Writer: Mira Grant
Year Published: 2019
The Alien franchise branches into the young adult genre with an all-new story from horror author Mira Grant. And it definitely packs a punch. Alien: Echo manages to keep the suspense without sacrificing this tale of two sisters fighting for survival after an alien outbreak on a colony planet.
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.
I’ve been a fan of Grant’s work for years as both a horror author and her fantasy and science fiction work under the name Seanan McGuire. Her Newsflesh series remains among one of the best books tackling the aftermath of the undead apocalypse, and she tells a chilling mermaid tale in Into the Drowning Deep. I’m also a huge fan of the Aliens franchise, so I’ll admit that the idea of a YA book featuring the iconic aliens made me hesitant. How do you write a YA novel about creatures that incubate their young in human bodies? How do you maintain the same level of body horror and body count of the films?
Fortunately, these xenomorphs were in excellent hands.
Alien: Echo plays heavily on the themes of the original films. The tone and pacing feel right at home with the energy of James Cameron’s Aliens in the best way. Once the story gets started, it barrels forward with non-stop action and suspense. There’s never much time to dwell on creeping dread that the original embodied. That’s not necessary in the story Grant is telling here. This is about survival.
Compared to Grant’s other work, the horror elements aren’t as graphic but still very much present. She excels at maintaining an unsettling atmosphere for the main characters. The tension ramps up as the book progresses, and the plot leaves plenty of death and chaos. It is an Aliens book, after all.
One of the best parts of the book is actually the two sisters themselves. With their parent’s background in xenobiology, the narrative takes an unusual perspective when it comes to encounters with the aliens. Olivia has an analytic mind and her own xenobiological pursuits on the planets they explore. Her observations are clever without being too technical at any point. It provides the perfect framework to describe Zagreus, the colonist planet, and the creatures that live on it. Much later, Olivia’s observations come into play again with some pretty fun theories about xenomorph biology.
The book does something else I love in Alien lore; it builds on the idea of artificial intelligence that’s always been such a prevalent presence in both films and several of the novels. The use of androids in the series (from Bishop to David) always intrigued me. There are always more questions than answers about their presence. While I wouldn’t say we get answers here, it’s still another fun take on the lore. While the Weyland-Yutani Corporation doesn’t have a major physical presence in the book, it certainly looms from afar. It’s a nice nod for fans of the series that, at the same time, doesn’t leave new readers missing out on any context.
The book does struggle balancing the romance and relationships while maintaining the horror. That’s not an an easy thing to manage and, ultimately, Grant makes it work. Moreover, queer MCs in horror still aren’t very mainstream, especially in YA. Olivia’s blossoming relationship with Kora, a young colonist from the planet, plays out satisfyingly for two young people thrown into bloody, horrific conflict with the perfect killing machine. Kora has a surprising amount of depth, especially given her initial role as love interest. There’s more to her than a damsel to be rescued, that’s for sure. Olivia, too, shines in the book. Her devotion to her sister, even when things go horribly wrong, is equally appealing. The supporting cast doesn’t have the same charm as the Colonial Marines in Aliens, but the story’s pacing wouldn’t benefit from that the same way.
Alien: Echo is a lot of fun. It’s the perfect read for both the young and the old. Knowing backstory and lore isn’t necessary to enjoy the book. However, readers with a working knowledge of at least the first two films will enjoy the minor references. The newest book in the Aliens expanded universe is a great addition! If you’re looking for a chilling tale of interplanetary carnage with a side of teenage survival story, you’ve definitely come to the right place.