After thirty years of cryogenic sleep, Detective Anders Kramm wakes to a changed world. The alien threat has been subdued. Company interests dominate universal trade. Terra forming is big money now, with powerful men willing to do anything to assure dominance over other worlds. But Kramm has a secret. He knows why The Company killed twelve of its top scientists. He knows why the aliens have been let loose on the surface of a contested planet. He knows that the information he has is valuable, and that The Company will do everything it can to stop him from telling his secret to the world. Haunted by memories of the brutal murder of his family, Kramm is set adrift amid billion dollar stakes . . . with aliens around every corner, waiting for him to make a mistake.
Brian Evenson’s No Exit is the last Aliens novel released by Dark Horse (so far). While the Predator series went from strength to strength (shaky entry with Forever Midnight), Aliens was hit and miss. Diane Carey’s entries were good with S.D Perry’s Criminal Enterprise being the standout novel. The Predator novels ended on the fantastic South Sea China scribed by Brian Evenson’s buddy Jeff VanderMeer. So how does the “winner of the International Horror Guild Award” do with his entry?
From the get-go, you can tell Brian has a solid handle on the horror elements (as you would expect from the recipient of a horror award). What would come across as Saw-style gore on the screen becomes an effective and chilling method of delving into the damaged psych of our protagonist Detective Anders Kramm. The nightmares he endures and the questioning of reality around him really help the reader latch onto the issues of Kramm.
Kramm is one of the high points of No Exit. He was an Aliens detective for Weyland-Yutani but when he lost his family to an infestation that he was investigating he quits the Company. Signing up with a small terra forming firm he escapes the nightmares of reality by being stored in cryo-freeze until his services are required. Awakened 30 years later Kramm is thrust into the apparent aftermath of an Alien infestation. A mystery is afoot.
No Exit starts out really interesting, playing heavily into the animosity of the corporate world. Using the conflict between The Company and Planetus (the company Kramm works for), Brian weaves a mystery that draws the reader in. In particular, Part 3 was amazing. Not only did it deepen the strangeness of this apparent infestation but once again, Brian showed us his fondness for making his characters question reality. It was a very intriguing element.
However as the mystery progresses and is solved, No Exit changes gear and descends into an over-the-top clichéd action piece. You know the kind, the one where the author thinks that Alien fans are interested in seeing an over-exaggerated version of Aliens where the Xenos are mowed down by the dozens. Brilliant.
What Brian passed up was the opportunity for a creepy Alien-style trapped in a labyrinth novel. No Exit clearly demonstrated Brian’s talent for horror and disturbed characters and I feel that No Exit would have flourished if he’d have had his characters creeping around the death-filled hive instead of blasting their way through it. It really would have given Brian the chance to give his characters even more depth, maybe create a more intense internal conflict than what we got.
Especially when it got to the point where the Aliens were being defeated and killed in hand-to-hand combat by a giant Swedish man. Apparently, everyone was crack shots as well, taking out Aliens with shots to the head from pistols. It really was not the highlight of the novel.
The other characters were minor without too much depth. Brian did flesh them out somewhat but not much compared to Kramm. This is quite clearly his story. You could tell that Brian was putting effort into making the aforementioned Swedish giant likeable but what was supposed to come across as language barrier made Bjorn seem mentally ill. Frances also didn’t receive much in the way of attention but she was developed enough to be likeable. But like I’ve said, this was all Kramm.
As for our bad guy? He is a smarmy bastard by the name of Braley. He’s a faithful employee of Weyland-Yutani. He doesn’t stick around too much, only having a major presence in the mysterious Part 3 but he’s pulling the strings for the rest of the novel. Part 3 is where we see the evil streak come out. I really want to delve into this mysterious Part 3 and spoil it all for you but my conscience is holding me back. That’s something you need to explore for yourselves.
As mentioned above, Braley disappears halfway into the novel. That leads me onto a problem I had with No Exit. As the novel descends into the shoot-em-up second half, plot points are just dropped and forgotten and nothing comes of Braley’s actions. What happens to the planet? What about the W-Y vs Planetus? Nothing much.
It’s just as if halfway through Brian decided that nothing else mattered other than letting us read about an entire hive being taken out by a small group armed with pistols. It’s a shame, it really is.
So did No Exit give us the stellar finish to the novel line? Unfortunately, I can’t say it delivered. No Exit started off so well. It was different, it was intriguing and it had so much potential. Then it just went downhill. If only he’d have stuck to the terrifying and to the the effects it was having on the characters. I’d love to see Brian comeback and do it right. I know he can.
Not the worst novel in the line but nowhere near as good as it could have been. I award Aliens No Exit a 3 out of 5.