about the crew and pretty much everything we need to know about them – this comes important later. We also learn that two of the crew is set to make a tidy fortune smuggling “dead” Face-Huggers on board.
Turns out they weren’t so dead. After having to lie about the container containing the Huggers – claiming it’s full of Chicken – the Virginia’s cook breaks into the container with the intent of making a good chicken dinner. He ends up letting loose half of the Huggers before he can seal the container shut again.
And that’s that. After this point we jump on board the Umiak. It’s another transport ship on it’s way to meet up with the Virginia to take the supplies the rest of the way. As well as carrying cargo on it’s way to the new colony, the Umiak is also carrying a group of cadets who are going to attend a new university. But while they’re aboard the Umiak, they’re to learn the ways of space travel and how a spaceship work. The crew of the Umiak are the exact opposites of that of the Virginia. The captain is almost abusive, the cadets are but kids.
While we’re being introduced to the new characters, we have inter-cut chapters back on board the Virginia so we can see how her crew is faring against the Aliens. Now I’m rather fond of the bits when we’re back aboard the Virginia and this is because Carey doesn’t try and do an Alien.
When we come back to the Virginia, the Aliens have already taken over, half the crew is dead and the rest are trying to escape. It’s very reminiscent of the end of Gibson’s Alien3 script when they’re trying to escape Anchorpoint. Nice touch.
So after everyone on board is dead, the Virginia and the Umiak meet up for an automatic transfer of cargo. No crew involved. And of course, the container carrying the Huggers is brought aboard. And of course, the shit hits the fan and then we get into the real Alien adventure. It really kicks off in the second half of the novel, aboard the Umiak and while I like the little feel of two stories in one, it ultimately cuts down the real adventure in favor of more setup.
What I think shines about Cauldron is the characters. It has that Alien-esque feel to it where different characters represent different traits of humanity. I find it’s also been something that Diane is good at writing, interesting characters. Once again we have that Firefly feel of the Virginia’s crew which is something I always enjoy. It’s more of the way they fit together and interact, not the actual characters themselves just so we get that clear.
I love Carey’s characters. I always have. In DNA War the characters were front and center, just as it should be. Once again she shows her skills at writing interesting characters. While the idea that the main characters are essentially teenagers might discourage some, it never bothered me. I found them to be well written – sure the fact they were gifted and talented would have helped them not sound like some of the teenagers on our forum but my point stands – and not annoying in the least.
What I was fond of was the character of Pearl. She was gifted in a different way. Once again, I’d love to spoil it but let’s just say she contributes to the expansion of Alien behavior and etc. However, for all the interesting characters, we have our standards. The captain of the Umiak was a standard Aliens EU character. Crazy, cruel and mad.
Throughout reading the novel, I was feeling this urge to go and watch Alien Resurrection. Eventually I did and I realized why I had this urge. It was Carey’s portrayal of the Aliens. This really showed how much the writing of the Aliens had changed in the recent years. We’ve gone from the bug-like Aliens of the old novels to the raptor-like portrayal of Alien Resurrection and the new novels.
They aren’t mindless bugs anymore, they’re intelligent creatures, as written by Mrs Carey herself “mother nature’s mistake”. So those of you expecting Alien style Aliens are in for a disappointment. But we’ve been taken in the right direction, away from the mindless ant Aliens.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m rather fond of the raptor-like Aliens from Resurrection and by extension, Cauldron. Like in DNA War before this, Carey introduces us to some new behavior traits of the Aliens. A very interesting way in which they set traps for their prey. They were shown as very animal like and the whole “mother nature’s mistake” comes into play when the crew of the Umiak use the many animals in cryo to help defeat the Aliens.
What’s that quote, “life will find a way”? All that said, though, Carey would have the characters refer to the Aliens as animals of nothing other than pure instinct but would then show them doing something rather intelligent. Minor annoyance but it’s one a few things that looks like it’s slipped past editing. There were numerous times when one thing would written then something straight after it would contradict the passage before. The final solution itself, as thought up by our valiant cadets, was excellent. Another first for the Aliens franchise, and intelligent. I’d love to spoil it for you but then there’d be no point in reading the novel.
What I did find rather annoying was the heavy use of technobabble. Understandably, as opposed to her Star Trek novels, the technical talk in Cauldron was actual sailor terms but not everyone reading the novel has the luxory of actually having been a sailor like Diane. It adds that bit of realism to but it can also become a hindrance, somewhat like John Shirley’s habit of over describing the alienness of the environment in Predator Forever Midnight.
Overall it was an enjoyable Aliens novel. I was rather fond of the portrayal of the Aliens but the way the story was separated did get in the way somewhat. What could have been another hundred and fifty pages of character development for one set was turned into a short story. It did give me my dose of Alieny goodness, however, I didn’t feel it held up against DNA War.
So, I think a 3 out of 5 would be about right for Cauldron. What I can see is that it looks like we’re in for a good ride with Diane Carey firmly rooted into the new novels. I eagerly await her new one.