Written by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
Published by Titan Books
With the release of Prometheus, Titan has reprinted two books related to the Alien series. The first, The Book of Alien, was reviewed here. The second, the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, has virtually nothing to do with Prometheus or that end of the Alien universe, but it’s a nice book nonetheless.
The CMTM is an odd duck. Author Brimmicombe-Wood is, by trade, a designer of board and computer games. It shows in this book, which takes the “technical” part of the title very, very seriously.
Written as if it were a real handbook for a real fighting force, the CMTM contains intricate details of just about everything related to the fighting men and women first seen in James Cameron’s classic sequel Aliens. It covers the weapons, vehicles, uniforms, and even some historical and tactical information surrounding the Colonial Marines.
The technical details are, well, detailed. Very detailed. I think I could tell you where the bathrooms are located on the Sulaco. The schematic of the dropship on the cover is just one of many minutely detailed drawings of CM hardware. This part of the book, which makes up around 2/3 of the tome, feels like a guide for use in a tabletop RPG, detailing props and gear your players might use or run into.
As such, the target audience of this part of the book is extremely limited. It gives you an incredible amount of insight into the CM’s, but it reads like what it is: a technical manual. To quote one of my favorite films, this thing reads like stereo instructions. Yes, I could field strip a pulse rifle now, but I’m not sure I need to.
If, and that’s a big if, you’re interested in these kinds of details, the other 1/3 or so of the book provides some interesting nuggets that make the dry text of the technical stuff worthwhile.
Interspersed with the technical documentation are production photos from Aliens, including some costume tests and concept art of unused designs. There isn’t enough to call this an “art book”, but it’s there, and it’s interesting.
The book is also peppered with anecdotes from “real” Marines about the gear and the universe. These quotes are the best part of the book, creating a huge amount of hidden canon we’ve never seen before. Talks about other “bug hunts”, putting down protests and revolts on colonized planets, even outright wars fought between Colonial forces and unknown enemies all give us enticing little peeks into the vast Alien universe that have never been explored before. Intentionally vague, we’re left wondering just who many of these enemies and aliens are and wishing we could see more of them on the screen.
These anecdotes contain occasional references, usually in the form of legend, myth, or hearsay, about one bug hunt that went bad. About a bug bigger and badder than every other hostile xenomorph ever faced by the Marines. About the one time the Marines lost.
Yep, I’m speaking of LV-426 and the events of Aliens. The end of the book contains inter-corp communications the follow the events of the first two films and beyond from the point of view of Weyland-Yutani and the military that they basically own and control. It’s a very odd thing, considering it has nothing to do with the conceit of the rest of the book, that it’s a real technical manual. Still, it’s entertaining to see things from the other side, to discover some of the machinations driving the first two films. It’s been a VERY long time since I inflicted Alien 3 on myself, but I’m pretty sure the ending of this book discussing events following Aliens speaks to a film we didn’t see. The setup here describes events leading to a sequel very different than what we got, which is interesting. I hope I’m not wrong here, but I’m not going to put myself through Alien 3 again to find out.
Overall, you’re either going to be into this book or you’re really, really not going to care. If you’re an Aliens nerd and want to get a head-start on the Colonial Marines game due out next year from Gearbox, here you go. Just about everyone else would be bored to tears reading speeches about CM tactics and scrounging over vast maps of jumpships and heavy armor. I’m somewhere in the middle so I guess that’s where my rating will sit.
2 1/2 out of 5