Book review: Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

Welcome back to my new (and hopefully improved) website. It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog – basically, WordPress played up, I had lots of writing to do and the “real world” intruded onto my blogging time, but now I’ve finished writing The Eternity War: Dominion (more on that soon!) I’m making a concerted effort to blog more often. And what better way to herald in a new era of blogging than with a book review from my favourite franchise?

Alien: Echo is the latest instalment in the Alien series. Echo is a standalone book, and an anomaly within the wider Alien franchise: it is a “young adult” book, geared specifically at older children. Here’s the blurb:

Olivia and her twin sister Viola have been dragged around the universe for as long as they can remember. Their parents, both xenobiologists, are always in high demand for their research into obscure alien biology. Just settled on a new colony world, they discover an alien threat unlike anything they’ve ever seen. And suddenly the sisters’ world is ripped apart. On the run from terrifying aliens, Olivia’s knowledge of xenobiology and determination to protect her sister are her only weapons as the colony collapses into chaos. But then a shocking family secret bursts open-one that’s as horrifying to Olivia as the aliens surrounding them. The creatures infiltrate the rich wildlife on this virgin colony world-and quickly start adapting. Olivia’s going to have to adapt, too, if she’s going to survive…”

Alien: Echo is written by horror veteran and general writing aficionado Mira Grant. Many will probably remember her from the Parasitology trilogy, a series which I enjoyed very much. When I first learnt that this new novel was written by Grant, that allayed at least some of my concerns. Grant is no stranger to body-horror and suspense and is a natural fit for the Alien series. It helps of course that she is also a great writer, and her prose is both highly descriptive and easy to read. It goes without saying that Alien: Echo is very well written. This may be more a comment on my reading preferences than anything else, but Echo certainly didn’t feel as though it made any concessions to the YA market in terms of writing!

Although not published under a YA-friendly banner, there have been other stories which revolved around younger characters set within the Alien universe, including Diane Carey’s Cauldron (from all the way back in 2007). Even the much-derided The Predator has a central younger character, and if you want to stretch the concept, then the same could also be said of Aliens. My point here is that although Echo is YA, on analysis younger characters and the impact of the aliens on them has always been an element of the Alien series. As far as the films are concerned, this isn’t the first time that Alien developers have attempted to tap into the “young adult” market. I’m sure many fans remember what happened with Paul Anderson’s Alien vs Predator, when 20th Century Fox decided to adapt the source material for a PG-13 rating. The decision was the subject of much criticism, and subsequently reversed with the release of Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. We all know how that went! If anything, AvP: R proved that Alien movies aren’t solely reliant on gore and horror for their success. A good story and decent characters are as essential to an Alien tale as they are to any other story… 

The characters of Alien: Echo are multi-dimensional and generally likeable, although it’s perhaps here that the YA framework is most obvious.  The relationship between Olivia and her sister Viola is central to the story, but the relationship with between Olivia and Kora (Olivia’s love interest) will be familiar to most YA readers. 

Where Alien: Echo felt as though it didn’t fulfil its potential for me was the limited story. Perhaps as a result of its YA premise, or maybe because the studio doesn’t want expansion of the Alien lore in a literary format, Echo’s plot is lineal and generally predictable. Olivia’s arc essentially involves surviving the initial alien invasion of Zagreus, surviving, “rescuing” her sister, and then escaping the colony. Along the way Olivia develops as a character – taking some typically bad-ass decisions (as you’d  expect from a heroine in an Alien book!) – but she was already quite brave at the start of the story. The story teases some discussion of the alien “DNA reflex” (as seen in Alien3), but there’s nothing new here in terms of broadening the Alien lore and the story itself isn’t fresh to the series. Indeed, if you’re a serious Alien fan you’ll recognise many franchise themes in Echo: the last-minute dash for the escape shuttle, a visit to the alien hive, and even the decapitation of an android. I read Aliens: Dust to Dust at about the same time as Echo, and there are many similarities even between those two sources – both involve younger characters, an escape off-planet and use of an android’s head. These are established tropes within the Alien canon, it seems, and although that isn’t a problem for me – good writing is still good writing! – don’t come to Alien: Echo with any expectation of a bold new direction for the universe. Perhaps I’m missing the point of the book – many younger adult readers probably aren’t as aware of the wealth of other sources that comprise the Alien universe – but Alien fans are an avid bunch, and I’m sure that other readers are going to make that same observation. 

All that said, Alien: Echo is an enjoyable read, and if you like either Alien novels or the writing of Mira Grant, I think you’ll enjoy it. I wouldn’t be put off by the fact that it’s YA; Grant certainly doesn’t pull any punches and the horror elements that make Alien what it is are certainly present. As  a final aside, I struggled to find this book in the UK. I’m not sure why, but I couldn’t find any bookshops that had decided to stock Alien: Echo. I reverted to Amazon, where it is available in hardback (with a soft back release next year).  This may have something to do with the licensing or publisher, but if you want a copy in the UK, be prepared to search it out or use an online retailer. 

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