Alien: The Cold Forge
Writer: Alex White
Publisher: Titan Books
Review by CL Vitek
With the failure of Hadley’s Hope, Weyland-Yutani has suffered a devastating setback–the loss of the Aliens they aggressively sought to exploit. Yet there’s a reason the Company has risen to the top of the food chain. True to form, they have a redundancy already in place… the facility known as The Cold Forge.
Remote station RB-232 has become their greatest asset in weaponizing the Xenomorphs. However, when Dorian Sudler is sent to RB-232 to assess their progress, he discovers that there’s a spy aboard–someone who doesn’t necessarily act in the company’s best interests. For Dorian, this is the most unforgivable of sins. When found, the perpetrator will be eliminated with extreme prejudice. If unmasked, though, this person may be forced to destroy the entire station… and everyone on board. That is, if the Xenomorphs don’t do the job first…
When it comes to protagonists for the Alien franchise, a chronically ill, disabled geneticist and a calculating corporate auditor with an eye for art probably aren’t what immediately come to mind. In Alex White’s Alien: The Cold Forge, subverting expectations and dismantling stereotypes make for a surprising, fast-paced journey through the world of Alien. Right from the premise, we know we’re not getting a typical Alien narrative. The xenomorph has always been terrifying in a primal way, but humanity can be just as chilling.
Even after the disastrous events at Hadley’s Hope (the ill-fated colony featured in 1986’s Aliens), Weyland-Yutani remains ruthless in the pursuit of whatever genetic secrets the xenomorph can offer. That is where the Cold Forge comes in. A military research complex orbiting a remote star, the Forge houses some of the corporation’s most secretive and dangerous projects. It also makes the perfect killing ground for catastrophe. Blending suspense, horror, and paranoia surrounding the mysterious sabotage, Alien: The Cold Forge takes readers into a story of desperate survival in deep space.
I’m a longtime fan of the Alien franchise, but I hadn’t delved into the tie-in books very much until now. After this, I’m absolutely open to reading more. The Cold Forge was a lot of fun. It offers a fresh look on the aliens and the world of the films. The novel is a self-contained, stand alone story and requires only a cursory knowledge of the movies to enjoy it. However, the easter eggs sprinkled throughout are a great reward for fans.
The book expands on the nature of Weyland-Yutani in universe, offering more glimpses at the corporation beyond what we see from Ellen Ripley’s crew or the corporation’s ambitious projects in Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017). As the characters are all employees of the corporation, they are a reflection of that. We don’t see space truckers or marines here, just clinical, brilliant researchers looking to promote their projects at any cost. The arrival of callous corporate auditor, Dorian Sudler, offers even more insight into the values Weyland-Yutani endorses. Sudler is an interesting character. Though at times his motivations are a bit too heavy-handed to come across as anything other than pulp-inspired antagonism, he is fascinating to unravel.
The decision to center the action on the story of a physically disabled scientist adds suspense to the plot, heightening the uncertainty of her survival. While not necessarily new to horror or suspense, it’s handled well and that is something. Make no mistake, Dr. Blue Marsalis is one tough woman with her own motivations and agency. While her circumstances offer unique challenges to the horror unfolding around her, the book never relies on tired tropes or stereotypes to keep the story moving. The fact that she is both queer and a WOC makes her stand out even further from the relatively standard action hero in a great way.
But is Blue a hero? On that note, are any of these characters heroes? The Cold Forge offers a lot of time spent with the characters, providing insight and – in many cases – empathy for them. Survival sits at the core of this book, though the danger is not always simply from the xenomorphs. At the end, the question of heroics is one the plot might not answer outright but leave the reader to come to their own conclusions.
One of the best facets of the book is the further exploration of the roles androids play in this universe. Expanding from other models like Bishop (Aliens) and David (Prometheus), the role of the artificial intelligence is treated with surprising nuance and reflection. The Marcus model – blonde, male, and capable – plays an integral part to the plot. His role as either tool or character explores interesting questions that very much fall in vein with modern science fiction. It’s one part of the book that I would have liked to see expanded.
The Cold Forge is like nothing else in the Aliens franchise. It topples expectations and takes readers on a survival story firmly rooted in science fiction and corporate espionage. Yet, it manages to feel like it belongs in the universe. Even with a heavy amount of carnage, Alien: The Cold Forge is a fast-moving novel that falls more into suspenseful sci-fi than horror. The touch of pulp added to the plot only enhances the novel’s charm.
Verdict: Read it!
Alien: The Cold Forge is a must-read for Alien fans, especially those looking to revisit the original series. This is a great addition to the Aliens canon; White has done a great job melding scientific-based genetic research into the science fiction elements of the series. The characters are complex and ambiguous without lacking development or motivation. The book weaves elements from the films into the story, adding to the greater Aliens mythos. It does so while reminding us that sometimes, people are scarier than the monsters.