Written by Alex White
Published by Titan Books
Whether you love or hate Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels, there’s no denying they’ve inspired lively debate. Scott’s new movies have opened up the Alien universe in intriguing new ways and expanded the mythology – whilst also sidelining the title monster. This is an unforgiving sin in the eyes of some, as is Scott’s suggestion Michael Fassbender’s evil android David will become the new “Alien” of the series. While a third prequel may or may not happen – the current wager leans towards “not” – the Xenomorph itself will always find plenty of work elsewhere to keep himself busy.
The Alien franchise has a robust fanbase across all forms of media, from video games to comics and novels, and some great stories have emerged from these spinoffs. There have been plenty of duds too – hey there, Aliens: Colonial Marines! – but there’re some real gems to be found. Thankfully, Alien: The Cold Forge by Alex White falls into the latter category, being an intense ride through a story that may sound familiar but manages to constantly subvert – and surpass – expectations.
Alien: The Cold Forge follows Dorian Sudler, a Weyland–Yutani representative sent to a remote deep space research station dubbed The Cold Forge to find out why it’s research is falling behind. Needless to say, the station is secretly breeding Xenomorphs, and [SPOILER ALERT] it’s not long before they break out of containment and make life very difficult for the survivors.
Again, on the surface, The Cold Forge sounds like familiar ground, but it’s the execution that makes a big difference. What makes White’s novel sing is the characters, led by Sudler himself. The character is an utter shitbag of the highest order; he’s an odious, petty and vain creep who takes great joy in outsmarting and crushing opponents. From the opening chapter it’s crystal clear he’s not a good guy, and he gets progressively worse as the station descends into hell. That said, he’s an utterly compelling character too, and his twisted psychology and mind games make up a big part of the book.
One aspect of The Cold Forge that’s a lot of fun is that there are no heroes to be found, and pretty much everyone is deeply flawed. The closest the book has to a heroine is Blue Marsalis, a bedridden doctor who’s dying of a degenerative disease. The good doctor can use an interface to move around in the body of an android, and she hopes to find a cure for her condition by experimenting with the Xenomorph’s genetic structure. She may sound sympathetic, but like Sudler, she’s more than willing to use underhand tactics to achieve her goals, and the two characters lock horns from the start.
The character interplay is what makes the story feel fresh, and not just another boilerplate tale about aliens stalking victims and Weyland-Yutani once again conducting messy experiments. White is able to craft some tense and gory setpieces too, including a nail-biting passage where a barely mobile Marsalis has to outsmart a stalking monster. The book has some fun callbacks to past adventures and adds a couple of interesting wrinkles to the franchise mythos, including a look at what a Facehugger actually injects into its victims.
The Cold Forge is not a flawless ride; it can be tough to care about the fates of some of these characters since they’re all such assholes and while it can be tense at times, it’s never truly scary. That said, the novel is such a well-crafted experience it’s easy to overlook any niggling issues.
Alien: The Cold Forge is arguably the best Alien experience since the simulated bowel evacuator that was Alien: Isolation – which is not praise I throw around lightly.