Fifteen new and original stories for a first-of-its-kind anthology, set in the expanded Aliens vs. Predators Universe.
Here the ultimate hunters, the Predators, pitted against their ultimate prey, the Xenomorphs from Alien, with humans caught in the middle! Taking place on Earth and in distant space, these tales have been crafted by a who’s who of today’s most talented authors of the fantastic:
David Barnett – Roshni “Rush” Bhatia – Curtist C. Chen – Delilah S. Dawson – Mira Grant – Susanne L. Lambdin – Jess Landry – Yvonne Navarro – E.C. Myers – Scott Sigler – Maurice Broaddus – Chris Ryall – Bryan Thomas Schmidt – Steven L. Sears – Jonathan Maberry and Louis Ozawa.
Inspired by the events of the original Aliens vs. Predators movies, graphic novels, and novels, these are the ultimate life-and-death struggles. Including a new story written by Jonathan Maberry and Louis Ozawa (“Hanzo” from the movie Predators) as Hanzo’s brother faces the eternal threats of both the Yautja and the Xenomorphs.
(Before I start, I just wanted to add a little disclaimer regarding our involvement in Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey. Both Adam Zeller and I are in the acknowledgements of this book and it is also dedicated to us both.
The reason for this is we both did world-building and continuity consultation on the book, that boiled down to being asked “does this work?” or “how do we make this work?” We had no say over if our suggestions were implemented, nor did we have any influence over the stories or plots.)
When Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey hit the shelves on the 1st of March 2022, it had been nearly 5 years since the crossover had last featured in the prose format, when The Rage War concluded with the release of Alien vs. Predator: Armageddon in 2016.
Bringing the Aliens and Predators back together for a new anthology book are editors Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Jonathan Maberry, both of whom had previously edited an individual anthology for the separate series. It only makes sense to reunite the two for the crossover’s first ever anthology.
Maberry’s Aliens: Bug Hunt was released in April of 2017, and I am not particularly a fan of that book. Of the anthologies 18 short stories, I enjoyed only a small handful. There was one short I was truly and bitterly disappointed with. The rest were varying degrees of poor to just okay. It’s not a book I tend to recommend.
However, later that year in October, we also got Schmidt’s Predator: If It Bleeds. There wasn’t a single short in that I didn’t enjoy. I consider that anthology to be a 10/10.
So where did Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey fall on this scale? I’m happy to say on the positive side. Of Ultimate Prey’s 15 short stories there were only 2 I didn’t enjoy, a handful I absolutely loved, with the remaining stories all being solid enjoyable reads. And the majority of the shorts could quite easily be foundations for something I would quite happily love to see fleshed out into full length novels.
Now while I consider the majority of the shorts to have been well written, there were a lot that tended to follow very typical Alien vs. Predator story-beats making a lot of them feel samey as you progressed throughout the book.
One of the things I really love about anthologies is the freedom they can offer writers to experiment, to do something out of the norm for the Alien and Predator franchises and it’s those stories in Ultimate Prey that shone for me. When the shorts went off script and tried something different, where those familar beats and moments were outshone by uniqueness.
David Barnett’s The Hotel Mariposa is the earliest example of this. Hotel Mariposa essentially boils down to being a haunted house story set within an Alien vs. Predator context. It revolves around a small production crew that are filming a reality show in the vein of Ghost Hunters. With cancellation imminent, they look to the infamous haunted Hotel Mariposa to save their series – but they find an Alien and Predator.
The usual trappings of a haunted house story such endless or looping corridors are given a science-fiction context in that the hotel is built on top of a crashed extra-terrestrial ship that was powered by a space-time-warp engine that the Predators don’t even understand. The engine continues to malfunction after hundreds of years and causes issues with space and time. I think this works absolutely fantastically and gives the Predators a really interesting reason to favour that particular hunting ground.
This McGuffin also results in something that while works for me may not sit well with everyone. It very briefly offers Carol, the main human character, and Hin’tui , the short’s Predator, a different level of communication; a very brief mental connection. I found it made sense within the context of the story, and it was so brief that I wasn’t too bothered by it, but I think it might be pushing the levels of acceptability for some.
And as much as I love Hotel Mariposa, it isn’t exempt from a problem that plagues the majority of the shorts within Ultimate Prey and will no doubt disappoint the readers who lean more heavily into the Alien side of fandom. The Aliens in Ultimate Prey are quite regularly just beat down.
