The ALIEN expanded universe now covers many media. We’ve had comic books, novels, video games and more recently even a new board game. However, BUG HUNT treads new ground. Sure, we’ve seen original fiction set in the ALIEN universe before, in the form of Dark Horse comics and novels, but this is the first time that we’ve had an anthology of original fiction. It’s a neat idea, and one that seems obvious in hindsight. BUG HUNT is very much the equivalent of Planet of the Apes’ TALES FROM THE FORBIDDEN ZONE; a collection of short stories written by authors with an obvious love of the subject matter, and a real reverence for the lore of the universe.
It should be noted that BUG HUNT’s setting is definitely more ALIENS than ALIEN. We’re dealing here with the tough hombres of the Colonial Marine Corps, as opposed to the dour starship crew of the Nostromo. Given the focus on the military aspects of the universe, a more apt description for the book might’ve been COLONIAL MARINES. However, given the failure of the 2013 title COLONIAL MARINES – and the negative connotation that name brings with it – I can also well see why the publishers chose not to go with that title…
Each story reads like one of Dark Horse’s classic one-shot comics: a bite-sized examination of the ALIEN mythology, from essential back story to some of the Marines in ALIENS, through to explanation of Hudson’s use of the term “bug hunt”. The short story format really suits these sort of stories – they’re sufficiently brief not to outstay their welcome or become internally repetitive, and varied enough to drive you on to the next story.
“Chance Encounter”, by Paul Kupperberg, is a classic ALIEN-type tale in which a starship crew get more than they bargained for during exploration of a planet. This is a nice, familiar story to kick things off. I wasn’t quite sure whether the “Leaper” antagonists were supposed to be bona fide aliens or not – the descriptions weren’t consistent, but the end of the story suggests that these are in fact the xenomorphs we all know and love. This story was one of the few that doesn’t feature Colonial Marines.
Meanwhile, in a story that I was very keen to read, Dan Abnett’s “Reaper” does feature the seminal Colonial Marines. Abnett was responsible for scripting 2014’s ALIEN: ISOLATION – a game that was well-received and critically acclaimed. I’ve always wondered what Abnett would do with a real ALIENS story, and whilst “Reaper” doesn’t feature aliens of the acid-blooded variety, it certainly suggests that Abnett would be a great fit for a full-length ALIENS story…
“Broken” by Rachel Caine is one of my favourite stories. Caine examines Bishop’s background, from his inception through to his early deployment. I can see that some fans might struggle to accept Caine’s interpretation of the Three Laws, but her handling of a synthetics burgeoning emotional state is great and the story certainly proves that there’s a lot to explore in this universe away from the xenomorphs.
Yvonne Navarro (author of the classic Dark Horse novel MUSIC OF THE SPEARS) steps up with “Reclamation”. This story adds some interesting background to fan-favourite Corporal Hicks: suggesting that he had previously lost a loved one in similar circumstances to the mission to LV-426. This wasn’t quite how I envisaged Hicks’ background, but it’s an interesting story nonetheless.
“Blowback” by Christopher Golden (author of last year’s ALIENS: RIVER OF PAIN) is a classic combat tale demonstrating the company’s underhand treatment of the Colonial Marines.
“Exterminators” by Matt Forbeck is a nice combination of PITCH BLACK and ALIENS, featuring Dietrich and Frost. The only issue I had with this story (and this is perhaps on of those stories that Maberry had in mind when he was giving the canonicity warning!) is that it suggests Dietrich and Frost had a more frightening encounter than that on LV-426 prior to the movie ALIENS. There’s a careful line to walk here: whilst the stories obviously require an element of peril and discovery, I think it’s important to recognise that what happened on LV-426 involved the discovery of an alien species more lethal than anything previously encountered.
“No Good Deed” by Ray Garton revisits LV-426 during the alien invasion. This one is perhaps more comic book than some of the other stories, but an entertaining read nonetheless.
“Zero to Hero” by Weston Ochse was one of my favourite stories. It’s nice to have a story about a less than heroic Colonial Marine character – after all, the Corps is a big organisation, and not everyone is going to be superhuman – and although it doesn’t feature aliens, this is a strong entry in the anthology.
“Dark Mother” by David Farland presents an alternative version of Carter Burke’s demise, and some interesting background on everyone’s favourite company rep.
“Episode 22” by Larry Correia is less a story than an in-world documentary, examining the M41A pulse rifle. I liked this piece a lot: it feels like an extension of Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s ALIENS: COLONIAL MARINE TECHNICAL MANUAL. It feels right that such an instrumental weapon in the Colonial Marine arsenal should have its own entry in the anthology!
“Deep Background” by Keith RA DeCandido focuses on an embedded news reporter, sent to dig the dirt on Weyland-Yutani. It was interesting to see another aspect of the ALIENS universe here, and the story presents a possible explanation as to how alien incursions are covered up by W-Y and the Colonial Marines.
“Empty Nest” by Brian Keene is the tale of a Marine squad sent to rescue colonists from an alien nest. Unfortunately, the sole survivor quickly finds that not everyone wants to be saved…
“Darkness Falls” by Heather Graham is the story of a retired Colonial Marine officer, called back into service as a result of her experience fighting the aliens. This has a strong Dark Horse vibe, and would’ve worked well as a comic book one-shot as well.
“Hugs to Die For” by Mike Resnick and Marina J Lostetter focuses on one aspect of the alien reproductive cycle: the infamous facehugger. Weyland-Yutani has devised a way of neutering the ‘huggers, and the company is conducting experiments on them on a space station. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned… This is another very strong entry in the book.
In “Deep Black” by Jonathan Maberry, we revisit Fury-161 – the location of the prison colony in ALIEN 3. This is the only first-person story in the anthology, and an interesting change of pace (as an aside, very few ALIEN novels feature first-person for some reason – the only other one I can think of is ALIENS: DNA WAR). I liked the more realistic military tone of this story, and it’s another of my favourites.
“Distressed” by James A Moore is a story featuring a Colonial Marine investigation into a distress signal. Franchise-followers will recognise Moore as the author of ALIEN: SEA OF SORROWS.
“Dangerous Prey” by Scott Sigler is another unusual, but welcome, addition to the anthology: a short story from the alien point of view. I liked this a lot.
Finally, “Spite” by Tim Lebbon revisits the Devil Dogs – first featured in the RAGE WAR series. As the RAGE WAR series is set many hundreds of years after the main ALIEN continuity, this story stands out from the others. It was slightly disappointing not to end the book on a full-on alien story, but this is a minor quibble. If you enjoyed RAGE WAR, then “Spite” will certainly entertain you.
Overall, BUG HUNT is a fun and exciting addition to the ALIEN expanded universe. If you’re a fan of the ALIEN franchise, I’d definitely recommend picking this one up.
And now to hurry up and wait for ALIEN: COVENANT…