It is by no means a problem unique to this book, but it is so consistent within Ultimate Prey that it’s just impossible to ignore. The title of the book is Ultimate Prey, a tribute to a line in Paul Anderson’s film, a reference to the Aliens and the value the Predators put on them as prey. A value that the shorts in this book regularly reinforce within thought or dialogue, but then put very little effort into actually showing.
While Hotel Mariposa’s sole Alien isn’t obliterated on the first clash, Hin’tui actually expresses his disappointment in the Alien’s performance before offering the final blow to Carol. And he wasn’t the only one disappointed by this. I was consistently annoyed by the treatment the Aliens received.
The only shorts within Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey that I thought did the Aliens some level of justice were Below Top Secret, Carbon Rites and Homestead. That’s 3 shorts out of 15 that I felt actually treated the Aliens with the kind of respect that the Predators apparently hold for them. I really hope to see this change when Titan returns to Alien vs. Predator with Rift War, or if they do another further crossover stories.
Barnett also explores something we haven’t seen before, and that’s the sigma of mental health in Yautja society. I thought this was a particularly interesting angle to take with adding more depth to the Predator mythos and I thought it worked particularly well with what we know of the Yautja culture.
Carbon Rites was another of the shorts I really loved, and also because it didn’t confirm to the typical Alien vs. Predator story. With Ultimate Prey leaning into the AvP film side of things, there’s a substantial number of shorts that are set on Earth, and that is also a problem I have with the story line up.
While I understand Ultimate Prey’s emphasize on the film side of Alien vs. Predator, being set on Earth isn’t an element that is particularly celebrated and the anthology opens with 4 Earth-bound stories straight after the other before venturing off into space.
Aliens: Bug Hunt also had the issue of shorts following a particular theme – most noticeably prequels focusing on movie characters – all grouped together which unfortunately I find leads to a little bit of fatigue with the similar elements.
I understand the desire to group similar stories together, but I feel that fatigue could result in people putting the book down and forgetting to pick it back up, especially if they hit a block of stories that focus on aspects the reader might not enjoy.
Of course, you don’t have to read them in order, and it’s a none issue when you’re dipping back into the book to re-read specific shorts, but I can’t imagine there’s many people who don’t just go from start to finish with the first read through unless you’re diving straight to that one particular short you’ve heard about.
Jess Landry’s Carbon Rites opens as if it’s going to be another one of those Earth-bound stories before we eventually get the reveal that it isn’t and is all the more refreshing for pivoting from that seemingly idyllic 50s-style American town, to being a research facility ran by the United Systems Military running scenarios involving the Aliens and Predators.
I really enjoyed Landry’s writing in this one. It’s a very forward-moving narrative, with the reader learning as the main character does. I never felt ahead of the main character in this one, with the twists not being too obvious in addition to being very satisfying.
There’s a number of references to other Alien and Predator stories in here too, but it’s done very tastefully and minimally. There was the potential to go overboard but I think it is ultimately handled very well and I really got a smile out of it here. It was also cool to see the USM back as they’re not an element of the lore that I believe has ever been revisited.
And lastly I would like to talk about Jonathan Maberry and Louis Ozawa’s Kyōdai. While I don’t often have much positive to say about Bug Hunt, I can’t say the same for the shorts that Maberry has written in any of the anthologies. I enjoyed both Deep Black (from Bug Hunt) and Gameworld (from If It Bleeds) and I think Kyōdai is one of the best that Ultimate Prey has to offer.
Maberry writes this alongside Louis Ozawa, the actor who portrayed Hanzo in Predators, and you can clearly feel the respect for both Predators and Hanzo in Kyōdai. This short focuses on Eiji, Hanzo’s brother, who is also kidnapped by the Berserker Predators and taken to their hunting preserve.
I may sound like a hypocrite here with how much I fight against the erroneous claims that Predators is a remake of Predator (I will die on the hill that a jungle setting and repeated beats does not make a remake), but I absolutely love how Kyōdai begins in much the same way that Predator does.
It has a very different story structure to the other shorts, instead mirroring a lot of the way of Predators sets it story in motion, before diverging in a different narrative direction, which makes this one stand out against the other shorts. And I love it.
The way Eiji is portrayed is just wonderful. Maberry and Ozawa perfectly establish the ways that Eiji is similar, yet also so different to Hanzo, and in the process shine a light on Hanzo in ways the film didn’t. You can really feel Ozawa’s reverence for Predators and Hanzo in the way Eiji reflects on his brother and never once feeling like a clone of his brother.
In fact, Kyōdai quite clearly establishes them to be very different despite their similar upbringing. And also in the way that the two’s fighting styles differed. Thay may have both been fighters, but they each had a different style that reflected their personalities and it comes to a head in the way the short depicts Eiji’s fight against a Predator.
Kyōdai brings the Alien into the story with a singular Alien taking the place of Hellhounds featured in the film. The Predators in this shorts trio are instead shown to be in the early stages of trying to tame the Aliens for use as hunting dogs.
I was fond of how Kyōdai demonstrated the Alien’s intelligence, despite the Predators attempts to subjugate it. There were nice call-backs to Gedimen’s tests in Alien: Resurrection, with an ending that demonstrated that intelligence in an interesting – if potentially controversial way.
If I had to complain about Kyōdai it would only be that it wasn’t longer. It felt like the start of something much bigger.
Ultimate Prey also features returning talent that all deliver solid shorts. Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Scott Sigler both have sequels to their previous work. Yvonne Narvarro, the author behind one of my favourite Alien novels, Music of the Spears, and my least favourite short from Aliens: Bug Hunt, Reclamation, redeems herself in Ultimate Prey with the absolutely intense Abuse, Interrupted. Alien: Echo’s Mira Grant is also back with the brilliant Planting and Harvest.
While I’d rather spend the review talking about all the other shorts I really loved, I also want to take some time to talk about where Ultimate Prey falls down.
There are two shorts in particular in Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey that I was immensely disappointed by. The first of which is Blood and Honor by Susanne L. Lambdin which can be summed up saying a Colonial Marine CO’s mistress is marooned on an Alien infested planet, teams up with a injured Huntress, and kills a bunch of Aliens – including 2 Queens – before taking off for further adventures.
I have very little to say about this one. My main issue is that the main character makes stupid decisions. She is present for a conversation in which the wife of the cheating CO tells him to kill his mistress, and then proceeds to drink poisoned water. She hears something outside her crashed escape pod? Best pop outside without much concern.
The easiest way I can describe Blood and Honor is it feels like fanfiction written by someone who has literally just seen the films, read some summaries of other stories, and proceeded to work on this short all while keeping Xenopedia open so they could make regular references to elements they didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t offensively bad. It was just poor.
Now Curtis C. Chen’s Better Luck to Borrow is offensively bad. This is quite possibly one of the worse pieces of Alien and Predator fiction I have ever subjected myself. It’s comparable to the worse that Bug Hunt has to offer.
There are small elements of Better Luck to Borrow that I like, such as the main character using her chemistry skills to counteract the Alien’s acid, or using acid resistant material, and her prosthetic arm, but other than that there was very little to like in the short.
I’ve often said I don’t need to like a character to be invested in them, I just need to find them interesting. I neither liked nor found any of this short’s characters interesting. I found them largely unbelievable or, quite frankly, plain stupid. A special shoutout to the random kid who made me groan by deciding to be an unofficial ambassador for humanity, who went up to a Predator to introduce himself.
And let’s not forget the Kenner levels of seriousness in regardless to the Aliens in this particular short. I’m a fan of the DNA reflex. I am not, however, an advocate of going full Kenner with this particular part of the Alien’s morphology. Better Luck to Borrow features Aliens born of a kapibara-like creature native to the planet this short is set on, complete with whiskers. You never go full Kenner. Never.
The Predators motivation in this one make sense at least. For the most part. Weyland-Yutani found and stripped a crashed Predator ship. The Predators want to blow that salvage up. However, for some random reason, they’re also interested in the acid-resistant sawblade that this short’s main character has been using as a weapon…because the Predator’s apparently forgot they also have acid resistant metal…? I don’t know.
Better Luck to Borrow is just bad. It’s plain and simple. I can’t accurately describe how awful this particular short is. Nor do I really want to expend the brain-power to do so.
But at the end of it all, 2 bad stories out of 15 is damn good going! I really enjoyed reading Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey, and would quite happily revisit many of these again. I can’t quite hold it in as high-esteem as I do Predator: If It Bleeds, with Better Luck to Borrow and Blood and Honor pulling it down, along with the generally poor treatment of the Aliens.
However, there are some true gems in Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey, once again demonstrating the versatility and quality that Alien and Predator can bring to storytelling. And there were a number of authors in here whose names I would love to see grace the covers of full length Alien novels. I know I didn’t highlight her short in this review, but Delilah S. Dawson in particular is someone I would love to have return.
From Corporal Hicks, here at Alien vs. Predator Galaxy, I award Aliens vs. Predators: Ultimate Prey a 7.5 out of 10.